The Prisoner and the Occlumens
A/N 1: This is a labour of love and is done for educational and recreational purposes only. These characters belong to the illustrious J.K. Rowling. I am merely borrowing them. This statement applies to every subsequent chapter of this story as well.
A/N 2: This work is rated M for a reason. If you take issue with adult themes, I suggest you stop reading now.
It was night when he came.
"Mum?" Hermione whispered into the dark hallway. She'd always hated this feeling: late at night, awake and alone, hearing things. Her wand was warm in her fingers, but dread suffused her chest. The lights were still off so it was unlikely that her father was up getting a midnight snack. There it was again. A shift in the air, a low buzzing. And something at her feet –
"Crookshanks!" Hermione hissed at the cat winding between her ankles. "You almost scared me to death. What are you doing?"
Her familiar gave her an unfathomable look before climbing gracefully down the stairs and disappearing into the gloom of the ground floor. She went forward tentatively, reasoning that Crooks's kneazle-senses would have precluded his nonchalant descent toward that sound if it were of sinister origin – there it was again. A feeling of something washing over her, almost prickling her, static ringing in her ears. It was stronger now.
At the bottom of the stairs, she searched for Crookshanks, and quickly spotted his glinting eyes at the base of the door leading to the foyer.
"Is someone there, Crooks?" Hermione asked. The eyes blinked at her, once. She gripped her wand tightly as she opened the door to the foyer; there, against the dark of the night, someone was silhouetted against the frosted glass of the front door. Crookshanks meowed softly, almost mournfully, and just as Hermione was going to look back at him the figure knocked softly at the door.
Hermione ducked back out of the foyer briefly to cast Muffliato up the stairs towards her parents' room. This was odd. Dumbledore's funeral had been nearly three weeks ago, and she wasn't due to meet up with the Order to plan Harry's retrieval for another week. She'd wanted this time specifically; she would be parting from her parents afterwards, possibly permanently. Now was her time to catch up with them, build some long-overdue memories, before –
Shaking her head and gathering herself, Hermione turned back to the shape at the front door.
"Who's there?" she called softly.
The answer was a small shower of sparks, red and gold, that lit the frosted window in a cascade of bloody, fiery snowflakes. Harry, you idiot, she thought as she unbolted the door and flung it wide. His back was to her, the faint light of a streetlamp behind him, but she immediately registered his height, his hair, the wand at his side.
"No!" She tried to close the door, a split-second reflex that was countered when he turned around and slammed a hand against it. She raised her wand, summoning her power, thinking it as hard as she could: Protego!
"Protego from what, exactly, Miss Granger?" seethed the voice of Severus Snape. He loomed over her, holding the door open easily despite her attempts to push it closed, staring down his hooked nose and into her eyes. "Have I offered you violence?"
She didn't answer, but redoubled the power of the shield charm, glaring into dark eyes made darker by the night.
"You may lower your shield, Miss Granger." With a flick of his wrist, his wand disappeared up his sleeve. "I have come in peace, and with a proposal."
When he let go of the door she realised that she had stepped back and away from it. Confusion stole over Hermione. It felt wrong to hold a primed wand on an opponent who had effectively disarmed himself. She let the charm dissipate, but still held her wand on Snape.
"What do you want?" she demanded, satisfied that her voice sounded stronger than she felt. It boosted her courage, and her anger flared. "How dare you come here, you - you –"
"Bastard?" he finished her sentence coldly. She felt herself flush. She'd never deprecated him, never participated in the gleeful and – later – hateful abuse Harry and Ron had thrown at this man. He stepped forward, one foot over the threshold. "But I am here, Miss Granger, and with an offer I doubt you'll refuse."
"No," she said, wand still in hand. "No. Get out."
She didn't see it happen. One moment she stood her ground, wand raised, chin up, Gryffindor defiance in every line of her body. He'd shifted his weight, that's all. And she'd been falling backwards, and her vine wand, still warm from its contact with her hand, soared up traitorously to be claimed by Snape. He closed the door silently after he stepped inside her home.
"Do get up off the floor, Miss Granger," he said with quiet disdain. His hand suddenly appeared before her, long-fingered and starkly white in the dim glow of the street lamp outside. When she stared at it, he huffed indignantly and reached down to grasp her by the elbow. "As I told you, I am not here to offer you violence. But do not try my patience tonight."
"Let go of me," she bit out, wrenching her arm from his grip and leaning against the wall to pick herself up as quickly as possible. She faced him again, and felt herself giving him a sneer every bit as fierce as the one he bestowed upon her. "What the hell do you want, Snape?"
"Eloquent as always, Miss Granger. I do admire the succinctness with which you speak this evening. Perhaps your essays next year will reflect this newfound concision – one only hopes that you hold off the parroting and paraphrasing long enough to say something not only relevant but interesting as well."
"Fuck you," Hermione spat, feeling herself reddening, feeling that now more than when he surprised her, when he took her wand, when he entered her home – now he was winning.
He raised an eyebrow at her and stepped from the foyer into the house proper, with Hermione scrambling to follow him.
"No –" she began, but he cut her off again, speaking over his shoulder as he walked into the kitchen and switched the lights on.
"Yes, Miss Granger. You will hear me out, and then you will make your decision. You have nothing to fear from me for the moment, and my generosity this evening extends to the other members of the household as well."
He sat down at the table and waved a hand lazily, indicating that she should sit down opposite him. She glared at him, standing her ground silently by the counter, between him and the rest of the house. Between him and her parents.
He looked terrible in the bright light of the kitchen. His cheekbones stood out sharply under his haunting eyes, and his stringy hair looked even greasier than usual. His sallow complexion was waxy, and there was a definite rumple in his typically pristine black robes. Crookshanks, she noticed dimly, was back at her ankles, staring at Snape, who placed something hard and shiny on the surface of the table.
"Well?" he asked, raising his eyebrows.
Hermione leaned forward to look at the trinket. It was a badge with four fields of colour: red, green, yellow and blue, with their attendant sigils of lion, serpent, badger, and eagle. The words Head Girl gleamed across the fields on a pewter banner.
"What?" she asked, bewildered, staring between Snape and the badge. "What is this, Professor?"
She almost bit her tongue off, recognising that her sudden curiosity had pushed her right back into the habit of deferring to him as her teacher. If he noticed her use of the honorific, he didn't show it. Instead, he leaned back in the chair and stretched out his legs.
"It is precisely what it seems, Miss Granger. It is the position I offer you, should you agree to return to Hogwarts this year."
"But – but you're not in a position to make that offer," she said, feeling rage wash over her once more, drowning out her earlier confusion. "You murdered your employer. You led your band of Death Eater friends into the school. You assaulted Professor Flitwick – you – "
"When you are through listing my activities last term, I will move forward with my proposal," he snapped, and she saw that, despite his relaxed posture, he was wound up like a coil, ready to spring at any moment. Fear made her stomach drop. His face, contorted with anger, suddenly went blank, and he continued more calmly. "You will return as Head Girl when I return as Headmaster. Our respective posts will be secure by the first of September. In exchange for your enrolment this year at Hogwarts and your agreement to the position of Head Girl and all that it requires, I shall remove your parents to a safe house known only to myself. They will enjoy a comfortable, undisturbed life there, and I will personally guarantee their security. You will be welcome to communicate with them regularly, of course, and their whereabouts will remain unknown to my fellow Death Eaters and to the Dark Lord." He cracked his knuckles, and looked at her. When she said nothing, he sighed sufferingly. "I'm sure you have questions, Miss Granger, so let's hear them."
Hermione felt her jaw clenching so much that it hurt. She'd heard him, of course, but she had to turn away from him and replay his words in her mind in order to truly accept what he was saying. She felt tears coursing down her cheeks. When did I start crying? she wondered vaguely, swiping at them before she turned back to him. He held her eyes immediately, and she felt her stomach swoop again.
"And if I say no?" she whispered.
"I will step aside, Miss Granger," he said, his voice descending into the silky tones he used with Harry in their Potions classes. "And what I have delayed on your behalf will occur." He leaned forward, the overhead light etching the lines into his face more deeply. "Did you think that they could remain thus unprotected, Miss Granger? Did it not occur to your friends to take you and your Muggle family to safety?"
"I put up protection," she replied, her tongue heavy in her mouth. "I did everything I could to –" Tears were sliding down her cheeks, and if she didn't stop talking she would start sobbing.
"It was not enough, Miss Granger." He waved an elegant hand between the two of them. "Obviously. But my protection will be."
"How?" she asked, trying to feel angry, trying to reclaim some of her courage through her tears. "How can I believe anything you say? Why do you even want me to be Head Girl?"
"You can believe that if I leave here without your parents they will be dead by morning." His tone was neutral. "You can believe that you will be safe at Hogwarts. And you can believe that having one member of the Golden Trio well within reach will benefit the next Headmaster of Hogwarts."
"You'll use me to get to Harry!" she blurted, realising it as she said it. "He'll use me to –"
"Perhaps, if it comes to that, but I doubt it. You will certainly provide a type of insurance, Miss Granger, but your primary function will be that of intermediary between my interests and those of the student population."
Her jaw dropped.
"It's about politics?" she asked, incredulous. "You can't be serious."
His posture stiffened, and the air in the room seemed to grow cold. He stood up and walked towards her, his wand held loosely in one hand, his steps precise. She had noticed long ago that his movements contained the economical grace of a large predator, and that the true breadth of his strength was kept carefully in line – and aligned – with the perfectly measured way he moved. It took everything Hermione had to stand her ground as he drew close to her, well within her personal space. He smelled of something acrid and poisonous, and she felt the coolness radiating from him as he purposefully intimidated her against the kitchen counter.
"I assure you," he hissed, "I am perfectly serious. We will build a new wizarding order this coming year, Miss Granger, and you will be part of it. You will be a symbol of capitulation, of acceptance, of enlightenment." She shook her head from side to side, leaning as far back against the counter as she could. His hand snaked out and grasped her chin, forcing her to look into his eyes. "You, insufferable know-it-all, will teach those around you the lesson you are learning tonight: that you either accept what is offered –" his eyes glinted menacingly – "or you watch those you love die long, lingering deaths."
For such a profound, sudden change, it hadn't taken long at all. Casting one last frightened look at the dark man in the kitchen, Hermione had run upstairs to rouse her parents. She'd still been crying, but had managed to explain the situation – a version of the situation – coherently enough that, after promising her a stern talking-to for her previous lack of forthrightness, the Doctors Granger had changed out of their pyjamas, and had allowed Hermione to pack for them by magic. In a trice, it seemed, she was introducing them to Professor Snape, who cast her a lingering glance when her parents took his unproffered hand eagerly in greeting. She had not told her parents of his betrayal, of the Dark Lord's return, nor just about anything else, and now they believed that they were going to a safe house run by the Order of the Phoenix instead of a prison where they would be held hostage by a Death Eater.
Snape shrank their bags, and they all set out into the darkness of the London night. Her parents took the apparition as well as could be expected, although it would have been smoother if, as Hermione had suggested, she had apparated them one at a time herself after knowing where they were going. Snape snorted and told them that the house's protection would disallow anyone but him to control apparition within range. Hermione tried not to look disappointed as she joined hands with Snape on one side and her mother on the other, an awkward semi-circle in the shadows of their suburban street.
They arrived in front of a ramshackle house on a narrow road.
"Where are we, sir?" Hermione asked as Snape moved forward to unlock the front door.
"My house, such as it is," he replied, turning the key. He opened the door with a sarcastic flourish. "Welcome."
It was nearly a hovel, and Hermione could feel her parents' trepidation redoubling as they all looked around. Dank and musty, messy and mouldering, it was more ruin than home. Surprise stole through her – she had never pictured him at home before, but this would have been the last thing she'd have imagined.
"I apologize for the state of the place," Snape said. Hermione stared at him. He sounded sincere. "I will, of course, bring it up to code within the next few days in order to ensure your comfort in the coming months." He returned her stare and, when her mother and father turned their backs to peer into the tiny kitchen, he gave her a minute shrug, before continuing, "There is a bedroom set aside for you upstairs – in better condition than the ground floor, I assure you. I will have groceries sent in from the outside regularly, and you may write to your daughter whenever you wish should any further needs arise."
"Frequently," Hermione bit out, as assertively as she could. "I want to hear from you at least once every three days." She looked away from her professor's glittering eyes. "To ensure that you're both okay."
Her parents agreed, and thanked the dark man again, shook his hand, and hugged Hermione for so long that she nearly squirmed. Snape was watching them, and she tried not to cry again as her eyes met his and she was hit hard with the falseness of this façade.
Wondering if she'd ever see her parents again, Hermione left them in the mouldy old house, following Snape down the front steps.
"Can't I stay with them?" she asked him, fighting to keep her voice steady.
He shook his head. She noticed that he looked weary now, and impatient.
"You will return home and pack your school trunk like every other year, and then await your summons to the Burrow."
"Sir, what if – what about –" she cut herself off, unsure of how to say it, but needing to voice the question that had occurred to her as soon as he'd closed the door on her parents.
He glanced at her sharply.
"What now, girl?"
"I just… you said that I would be Head Girl." She looked from her shoes to his face. It was almost too dark to see him, out here in the street. "But I'm mugglebo– a mud – "
"That, Miss Granger, is none of your concern."
He stepped close to her once more, seizing her upper arm. A shaft of moonlight illuminated his gaunt face, his harsh features. Despite his grip, his face was a mask of neutrality. Occlumency, Hermione thought, before he shook her slightly as though he'd sensed her momentary distraction.
"I said that it is none of your concern, Granger." He released her abruptly. "Now get out of here. And," menace flashed across his face, "if you tell anyone – anyone –"
She felt herself nodding vigourously. He nodded to her once in return, and then unceremoniously thrust her wand into her hand along with the Head Girl badge.
"I shall see you, Miss Granger, on the first of September."