Author's Note: In celebration of my birthday today (I'm so old now, but don't let ANYONE tell you that you have to give up your nerdy little hobbies just because you're an adult. That's none of their business.), I am updating all of my current WIPs throughout today and even debuting the first chapter of a new one I have been working quietly on in the background. Please feel free to Follow/Subscribe me to get all of the updates.
Also, I wanted to let everyone know that Best Served Cold will be the story that I focus all of my energy on once I finish Wintercearig. I'm creeping ever closer to finishing that story, so hopefully very, very soon this story will have my full attention until it's done. Enjoy!
Waiting was one of those skills that greatly improved the longer one practiced it. Unfortunately for Hermione, she was getting to be quite good at it. Most of her time was spent alone in the bedroom of the Shrieking Shack just hoping that the door would eventually open to let someone in that she didn't even want to see. What else could she really do stuck in that room? If she didn't teach herself to be more patient, she would have gone mad the first week.
Impossible to tell time in her prison, she thought at least a day had gone by since she saw the mysterious visitor in the corridor. Maybe it was longer. There were small cracks in the boards covering the windows that could tell her if the sun was out, but she spent so much of her time asleep, it was hard to know if it was still today or yesterday or even tomorrow. No one else had come back. Even though he promised her over and over again that he would, Thorfinn had yet to return. It was a bizarre feeling to constantly be on the edge hoping that he would finally come through the locked door.
Simply the fact that she was still alive gave her hope that Thorfinn was too. Dolohov seemed to be looking forward to hurting her in ways she didn't have the stomach to imagine. If he saw the opportunity to seize full control of her with her protector out of the picture, he would be there the first chance he could. It was also possible, she supposed, that both Thorfinn and Dolohov were dead. In their line of work they were in constant danger. One decisive battle could hopefully wipe out their ranks. She thought that if that were true, Draco would be there to tell her so. Surely he wouldn't leave her there to starve to death. Of all three of her captors, he was the one who wanted to be one least of all. Everything he did was done with great reluctance. Would he release her if he had the chance? She felt like he probably would.
When she was alone for too long, she allowed her mind to wander too far. None of the theories and speculations inside her head provided her any comfort. What would happen if all three of them died? Would the spells keeping her trapped end? Or would she eventually die herself without any hope of being rescued? Maybe the pervert in the corridor would take pity on her. Unless he or she was a worse option than the three she already had. That was an uncomfortable possibility. Unknowns were terrifying.
She thought it was afternoon. Winter in Scotland could make it hard to tell really. As she laid on top of the bed staring at the cracks in the ceiling, she wondered how it would all end. Rapidly she was reaching the point where even the painful death Dolohov promised her didn't sound all that bad. At least she would be moving forward instead of stuck in the same place. Was the afterlife nice? Was there an afterlife?
A soft knock on the door tore her out her increasingly depressing thoughts about death. It startled her enough to make her jump off of the bed though she immediately wondered why. Draco was the only one who ever bothered to knock. Why should she be the least bit afraid of him? She knew he didn't have the stomach for violence that was expected of him.
"It's all right, Draco. I'm alone."
The door opened at the sound of her voice. Expecting to see her former classmate, she gasped when the all-black clad figure of Severus Snape stepped inside the doorway. She felt her heart begin to race with terror. Finally having the answer of who was watching from the corridor didn't provide her with any comfort. If anything, she felt violated knowing he had seen her naked in such an intimate moment. When she thought of who it could be, she didn't even allow herself to consider him, but she knew she should have. He made the most sense. After all he'd been in that room before with her and her boys. Desperately she looked around the room for anything she could use as a weapon. Her captors had been thorough.
If she had ever been more frightened in her life, she couldn't be sure. Dealing with Severus Snape was much different than any other Death Eater she had been unfortunate enough to cross paths with. He could hurt her at any second and she would have no way to stop him. After how frustrated she made him as his student, he might even take a sick pleasure out of hurting her. She wished one of her captors would show up right in that moment. Dolohov would have even been a welcome sight.
Snape held up his empty hands as he stepped further inside the room. Was he trying to show her he wasn't a threat? Because she didn't believe it nor did she trust him.
"I'm not here to hurt you, Miss Granger."
Too late she remembered he was skilled at Legilimency. No doubt he could read her troubled mind like an open book. She tried to remember everything she had read about Occlumency.
"I don't believe you."
He sighed, clearly annoyed with being there at all. For a brief moment it almost felt like she was back in the dungeons stuck in the middle of a potions lesson.
"You were the one watching from the keyhole."
His familiar sneer crossed his face.
"I wish I hadn't looked."
Hermione felt her cheeks burn with further embarrassment. It was all so humiliating and dehumanizing. If she hadn't been trapped in that room like a prison, none of that would've happened and he wouldn't have had the chance to see more of her than either of them wished to see.
"I'm not going to do that with you."
"I've never been so relieved in my life."
She loathed how rude and sarcastic he was. Why did he have to be so terrible?
"What do you want, Snape?"
"I know you won't believe me if I tell you I want to help get you out of here, but I do."
Shocked was the only adjective that could possibly describe her reaction to hearing his answer. Of course he was correct that she wouldn't believe him. How stupid did he think she was? He was a liar and a known spy. Neither of those were markers that made him trustworthy.
"Why? So you can turn me over to your precious Dark Lord?"
"No. I would actually like to get you back to Potter and Weasley. They haven't been doing well in recent weeks. Now I know why."
He must have thought she was more of an idiot than she realized. How could he possibly expect her to believe he was telling the truth?
"I'm not stupid, Professor Snape. You know that."
"Indeed, I do."
"Then why are you lying to me?"
Even if she hadn't been in his classroom for six years she would recognize when he was on the verge of losing his patience. Sometimes he acted rash when he wasn't in control. How many times had she seen that while at Hogwarts? Maybe if she taunted him enough he would drop the act and reveal his true purpose for being there.
"You don't care what happens to Harry or Ron. You betrayed the Order when you murdered Professor Dumbledore.
Fury like she had never seen from him before filled his eyes. She evidently struck a nerve.
"I did not murder him."
"Spare me your lies. Harry was there. He saw what you did."
"Potter saw me offer mercy to an already dying old man. I cast that spell because I was ordered to."
There was such confidence and self-assuredness in his voice that she wondered if it was true. A small bit of doubt continued to tug at her mind. So many unanswered questions about what happened that chaotic night still existed. Was he actually answering some of them? She didn't know what to believe.
"The ring he put on was cursed. That's what was wrong with his hand. I tried to stop it, but I could only slow it down. He was dying already. It was only a matter of time. Professor Dumbledore ordered me to kill him to prove my loyalty to the Dark Lord. It was all planned."
Why was he telling her that? If she told Thorfinn or Dolohov or even Draco, he would be in serious trouble. Voldemort would make a painful example out of him. Traitors were not dealt with lightly amongst the Death Eaters. Igor Karkaroff was a prime example of that truth.
"Telling me this puts you in danger. You realize that, right? Why would you tell me that? I could tell…"
"Because I need you to trust me if I'm going to get you out of here."
Something seemed to shift between them. Hermione couldn't explain it exactly. The more they spoke, the more she began to believe he might actually be telling the truth. There seemed to be only one way to know for sure.
"Then let me out of here. I'm sure you can break through the spells Dolohov cast."
"It's not that simple. I could release you, but where would you go? Hogsmeade is crawling with Death Eaters who would do worse to you than just lock you in a warm bedroom and… feed you. Hogwarts isn't much better."
For claiming that he wanted to rescue her, he wasn't giving her much hope. How hard could it be to just blast the spells down and let her run? It wasn't as if she was about to ask him to go with her. Even she wasn't that desperate yet. He needed to hurry up and do something soon. The longer their discussion lasted, the more likely one of her captors would return and find them. What would happen then? She didn't like the thought of being dragged somewhere else. Her prison was almost pleasant.
"Can you get a message to someone with the Order who could hide me?"
He seemed on the verge of telling her it was impossible. Why did he bother knocking on the door in the first place if he wasn't actually going to do anything? Of course once she considered what she was asking, she could understand his hesitation. He wasn't exactly the Order's best friend.
"I could try, but I don't know if they would believe me."
She knew they were running out of time to come up with a suitable plan. Who did she trust enough to get her out of there? Who would be courageous or foolish enough to try when the odds weren't great?
"Kingsley. Find Kingsley and give him a message. He would help. I know he would."
"Not if he thinks it's a setup."
Unfortunately, the man had a point. If he tried to approach the auror without any kind of proof that he was really helping Hermione, it could be bad. Kingsley was usually a calm, collected thinker, but it had been months since she last saw him. The war getting more intense could have encouraged him to take more risks.
"Tell him… tell him the little witch would like to go for a ride on his broomstick."
"Miss Granger! I will not say that to him."
"No, you have to. It's a joke only he and I both know. He'll know it was really me."
Snape didn't even try to hide the disgust in the thought of passing along a message with such blatant innuendo. If she wasn't desperate, she would've told him something else. There really was no other option she could think of. Kingsley felt like her only hope.
"Fine. I will track Shacklebolt down and relay your message."
"Thank you, Professor."
"It's not going to be easy. The fool is on the run for breaking the Taboo."
She worried hearing that news. No longer able to hide in plain sight thanks to his position as an auror, if he'd angered the regime, he would be in just as much danger as she was.
"It's going to take time."
The clicking of the door shut behind her former professor seemed to echo in the silence of the Shrieking Shack. She hated feeling so powerless. Waiting was all she could do. At least she was getting better at it.
Maybe another day passed before the door opened again. She couldn't be certain. After her visit with Snape, she had spent hours sitting in the darkness of the room imagining what might happen next. It would've been maddening if it wasn't likely the only reason she still had her mind intact. When she heard the doorknob turn, she actually hoped it would be the horrible new Headmaster back to tell her he'd made contact with Kingsley and soon they would be busting her out. Seeing Thorfinn step inside the room instead, she had to hide her disappointment.
The wizard looked exhausted. No injuries were visible. That was a small comfort, she supposed. She knew if he died, it would be only a matter of moments before Dolohov was in there making her regret ever being born.
"I'm so sorry, Princess. I never meant to leave you this long. Do you have enough to eat?"
She gestured to the basket on the table filled with food she hardly touched.
"Do you mind?"
Unable to care about something so trivial, she shook her head to tell him so. Eating felt like less of a priority the longer she was trapped there. What did she have need of anything beyond the barest subsistence to keep her heart beating? Food lost its flavor when she was terrified every second she was alive. If she was lucky, she wouldn't have need of any of the baskets Draco delivered much longer.
"There hasn't been a spare moment to eat or sleep. So much…"
Realizing he was possibly on the verge of revealing too much, Thorfinn filled his mouth with a bite of cold chicken. What was so terrible that he didn't want to speak?
"What's happening outside, Thorfinn?"
"It's not necessary for you to know."
"No, don't you dare tell me that. I need to know. You can't just keep me locked in this room and not tell me what's happening. That's cruel."
Lecturing a known homicidal Death Eater on what did and did not constitute as cruelty was perhaps a lesson in futility. She understood that logically. A part of her hoped to reach out to the humanity she knew still existed in that big shell of a man. He hadn't always been a monster. There was reason to hope that he could one day stop being one again.
"No, if I told you what was happening, it would only worry you."
It was maddening to be treated like a helpless child. Ignoring the fact that her behavior was in fact quite childish and playing into that perception, she slammed the bathroom door shut behind her with more force than was really necessary. She didn't care it was ridiculous to lock herself inside a room when he could easily break down the door with his wand or even his foot.
Less than ten minutes later, she unlocked the door and stepped back into the room. Some time during her tantrum Thorfinn finished eating what he wanted out of her basket. No longer at the table, he sat on the edge of the bed watching the bathroom door, clearly waiting for her to return. There was something different about him that she didn't understand. What was happening? What changed him in such a relatively short period of time?
"You gave me a gift months ago. What was it?"
He didn't even bother to hide that he was confused by such a seemingly random question.
"What did you give me?"
Understanding what she was trying to do when she repeated her question, he sighed.
"Do you think I'm not me? Do you think I used polyjuice potion?"
She didn't know why he wouldn't answer such a simple question. It only made her feel more suspicious. There had been some polyjuice left in her bag when she was captured. Did Dolohov drink some to… she didn't even know what he would do if she thought he was Thorfinn. Or worse, was he really Snape? And their entire earlier conversation was just a big lie and he had no intention of ever helping her escape? With each passing moment she grew a little more frightened. Few options were good.
"Why can't you just answer the question? Do you not know it?"
Another of his sighs dripped with frustration. The wizard was exhausted and didn't want to participate.
"I gave you a purple beaded bag with an undetectable extension charm and told you to pack it up and run away."
Finally hearing the right answer she could start to relax. It was him. No one else knew that unless he told someone. She couldn't imagine he would. He could be seen as a traitor. Feeling a little more at ease, she sat down next to him on the edge of the bed.
"I did pack and run away."
"In the wrong direction. If I'd known you were going to run straight to Potter, I…"
Though it was painfully clear that he was tempted to keep going, he stopped himself with another heavy sigh. Hermione suspected he was just tired and didn't have the necessary energy to continue their usual banter.
"You should go to bed, but maybe take a hot shower first."
"Want to join me?"
She pushed him playfully but he hardly budged. The man really was a giant. Remembering what Dolohov said about his mother, she nearly had to bite her lips to keep from laughing. It was hardly the time and also she didn't want to have to explain what she found funny. He was the sort to ask.
"No, I don't. Besides you don't look like you have enough energy to use your wand… either of them."
"I always have enough energy to use my wand, but I wouldn't say no to laying back and letting you do all of the work."
"I can't believe I actually worried you might be someone else."
His chuckles sounded oddly out of place. Almost as soon as he laughed he stopped to become much more serious. She didn't like the change in him. Something about it felt unnatural. He was the sort to find humor in most situations even when no one else could. Seeing him so somber was unnerving. It didn't help when he placed the palm of his hand against her cheek. She worried he was about to give her bad news. Likely there was a lot of it available to share. She didn't have the first clue what was really going on outside. Thorfinn stared in her eyes for a few seconds then kissed her forehead. No explanation was provided for his strange behavior. He simply stood up and disappeared into the bathroom. She didn't know what to make of it.
Several minutes later Thorfinn exited the bathroom dripping with a towel wrapped around his waist. He went straight to the side of the bed he had claimed as his own. It seemed strange to Hermione that he would choose to stay there instead of return to his flat. After lifting up the blankets, he dropped his towel and climbed in. His hand pat the empty side of the bed.
"Get in. I'll be a good boy. I'm too tired to be anything else."
There was no reason to refuse. She thought it felt late, but no matter. She was usually exhausted enough to fall asleep whenever she closed her eyes. Who knew waiting around could be so draining? As she settled into the bed, Thorfinn extinguished all of the lights in the room with his wand and spooned up behind her body. He was asleep in seconds. It didn't take her long to follow.
A loud explosion outside of the Shrieking Shack woke Hermione up out of a sound sleep. Disoriented and terrified of the unknown, she wasn't sure what to do. Was she in danger? She jumped out of the bed at the same moment Thorfinn did. Just as confused by what they heard as she was, he couldn't provide any answers.
"It could be… no, fuck."
He hissed as the pain from his latest summons moved up and down his left forearm. Frantic and even more nervous than before, he ran around the room to grab his discarded clothing and get dressed with almost supernatural speed. Less than a minute passed until he was opening the door to rush to his fucking Dark Lord's side.
"Stay here, Princess. I'll be back as soon as I can."
She wanted to shout at him that she had no other choice but the door slammed shut before she could. What would even be the point? Unless Snape could perform a miracle, something she wasn't even sure she could dare to hope for, she wouldn't be able to do anything other than stay right where she was. Frustrated by feeling so helpless, she sat down on the edge of the bed. There was no reason to even try to go back to sleep. Her mind was too disturbed.
A series of five or six more loud explosions would've woken her up even if she had been foolish enough to get back in bed. She ran to the windows, desperate to find any crack that might give her at least some idea what was happening out there. No matter where she looked, she could see nothing. For all she knew, the Shrieking Shack itself was on fire and she was in danger of burning up with it. Was it wrong to think that outcome wouldn't be the worse-case scenario?
The door to the bedroom was thrown open. Although she didn't think enough time had passed that it would be Thorfinn, she hoped it was. He was by far the best option when she worried she might be in the middle of danger unless, of course, Snape was back with at least one member of the Order she could trust. She nearly groaned when she saw Dolohov in the doorway. It had been such a pleasant break from him. He also seemed rather giddy, a fact that filled her with even more dread. If Dolohov was happy, she didn't think it was likely to be good.
"You don't look as if you missed me."
"Because I didn't."
His laughter sent a shudder through her whole body. It sounded unnatural.
"I saw the overgrown child run out of here. Was he summoned?"
"I assume so. What were those explosions? Is the village under attack?"
"You would like that, wouldn't you? But no, the village is secure."
"But then what..?"
"It doesn't concern you."
Hermione hated the way he continued to stare at her almost without blinking. It was unnerving and weird even for him. What was going on? She could hear faint shouts outside but couldn't understand what anyone was saying. Selfishly he hoped one of the voices she was hearing was Thorfinn's and he was on his way back. Never, not if she was stuck in that room until she was a thousand years old would she ever feel comfortable alone with Dolohov. A starving grizzly bear or a rabid dog made for better company.
"You're not crying so it looks like he didn't tell you."
All of the worry and dread she felt earlier returned in a nauseating jolt. The horrible man crossed the threshold and took deliberate steps into her direction. Feeling very afraid, she knew she had to be brave. She could survive anything if she just put her mind to it, right?
"Tell me what?"
He laughed again. Somehow she knew everything was about to change. Life would never be the same.
"The Dark Lord killed Harry Potter last night."