Stolen Child

Chapter 23

Ten Thousand Miles

Hermione lay upon her side, as the evening sunlight streamed down upon her still form. A soft sigh escaped her lips as she forced herself to sit. It had been over three weeks since Christmas, and the time simply kept on slipping through her fingers, no matter how hard she tried to keep them tightly clenched, and keep the swelling moon from becoming full in just a day, it was still hopeless.

There had not been a single gap in her training since Christmas evening, Professor Snape had seen to it, coming to her room every evening and beating upon her door until she responded, never taking no for an answer. It was the only thing that kept her going, the reason she woke every morning and brushed her hair and teeth.

They had settled into a precarious and yet comfortable friendship, she setting aside her anger, and both making sure to steer clear of anything that might once again stir up the palpable tension that had clung to the air around them before, always careful not to step over the line, and yet roaming freely within their newly defined borders. They both knew exactly how the other felt, but there was no pressure to cross the firmly drawn boundaries before them- at least for the time being. They focused, instead, on training.

Sliding out of bed, she slowly made her way to the window, watching the daylight begin to fade. The moon had already risen part way in the sky, and was nearly washed out by the still glaring sun, and the pink tinged sky. It appeared to be full at first glance, but upon further inspection, Hermione could definitely see that it was ever so slightly lopsided, just a bit skinnier than it was when at the true peak of its cycle. It had been rather warm the past few nights, high enough above freezing for most of the snow to melt and turn to slush.

Hermione jerked violently from her revelry by a sharp rapping upon her door. Her mouth twitched, and she almost grinned as she turned and headed for the door, one hand instinctively reaching to check and make sure her wand was still tucked within the pocket of her robes.

Snape was waiting just outside her door, hands linked behind his back, and eyes narrowed, accentuating his grimace, but there was something in his eyes that betrayed him, and his rigid appearance.

He had not mentioned the waxing of the moon, but the mutual knowledge weighed heavily in the air around them, its presence definitely felt, though not spoken of. "Good evening, Professor. How are you?"

"Quite well, Ms. Granger, et vous?"

"Tout à fait bon, professeur, merci" Hermione grinned briefly before following his lead, carefully shutting her door behind them. She walked with him, not far from his side, and they met no one in the hallway. It wouldn't have bothered her anyways, since she had regained her memories, it seems as though everyone had taken a step back from her as though she was fragile, and the slightest glare from her would send even McGonagall away without question. The only one who did not back away was walking with her. Harry, Ron, and Ginny's visits, which had stopped a week after Christmas due to their return to Canada, had been short and filled with prolonged silence, and frustration. But Hermione was glad for the space, the time, and the privacy. She had not broken down in front of anyone other than Snape, she never had to feel doubly awful for feeling like a drama queen.

Snape did not turn to look at the woman next to him as they made their way to the room of requirement. Since Christmas he had firmly reigned in his desire, though nothing could stop his emotions. It wasn't just his emotions that nagged at him- it was also the increasingly apparent fact that Hermione was barreling headlong into a life so much like his that it frightened him. She had withdrawn from everyone accept for him, spending most of her time within her quarters and the room of requirement. Her skin was growing paler, and she had nearly perfected the same scowl he wore most of the time. Briefly he glanced over at her as they neared the top of the stairs leading to their destination. Her face was set in a mask of what he knew was the beginnings of something beyond sadness or anger, something that would pull her under and hold her there for years, or possibly forever. The thought of it made his heart tighten furiously within his chest, but now was not the time to create a stir, perhaps her current harshness would serve her well in the battle they were both anticipating. .

The Room of requirement was almost exactly the same as it had been the day before, and the day before that, padded on one side, a large fireplace on the other, only minor adjustments had been made along the way. Anxiously, Hermione pulled her wand from her pocket, and grinned at Snape, her face coming alive as it always did during their lessons. The weeks had been filled with study and practice, and Hermione knew almost every fire spell which could be found within the library, not to mention quite a few not commonly used by law abiding witches and wizards. Her hunger for knowledge was nearly the only thing she now retained from her youth.

Unable to wait for any prompting from the Professor, she immediately went to the fireplace, and began to run through each spell, never faltering in her long string of flame inducing Latin.

Professor Snape watched in silence, amazed at her ability, his own wand drawn, and held at his side itching for the duel he knew would come afterwards. It had become their ritual, she would practice and learn, usually on her own, and then each night she would demonstrate the knowledge she had gained with fire spells, and then they would fiercely duel. Her power was growing quickly, and he knew that it would not be long before she matched him in skill, and event he feared would come too late.

Each night, just as she practiced, so did he. It had been years since he had used an unforgivable, and had only done so enough to count on his fingers. And so he had Dobby gather up all the pests he could find while cleaning, from spiders to boll weevils and even a few doxies, and each night he would kill each and every one of them in a small blast of sickening green light, make them writhe in agony, or perform absurd stunts against their will, and despite the insignificance of the tiny creatures, every night his sleep was as uneasy as the months that had followed the final battle with Voldemort.

The moon, despite his wishes for it to remain a tiny sliver in the black sky, had grown heavier and heavier as the month had moved on, and the following night, he knew it would seem almost too pregnant to stay suspended amongst the delicate stars. Each day had been dedicated to preparing for the following night, and after Christmas, they had silently agreed to focus on the task at hand, though the line they walked had to be checked with every step.

His attention strayed from her performance, and drew inward as he wondered what they would do if by some miracle, they defeated their enemy? Would they part ways? Would the barriers between them finally fall and allow them to be together? If he succeeded in training her well enough, would he be redeemed? Would he honestly be able to take her into his arms and tell her, or would he simply bite his tongue and allow her to drift away? But more importantly, what would he do if they failed? Could he honestly point his wand at the woman before him and snuff her out like one would a candle? Could he live with himself, with the knowledge of what she would be subjected to, if he did not? He was startled back into awareness by the sudden lack of sound in the room. Hermione was watching him from several feet away, her hair slightly tousled, but otherwise she appeared calm, her exercise having not even left her breathless.

"Are you alright, Professor?" Anxiously, Hermione fingered her wand. Her voice was curt, and she made sure to fiercely shield her emotions from him. It was obvious that his mind had strayed, and had strayed to an unpleasant subject, but she'd be damned before she let him know how concerned for him she was, no matter how much she wanted to.

"Quite alright, Ms. Granger." Snape straightened himself, drawing his wand out from within his robes. "Shall we continue?"

Taking a deep breath, Hermione stepped onto the padded mat that lined the other side of the room, her steps light and graceful, her wand held at the ready position. "Of course...that is, if you're not afraid." She smirked slyly, arching one eyebrow as she watched his expression. She enjoyed provoking him, allowing her anger at him to slip out under the pretense of fun- sometimes it, and their duels were the only thing that kept her from blasting him into oblivion.

Snape's eyes narrowed menacingly, and he felt the adrenaline begin to pulse through his veins. "Oh, I can just see it now, Professor Severus Snape afraid of a little girl."

They skirted around an imaginary circle, wands held ready, eyes locked, their hearts beating furiously within their chests. Their duels had shed their playful pretense weeks ago, and neither of them dared hold back as they did at first. Their battles were fierce, and impersonal, their spells meant to not only disarm, but bring down the enemy. Subsequently, the padding throughout the room had become many times thicker, and the ceiling was a few feet higher, and a first aid kit could be found on the hearth.

Hermione was the first to strike, a streak of purple light pulsing from the end of her elegant wand. "EVERBERO!"

She was quick, but not quick enough, and Snape was able to block the incoming blow "CONTEGO!" The purple light dispersed around him, a bubble- like shield protection him from the blast. There was a brief pause before the bubble faded and he raised his pitch black wand in the ready position. "EXPELLIARIMUS!"

Hermione dove to the right, intending full an well to do everything possible to keep her wand in hand, and rolled before pulling herself back onto her feet, immediately spitting out another curse- "DEPULSO!" Her wand bucked slightly in her hand as she spoke, and the air rippled in a path leading straight to Snape. A split second later, she sent another spell his way- "BATTUO!"

The Professor successfully dodged the first spell, diving in the same manner that she had, but he had not gotten to his feet before she hurled the second one his way, and threw him into the wall, several feet behind him. He had barely hit the ground before aiming his wand in her direction and repaying her for her blow- "INFLICTUM!....INCARCEROUS!"

Both spells hit her full on, and she was thrown against the wall, and then promptly binded by the ropes which flew from the end of his wand. Briefly she struggled against her bonds, gritting her teeth, and growling with the effort to free herself before she was able to poke her wand hand through the coiled rope. "SOLVO!" Instantly the ropes fell away from her body, and before Snape could take a breath to bring her down once more, she viciously threw another spell his way- "MISFACIO!" A blast of red light flew from the end of her wand, and hit her target square in the stomach.

Immediately, Snape double over, grunting in pain. He was able to stand for a moment longer, before falling over onto his backside, gasping for breath.

Hermione, merciless, pointed her wand at him once more "Expelliarimus." Snape's hand jerked, and his wand flew well beyond his reach. He began to painfully pull himself back onto his feet, but he had not yet fully recovered from the blow, and so Hermione hit him with on last spell, for good measure. "Incarcerous!" Rope flew from the end of her wand and wrapped around Snape's slightly hunched body.

Sighing in defeat, The Professor glared at his former student, and then smiled slyly. "Bravo, Ms. Granger."

Grinning, Hermione doubled over in an extravagant bow. Straightening back up, the grin slowly fading from her slightly damp face, she approached him, aiming her wand at his bonds. "Solvo." As before, the rope loosened, and fell to the floor. "Are you alright, sir?"

Bending to retrieve his wand, Snape couldn't help but chuckle. "Ms. Granger, I have been subjected to the Crucio curse more times than I can possibly count, Misfacio is like a gentle prod compared to it, so yes, I'm alright." Tucking his wand back into his robes, he turned to face her, drawing himself up to his full height, the effects of the spell having faded.

Hermione turned away from him to hide the pained look upon her face, the thought of him under the effects of the Crucio curse causing a horrible pang deep within her chest. She busied herself with putting away her wand and futilely attempting to tame her wild hair with her fingers until the ache inside her faded enough for her to be able to face him once again.

"I have one more thing to go over before we leave tonight, Ms. Granger." He was standing next to a small table with two chairs, one on either side, which had apparently been provided by the room. In the center of the table sat a rather large capped jar filled with what appeared to be hundreds of writhing insects. "Please, take a seat. You'll need your wand." He pulled out one of the chairs, and gracefully slid into place. "I have been mulling over the option of teaching you this for a while now, and though it may be a bit late to master something so complex, if you are able to, I feel as though it may be rather useful." He waited until Hermione was seated before uncapping the jar, and nonchalantly dipping his fingers into the black, writhing mass to select a victim and setting it on the table between them. "Watch, and listen carefully." He pointed the wand deftly at the tiny creature- an ant- which had begun to scuttle across the table, towards him. "AVADA KEDAVRA!" there was a small blast of sickening green light, and the ant instantly curled into a ball, as rigor mortis set in.

Hermione watched, her heart pounding furiously. She had, of course, read about the unforgivable curses, but never had she seen one performed, and she had never even considered the possibility of actually learning any of them, let alone the killing curse.

"The trick is, you had to really want it to die." Snape's voice was flat, and he did not meet her gaze, instead he kept his eyes upon the wilted ant. "Now you try." Once again he uncapped the jar, and pulled another insect from within- this time it was a daddy long-legs.

Hermione's first timid attempt produced nothing- not even the faintest hint of a green light, and Snape patiently picked up the squirming spider and set it in front of her once more. Nearly ten tries later, she was able to produce a faint blast of green light, and on the eleventh try, she finally felled the tiny creature, which promptly turned onto its back, and curled in on its self. Hermione sat back in her chair, staring at the result of her spell, her wand hot in her hand from such constant strain.

Snape did not pause; he simply swept the carcass off the table, and replaced it with another daddy long-leg, which immediately began to scuttle across the table, away from the jar. "Again, Ms. Granger." His voice was cool and even.

"Avada Kedavra!" Another blast of green light, and the fleeing spider immediately crumpled- tumbling a few inches before becoming completely still.

Again and again, Severus threw new victims in front of her, again and again, she felled them until the jar was nearly half empty- only then did he replace the cap on the jar, and sit back in his seat, solemn, and yet pleased. Never had he taught a more talented witch, or wizard. Surely, he had met a few, but never had he taught one. "That will do, Ms. Granger."

Swallowing hard, Hermione placed her wand back in her pocket, her hand trembling fiercely before scooting her seat back and standing upon shaky legs, her eyes drawn to the small pile of carcasses which had been swept off of the table by Snape's deft hand.

"Ms. Granger?" Snape stood from his seat, tucking his wand away once more. "Ms. Granger?........Hermione?" He followed the path of her gaze, and sighed when he saw the pile of pitiful corpses. "That's enough for tonight, shall we?"

Tearing her eyes away from the floor, she took a deep breath and nodded, forcing a smile, forcing herself to be strong, and distant. For the last time, she followed him out of the room of requirement, closing the door behind her. Despite the weight of her new knowledge, and the nausea churning within her stomach, Hermione's heart was light, far lighter than it had been since Christmas. She was powerful, capable, and her mind was overflowing with awareness and understanding. This time she would not be an outmatched, though confidant girl, she was armed to the teeth, and willing to use everything available to her.

Snape couldn't help but notice the determination set upon her face, the squareness of her shoulders, and the sureness of her steps. It caused his heart to swell with something he had been void of for many years- pride. Lost in his thoughts, he completely forgot what he was intending to do before returning to the dungeons, until he was three quarters of the way across the entrance hall before coming to a sudden stop. "Ah, I almost forgot."

Hermione cocked her eyebrow, but did not question his actions- she instead followed him as he wheeled around, and ducked out of the front doors, pulling the jar of insects from a large pocket within his robes and handing it to her, his face blank, but his eyes shining. Smiling faintly, she took the jar from him and descended the front stairs.

The night landscape was well lit by the light of the waxing moon, and it only took her a moment to find an appropriate place to kneel. Unscrewing the lid of the jar, she gently laid it on its side in the low cut grass, now devoid of snow. The creatures within did not hesitate to flee into the night, and only a few moments passed before the container was empty.

Hermione stood, closed the jar, and handed it back to Snape, their fingers touching momentarily before she had time to jerk her fingers away as though burned. There was an awkward moment as they stood silently facing each other, neither daring look the other in the eyes, until Professor Snape was finally able to gather the nerve to speak.

"Ms. Granger, I know...I know I have been a fool.....and for that, I am truly sorry. I can not excuse the way I have been, I just....I just hope that you can forgive me in case....before...."

"In case tomorrow is my last day...." Hermione finally met his eyes and sighed, her eyes shining brightly in the moonlight. "I can't pretend to understand why you turned me away on Christmas, I do know, and understand that it hurt me badly. But I also know and understand that you do not do things without a reason, no matter if it has grounds, or not. I just wish that you would see that there possibility for things to be right, and good. There is a possibility that we will defeat the enemy tomorrow...I just wish...." She wished that he would simply take her in his arms and sooth her, tell her that it would be alright, that he would be by her side, and that he would defend her, and defeat them, and they would live happily ever after....but she could not tell him that, and even if he did say all that she wished, it would not make it any more true. There were no happily ever afters- she was an orphan, Dumbledore was an invalid, the man she....the man she...loved.....did not, or simply would not love her back. She looked away into the night, towards the forbidden forest, her heart struggling to keep up with her thoughts.

"Merlin's Beard, Hermione..." Snape could think of nothing to say to make his actions any more excusable, nothing to ease the pain he knew he had inflicted, and so he simple pulled her to him into a tight embrace.

Hermione did not resist, and instead she melted against him, her arms circling around his waist, her face buried in his chest. Her tears came easily, without sobs, without a sound. They simply trickled down her cheeks onto his warm robes. She cried for longer than either of them knew, until the chill of the night began to seep through their robes, and she began to shiver against him.

"Perhaps, we should go inside, it's late, and you need to gather your strength before tomorrow." Slowly he pulled back from her, his hands upon her arms. She nodded silently, her hands going to her face to wipe away her already nearly dried tears.

Hermione followed his lead, back inside, and down the stairs towards the dungeons. As always, the hall was damp, and chilly, and yet it warmed her- being tucked away beneath the massive school, cradled within the earth. The warmth of being sheltered, melted into the warmth she had felt from his embrace, and somewhere in the depths of her heart, hope was kindled once more.

"Earlier today took the liberty of alerting Professor McGonagal and the other staff, and they will all be on the watch tomorrow night. Though Minerva is still quite confidant that the grounds are more than safe" His voice was even, but gentle- far gentler than it had been in the past few weeks.

Hermione nodded imperceptibly and kept walking, her heart pounding fiercely within her chest, the reality of the next day chilling her, even through the numbness that often follows a good cry. Before, it had seemed like a distant possibility, something that was perpetually in the future, but suddenly it was upon her, her last taste of freedom could be the here and now, fewer hours than she could count on her digits. When they reached the door leading to Snape's classroom, Hermione did not even think about the possibility of pausing before she spoke. "Sir... Tomorrow, may I stay with you? If it truly is my last day....I don't want to be alone." 'I want to be with you.'

For the first time in several minutes, Severus gathered the strength needed to meet her pleading eyes, and though he made sure to steal himself, he found his heart aching in response to her plight. "If you wish, Ms. Granger. Now, I suggest you sleep, and sleep well. If you become restless," Snape paused long enough to dip one elegant hand into one of the pockets on the outside of his robe, and draw out a small vile of amber liquid, "Just take this, for a dreamless sleep."

Holding out her hand, Hermione offered him a thankful smile, and a faint nod. "Goodnight, Sir, sleep well." It took all of her strength not to throw herself upon him, and instead she turned and heading briskly back towards her quarters, gripping the potion tightly in her fingers.

"Goodnight, Ms. Granger." He paused, momentarily lost in the movement of her robes before he could pull himself back together and retreat to his classroom... the night may be well on its way, but his work had just begun.

Hermione did not hesitate to shed her robes, which she lay over the back of her favorite chair. She did not light any candles; the chilled, blue glow of the moon provided plenty of illumination as she slowly padded around her room, carefully checking to make sure that everything was in order.

Her clothes were neatly tucked away in her dresser; her books had all been placed back in alphabetical order in her shelf. A small stack of rolled parchment scrolls lay upon the coffee table nestled between her arm chairs, one letter for each of her few friends- Harry, Ron, Ginny, Mrs. Weasley, Professor's Dumbledor, and McGonagal, Madame Pomfrey, Hagrid......and Severus Snape. She had read each one carefully, and had done several drafts of each, save the one for Professor Snape- she could not bring herself to read it even once, and knew that if she did, she would immediately toss it in the rubbish bin. She had held nothing back, purged her soul onto the paper's surface- everything she couldn't, or wouldn't say, she had written, and it pleased her, put her mind at ease.

Once satisfied that indeed, everything was in order, Hermione, bathed in the glow of the moon slid between the covers of her bed, rubbing her feet together to fight off the chill of the smooth fabric. She lay awake for a long while, her mind reeling with the enormity of the following day. Had she done everything possible to prepare? What would it be like if she got through this- would Snape finally set aside his reservations? Did she know every spell? Could she use the killing curse on someone if it came down to it? Would Snape honestly use the killing curse on HER if it came down to it? Did Professor Snape know how she felt about him? Slowly she would drift off until she was nearly asleep, only to be jolted awake by the jab of a fresh, terrifying thought, and after nearly an hour of trying, she gave in, and downed the vial of potion, crawled back into bed, and moments later, drifted off to a perfect, peacefully, completely dreamless sleep.

Ten Thousand Miles Joan Baez (Traditional)

Oh fare thee well, I must be gone

And leave you for awhile

Wherever I go, I will return

If I go ten thousand miles

If I go, if I go, if I go ten thousand miles

Oh, ten thousand miles it is so far

To leave me here alone

Well, I may lie, lament and cry

And you'll, you'll not hear my mourn,

And you'll, no you'll, and you'll not hear my mourn

Oh, the crow that is so black, my love

Will change his color white

If ever I should prove false to thee

The day, day will turn to night

Yes, the day, oh the day, yes the day will turn to night

Oh, the rivers never will run dry

For the rocks melt with the sun

I'll never prove false to the boy I love

Till all, all these things be done

Till all, till all, till all these things be done

ok, there we go ...Chapter 24, yay! was freaking hard, but ah well...almost there may take me awhile, but I'll keep chuggin along! Thanks so much to everyone who reviewed the last chapter...and thanks so much to everyone who read the bloody thing! I changed a little part at the end, just to make it a little more dramatic, etc, etc, etc...lots of fun.... Anyways....the wedding went well, stressful but well, and as I said in the updated chapter 23, if you'd like to see pics, go to the "wedding stuff" album here: I'm the chick in the white dress! LOL Ignore my art, though, it's so out of date! Bleh!