The Black Unicorn
They walked into the Three Broomsticks on the Friday night that they had agreed to have dinner. Snape, flustered, had named the first restaurant that had come to mind. They walked in; Snape’s robes were freshly pressed and Esmeralda was wearing her favorite cream silk blouse under the emerald green formal robes.
The Hogsmead Howlers were setting up to play in the big dining hall. Severus protested in annoyance, his cane clicking over the warped wooden floors as he understood that soon, he wouldn’t be able to think clearly.
Esmeralda commandeered him to a table on the outskirts of the large cleared area, ecstatic that they had happened into the old eatery on a night when there was going to be some entertainment. God knew they could both use it.
“Severus, don’t be such a thundercloud! It’s music! Oh, I’m so glad there’s going to be music. I’ve missed it so.” She was smiling, and felt better and more energetic than she had in days. Snape seemed much better; the walks they had been taking were helping his hips and back, and he seemed much more himself. Wearing his customary black robes, he looked whole again. The color was back in his face and his features were animated with the ever-present wrinkle of a scowl across his mouth and eyes. He took her elbow politely as she sat down into the wooden booth, and he took the seat across the table from her. There was a candle already lit on the table. He put the cane down behind him and tried to look nonchalant. “So here we are. What greasy concoction will they have to poison us, I wonder, on the last Friday night before the school term begins?”
“It’s probably boiled fish eyeballs in weevil gravy; you’d love that, wouldn’t you?” She could see Severus fighting to control the smirk that threatened the edges of his mouth. “Snape! Lighten up! It’s Friday night! What are you going to have?” Before he could answer, Rosmerta came over to take their drink order; Esmeralda got her single malt whiskey, and Snape ordered a martini, dirty.
“How are you feeling? How are your legs?” She studied his face as he was arranging his robes around him more comfortably. He looked less tired, but….definitely there were more lines of worry around his eyes and mouth than she remembered. Some of it was most certainly due to age, but there was a crease in his brow that spoke of permanent anxiety or care.
“Better.” He growled. “But my legs still bother me. It feels like pins and needles around my hips. Other times there’s a nasty shooting pain down the back of my right leg….it will go away soon.” He ended dismissively.
Suddenly the lights in the large dining hall dimmed. Snape looked up in disgust and rolled his eyes. “How charming. Soon our brains will be melted into slag by that cacaphony machine.” He lifted his chin and nodded in the band’s direction.
“You know, I am looking forward to that noise! I’m just going to ignore you if you can’t be pleasant.” Mockingly, she reached over, picked up the menu, and snapped it open in retort. “You haven’t changed a whit, you know.” She looked up over the edge of the menu. “You’re still vile and mean-spirited. Comforting, really, to know some things never change.” He looked shocked. She sank down behind the menu, and then popped up, laughing at him. “Really, Severus, it’s good to see you whole again. I was worried about you.” Her laugh was throaty and resonant. She was embarrassed at revealing how she felt, but there it was. She smiled at him. “All right?”
“Yes. Yes, all right.” But his face had gone still. He was watching her, hiding behind the assessing coolness of a false facade. “I appreciate your help. You’ve been….very kind.” She could tell there was a question there, a test. Before she had time to work it out, Rosmerta appeared with their drinks, sweating and cheerful. Esmeralda took the drinks, asked about business and about Rosmerta’s children, and then she was off again with a “ta!” to serve the increasing number of witches and wizards who had started pouring into the restaurant and bar. It was getting crowded.
Esmeralda took a sip of the strong whiskey and mingled with the peaty, smoky scent of the whiskey was another scent. Because of her nature, her senses were all highly acute, and over time she had learned to monitor and filter out unnecessary smells and noises. But the fact remained that she was highly sensitive to smell.
Esmeralda began to perspire and took another swig of the drink. She purposefully did not look at Severus, but instead surveyed the crowd to her right. “It’s filling up,” she commented. “How is your martini.”
She could smell him. His desire drifted over to her, curling in the air like smoke.
“Inferior brand of vodka, but that’s typical of this bestiary; the olive at least, was tasty.” He steepled his hands in front of him on the table. His voice sounded casual. She gulped the whiskey, watching another score of loud younger wizards come into the dance area with their dates. They were a colorful bunch; the band had started tuning. She tried not to notice the haze invading her nostrils. Her palms began to sweat. Suddenly the Hogsmead Howlers broke into a loud and fast jig and a roar went up from the witches and wizards on the dance floor. Pandemonium broke out and the dancing began. Snape hunched over his martini as if it were a particularly powerful potion that might save him from the musical mayhem.
The tendrils of smoke coming off of him had become stronger, more elemental. The scent of his desire reminded her of moonlight melting over a still glen, of the warm breath of a lover on a cold October night. She ran her hand through her hair, trying to wipe the perspiration off of her forehead. Her blood started pounding maddeningly in her temples and groin.
“Are you all right?” He looked at her intently, his brow furrowed. He sipped the martini, his eyes glittering at her.
“Yes. Yes I’m fine. Fine really.” The band had settled down now into something halfway slow. It was a waltz, or a slow ballad. She couldn’t really tell. She was focusing on controlling herself. Please, great Hecate, don’t let it start. Not here.
“Do you want to dance. Everyone else is.” He finished rather awkwardly. He was sitting up too straight.
“What? Oh….no thank you. We certainly don’t have to do that. I mean…..Snape, your legs.” He had gone completely still again. Now she’d done it; he’d actually reached out to her and she had boggled the whole thing. But what happened if it started? And….oh god DAMN it! She had just swilled the entire drink…she would just have to risk it. She could not let him down.
But he was already retreating. “Yes. I see. I’m going to go procure another dreadful martini.” He stood with some difficulty and Esmeralda stood up with him and grabbed his hand. “Severus. I was just trying to save your legs; honestly, I would love to dance.” She gripped his hand hard so he would know she was apologizing. He hesitated, the mask on again, and finally consented quietly. He led her onto the crowded floor.
She knew she had made a dreadful mistake the minute he touched her. They danced formally; she had one hand on his left shoulder and his left hand was on the small of her back. They were not quite touching but his smell was all over her, it folded over her body in thick drifts. His desire was all heat and musk; she could hear his heart beating too heavily. She closed her eyes and tried to focus, she tried to concentrate on something else, on anything but the surge of need within herself that responded to his own; but it was too late. The change had started. She thought she had some time, but she had had whiskey, and had suffered from 10 days of heavy stress. His desire curled around her, whispering to her.
The backs of her knees, then, under her skirt, began to change. She could feel the flesh turn slowly to dark leather, to fine scales. It would creep up the back of her legs, and across her buttocks, and stop at the base of her spine in time, she knew.
His smell was intoxicating, and though he seemed withdrawn, his eyes were unthawed and less guarded than usual. She could have stayed like this with him all night, but stupidly she had not been taking the inhibiting potion, she hadn’t had time to prepare the concoction since she’d gotten here…she could not have foreseen this scenario, the strength of his arousal. She knew she would have to get away from him very quickly and risk hurting him….god! How had this happened? This was just too stupid…the skin was changing, the bones were altering…..she felt her forearms begin the transformation. Her thumbs began to ache and tingle.
“Severus.” She let go of him suddenly, pulling her hands from his like he was an electric eel. His eyes widened in surprise. “I need to go. I just need to….use the restroom. All right? I’ll be back shortly.” He stood there in shock but she shoved her hands into her robes; he was destroying her. She wove in-between the dancers’ heated bodies, trying to ignore the additional scents in the air, and finally she reached the back exit nearest the bathrooms and was out into the blissfully clear and cool night air. She hurried around and into the shadows of the restaurant’s rear entrances to try and regather her defenses quickly.
She made sure she wasn’t being followed, then she sank down in the darkness behind stacked grocery crates and leaned into the building wall. There were some potato sacks covering the ground and she dropped down onto them. She waited, trembling, trying to control herself. Once she started changing, in order to change back, she had to stifle her desire and clear her mind. Breathing exercises helped, and she closed her eyes and focused, but her eyes unexpectedly filled with tears and she could not concentrate. She held her head with a hand that had already transformed, the talons glinting like obsidian in the weak light of a streetlamp. She sobbed raggedly, from frustration, from sadness.
Distracted by her emotions, she did not hear him walk up to her. She had not heard the click of the cane. She looked up and saw only a towering shadow. If she ran, he could easily catch her with her legs changing like this; she was built better for flying, but if she flew….here, outside of Hogwarts…..she could be detected, and possibly caught. This was one of the most impossibly stupid moments of her life.
“Admantia?” It was Snape’s voice. He sounded worried, and angry.
“Look, you should go away. Please. I mean it.” She hissed. She stuck her claws in her robe pockets and tried to block out the maddening smell that floated out of his clothing.
The shadow remained motionless. “No. I shall not.” He stood there for a moment longer and she turned her head from him, closing her eyes, willing him to disappear.
“Severus. Please. Please leave.” She tried to make her voice as low and as threatening as possible. He instead, moved his robes out of the way and sat down beside her in the dark on the potato sacks.
“No.” He was too near, far too near. She wanted to scream. He placed his right hand carefully on her left forearm and she jerked away from him.
“Don’t. Please, Severus.” She brought her knees in closer to herself; at least her robes covered the extent of the transfiguration. Given his past, given what had happened with Lupin, he had told her of it once, feigning superiority, but she knew of his hidden terror….he would never be able to accept her like this, the way she was…..
“Esmeralda.” His voice asked a question, his body leaned towards her. She fought for some kind of control. He put his hand again on her left forearm and waited. “I won’t hurt you. And I’m not leaving. I’ve left…too often before.” His voice was low and adamant. His hand was very gentle and steady, and this time she did not pull away. Her mouth and throat were dry from nerves; she was barely maintaining the change at this point. Her skin was crawling in apprehension….when he made the realization he would shrink from her in fear; she could only steel herself, and wait for the inevitable. He moved his hand slowly down to her wrist, and she could feel his fingers over the leathery, fine scales. She felt his sharp intake of breath, and in dull fear she knew that he would begin backing away slowly, extricating himself politely, but instead, to her growing surprise his fingers continued, warm, over the knuckles of her talons; they explored the fine smooth leather of the palm. He traced the thick crease of hardened flesh between the thumb talon and her first fore-claw. His hand explored her changed hand tenderly. In amazement and dawning understanding, Esmeralda remained motionless. He had not left. She sensed no disgust, no recoiling, just wonder and the overpowering scent of him, dark and protective. His scent had not…..changed. She opened her eyes. Carefully, he entwined his right hand within her clawed hand and rested there. She could feel his breath on her neck as he turned his head towards her. “Animagus?” he whispered.
She shook her head mutely. She leaned back into the wall. “No. No. Not animagus.” She had not quite comprehended that he had not bolted from her….disbelief, shock flooded her; it nailed her to the floor in amazement. She felt him shift his hips slightly towards her.
“Are you….no. You couldn’t be. They died out long ago.” The shadow of his head dropped almost onto her shoulder. But she squeezed his hand in her claw and turned her head towards his. He looked up at her, his face incredulous. “Are you….a changeling?” He was amazed. She nodded. She watched his face. He was so beautiful….elegant, careful. His features seemed carved from white marble, and the planes and angles of his mouth looked as if they were formed from shadow, not from flesh. She just wanted to stay that way, watching him. He shifted his hips slightly towards her again. He pulled his right hand from hers tentatively and she watched him bring his left hand up to her face. He brought his whole body closer to hers, his long fingers cupping her jaw, and very carefully he kissed her. Esmeralda didn’t think any longer, but instead opened herself to the dark heat of his mouth. He was gentle and tentative and she brought one taloned hand up to his throat and touched him. His mouth became more insistent and she lost track of who she was; their desire intertwined densely, and when he finally moved his head away from hers she noticed that her back and ribcage had changed. His throat and neck were warm and he rested his head against the side of hers. “What triggers this?” He whispered.
“Don’t you know?” Esmeralda grinned wanly.
“No, I don’t.” His hand was back on her forearm. She stroked his hand with the back of hers.
“Your scent. Your….arousal. I can’t control my nature when there’s someone near me that….oh, when the feeling is mutual, Severus.” Exasperated, she clicked her talon on his hand to punctuate her point.
“Ah.” He said, understanding dawning. “That’s why you seemed so odd at the table.”
“Yes.” She lowered her eyes, mildly embarrassed. “It’s hard for humans, especially males, to hide their feelings from a…creature with heightened senses.”
“Are you saying that you could….feel me? Or is it smell?”
“It’s your scent; I can tell *how* you feel by the heat and odor of your body.”
“I see.” His voice was hushed.
“It’s nothing to be embarrassed about.” She closed her eyes, relaxing into him. She was suddenly fatigued and her senses were clouded from the constant tug of desire between them. He put his arm around her. She rested against him; he felt good. His clothing smelled like the smoke from the fire within the restaurant, and she sank into the solidity of his body. They were quiet for a while in the shadows.
“Were you going to tell me.” He asked.
“No. I’m a dragon changeling. My kind are outlawed; you know that, Severus. And….you’ve always been so distant. You’re a very private man. I couldn’t see into the future or know if we might get to know each other…better.” She finished lamely. “I mean…I didn’t know how you might react. I’ve never told any other human. But Dumbledore knows.” She sighed. “I can’t hide a thing from that man.”
“Too true.” Snape drawled in commiseration.
I mean, Severus,” she changed the subject. “Why aren’t you running? I’m a dragon changeling for god’s sake. Glowing yellow eyes. Fangs dripping with poison. Aren’t you completely disgusted or frightened or shocked?”
Severus laughed hollowly. “No. Amazed is more like it.” His lips twisted around the words in a smirk. “My father was fascinated by dark creatures; he had dozens of books on the topic. I kept to myself quite a bit as a child and spent all my time in his libraries reading these magnificent books on vampires, lycanthropes, shadow-people, dementors, dust-beasts, the whole lot. I was just as fascinated as he was. Genetic perhaps. Do you know…” he shifted towards her, “we even had a whole attic full of soot-imps. My father lured them up there by forcing us to leave the house for 3 weeks one summer. Soot-imps, of course, only inhabit empty, desolate buildings, and I was strictly forbidden to set foot up there once there were signs of habitation. Interesting creatures. Totally harmless. They had tiny round red eyes and when cornered, they hissed coal-soot smoke from their mouths. I used to wait for hours for them to come out at night.”
She lowered her head. “I’m no soot-imp. I’m a dark creature, Severus. Very bad magic.”
“Not to me, Admantia. I’m afraid I don’t rouse to that Ministry clap-trap. Idiots.” He hissed.
“Severus.” She looked at him in the dark, trying to read his face. “We need to talk about…what happened. Between you and Voldemort.” She felt his body shrink slightly; his warmth and smell changed and retracted, he receded some place within himself that she could not touch. She had chased him off again, please don’t let him retreat for long….please. She begged silently.
“No. Not here. It’s not safe.” He stood up with his cane before she could stop him. He was instantly vigilant; she could see his eyes darting in the lamplight down the darkened street. She regained control over her transfiguration and slowly changed back to human form. He beckoned to her with his hand and she took it, steadying herself on newly transformed legs.
He watched her eyes. “Admantia, don’t look so hurt.” He made an exasperated noise and his eyebrows knit together, brooding. “We just can’t discuss this here. We need to get back to the blasted school. It’s too dangerous outside of the warding spells.”
Nodding in affirmation, she took his hand and they left the darkened alley.
They walked as rapidly as Snape’s leg would allow; for 30 minutes of near silence they strode along until finally, the Forest lake came into view. Snape slowed. She could hear him breathing more heavily than he would have liked.
Severus had kept the deeper part of his mind shut all night. He hadn’t for the first moment believed that she would have gone out with him in the first place, but unbelievably, fantastically, she had accepted. He had been surprised by his own audacity, and he fervently refused to look at why he had done it in the first place. Now the quietest of intrusions, a breakdown between what he had locked down on so tightly and what was right here in front of him was sifting into his consciousness like the finest fume, a whisper of something he had long, long ago given up. He sewed the area up in his mind quickly; this was an evening out, nothing more. She was not the person she used to be to him, none of this had any more overtones of the past or possibility in the present than a shadow of a thought had. He repossessed his mind with fierce strength, the last thing at his disposal. But…some horrible, weak voice breathed and whispered at him…the kiss….she had returned the kiss. Beyond his mind, his forehead broke out in a light, cold sweat.
Esmeralda was the first to speak. “Let’s go to my rooms. There’s something I need to do there.” He paused for a minute, assessing her. “Snape, you don’t have to tell me what happened. But if I’m to help you and Dumbledore, I have to be prepared.” He remained motionless. Shadow hid his eyes and she could tell that he was struggling with some kind of internal decision. Then the moment passed and he swept his robes back with one hand, motioning to her to lead the way.
“Very well. I hope you, at least, have some decent vodka.”
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