New Perspective 2
TAKEN ON TRUST
Disclaimer: All canon characters are the property of JKR and her publishers. No copyright infringement is intended etc.
A/N: This is the long-awaited (I hope!) sequel to THE CHOSEN. It begins about a week after Hermione and Neville have left Snape at Spinner's End i.e. it is mid-August, during the summer holidays which follow the close of HBP. It develops into an SSHG story, more 'relationship' than romance…
Rated T for very, very occasional use of strong language.
Warm thanks to Duj and Cecelle for their helpful comments and encouragement at first draft stage.
So… at the end of THE CHOSEN, Snape was living as an outlaw, working for Voldemort. Neville and Hermione had tracked him to his hideout and supplied him with the necessary antidote for his injury. Persuaded that he is not the cold blooded murderer the rest of the wizarding world believes him to be, they promise to try to help clear his name. One of Snape's little tasks for Voldemort has been to disrupt wizard communications by sabotaging the owl service…
Chapter 1: DEEPLY DISILLUSIONED
The proof lay in her hand. Not that she needed to prove anything to anybody – not today, not now, not yet – but it was reassuring all the same. He had been here. Severus Snape had been here, talking to her, only moments ago. And now he'd gone. Disapparated. Disappeared. No one would believe her if she told them. She wasn't planning to tell anyone.
Hermione's fingers clamped around the small container, rubbing the ridged contours of the glass, feeling the flattened, solid, fez shape of the stopper. The phial was no bigger than a lipstick.
Her eyes probed the unseasonal darkness. As though, if she stared hard enough, intently enough, if she focussed her will, concentrated her energies, she might penetrate the night, might detect a trace of his departure, follow his route, track him through an infinity of Ds – dissimulation, deception, doubt, duty, danger – to his destination.
She had not imagined it. More evidence was tucked in her pocket: a folded square of parchment, sealed and secret. He had slipped it to her just seconds before he left. A note, a scrap of paper - the mere possession of it branded her as a go-between, an accomplice, possibly a traitor. What? Why? Where? There had been no time for questions. She should have asked… She'd wanted to know… If only she'd…
"Hermione!" Her father's voice: indulgent, tolerant, querulous undertones. The voice of a man whose patience has its limits. "What's going on out there?"
"Coming!" she called, palming the phial with the dexterity of a street conjuror, thrusting it to join the incriminating message. "I was just letting Crookshanks out."
"Well, tell Mr Moggie Magic to make up his mind. Either he stops in or he goes out - no dithering on the doorstep sniffing the breeze. I don't pay the gas bill to heat the birds. Come in and close the door, there's a good girl."
"Just a minute -"
…She had been holding the front door ajar, waiting while Crookshanks, nose aloft, whiskers erect, tail twitching in anticipation, paused on the threshold, assessing the night, scenting the familiar, the unexpected, scanning the air for signals, baring his teeth to taste the lingering smells of the day – cooling earth, fallen leaves, the tantalising hint of human footprints on the path, the rank trail of a hedgehog which had snuffled along the border some hours before, the car-tyres with their strange and alluring cocktails of enemy territory… Unhurried, cautious, thorough in his appraisal, the cat cased the garden, plotting his nocturnal patrol.
"Oh, get a move on, Crooks," Hermione had muttered, giving the woolly behind a gentle nudge with her slipper. "You're like a wet week."
Progressing onto the path, the cat trotted forwards, then stopped, taking stock one last time before the final moment of decision, when he would either scoot back indoors or slink off to melt into the anonymity of the shadows. All cats are grey in the dark. In the wedge of warm light thrown by the door Crookshanks was still ginger. Suddenly his tufted ears went back, the thick fur bristled. Hermione glanced towards the road, suspecting a dog.
"Carelessness, Miss Granger, costs lives." The low whisper hissed directly in her right ear.
Alarm reared through her nerves sending her heart tantivy, racing into a gallop. But her startled gasp died in her throat, reined in somewhere above the larynx by the choke of familiarity. She didn't need to look behind her; she recognised the voice.
"You should trust the animal's senses. They're sharper than yours will ever be."
And manners cost nothing, she thought belatedly, the moment for a quick-fire retort already long gone. Annoyance displaced shock. Who was he to sneak up and ambush her in her own front garden, and then have the gall to lecture her on the perceptive instincts of cats? She knew perfectly well that felines could detect high frequencies, even into the ultrasonic range, hearing at least two octaves higher than humans. A Kneazle's sensory range was still more acute. In her own ears the blood was rushing.
"Well excuse me if I don't go on red alert every time I let the cat out for a walk!"
Keenly aware now of Snape's proximity, the hairs on the back of her neck tingling, she felt vulnerable and at a disadvantage. He had caught her off guard. For goodness' sake, she was wearing fluffy slippers! Would she ever live that one down? How had he got so close? The sweep of his cloak was brushing the back of her calves. Hermione twisted round to confront him.
There was no one there. Whirling round in a full 360˚ pivot she scoured the darkness, straining to the utmost limits of her vision, before turning back to the empty doorway with a snort. Magic out of context – it still took her by surprise. It was worrying, when she was at her parents' home - her home - how quickly she got out of the habit. She kicked herself for not recognising it at once, for not expecting it.
"You're Deeply Disillusioned!" He would be all but invisible, even to wizards.
Disconcerting as it was to be talking to thin air, Hermione acknowledged it was a sensible precaution. But – she shuddered – did that mean that at any time there might be Unseeables lurking in the undergrowth, spying on her, following her, monitoring her every move? Spooky thought! Her eyes roved anxiously through the gloom, furtive and fearful. In the Illogicality Lobe of her brain a gleeful doubt demon was taunting her: Just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean They're not out to get you… It was like having her own personal Peeves, but less original. Stop it! She checked herself. Stop it! Snape's here – what could possibly happen? What indeed.Theoretical trust was one thing; it was wholly another to be alone in the dark with a self-confessed murderer.
Snape would be observing her fright with, she guessed, cringing at the prospect, that patronising sneer which infuriated her so much. Hermione shut her eyes, inhaled and slowly counted herself back to rationality.
For want of a more definite point of reference, Hermione fixed her attention on one of the ornamental bay trees which flanked the porch. Trained into gnarled spirals, the evergreens in their terracotta pots stood nearly five feet tall. A poor substitute for Snape. Her initial panic subsiding, the girl felt cheated – she wanted to see his face. Not that making eye-contact would have left her any the wiser. Windows of the soul? More like one-way mirrors.
"Why are you here? What do you want? You can't come here! What about my parents? What if -"
"Quiet!" The shadows shivered and for an instant Hermione had the unnerving impression that the wall and potted shrubs were shifting, as though someone had breathed life into a trompe-l'oeil mural. There was nothing on which to focus.
"I have not been followed. Don't concern yourself on that score."
His voice, stronger and less hoarse than the last time she had heard it, sounded close by. Hermione caught the smell of his breath, a sour blend of black coffee, alcohol and late nights, and she turned towards it, resisting the impulse to reach out, to clutch at the void, to trawl for something tangible. Would it be like grabbing a ghost, swiping at the insubstantial, or would she end up with her arms wrapped round an all too substantial Professor Snape? She shook the idea from her mind.
"I'll get straight to the point, Miss Granger." Businesslike as ever. He addressed her quickly, quietly, bending nearer as he spoke more softly – or so it felt – his words audible to her alone. "Listen. That evening at Spinner's End… You led me to believe -" A firm and very real grip on her shoulders pulled her round a quarter turn, steadied her as she shuffled her feet to keep up with her torso, held her at arm's length. Lifting her gaze Hermione realised she must be looking straight at him and that he, in all probability, was staring into her eyes.
Let him search. Legilimency would tell him nothing he didn't already know. This wasn't a case of prying and plunder; he wouldn't be pillaging her intimate thoughts. She trusted him that far. It wasn't her petty privacies that interested him, but whether or not she would be of use. If he wanted to reassure himself about her sincerity then the memories of that day were readily accessible, front of mind. For the past week they had stubbornly stalked her waking hours. Whatever tenuous link had been forged back there in that seedy sitting room, she had scrutinised it from every angle, tugged at it every which way, but it had neither buckled nor broken. Snape would read uncertainty there, hesitancy, but no intent to deceive. Her outrage at Dumbledore's death had been redirected, her suspicions about Snape's role in the murder allayed. If her trust was not wholly unconditional, he could see that too – and take it or leave it. His choice. Doubts? Of course she still had some doubts – she'd be a fool if she didn't. A total change of heart, a profession of unquestioning faith would have been patently false and shallow; neither would have deserved or won his respect.
"You offered…" He sounded reluctant to raise the subject. Hermione could picture only too well his expression of distaste, the taut-lipped scowl as he took her up on that offer of help. It ran counter to his every instinct and inclination, but what was the alternative? Who else could he turn to? Neville? "I need to know… …if I can count on you."
"Judge for yourself." Brown eyes opened deliberately, exaggeratedly wide. She wasn't going to pretend she hadn't guessed what he was up to.
The unseen hands dropped from her shoulders. Hermione instantly regretted the loss of contact, missing the weight and warmth, the fix on his position.
"It's no joking matter. If you're going to be flippant…" Anger flared at the first strike. The smooth voice strained with an urgency Hermione had not, in her earlier confusion, fully registered. Rebuked, she couldn't have felt more embarrassed if she'd puckered her lips and winked. Of course he wouldn't have come unless it were important.
"I'm sorry Sir. It's just… it's very weird, not being able to see you."
"I would have thought you'd be used to it - the number of outings Potter has given that cloak of his," he sniped back.
This was not the time to get sucked into an argument.
"What - what do you want me to do?" she asked, in some trepidation.
"Have you been in touch with Potter? Recently? At all?" Snape demanded abruptly. The question came from a couple of feet away, to her left. She had heard no footsteps on the path; the man moved as quietly as a Patronus.
"With Harry? No, Sir." There had been no word from him - or Ron - since the end of term. For the first couple of weeks of the holiday, Hermione had generously given them the benefit of the doubt, blaming their silence on the disruption to the Owl service. Now even that excuse was wearing thin. "He may have spoken to Ron. They were talking about taking their Apparition test together over the summer… Sir?"
For a moment she thought he had left. For another wild moment she was convinced she'd been dreaming, wandering about the deserted front garden muttering to herself, hearing voices, like a mental patient. If anyone challenged her she'd have to say she was rehearsing a school play. Listening hard she froze, testing the air for any trace of his breath, willing a sixth sense to pick up on his presence. Like someone who has lost a contact lens, she was loath to move for fear of trampling on it – or, in her case, clumsily bumping into him. Then a glimmer of inky magic wavered in the darkness, and she found herself holding a piece of rough parchment. Snape's instructions were succinct.
"It is an urgent message for Potter. Check if he's at The Burrow. If he's not there you must send a Weasley owl.""But -"
"I see. 'The road to hell…1', Miss Granger. If you are not prepared to get involved, you will say so now, and stop wasting my time."
"It's not that, Sir. It's just that it'll be a bit awkward. The thing is -"
"If you expect any of this to be easy, you can forget it!" The tinderbox sparked again. This time she heard the suck of air, drawn up through flaring nostrils as he took a deep breath, releasing it in a long, controlled exhalation, forcing himself to be calm.
Hermione hurried to explain.
"Things are a bit iffy between me and Ron, Sir. He's rather given up on me."
An unspoken expletive spluttered in the damp air.
"Then it is time, Miss Granger," Snape said coldly, "to bury the hatchet – ideally not in Weasley's thick skull, though that notion has its merits. If Weasley is our one point of contact with Potter you must put aside your personal differences. Can you do that?"
"I think so, Sir." Like you did with Sirius…
"Things may appear bleak at present, but you will persuade him not to give up. None of us can give up. Dum spiro spero.2"
The Borometz had done a good job, Hermione reflected. She'd have to tell Neville; he'd be pleased.
"And you will get that note to Potter."
"Couldn't you send Harry an owl? The problem is -"
"I cannot afford to be connected with that boy in any way," he interrupted, his tone as tightly clipped as the box hedge.
Hermione had been going to object that Errol and Pigwidgeon were no more capable of delivering a message than any other owl in the country – thanks to his sabotaging the eco-system.
"If you value your friend's life, you will cooperate."
Not as a favour to him, Snape, but for Harry's sake. Hermione knew she was being manipulated; she hadn't yet decided whether or not she minded. It was all too much to take in. But wasn't this what she had wanted – to help Snape help Harry? And to clear Snape's name – not that she'd made much progress on that score.
Now he was standing in front of her again - she sensed a change in the density of the darkness. Despite herself, she took a faltering step backwards onto the lawn. Even invisible he had the power to loom, to tower, to intimidate.
"You will require this antidote. Use it sparingly. I haven't time to brew any more." A tiny bottle was pushed into her hand.
"But -" she remonstrated again, her mind a thicket of thorny questions that snagged at her understanding. She needed more details. Was Harry in danger? More danger than usual? Was this letter a warning or a threat? Information? An invitation? An ultimatum?
"But -" She hated herself for standing there but-butting like a faulty two-stroke engine.
"Do I need to define the word 'urgent', Miss Granger?" Disembodied impatience. Hermione jumped to attention.
"No. No Sir. I'll go tonight, er, as soon as I can, er, now, straight away."
"See that you do."
And he was gone. Without a goodbye or a good luck or a thank you. Leaving a million queries unasked and unanswered. Why was it so vital for him to contact Harry? Couldn't he have used a Death Eater owl? He could have Obliviated it, killed it if he had to, if the risk was so great. Why had he left so suddenly? Would he be coming back? She hadn't had a chance to quiz him about Voldemort or Draco or Narcissa, or… She hadn't even asked Snape if he was better, if he was all right.
One minute he'd been there – somewhere – and the next… Hermione had sensed rather than seen the haze of movement on the path, a momentary blurring of outlines, a fluctuation in focus, an oily shimmer in the blackness at the end of the driveway; she had heard the shiny soap-bubble 'pop'. He had gone. He had Apparated into the darkness, leaving only a smooth circle of absence that rippled behind him, breaking the surface tension of the night.
End of chapter.
A/N: I know the World Cup is on TV, but if you can find time to leave a review I'll be very grateful. Thanks in advance.
1 'The road to hell is paved with good intentions'.
2 Dum spiro spero - Where there's life there's hope.