Title: Abyss (21)
Spoilers: SS/PS, CoS, PoA, GoF, FB, QTTA, OoTP
Summary: Hermione has been rejected by the Order and begins to sneak around. She acquires an odd familiar that becomes a man by night. Kidnapping, betrayal, and unsaid words. Based on Maid of Many Names' never-finished 'Degree' and 'Nonpartisan. Eventually Hermione/Voldemort. Very dark.
DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author notes: This chapter has been edited.

Chapter 21 – Interlude

She waited quietly against the wall next to the door of Professor Snape's classroom. She was not thinking of anything because she was afraid of what would surface in the rolling interior of her mind. For the last week, she cloistered herself in her Head Girl chambers, applying herself to studying for the Potions, Charms, Transfiguration, and Arithmancy N.E.W.T.s. Just that afternoon, she finished the last practical and written exams. She could only feel fortunate that the quills the examiners used were specially charmed by Professor Dumbledore in front of her so that they could only write down objective reports rather than allow the obvious biases of the examiners color her marks.

Because of her urgency to leave Hogwarts, the examiners had to present their results within a twenty-four hour period. It was a stressful grind for the examiners, but she knew instinctively that when Professor Dumbledore sent her the scores via one of the school owls, she would take the highest academic honor that Hogwarts had to give when she left. She sensed that the hostility Dumbledore showed her in the office had decreased, just as her own anger had dissipated. Their owls – the safest mode of communication – were cordial, not overly polite, and sometimes he asked her a question regarding her time before Voldemort, the time for which he had expressed his suspicions. She answered him as honestly as she could. When he stopped signing his letters 'Headmaster Albus Dumbledore,' and instead as 'Professor Dumbledore,' she knew that he had, in part, forgiven her for her outburst. She knew enough to accept his forgiveness, but she herself was not ready to forgive. He respected her silence in this matter and did not press her. She was glad. After the power surge in the Great Hall, she felt like she was going to break, shatter into pieces if someone even looked at her or said anything to her.

She still received Howlers. She had cleaned out her cauldron five times from all the explosions which meant that she needed to open the Howlers that came at those times. She tried as best as she could to just hear the shriek and not the words. At that pitch, it was easier. She also received support mail from a few people, some from people who read the Quibbler – those made her smile despite the ridiculousness of the article – and some from the Order. Arthur Weasley's letter was given to her during one of the interludes. Fred and George and he supported her, but Molly, with her protective tendencies, was inclined to overreact – Hermione read through the lines that Mrs. Weasley never wanted Hermione to even think about a member of their family. She was, however, touched that Mr. Weasley dropped a line for her against Mrs. Weasley's wishes. And Hermione felt it best that she be on the same side as the twins.

Harry visited her every day after classes, ostensibly to study for the N.E.W.T.s. Hermione still retained a fraction of her old self – she would not tell Harry a single hint about the content of the exams she had taken that days. She liked those times – they made her feel as if Ron would burst in at any moment and cajole Harry and her into a swim in the lake, a prank, or just something random, impractical, and fun that would take up the rest of the day. Something that they could do together. She missed being a part of three – it was as though an integral piece of them had been ripped out. They were not entirely whole without one of them there providing what the others lacked.

Whenever she mentioned Ron's absence, Harry's face went hard.

"He's a prat, Hermione," Harry said. "He'll realize how awful he's been ten years from now, and he's going to hate himself. Don't even think about him right now."

Harry's vehemence toward a boy that had until a few days ago been his best friend even beyond Hermione's status scared her, but she did not comment.

Sometimes, Harry asked if it was okay if he brought someone with him. Hermione told him so many times that she was not ready, that everyone else was not ready to see her again – she was worried that the minute they came into her rooms, they would hex her or worse, kill her. She kept seeing the crowd that kicked her, Nott kicking her, their hateful words and accusations, the Prophet headline, the mob outside the Ministry, the Death Eaters laughing at her… When she began to have trouble breathing, Harry knew she was not ready. However, she promised to at least talk to Ginny if Ginny gave Harry her wand first and if Harry stayed there with her… eventually. But at Harry's gentle coaxing, she did relent to see Luna Lovegood – the girl had never been devious or subtle, and Harry knew that she wanted only to talk to Hermione.

She had walked into Hermione's Head Girl rooms without any sort of hesitation when Harry brought her in. Her wand was tucked in its traditional place behind her ear, and she did not quite look at Hermione as much as through her.

"You didn't marry Voldemort, then," Luna said matter-of-factly. "Daddy sometimes lets these things happen. Wilhemina Barrie is too romantic – Daddy knows that. But you don't have a wedding ring."

"I don't think our dispositions are compatible either, Luna," Hermione said, keeping a straight face. She was suddenly glad that Harry convinced her to let Luna in. Luna may be a bit off, but her heart was always in the right place, she sometimes saw things that others did not.

"You never know," Luna replied. "My mother didn't believe in half the things Daddy does. Do you ever talk to your parents now?"

Luna's sobering question brought Hermione back to a reality she still had not faced. "No," she whispered.

"Oh. It helps. It's always helped me," Luna said.

"Thank you," Hermione managed through the lump she was trying to suppress. She did not want those memories again… not those memories…

Luna stood to leave. "Harry told me not to stay long, so I'm going to go now. They shouldn't have kicked you."

"Thank you, Luna."

Luna left humming, and Hermione swallowed a few times before regaining a semblance of composure. She gave Harry a small smile to alleviate his concern. No one else had been in the rooms but Harry and herself since then. She was going to talk to Ginny before she left. Ginny had not been so violent in the Great Hall, not like Ron, maybe she would understand a little after her experience with the diary… Hermione hoped.

The door to Professor Snape's classroom opened, jolting Hermione from her trance-like contemplations, and a crowd of students eager to escape the dread Potions Master bustled out. When they saw her, some of them paused or skirted away, but no one said anything. She saw a few eyes drift down to her arm, like most people's eyes drifted up to Harry's scar. She hid the Dark Mark under one of her long-sleeved robes – everyone knew it was there, but she did not like to be reminded, and she thought that some people respected her more for hiding it than displaying it.

She did not raise her eyes to their curiosity but let her hair shield her face until all the students were gone. It had grown out some since she had been taken from Lucius' care, but she would cut it again after she left Hogwarts. She knocked on the half-open door.

"Come in, Miss Granger," Professor Snape replied. He did not look up as she slid into the room and shut the door behind her.

"You wanted to see me, Professor?"

Professor Snape set his quill beside the two stacks of essays on his desk. "I was more under the impression that you wanted to see me."

"You sent the owl," Hermione said.

"And Lupin sent me a strongly-worded letter that told me in no uncertain terms that someone needed to show outward support." He sat back in his chair and looked at her. "You never sought me out, and I assumed that you did not need anything from anyone at Hogwarts. That was quite a performance you gave in the Great Hall."

"You weren't there."

"I don't need to be there to know what happened."

"I could have used your support then."

"And what would be the point of my support, Miss Granger?" Snape snapped, leaning forward. "I would never deny that I am singularly the most hated teacher at Hogwarts as it is, with a reputation that hints at suspicions that I have tried to quell enough to keep parents from owling the Headmaster. I have not protected my position here at Hogwarts or lost the opportunity to spy for the Headmaster only to have Weasley or Longbottom accuse me of being a Death Eater and forcing me to show my own Mark, causing both of us to be utterly useless and ostracized."

"So you just wanted to save your own skin?" Hermione muttered.

"Everyone tries to save their own skin… including you. We know better than to pretend we're a part of some glorious cause when, in the end, we want to survive." Professor Snape stood up from behind his desk. "You can come closer, Miss Granger. I will not hit you or hurt you in any way."

Hermione took a few steps closer. "It will take a while to get used to this. I just… you… I can't… not yet."

Snape did not reply, simply waited for her.

"I don't suppose there is anyway to get rid of it," she said. Snape's eyes followed her hand as it touched her left forearm gently.

"There are a few options, none of which you would be willing to try any more than I was willing to," he said. He walked into his storeroom – the student storeroom, not even his private stores – and came out with a thin flask in his hand. "How much do you want the Dark Mark to disappear?"

Hermione stared at him, unsure of how to respond.

"Even if it goes away, everyone else will see it anyway because they know it was there. They won't care… so it is your decision only." Snape set the flask on the desk next to Hermione and stepped back. "In that flask is one of the strongest corrosive potions that I've managed to concoct… completely undiluted and contained only by cut diamond glass. It will burn through the Dark Mark and will likely burn through your entire arm if it isn't countered with sodium chloride."

"Liliath poison?"

"One of the many ingredients," Snape said. "As a Potions Master, I cannot lose my arm, so burning the Dark Mark or cutting off my arm by a St. Mungo's operation is impossible if I wish to continue my profession. Even then, I cannot guarantee that his summons and connection to you will be any less strong. Some people still feel limbs that they've lost, and I would not put it past the Dark Lord to maintain the Mark's connection even after it is physically detached from the body. I, for one, am not willing to risk it. Do you really want to be rid of the Dark Mark so badly that you will possibly destroy the opportunity for a future profession?"

Hermione looked at the diamond flask, transfixed by the clear liquid within. Somehow, she could not reach for it, although her fingers twitched and the part of her that was battered, broken as a china doll thrown to the floor, cried for her to do it – you have nothing left to lose.

"What professions, Professor?" Hermione asked, forcefully looking away from the flask. "Unlike you, I don't have the fortune of anonymity, ambiguity, or alliances. I have no education with which I can work in the Muggle world, and I cannot think of a single wizarding business or government position or whatever that would me – not when they know."

"Let's give up then, Miss Granger," Snape replied impatiently. "Together. Let's pretend that the world will continue to revolve around us and our problems, and let's balk at every possible option that we have just because we fear failure and rejection, as we have since we were twelve years old and out of which we should have grown by now."

"That's unfair, Professor."

"Of course it is," he snapped. "But it's true. Out of everyone in this damn school, there are only two people to be pitied, and Potter is not one of them, nor is Longbottom, nor Chang, nor anyone who has fought or lost someone in this war. Nor I. The Headmaster… and you. I have seen and participated in Death Eater torture. Bellatrix, Rodolphus, and MacNair are skilled beyond the ken of the toughest Auror, but even they pale in comparison with the Dark Lord when he focuses on a victim.

"But the fact that you are to be pitied does not mean that I will pity you, especially if you moan like you do and protest that there is nothing left for you. There are always options open, and with your much vaunted intelligence, I would have thought that you would be pursuing your options." He sneered down at her. "Do not tell me that you've been sitting around your room doing nothing."

Hermione stared back with a spark of fire in her eyes. "I've been studying for the N.E.W.T.s, even though I don't know whether they will do me any good. For all I know, I'll be in Knockturn Alley, doing what Lucius taught me to do because no one will be looking at my arm in a hovel…"

"That is enough, Miss Granger," Snape said.

"Why? Don't I deserve a little self-pity, at least for a little while, Professor I-can't-forget-something-that-happened-when-I-was-in-school-so-now-I'll-treat-Harry-like-he's-dirt?"

"Fifteen points from Gryffindor."

"Ah," Hermione snarled. "The old someone-hit-a-nerve response. Do you have any suggestions for a profession, Professor, or are you just going to insult my method of avoiding the inevitable mourning period I'll have to go through when I let myself?"

"Another fifteen points from Gryffindor, Miss Granger, and may I remind you that you are still a student of this school and that I am your professor." He glared at her. "If you are so insistent on sulking when you could have the world under your thumb, refrain from doing so until you are out of this classroom and out of my earshot. Then you can throw yourself to the wolves for all I care. Someone who can outshine the Headmaster in a battle of powers for a few seconds should be able to control her emotions for that long at least."

"What professions, Professor Snape?" Hermione said, closing her eyes and reigning in her frustration. She did not know it, but she was shaking. Snape watched her quiver like a dandelion and wondered whether she would attack him or collapse into herself. Her face was still pale, as it had been ever since she had been rescued from the warehouse, but there were still remnants of the incident in the Great Hall – the slight limp she had when she walked in, bruises along the bared skin of her shoulders, collarbone, neck, face, and hands, simply the way she held herself. Snape inwardly admired her persistence in the face of her continued torture and exile when she looked like a single breath would destroy her, but he would never tell her that.

Snape reached behind his desk and took out four letters. He handed them to Hermione, who scanned the contents before glancing up at him in confusion.

"The Department of Mysteries could not care less if you were a former Death Eater, a Death Eater toy, a Death Eater as it is, or a house elf. They make their selections based on a number of anonymous aptitude tests and assign you to your field of study after a thorough mind copying and descrying. Your Dark Mark will mean nothing to them if you are loyal to their Department, which acts independently from the rest of the Ministry, albeit they usually have the same goals. That is one option."

"Where did you get these letters?" Hermione asked.

"The Headmaster and I sent your academic scores to the various management offices – the results of your N.E.W.T.s should follow. The Headmaster owed me a favor." Snape sat back against his desk. "Another option is to work for Ollivander. It is not the rewarding experience I'm sure you were looking for, but he is a natural Legilimens, Every time he looks in your eyes, he will see your innocence. The damning authority of the Dark Mark is no match for him – he gave the Dark Lord the power to create the Dark Mark. He is neutral ground, both for the Dark Lord and the Headmaster.

"That letter," Snape said, nodding at the parchment covered in spiky green and gold script, "is from Gringotts. They are particular about their employees, and it is possible that you are not exactly what they are looking for, especially because the number of things that you can do are limited, and many are what goblins can do themselves. You cannot travel, and that is one of the primary reasons they hire a witch or wizard. However, they, too, are creatures that neither side is willing to incite into a counter-rebellion against both of them. They may find a use for you."

"This one is still sealed," Hermione said, taking out a powder blue envelope sealed by a caduceus.

"That one is Lupin's doing," Snape said with a touch of his old sneer on his face. "With his condition, he has certain… contacts."

"St. Mungo's?" Hermione asked, confused.

"Think, Miss Granger," Snape snapped. "St. Mungo's would never let you near their facilities, even for research purposes only. Their seal is a wand crossing a bone. Think."

When no inspiration was forthcoming, Snape raised an eyebrow. "Something that our Miss Granger does not know. Maybe we all misjudged your abilities."

Hermione ignored him and opened the letter. It relieved her to read something that was not threatening her or screaming obscenities.

Miss Hermione Granger,

Our mutual friend, Remus Lupin, informed us of the true nature of the kidnapping that the newspapers left unsaid. He also told me of your unusual brilliance, logic, resilience, perseverance, and strength of will and character. I know Remus well enough to tell when he is sincere or exaggerating – he was not exaggerating, and I must admit that your plight intrigues even me.

Miss Granger, I belong to a healing order known as the Medicus. As a Muggle-born witch, I suppose you have never heard of us – many wizards try to forget that we exist because to dwell too much on what we stand for and what we are capable of strikes fear in their hearts, and for the most part, they leave us alone. Our reputation, although beyond reproach in reality, is often scorned.

The Medicus Order is not an easy Order into which you can be initiated. It requires a degree of callousness and cynicism, and yet an unfailing optimism, compassion, and tenderness. It is not an easy life and should not be entered into lightly. However, I doubt that you, after all that you have been through, would enter anything lightly.

It is possible, Miss Granger, that we could use your talents. There are sacrifices – sacrifices that you might not be willing to take – so if you decide that the Medicus Order is something you wish to consider or pursue, you may request an appointment through Remus. An owl knows how to contact us, but I would rather hear from you in a less impersonal manner. Should you make your decision in our favor, you will be given a more thorough explanation about what being a Medicus means.

Remus will tell you of the risks and sacrifices required of you if you decide to join the Medicus Order, at least as much as he knows. If you still wish to join us, you have already crossed one of the biggest obstacles. Your time with Lord Voldemort also works in your favor – we know that you can be focused and sane even in the face of extreme adversity, and you know when desperate measures must be taken and how to go about it without losing your head.

You have also, as Remus says, been put under Ministry surveillance. We can remove that surveillance

Best of luck in your decision and in the time ahead of you, Hermione,

Medicus Shannon Langley

Elder of the Medicus Order

"Professor, what exactly is the Medicus Order?" Hermione asked slowly. "Why did Remus…?"

"The Medicus," Snape said, standing up and pacing. "I don't know what possessed the wolf to go after the Medicus…"

"Professor."

"If you join the Medicus Order," Snape said, "more people will despise you for it."

Hermione thought for a moment. "That won't make much of a difference, sir. Will you despise me for it?"

Snape gave her a calculating look, as though he could not quite believe that she would still care about his approval. "I do not know much about that Order, only rumors. They are healers – not like the healers in St. Mungo's. They are far more powerful and know different tricks of the trade. The Medicus are almost entirely without bureaucracy. Like the Department of Mysteries, they do not answer to the Ministry. Like Ollivander, neither side is willing to arouse their wrath. They are not neutral, Miss Granger. They are nonpartisan. Even if they wished to choose a side, they simply cannot. I've heard that they are paid well by their patrons and clients – it is a lucrative profession, but one with little honor in the wizarding world."

"I'm not sure I understand why."

"If you were to become a Medicus and were given a client – I don't know how the Medicus is chosen for each client, but it is supposed to be objective and final – you would have to serve that client, be he a member of the Order of the Phoenix or a Death Eater. Nonpartisan, Miss Granger. And there are instances when life-long bonds are requested. Imagine being bound to Lucius Malfoy for the rest of his days, healing his every malady, if he were willing to pay the price for a Medicus."

Hermione was shivering. She clutched her cloak closer about her. "I don't think… I suppose that is the sacrifice she mentions in the letter. I don't… I don't know whether I would be willing to do that."

"Lupin is out of his mind," Snape said impatiently. "He clearly has some ivory tower notion that the Medicus are inadvertently on a side. They are concerned only for healing – healing for its own sake, no discernment. It is a foolish notion."

Hermione stared at the letter one more time before tucking it into her pocket with the others. "Which one do you recommend, sir?"

"The Department of Mysteries," Snape replied. "There is more scope for your talents there, and they are not preoccupied with such impossible ideals – they know which side they are on, and many are friends of the Headmaster, if not members of the Order. They actively work against the Dark Lord – it is where you want to be, Miss Granger, if you wish to continue your fight against him."

Hermione heard his words and processed them, but throughout his answer, she could not get the last line of the Medicus letter out of her mind: We can remove that surveillance And unlike Professor Snape, Hermione knew that Lupin had a better grasp of her personality and the reality of the Medicus Order than Snape did. She also thought that he maybe knew a fuller breadth of the Medicus Order's intentions than Snape's knowledge of rumors – she knew firsthand, as should Snape, that rumors, even informed rumors, were notoriously distorted.

"I'll consider these options, Professor," Hermione said, a little distracted. "Thank you very much for helping me. I wish I could tell you what it means to me, but I suspect you understand, so I won't… ramble sentimentally like a Gryffindor. Sorry, sir."

"Miss Granger," Snape said, enunciating his syllables so that Hermione would not miss what he was saying, "you were telling the truth. There is no nobility in believing the truth. I owed you a favor for mistaking your position with the Dark Lord during the initiation. Remember, Miss Granger, that although I am a member of the Order, if I were still a spy during your imprisonment, I would have been one of the Death Eaters torturing you. There is no apology or gratitude necessary for simple coincidence."

"Still, Professor, thank you," Hermione murmured before ducking her head and turning to leave, her cloak fluttering about her feet.

"And Miss Granger," Snape said.

Hermione stopped halfway to the door and looked back at him.

"Do not think I do not know what the Dark Lord smells like," he said.

Hermione glanced down at the altered hem of the cloak, then hurried from the classroom.

FINI

He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.–Friedrich Nietzsche