Chapter Six

                The long corridor was dark, drafty and alien. Frighteningly alien.  Bella walked on, though she did not know where she would be led.  Something seemed to be pulling her through this dark tunnel.  Pulling her to the end (or the bottom?) of itself with little effort.  She was nothing more than an indifferent puppet to the force of this place's will.  As she went, she felt compelled to look towards the walls surrounding her.  There, though the darkness closed over all other of the hall's features, she saw paintings.  All of them were glowing with their own light, glittering like stars in the dark void of the night.  Some were of faceless people, others were of people she recognized – be it from school, or from general society.  All were moving, like ordinary pictures would . . . but there was something else there as well.  As she passed each, she felt things from them – or rather, towards them.  To the faceless ones, she felt indifference – whereas, to the portrait of Headmaster Dumbledore she felt deep gratitude and a need to prove herself.   Passing a picture of what could only be Voldemort, she wanted to attack it, destroy the monstrosity it presented to her –so deep was her loathing of it. 

The feelings hit her and possessed her until she moved away from the portrait which had inspired these emotions.  It was all rather odd . . .  That was, until she came to an end.  There . . . there was a picture of herself at the very end of this hall.  There, dozens of emotions hit her.  Worry, need, want, lust . . . but most of all, fear.  A deep, delicious fear. 

                And then, her portrait was gone – replaced by a giant mirror.  In this mirror, she saw herself as being very small, trapped in the glass end of a dark tunnel.  Presently, the image in the mirror grew, and she was only a small speck in one of two obsidian eyes.   The reflection grew once more . . . and then again – showing her in seconds a face, then a body.  She was looking at Severus Snape – and he was viewing himself in a mirror!

                "Bella." She turned from the reflection in the mirror to find that she was then standing in a candlelit room.  The features of this chamber escaped her after the second she perceived them – though she knew them in hindsight to be of the greatest beauty.  However, it was something much more important that drew her attention away from the looks of the room's furniture.  She was standing only inches away from  Severus Snape. 

                He stood there in his eternally elegant black robes, though this time the sleeves were rolled up.  On one of his revealed arms was wrapped a snakeskin – one that looked wilted and fading.  On his other arm was wrapped a vine of thorns – cutting deep into his skin.  His blood was red laced with silver, and dripping from the cuts .

                "Bella."  He repeated, his deep silken voice filled with such emotion. . .  Feelings of  worry, need, want, lust . . . but most of all, fear.  A deep, delicious fear. 

                "Severus."  She replied, her voice lilting with hope and want. 

And then she was once again facing the mirror.  But this time, she saw herself in the arms of the one she longed for.  They were kissing.  Hungrily, tenderly, wantonly . . . It was beautiful.  And then, she felt his lips upon her own – and she realized that she was in the mirror, that she had left the outside looking in.  His embrace was gentle, but demanding. 

And it was glorious. 

Glorious.

Meow head-butted her from the land of dreams, breaking that sweet vision.  His current mews of pleading would turn soon into growls of demand.  Once again, the sun was shinning through into the room – warming her body that had remained unguarded by the bed curtains all that night.  A book lay open beside her hand, it's pages bent in on themselves.  Meow was on the floor then, looking up at her with annoyed urgency.

"Damn cat." Bella muttered sleepily, getting up from the bed to fetch the feline's breakfast.  It was, after all, time to start the school day.  As she went about her morning routine of getting ready for her scheduled classes, her mind began to drift back to the dream she'd had.  The memory was already fading, but she knew inside of herself that it had been special.  It had almost been real.   And, it had been about Professor Snape. 

Bella stopped in her actions to hug herself tightly – a dreamy look coming over her eyes.  Then, it vanished and her arms fell to her side. 

"I have to guard against these acts.  Hermione Granger is one too many people who know."  With that, she resumed her doings – taking a shower and dressing for the day.  Deep in her mind though, she was hugging herself over an unnamable joy, and the thought of a mirror surfaced. 

*

Harry's forehead touched the surface of his section of the breakfast table, his teeth gritting together.  Hermione was watching him with concern, as was Ron.  Both had already questioned him on what was wrong, and he only claimed it was a headache.  The two friends knew well what the ailment really was though.  A type of headache, yes – but not a typical nor a temporary one. 

Voldemort must be planning something. 

That was the thought that was shared in silence when Ron and Hermione looked at one another over Harry's hunched shoulders.  The air was thick with their worry, not to mention Harry's suffering.  Around them, however, these things were not noticed.  Everyone else was either enjoying their breakfast, studying, or talking loudly over some or other subject.  The thought of other people made Hermione look up and over to the Slytherin table.  There, she saw Draco Malfoy surrounded as always with his entourage.  A little down from him, a small group of boys she knew to be 6th years were whispering, looking down to the very end of the table.   Looking at Bella Cinder.  She sat by herself, the four or five seats beside her and in front of her were clear of people.  Her attention had been upon her breakfast and a thick book . . . that is, until Hermione had looked her way.  As if on cue, Bella had glanced up right as Hermione had cast her attention upon her person.  Their eyes met, and the Slytherin took on a aura of smug importance, gilded with spite.  It was as if the air filled with her malice, for when she had taken up this emotional mantel, the group of boys who had obviously plotting against her seemed to lose their bravery.  The group broke up, their attention going to their own meals before them.  A few cast fearful glances down the table to the older girl, but her eyes were narrowed in another direction.  Still, it would not benefit their health to break their plans on her then.  The affect they wanted was to get her angry enough to hex them, not add to her anger enough for her to kill them.  Hermione, like the rest of the students, knew of the bet that the Slytherins had on Bella Cinder's revenge. 

Just then, Harry groaned beside her.  Hermione broke her locked gaze with Bella, throwing her attention to the afflicted boy.  He was looking extremely pale, and his eyes were glassy with tears.

                "Harry?"  She and Ron voiced with concern at the same moment.  The youth in question shook his head, looking up at Hermione and then looking towards Ron.  His color was coming back, but slowly.

                "It's gone now."  He told them, and the calmly, he took to eating his breakfast once more.

At the teacher's table, Dumbledore was watching the three Gryffindors with much curiosity – as well as hope that Harry would in time confide in him –even it was just partly.  He had an inkling as to the problem, though.  Maybe he should contact Sirius Black?  No, it was probably too soon for that.  After all, he and Remus Lupin were already neck deep in some other danger . . . no need to add more worry on them when the time for decisions and plans had not yet come.  They were, after all, already wary enough over the current events of their world.  

Dumbledore's thoughts distracted him so that he did not notice that another of his faculty was as preoccupied as he was.  However, the worrisome diversion of Severus Snape's was a whole other creature. 

*

He had seen the eye contact between Miss Granger and Miss Cinder.  He'd felt the malice that had risen from his house student, and had felt the curiosity from the Gryffindor.  And then Miss Granger had turned to an ill looking Potter, and Bella's anger had softened into simple alert.  She'd put her attention back to her meal and her book, not even glancing his way.  This puzzled him,  but he was thankful of it.  There was, after al, so much to give name to here.  So much to solve and understand . . . about her, about himself.  So much about himself.

The Baron's 'counsel' from the prior night had helped to leave Severus far more worried than ever.  At the moment, he was watching Bella Cinder with concerns that varied and deepened by the second.  He wanted things for her, but he told himself that these things had nothing to due with libido or lust . . .

 The things he wanted for her could have nothing to do with him as an active ingredient unless it was on a scholarly level or as a mentor against her Father's path.  Thoughts other than this frightened him, made him loathe himself. However, this self loathing was underlined with a futile wish.  If only things could be different, the wish would sob inside of him, if only she was older, or I was younger . . . what a pair we would have made!  

The wishful side of himself he found to be a fool. . .  A bloody, simpering fool.  Crying on about if's and only's was not a very good habit to have if one wanted to survive in this world, so he schooled himself to ignore the wishful cries inside of his; while secretly, he prayed that it could be true – what the wish said.

~*~

Hermione looked at her time-turner and sighed.  She remembered her third year, when it had helped to suck the very life out of her - but then had been key in saving the life, no to mention the very soul, of Harry's Godfather, Sirius Black.   And now, she held it again.  Once more it would aid her in going to each class she had to attend.  Hopefully, she'd not overshot herself on the classes as she had in 3rd year.  Hopefully, the time-tuner wouldn't be needed to help divert any more catastrophes.  But that was wishful thinking, that latter thought.  Another sigh escaped her, and then she tucked the little manipulative trinket away.  Leaving the corner in which she choose to reflect, she looked around carefully to make sure no one had been around.  The use of the time-turner, of course, was once again a secret.

Hermione's footsteps took her down the hallway to the entrance to the dungeons.  It was time for Snape's Advanced class once more, a class she had nothing else around – so her time-turner would be out of use for the moment.  In fact she wouldn't have to use it at all until the next day, when most of her classes seemed to jumble upon themselves on her schedule – each clamoring for her undivided attention. 

Entering the classroom, she saw that Bella Cinder was already there –seated and studying.  Also already arrived were the Ravenclaw boys, Marcus and . . . what was his name again?  It didn't occur to her at the moment, but Hermione knew she'd remember it one day or another.   Ignoring the two youths, she crossed the room to take her seat next to her class partner.  Bella's eyes didn't leave her book – an old, thick tome on the subject of potions that caused emotional manipulation.  Isn't that book illegal? Hermione asked herself, her brow furrowing in the idea.

"Goody-goody little girl, it's not a forbidden subject as long as it's not abused."  Bella stated, her blue eyes locked on Hermione.  "Besides, we use emotional manipulation all the time – in or out of magic.  How can they forbid something so fundamental to magic and to life?"

How'd she know what I was thinking?

"Excuse me?" Good cover on the surprise there, Granger. Hermione smiled inwardly.  But only for a second.

"The look on your face when you saw what this book is about.  Gave you dead away.  But, there is your answer." Bella returned to her reading, hitching up the side close to Hermione so it couldn't be read. 

Oh, I've annoyed her.  Very good Granger, just alienate her.  Hermione mentally kicked herself.  If she's as predatory as Malfoy is, I'm in for it! 

Beside her, Bella kept reading – her attention never leaving the book.  Even when Snape entered the room in his usual creepy flourish, Bella's attention stayed on the book.  It took the mention of class starting to make her close the tome.  And then, she looked beyond Snape or at her scroll of notes or their text book.  She's obviously determined to hide it, Hermione concluded, now that she knows someone took notice of her.  Poor girl.  She must be terrified.  Well, I need to make her know I won't spread a word of it.  It's not like she's Malfoy or one of his goons.

*

Sitting at his desk, Severus began to work on the next lesson plan while the students before him silently took the notes he'd scrawled along the board.  Growing short on an idea that had been flowering in his mind for next lesson, he allowed himself a bit of recess to look away.  When he did, his attention went to the first person on his mind. She was taking her notes in silence.

 Well, look  at this, Snape thought - his attention on Bella.  She's pretending not to notice me.  The instincts have kicked in over Granger now, obviously.  Good girl, Miss Cinder.  Keep it up until you graduate, and we'll all of us be well off.  Find some young man worthy of your notice then .  You need not have me in your life.  I'd do nothing but destroy it.  

Then, he looked at Hermione, his thoughts changing to the reminder that she was in possession of a time-turner again.  It was another fact of his grudge against her, the gnawing suspicion that she'd used it to help out Black two years ago.  Not that he'd bring it to anyone's attention that he knew about that little offense- now that there were more important things on the horizon to worry over - but it was just another reason to resent her presence.

His eyes traveled back to his own notes before him, but before they could reach the scroll, they landed on the book on Cinder's table.  Though he couldn't see the title of it, he could tell by it's bindings what it was.  He hadn't seen that volume for ages.  Then, an idea struck him.  It would be amusing to see how many people mucked that one up. 

"Miss Cinder?" He questioned out loud.  She looked up at him,  making eye contact for just a second.  Before his attention could cause her to blush, she let her gaze go through him to the wall at his back.  He could feel her disassociate herself with his specific presence.  Now, he was just another teacher.

"Yes, Professor?" 

"May I have a glance at that book you've bootlegged into my classroom?" His tone was startling friendly to the other students – but then, their minds reminded them that Bella was a Slytherin – and Snape favored only his own House.  The shock wore off them all.

"Of course."  She nodded.  He waved her up to the desk, and she rose up and crossed to the front of it.  Bella handed the book to him, her vision trained on the wall behind his head.  It was difficult for her not to look at him – but she knew her face would fire up - and that she didn't want, especially now that the whole classroom was watching. 

"May I borrow this for a time?" Snape asked, after satisfying himself that it was the book he'd thought it would be.

"Of course." She gave a nod of her head.  "I can owl my Mother for her copy if I need it for any further study."  With that, she returned to her seat – leaving the book with Snape.  When she sat, he looked up at the class . . . and became enraged that the majority of them, including Miss Granger,  were staring at him, and then at Bella, all due to the exchange.  He rose from his desk, and strode to the nearest of them. 

"Mr. George, would you please so kindly tell me exactly what is of such interest it takes you away from your current study of the given lesson?" He stared down the Ravenclaw, whose first name was Marcus,  and he could feel the boy flinch under his stare. Snape waited a moment.  No reply.  "Well? Need I take points from your house if an answer is still not forthcoming?"

"No sir."  Marcus replied.  He was shaking.  Snape had that effect on some people . . .  but the students had never witnessed another one reacting so much like Neville Longbottom.  Marcus may have that one Gryffindor beat out on the fear of me, Snape observed somewhere in his subconscious.  No matter.

"Do enlighten me, then."  One of his hands was sat upon the youth's table, the other was curled up on his hip.  The smirk on his face was growing into a sneer at the boy's silence.  One could've heard a pin drop in that silence. Snape would wait a moment longer.  Still, nothing.  "Very well. 10 points from Ravenclaw.  5 points from Hufflepuff and Gryffindor as well, since no one else volunteered the information."   A collective groan came up.  "Now, keep your eyes upon your work.  Tomorrow we will begin working on a very volatile project.  I want no more distractions.  Is that understood?"  Again, no reply.  "Is it understood?!"

"Yes, Professor Snape."  The mostly cowed students replied in unison. Snape returned to his desk, loudly muttering how his Advanced students were turning out to be worse than a group of untrained first years.

After class, and after Hermione Granger had gone her own way, Bella approached Professor Snape at his desk.  Once again, she looked at him as though he were just another teacher – or at least, that's what she forced herself to do. 

"Professor?"

"Yes, Miss Cinder?"  His voice was low.  He was still moody, but he would answer a scholarly question.  All Slytherins learned his moods during their first year – and what could and would not pass during each.

"May I ask which project we will begin tomorrow?"  That brought his attention up to her face.

"One you should know well, if you've studied this volume as you seem to have."  He replied.  "I will return this to you after I've made exact copies of the directions to make the Mania for the class."  He used the potion's nickname to make sure she'd studied it.  The glint of familiarity passed through her eyes, and he was satisfied. "You'll have it tomorrow, I promise."

"Thank you, Professor."  She stated, giving him a small smile.  Then, she left – her mind racing on how she could get even with Hermione Granger for even knowing about her secret.  The Mania was a potion that manipulated a person into fixating all their thoughts onto one subject or thing– and there it would stay until the object of the obsession was fully understood or fulfilled.  It had once been used for a very short period by Wizards and Witches as a study aid for their children, until it had been noticed that the children cared for nothing else save for the subject . . . not even food or water or sleep, until the subject was learned.  Since then, it had been reinvented to have a less potent affect, bringing out a less obsessive reaction to the subject named as the potion was drunk.  It was presently known to be archaic, having been put out of commission two centuries ago – when potions of emotional or mental manipulation of most forms were found to be inhumane.  The book expressed all of this, and also gave a antidote.  It also had a side note, written in code –that Bella had obviously broken- that if one added an article or hair belonging to a person, and whispered the name of that person in the drinker's ear, that the person would become the obsession – as well as another subject or thing told to them.  The antidote would then only work to reverse the obsession with the subject or thing, not the person.  The drinker would be doomed to pursue that person until the obsession was returned.  At that point, the drinker would lose the obsession and feel the way they normally would have about the prior obsession.  Hence, it was then named the 'Unrequited Love' potion.  It was impossible to trace.  And, strange though the fact was, it was not illegal to make or use. 

Bella was smiling with triumph when she reached her next class, the full plan against Hermione coming into her mind.