AN: This is not a pleasant story. If you're expecting anything like "Marry a Choice," "Passing Ships" or "25 Dates" you might want to seriously consider pushing the back button right now. The warnings below are to be taken seriously, and if you are going to get freaked out by something that deals with the gritty ramifications of a hostage situation, then DON'T READ THIS!!! This is not a comfortable story.

That said, this was inspired by Orm Irian's captivating tale "Shades." I'd also like to thank my wonderful beta, SW.

WARNING:Torture, Violence, Squick, Non-con (implied), Dub-con, Explicit Sexual Content and Character Death


Part I:

She was pathetically easy to capture. As expected, all she needed was to down one of us, and then she gloated. A simple stunner, a quick Accio, and voilà! The Dark Lord's plans accomplished once more. Damn the girl.

XXX

She woke up to the sound of voices buzzing around her. At first she thought her mum had left the telly on again, but then everything came crashing back. The fight in the alley. Being outnumbered. Hitting that big Death Eater with something he'd remember for years, and then... and then...

She hoped she was in Grimmauld Place and the Order was gathered around, waiting for her to wake, but the sound dynamics were different wherever she was. Just going by the slight echoes created by the whispers, she knew it wasn't any room she'd been in before. That and the floor was damn cold.

"It seems our guest has awoken," a chilling voice said, and the crowd immediately went silent.

Fear stabbed through Hermione in a way she'd never known before. She hadn't ever heard that voice before, but she knew whose it was. She immediately tried to erect her Occlumency walls, but Voldemort just chuckled.

"Yes, Hermione, it is I, Lord Voldemort. I suggest you not waste your energy shielding your mind, and get up now."

She felt her body rising under a power not her own, but was unable to stop it. Once up, she was glad for the support; as she looked around, her legs weakened at the sight before her. Death Eaters. Lots of Death Eaters. Lots and lots of Death Eaters. And Voldemort, too.

She nearly giggled at her mixed-up priorities, but managed to restrain herself. Unfortunately, Voldemort wasn't known as the most powerful Legilimens for nothing, as he smirked and released the spell holding her up. She crashed to her knees, crying out in pain and humiliation as the Death Eaters laughed.

She knelt there for a moment, trying to overcome the pain and gather her wits. There was no chance of her surviving this, but she might be able to die with dignity.

"I think you overestimate yourself, Hermione," Voldemort said in an amused tone. "Either that, or you underestimate yourself most shamefully."

At that, she raised her head, looking at the vile wizard directly. He just smirked cruelly, almost as nastily as Professor Snape.

Not Professor anymore, she thought ruefully, returning to her feet with deliberate calm.

"So, I'm nearly as nasty as Severus, am I?" Voldemort said, mockingly. "Severus, perhaps you could give me lessons on how to properly intimidate these youth of today. It seems I'm lacking that special something."

The crowd laughed again, and a tall, masked figure next to Voldemort stepped forward and bowed.

"I suspect it is merely familiarity with you she lacks, my lord," the masked figure intoned in that horribly familiar voice. Snape looked at her then, and she could swear she could feel his sneer as he said, "After all, she wouldn't know that I am just the humble apprentice, now would she?"

Voldemort and everyone else laughed again, and Snape stepped back into the shadows.

"Too true, Severus. Too true. Well, back to business, I think. Does anyone have any other suggestions for what we should do with the girl?"

The crowd shouted out a few rude suggestions that seemed to amuse everyone but Hermione herself, who didn't know what to think. Surely she would just be killed, wouldn't she?

Voldemort stepped forward at that thought, and the crowd went silent once more. He approached Hermione slowly, gracefully, and reached out to slide his finger along her jaw in a sick parody of a caress.

"Yes, my dear, don't you fret. You will die. We just have to decide whether or not today will be your last day, or if there is some use to keeping you alive for a bit longer. There is merit to that plan, after all," he said, turning to a squat figure who stood on his other side. "But it is also the riskier option."

The squat figure bowed and bobbed his head obsequiously. "Of course, my Lord, but I think—"

"It does not matter what you think, Wormtail. It only matters what Potter will do about it."

Hermione looked at the squat figure again and noticed the silver hand peeking out of his sleeve. She shivered in disgust and quickly looked away, only to find herself confronted with Voldemort's red gaze.

"Yes, how will your friend react, hmm?" Voldemort whispered, grabbing her chin softly, and holding her in place as he came closer. "Would he be more devastated if you were sent back – dead, of course – or if he were kept in suspense, not knowing your fate, letting his imagination carry him away?"

She tried to block her mind, to keep her fears from his penetrating gaze, but it was useless. He thrust himself into her mind and searched out every morsel of knowledge she held onto about Harry, Ron, the Weasleys, Snape, McGonagall, Kingsley, Tonks, Remus... everyone. In a matter of seconds, she had betrayed everyone she knew, even her parents.

Voldemort was smiling when he stepped back, and he caressed her face again. "Yes, your parents will die, as well, I think. MacNair! Yaxley!" Two masked figures stepped forward and he gazed at them until they each nodded and then quietly Disapparated.

It only took a second for Hermione to figure out what that meant.

"No!" she screamed, trying to yank her face from Voldemort's grasp. He tightened his grip painfully, and stilled her straining form with just a breath.

"You have no say in your fate, or the fate of those you care for, Mudblood." He lightly stroked her jawline again while keeping a tight hold on her face, scraping her skin with his sharp fingernails. "You are alive right now on my whim alone. You are whole on my whim alone. Protest if you wish, but it will not change your fate. Or your parents' fate, either."

He let her go, and she fell to the floor to the renewed laughter of the crowd.

"Perhaps, my lord, it would be better to discuss the ramifications of her capture without her in hearing range?" Snape asked.

Voldemort shook his head, still staring at Hermione intently. "No, I think the girl should help decide her fate. It would be quite rude to omit her from the process altogether, don't you think?"

The crowd tittered again, though this time with an anxious note to it.

"No. I think it's only fair to present the girl with all of her options, and let her choose for herself."

"Kill me, then. Just AK me right now," Hermione pleaded from the floor.

"You see, my compatriots," Voldemort said, looking around at his followers. "She has provided the answer to our questions. Amazingly, she would rather we kill her outright. She wants it to be quick and relatively painless. With those few words, she has told us that she will not barter for her life. She will not sell out any remaining secrets she may have kept from me for her freedom, or her health. She simply wants to die quickly.

"And so we know what course to take, don't we?"

The crowd roared it's approval, making Hermione realize the trap she'd walked into. She closed her eyes in resignation and prayed she'd die quickly anyway.

"Dolohov, you've been itching for a bit of revenge, haven't you?"

"Yes, sir!" the masked figure replied, almost pathetically eager.

"Well, here is your opportunity. Do with her what you will."

"My lord," Wormtail squeaked hastily. "What little I know of Harry, of Potter, he'd be more upset if he knew his friend was suffering rather than just dead."

Voldemort nodded, although somewhat impatiently.

"And it's no secret he hates Snape and me," Wormtail continued, wringing his hands nervously.

Voldemort paused at that, then looked over at Snape, who was standing a little stiffer than usual. He thought for a moment, then seemed to come to a conclusion.

"Do with her as you will, Dolohov, just be sure to keep her alive. I believe Severus will hold her as a hostage once you're through."

Dolohov nodded curtly, then waved his wand and floated Hermione through the door to a more private room. Hermione heard a few others requesting something of Voldemort before she was out of hearing range, but it didn't matter to her. She heard a door close behind her and then a silver masked face was hovering over her.

"It's time to reap what you sowed, you little bitch," he rasped. He pointed his wand at her, but before he could say anything, the door opened and a small crowd entered.

Dolohov stood up straight and looked at the intruders.

"What is it now?"

"Can we play, too?" a deep voice asked facetiously.

Dolohov looked at the crowd, then back at Hermione. She shivered at the glint in his cold eyes.

"The more the merrier, I always say," he answered, and lifted up his robes.

XXX

Damn that bastard! Damn that short, rat-faced, backstabbing little bastard! The girl in my care? The word 'care' being used very loosely, of course. He might as well have hexed a bloody Can't-Miss Charm onto my back and put me directly in Potter's path!

Fuck it all to hell!

What am I going to do with her?

XXX

She woke up to the sound of voices muttering just beyond her hearing range. This awakening, however, was bereft of any denial. She could feel everywhere she'd been attacked, both by flesh and magic, and the overall effect was nauseating. She tried to hold back a whimper, but found it hurt to exert even that much effort.

Her whimper, quiet as it was, silenced the voices in the other room. She heard a slight shuffling, and then a door squeaked open.

"Finally decided to join us, did you, Granger?"

Hermione could have cried.

She cracked her eyes open to see a blurry Snape looming over her threateningly. He crossed his arms as if expecting an answer. She started to shake her head in acknowledgment, but that caused her back to spasm, twisting a broken shriek from her.

Trying hard to stop her body from shaking, she worked to relax herself, although it was only minimally successful. It felt like ages before she could open her eyes again, but when she did, everything was the same. The room was still unfocused, and Snape was still standing there, staring down at her coldly.

"My parents, sir?" she croaked out, almost choking from the raw feeling in her throat.

Snape stilled for a moment, but there was nothing else.

"Wormtail!" he called out after another moment.

"Yes, Severus?"

"Fetch the potion."

Hermione closed her eyes again, trying to hold back the tears. She didn't want to cry if she could help it. She didn't want him to see her cry again. Not now. She needed to be strong.

As she fought for control, she heard some more shuffling, and then a hand was behind her head, forcing it upwards. Instinctively, she fought back, twisting to the side away from the arm, not stopping as pain seared through her body in reaction.

The hand grabbed her hair and held tight, and then she felt another hand on her shoulder, forcing her back down. She strained against the hands, not caring if she was injuring herself, just wanting to get away, to not suffer through that again.

"Calm down, Granger!" Snape barked, applying more pressure to her torso as he did.

"Please. Please don't!" Hermione pleaded, trying to force her body to do something useful.

"I'm not going to hurt you, idiot girl!" Snape said, impatience making his tone sharp.

Exhausted, she gave up and relaxed her spasming body as much as she was able to. Opening her eyes again, she found Snape was still looming over her, only closer now, thanks to his hands holding her down. She swiveled her eyes around a bit more to find Wormtail standing behind Snape, watching the proceedings nervously.

"What do you want from me?" Hermione whispered hoarsely, looking back to Snape.

Snape relaxed a fraction and lightened his touch, although he didn't remove his hands altogether.

"I want you to take this healing potion."

"Why? Why bother healing me?" she spat, bitterness welling up.

Snape raised his eyebrow, and his mouth twitched. "So that you won't be lazing about needing a nursemaid. Things need to be done around here, and I am not going to pick up after you."

She looked into his cold black eyes for as long as she could stand before averting her gaze and nodding her head just slightly.

He smirked and released her hair, moving his hand to the base of her skull again.

"Let me support your head. If you stay relaxed, your back shouldn't spasm again," he murmured softly before she tried to sit up. Nodding her understanding, she let him do all the work – and felt more helpless than she had the night before. His less than scathing tone was the only thing that kept her from bursting into furious tears, but it did nothing to lessen her shame.

The brew tasted awful, but she managed to take the entire dose with Snape's help. As soon as she swallowed the last mouthful, she realized something was wrong. Her head was spinning, and she couldn't focus on anything, not even a thought.

She looked up at Snape to see satisfaction written all over his face.

"Bastard!" she whispered, and then the void consumed her.

XXX

Perhaps I shouldn't have slipped her the sleeping potion, as I doubt very much she would want to be conscious for this, especially as I heal her more intimate wounds. And it is impossible to die of mortification, much as we would all like to at one point or another.

But, this way, when she wakes up completely healed, she can believe it was the potion that did all the work. She may suspect I had a more... involved hand in it, but she'll always have that lingering doubt.

Can't make things easy for her after all.

XXX

She woke up abruptly, and the first thing she noticed was the lack of pain. If it hadn't been for the unfamiliar surroundings, she could have almost convinced herself that it had all been a dream. But the strange room tore away that glimmer of hope, and all the memories came crashing in on her, overwhelming her.

Without even checking to see if she was alone, she broke down and started crying, falling back to the lumpy mattress as self-pity encased her.

She was so ashamed of herself. Not only had she been caught in the first place but then she'd also barely tried to resist Voldemort's mind probe. On top of it all, she'd practically invited her fate by asking, no, begging Voldemort to kill her. She should have known better than to provoke his perverse nature like that. If she'd just kept silent, then he'd have assumed that death was the worst fate and killed her.

She'd been so stupid. It was her stupidity that had got her raped and tortured. She hadn't been smart enough to provoke any of that crowd to kill her. And now she had to pay for her stupidity by being held hostage by Snape.

She remembered the look on his face right before she'd passed out and shivered. What had that bastard done to her? Had he taken advantage of her while she'd been unconscious? Or had he drugged her for Wormtail's pleasure?

Suddenly hit with a bout of nausea, Hermione desperately looked around for the loo and hoped the door at the other end of the room led to one.

XXX

She should be awake by now. I dare say she is, but is crying her poor little heart out, bemoaning how unfair life is, how horrid I am and generally indulging in righteous self-pity.

Waiting another fifteen minutes won't hurt me.

XXX

Hermione stood at the only other door in the room, wondering whether she should leave the room or not. She had no idea what to expect, architecturally, behaviorally, or psychologically. The window showed that she was above the ground, probably on the first floor, but other than that, there was little information to be gained, except that the window was locked, probably magically. The back gardens and alleys looked like she could be anywhere there were row houses, and seeing as she'd never been in a row house, she didn't know what would be waiting for her. Would the floors creak? Would the stair be to the left, right or directly across from her? Would there be any chance of escape?

She closed her eyes and shook her head. Of course there wouldn't be any chance of escape. Snape was nothing if not methodical, and since he'd been ordered to hold her hostage, there was more hope of Hell freezing over than of her escaping.

For a brief moment, she considered suicide, but knew that she wouldn't be able to go through with it, even if she could find the means in the abysmally bare room. Sighing in resignation, she reached out for the door and shrieked when her hand touched fabric rather than metal.

Jumping back three feet, her eyes sprang open to find Snape leaning against the now wide open door frame, smirking at her.

"Rise and shine, merry sunshine," he said so smoothly it made Hermione's skin crawl. She instinctively took a step back and crossed her arms defensively.

She opened her mouth to ask what was going to happen to her when Snape raised his hand, the smirk now gone and an ugly snarl in its place.

"I will not tolerate your questions here, Miss Granger. This is my home, and you will obey my rules; the first of which is no questions. You are not a guest here; you are my hostage. As such, any questions, even if it's only what will be for dinner, will not be tolerated. It will not kill you to be left in the dark, and if it turns out I am wrong about that, then kudos to you for figuring a way out of this before the Dark Lord decrees.

"Second, as I am sure you have reasoned out by now, there is no escape. All exits, all holes – everything is secured with wards well beyond your knowledge. Only Wormtail and I know the passwords for exit and entrance, and I promise you that trying to decipher it would result in much unpleasantness for you."

He looked at her thoughtfully and then amended his statement. "Perhaps I should say that trying to decipher the code will be very unpleasant for you, seeing as I doubt even the threat of torture would prevent you from trying."

He paused for another moment, as if weighing his options. When his face became even darker, Hermione shuddered in suspense.

"And finally, since it has become my job to keep you alive for the Dark Lord's purposes, it is my unfortunate responsibility to keep an eye on you. As such, you will stay within eyesight of either Wormtail or myself at all times."

Hermione recoiled a bit at that, though one of her first thoughts was relief that there were two of them, rather than just one. She would rather not witness Snape or Wormtail piss if she could help it at all. But then the ramifications of that decree sank in.

She opened her mouth to ask where she would be sleeping, but at Snape's hard glare, shut her mouth with a snap.

No questions.

Snape's lip curled up slightly into an expression that almost resembled humor, if it hadn't been so cruel.

"It's good to see you catch on so quickly. Hexing can be rather draining after all," was all he said, offering no information about his last rule. She knew he was testing her, baiting her into disobeying, especially given that he'd hinted at the repercussions.

Hermione decided to carefully take the bait.

"I only see one bed, sir."

His lips curled even further, giving his face a mask-like appearance of wicked humor.

"So there is, you clever girl." His tone sent another round of shivers down her spine, making her feel irrationally filthy. "And as a reward for being such a clever girl, I'll give you the choice of whose bed you sleep in."

Hermione felt the blood drain from her face at the prospect of being molested by either of the men, both of whom were the most odious examples of humanity she could think of.

"I'll think on that then," she hedged.

His smirk remained in place as he smoothly answered, "You do that."

XXX

At least she seems quick on the uptake. We'll see how quick she really is – how long it takes for her to really understand.

XXX

She was nervous all throughout his preparation of her breakfast. She watched him as closely as possible from her place at the table, making sure he didn't add anything unusual. She had no desire to be knocked out again, especially by him. Unfortunately, her vantage point wasn't the best, as he was often blocking her view of the frying pan with his back. When he set down a plate of beans and toast in front of her, she realized that she would never know if he'd drugged her until it was too late.

Unfortunately, she was starving. She hadn't eaten in at least twenty-four hours, possibly more, seeing as she had no idea how many days had passed while she'd been unconscious. She tentatively cut off a piece of toast and brought it to her nose, trying to suss out any unusual smells. Unfortunately, the smell of the tinned beans was overwhelming everything else, so it was impossible to tell anything.

"I'm not about to waste my poisons on you, girl," Snape bit out impatiently. He looked rather offended, which only made her angry.

"Pardon me if I would rather be cautious than unconscious, sir."

He smirked. "You will have to sleep sometime."

"A natural sleep is better than a drugged one," she retorted.

"Why would I bother to drug you?"

"Good question, sir. Wh—" She barely stopped herself before she could finish the word, knowing that it could be construed as a question in itself. After a taking in a shaky breath, she continued, "That is what I've been wondering."

He rolled his eyes and crossed his arms. "Did you not consider that I laced the healing potion for your benefit alone?"

"But wh—I see no good reason for you to do so, sir, other than to make me more... tractable. Sir."

He narrowed his eyes into a scowl, and slowly, ever so slowly, leaned in toward her, stopping only when their faces were a few inches apart. She could feel the animosity radiating off of him, and fear sliced through her again.

"'Death Eater' is not a synonym for sexual predator, Miss Granger, despite your previous experience," Snape growled, then stood up abruptly and took her plate away from her, dumping the contents in the trash. "If you want to err on the side of caution, then you will do the cooking. I hope for your sake that you know how. I do not tolerate waste, and if another dish goes into the bin, you will suffer for it."

XXX

What does she think I am, a necrophiliac? Even vampires prefer their victims to be moving when they start! How dare she accuse me of stooping so low? I should tell her precisely how I prefer my women and watch her squirm in mortification as she's forced to listen to me talk about sex.

XXX

"Granger."

She jumped at Snape's bark; she hadn't noticed him move. He'd been in his ratty chair ever since breakfast and hadn't even looked her way since.

She almost responded, "Yes, sir?" but caught herself in time. Instead she simply looked up to see his face.

"I expect dinner to be ready in an hour. You might want to get started now."

She nodded. "Yes, sir."

She then got up and made her way to the kitchen, very aware of Wormtail's eyes following her every move. She didn't allow herself to react until the kitchen door closed behind her, when she started shaking. She forgot Snape's third decree until he said, "You didn't seem to have a phobia of kitchens earlier today."

She whirled around to find him leaning on the door frame, watching her with a sardonic grin. She wanted nothing more than to slap the expression off his face, but knew that might be a bad idea.

"No, sir."

"Then why the theatrics now?" Snape asked. Hermione had the suspicion that he knew exactly what was going on.

"My blood sugar seems to be a little low, sir. That's all."

He raised an eyebrow in disbelief, but didn't say anything. Instead, he sauntered over to the table and sat down, watching her the entire time. After a few moments under his stare, Hermione remembered what she was supposed to be doing and made her way over to the stove, looking around for the larder.

It took fifteen minutes just to find all the utensils she needed, and another ten to figure out what to make from the ingredients she could find. By the time she'd put the pasta on, about thirty minutes later, she was getting rather panicky. She didn't know if she would be able to have dinner ready in time.

Meanwhile, Snape was still watching her; she could feel his black eyes on her, weighing her down and depriving her of air. She tried to shake off the dread his stare evoked, planning all the finishing steps of the meal in her head while she collected the plates and moved to set the small table. She'd set the last fork in front of Snape and was about to turn back to the stove when Snape grabbed her wrist and twisted her around to look at him.

"Have you made your decision yet?" he asked, his voice and face unreadable.

She looked down at his hand on her and was surprised when he immediately released her.

Looking back up at his face, she straightened her spine, raised her chin and cleared her throat.

"I choose to sleep in my own bed, sir."

She thought she saw his lips twitch, but the next instant he was sneering once more.

"Is that so," he said, his lip curling up. "And what makes you think that is a choice?"

"You said I could choose whose bed to sleep in, sir. You didn't narrow down the choices to only your bed or Wormtail's, and given your predilection for details, I highly doubt that was an oversight on your part. Sir."

That time she was sure she saw his lip twitch.

"You are basing your choice on an assumption of how I operate."

A hiss from the stove reminded Hermione of the pasta, which was probably overcooked now. She rushed to the stove, grabbed a sieve and a large bowl, and drained the pasta water into the bowl. As soon as that was finished, she attended the simple sauce she'd made up and looked for serving ware.

By the time she turned around to face Snape again, the finished meal was in her hands. She walked over to the table and gently placed the dishes before Snape and then, reflexively, looked up at the clock. She had just barely made it.

Looking at Snape triumphantly, she said, "The assumption of how you operate is based upon observing you for the last six years, sir. In that time I have determined that you are indeed detail oriented, and only once have I observed you to speak without knowing exactly what you are saying, and even that one time was questionable."

Snape's lips didn't twitch, and he didn't nod or give her any indication, but she felt she had won her point and was proved correct when he said, "Your bed will be in my room."

She nodded gravely, although she was quite happy to have won that battle, even though she knew she was unlikely to win the war.

She sat down across from Snape and observed him surreptitiously. He was lounging in the small straight-backed chair, which was an action she wouldn't have thought Snape capable of doing. She'd never seen him before when he didn't look like he had a broom handle for a spine.

He was filling his plate with a generous helping of pasta, and she was pleased to see his nose twitching in what seemed to be approval. She hoped it was approval. It smelled good to her anyway.

"Why did you save the pasta water?" he asked unexpectedly, right after calling Wormtail to dinner.

"Because you said you don't tolerate waste, sir. Pasta water is excellent as a soup base and saves salt," she said eagerly, glad she could prove that she could follow instructions.

"What a pity there isn't a NEWT for being held hostage," he jeered.

Hermione hid her disappointment by serving herself some food.

"What do you think you're doing, Granger?" Snape snarled.

Hermione looked up, confused by his tone. "Helping myself, sir."

He took her plate away from her and exchanged it with Wormtail's empty plate, just as Wormtail himself entered the kitchen.

"What makes you think you have any privilege here, Granger? You get what's left only after we've both had our fill."

Hermione's gaze immediately went to the rapidly shrinking pile of food as Wormtail shoveled more and more onto his plate. She bit her lip; she hadn't made enough. She wasn't going to get to eat.

"Is that understood?" Snape barked.

She bowed her head in a defeated nod. "Yes, sir."

She watched the two men eat their way through the entire bowl of food, the wonderful smell torturing her empty stomach. The final insult came when Snape licked his lips after the last morsel was gone, looked her directly in the eye and said, "That was adequate. Next time you might want to make enough for yourself as well."

XXX

She still hasn't quite reached full understanding of the situation. Perhaps hunger is making her dimwitted?

XXX

After dinner, she was having a hard time remaining calm. Anxiety, anger and hunger were warring within her, and her concentration was the casualty.

She was furious at Snape. She had followed all the rules he'd laid out, and then he not only prevented her from eating but had also made her sit there and watch while they devoured the meal in front of her, knowing that she was starving. And then he'd mocked her. If she were able to do wandless magic...

Wormtail wasn't much better. He hadn't said anything, but the self-satisfied smile he'd worn as he took the last helping of food had almost been enough to make her cry with fury. And on top of that, he'd been leering at her whenever he could, though he seemed hesitant to do so in front of Snape.

Their dynamic was strange. Snape obviously despised the rat, and Wormtail feared Snape. Whenever Snape wasn't looking, Wormtail would shoot him the blackest glares. But Snape reacted to Wormtail's presence as well. It was almost impossible to tell what he was thinking or feeling, but she sensed that Wormtail made Snape uneasy. He certainly never exposed his back to him if he could help it.

If it were someone other than Wormtail, she might have expected it to be a power struggle, but her brief time with Voldemort and his followers showed that Snape was definitely favored over the rat. Was Wormtail simply jealous, or was there more to it than that? From what Harry had told her and Ron about Voldemort's return, Wormtail probably felt entitled to Voldemort's esteem and was bitter that Snape had one-upped him. But why Snape's unease?

She looked at the two men from under her lashes and shuddered. They were both despicable traitors. They were both callous murderers. And they both were her captors.

Wormtail looked her way again, and she quickly averted her gaze. She really didn't like the way he looked at her. It brought to mind things she'd rather forget, not to mention it made her grateful for Snape's presence.

She really wished she knew what Snape had done when he'd knocked her out. Despite what he'd said at breakfast, she didn't trust him. She wished she could feel safe from molestation from at least one of them.

"Hermione... You're the girl Ronald fancies, right?" a high-pitched voice said to her left, startling her out of her numb thoughts.

She wanted to tell the rat off, to tell him to get away from her, but she didn't dare. She didn't know much about Peter Pettigrew, but she suspected that he was the type to store up resentments and take out his frustration on anyone who was weaker than him, which, at the moment, she was.

"Yes."

He hummed in agreement and sidled around to stand in front of her, twisting his hands and nervously glancing in Snape's direction.

"Hmm. Ron has obviously grown up since I last saw him. He used to talk of nothing besides Harry Potter and Quidditch and what prats his brothers were, all but Bill and Charlie, that is."

He paused, and Hermione shuddered. It was still horrible to think that this rodent had been so close to them. Even more than horrible, given the lecherous vibes he was radiating. The last time he'd seen her, she'd only been a child.

"It was my idea, you know, keeping you alive," Wormtail squeaked, glancing nervously over his shoulder as he moved to sit down next to her. She scooted over, trying to make space between them.

"I know." She tried to keep the bitterness out of her voice, but knew she'd failed when she saw him flinch minutely out of the corner of her eye.

She refused to look at him, continuing to stare at the bookcase as if it were the only thing in the room she could see.

He shifted in the seat next to her, but she couldn't tell what direction he was moving until she felt his breath on her cheek.

"You've no hope of rescue, you know. No one is going to find you here – it's Secret-Kept. No one knows about this place besides me and Snape – and the Dark Lord, of course. "

"I'm guessing the Dark Lord didn't choose you as the Secret-Keeper." The words slipped off her tongue before she could stop them, but as soon as it was said, she froze, waiting for his retaliation.

To her surprise, he laughed, and to her relief, he relaxed back into the sofa, away from her.

"No, he didn't. As a matter of fact, he's the Secret Keeper. He likes to keep things close to his chest, if you know what I mean."

She turned to look at him, making sure she had eye contact before saying, "He doesn't trust anyone."

He gave another high-pitched squeak of laughter and turned to Snape.

"She's a clever one, isn't she, Severus?"

Snape looked up slowly, gave both of them a bored glance and went back to his parchments he was poring over. "She gives that impression, yes."

Wormtail chuckled again and then winked at Hermione playfully. "Don't mind Severus. He's just a sourpuss."

Hermione almost smiled at the scowl that crossed Snape's face at that. To hide her amusement, she turned back to face the bookshelves, unconsciously sighing as she did so.

"If I remember right, you like reading, don't you?" he said quietly, leaning toward her once again. There was a nasty quality to his voice that gave her goose flesh. She nodded.

"I'll tell you what I'll do then," he whispered and leaned closer, placing a hand on her thigh as he did so. She froze and clenched her teeth, positive she didn't want to hear what he was going to say, but unsure how to get him away without angering him. "Severus is rather chary with his precious books, but I bet if I could convince the Dark Lord to keep you alive, I could convince Snape to loan you a book here and there. You don't seem the type to mark books, after all."

She turned to look at him and found him closer than she expected. Their noses were barely an inch apart, and his shallow breaths were assaulting her nose. There was no doubt as to what he wanted from her, based on his leer. She automatically recoiled in disgust, but that's when it occurred to her: Wormtail knows the password. In that instant, she decided her course. She took a deep breath and tried to relax, although she was still far too nervous to pass for 'at ease.' She lifted her lips slightly, trying to smile in a way that would seem nervously grateful, and nodded her head just barely. "I'd like that."

Judging by the slow smile that spread across Wormtail's face, she thought she might have a chance if she played her hand well and didn't underestimate the wiliness of the rat before her. Without thinking, her eyes flicked to Snape to see if he was observing them. Wormtail noticed and patted her thigh with a smile.

"Don't worry. I'll deal with him."

Hermione didn't bother to hide her fears but tentatively smiled back anyway.

XXX

Perhaps she is clever after all.

I think Wormtail actually has a good idea, though, offering her reading material. I don't want her getting restless.

XXX

"Granger!"

Hermione woke up with a start to find Snape looming over her. She instinctively pulled up the covers, even though she was still in her clothes. Snape sneered at her reaction.

"Trust me, Granger, I have no interest in molesting swotty little know-it-alls, despite what your friends are probably thinking right about now." He gave her a nasty smile that gave her no reassurance at all.

"So am—so I am being held just to torture Harry."

Snape scowled at her and moved back from the bed a step. "You knew that already. Now get up. I need to get to work."

Hermione sat up, but when she swung her legs over the side of the bed, she found that there wasn't much room to stand with Snape standing where he was.

"Wou... Please move, sir," she said as politely as she could.

"You would do well to learn how to respect your betters, girl!" he snarled. "Now get up!"

She scooted over a bit in the bed, but Snape just stepped in front of her again, narrowing the distance between her knees and his calves at the same time.

Her shoulders slumping in defeat, she stood up, making sure not to look up into Snape's face until she was standing straight, only inches away from him, just as he'd surely intended. She looked up at him then, making certain her face was a mask of indifference; she didn't want to see what his reaction would be to defiance.

He looked down his absurdly large nose at her, his face blank as well, then quirked his eyebrow up a notch.

"You might want to use the toilet now, as you won't have another opportunity till lunchtime."

Hermione set her jaw and nodded minutely. Going to the bathroom was a humiliating experience. Snape hadn't made an exception to the "stay within eyesight at all times" rule, so he stood in front of her the entire time.

After she'd washed up, she preceded him into the living room where he told her to stop.

"Choose a book."

She turned to look at him, gratitude and confusion breaking through her mask. She hadn't seen Wormtail talk to Snape the night before, and she doubted that Snape had left her alone in his room. Nevertheless, it was an offer she wasn't going to refuse.

She opened her mouth to ask what he'd allow her to read, but closed it before she could utter a sound. There was no way to find out without sounding rude or ungrateful.

"Thank you, sir!" she finally said as she moved over to examine the texts.

"Be quick about it, girl!"

Jumping, she quickly scanned the shelves and plucked out a surprising and familiar tome. She turned toward Snape questioningly. He raised an eyebrow and smirked, but only said, "Interesting choice. Now come."

He moved towards the stair to the basement. Hermione looked longingly in the direction of the kitchen, but turned and followed Snape obediently, having no wish to upset him.

He led her to a deceptively plain looking wooden door that was practically humming with all the wards placed upon it. Snape waved his wand almost negligently and all wards but one fell down. She gasped when she recognized the one he'd left up.

Snape looked down at her curiously, and she tried to school her face back into something impassive, but Snape was already smirking nastily. "And, pray tell, where did little Miss Prim and Proper learn about this ward, hmm?" It seemed to be a rhetorical question, so Hermione kept her mouth shut. He chuckled ominously.

"Well, at least I don't have to warn you about the consequences of coming or going uninvited."

He looked at her intently, as if expecting an answer.

"No, sir," she replied, happy that her voice wasn't trembling like the rest of her body.

"Good. It really is a bother having to clean up the mess intruders make," he said with a wicked grin, then held out his hand. "Now come."

Biting her bottom lip, Hermione took his hand and let him lead her through the ward, not realizing she was holding her breath until they'd crossed the threshold.

"You are to sit over there," he said and pointed to a small stool in the corner. "If you distract me in any way, you will no longer be welcome here." His smile sent chills down Hermione's spine; she was quite sure he meant it.

XXX

This could be fun. She has read enough to have a good imagination. I shall have to steer her toward that book on interesting forms of torture.

XXX

Hermione's stomach groaned again, and she bent over a little more, trying to muffle the sound. She hoped Snape wouldn't be so unfair as to blame her for her stomach's noise, but she wasn't willing to bet her life on it.

They had been down in the lab for hours now. She hadn't eaten in... She didn't know how long it had been since she'd had more than a biscuit, but she knew that Snape would break for lunch sooner or later. He had told her that she would get another pee break at lunchtime, so that meant he intended to eat at some point. She just hoped it would be soon. Her stomach's growls were getting louder.

She curled up, pressing her crossed arms to her stomach, trying to simultaneously stifle the noise and distract herself from the gnawing pain. Without thinking about it, she started rocking back and forth just slightly while gazing at the book on the floor.

She should have known that Snape, of all people, would not have a copy of Pride and Prejudice on his shelves. She should have expected something more like the vile treatise the book was. She'd had a good idea about the pride purebloods took in their lineage, what she hadn't known, though if she'd thought about it, she would have guessed, was how victimized they felt. They felt the Muggle-borns and the Wizarding world were persecuting them for their superiority. They felt the world was prejudiced against them!

She had very, very little patience for that type of argument, especially while she was being held hostage by a half-blood on the order of another half-blood who was trying to pass himself off as the savior for pureblood supremacy. To tell the truth, it irked her quite a lot.

Her stomach gave a stab of protest at its lack of contents, and she curled in on herself a little further, holding in a whimper.

She knew she shouldn't be such a ninny about something that was more of an inconvenience than anything, but she was tired and emotionally upset. She just wanted food and a good lie down, preferably with a book that wasn't full of hateful rhetoric.

She knew that was asking too much, though. In her current circumstances, she would be lucky if Snape didn't deliberately stuff himself just to prevent her from eating. She didn't know what Wormtail would do, though she suspected he might be willing to eat a little less than he had the night before, simply to worm his way into her pants.

She cringed and wondered again if she could go through with her plan. He was such a repulsive little man... She thought she had a better chance of conning him than she had of conning Snape. She just had to be careful; that was all. But the thought of him touching her still made her feel ill. Or maybe that was the hunger.

Suddenly, a pair of black boots appeared in her line of sight. Looking up, she found Snape was sneering at her.

"Oh, did that book offend your delicate sensibilities?" he asked in a tone that reminded her horribly of Dolores Umbridge.

She struggled with the urge to glare at him and shortly did manage to compose her face into a blank expression.

"Considering current circumstances, I find I have few sympathies for their case."

She nearly jumped when he let out a sharp bark of laughter, but tried not to look startled.

"Better arguments have been made in their favor, I assure you," he said as the humor abruptly left his face. "Now come."

He gestured for her to rise, and she did so, surprised that he moved back to give her a bit of space. They walked to the door, and then he extended his hand to her once more. Still uneasy about the ward, she gingerly took his hand and followed him out, dropping his hand as soon as they were through.

Her hopes that it was lunchtime were rewarded as Snape made his way to the kitchen, his long strides making her trot to keep up, which she was eager to do. She couldn't wait to eat. It wasn't until they entered the kitchen and Snape sat down at the table that she remembered cooking was her job.

With a quiet sigh, she went to the larder for the bread and meat, hoping he wouldn't mind canned ham sandwiches. She knew she was hungry enough to tolerate anything. She would even eat mushrooms if they were on hand.

She finished making the tea and two sandwiches each when Wormtail walked in. She eyed the tin of ham, a knot of dread forming in her chest. She wasn't going to get to eat again.

Straightening her shoulders, she divided the sandwiches onto two plates and took them to the men, not bothering to get her own plate of food. She sat down in her seat from the night before and tried not to salivate as the men devoured the sandwiches.

"Was that all you made?" Snape asked disapprovingly.

"I can make more if you're still hungry, sir," she said, trying for a neutral tone.

"Then make more," he snarled.

Nodding, she got up and crossed to the counter again. She was surprised to hear Wormtail actually speak up in her defense.

"She's just trying to be thrifty, Severus. You needn't be so hard on her."

"And what would you know about conservation?"

"I'm here, aren't I? I've offered the Dark Lord more--"

"Rubbish, Wormtail, rubbish. The only reason the Dark Lord has put up with your offerings is because he knows that, rat that you are, you aren't able to distinguish between what's of use or refuse. He is most merciful, knowing that it's a biological failing."

Hermione heard Wormtail splutter for a moment or two, then mutter something.

"What was that, Wormtail? I'm afraid I missed that last bit."

"You're one to talk."

"Pray tell, Peter, what do you mean?"

Hermione closed her eyes and shook her head in dread when Wormtail actually answered him.

"I mean you're not exactly a piece of biological perfection in your own right. I might transform to a mere rat, but at least I'm an Animagus!"

"True, but I didn't have the need. I didn't have those kinds of friends."

Hermione could tell Snape was enjoying himself, and at that point she just wished Wormtail would shut up. Didn't he know that he was going to lose any verbal battle against Snape?

"At least I had friends."

"Oh, I had friends, Wormtail. And, unlike you, I've managed to keep most of them."

Hermione heard the sound of a chair being slammed back and turned to find Wormtail standing, pointing a shaking wand at Snape, who just raised an eyebrow.

"Go ahead, Peter. See how far you make it."

Wormtail clenched his fist while Snape took a sip of his tea, looking decidedly unconcerned.

"Fuck you, Snape!" Wormtail spat at him and then left the room in a huff.

Hermione watched Snape with wide-eyes as he took another sip of his tea and then put his cup down with a steady hand.

"Any day now, Granger."

Starting, she turned and collected the sandwiches she'd made and hurried to the table.

Five minutes later, Snape pushed his plate away with nearly half a sandwich leftover.

"Not your best showing, Granger, but you can have the leftovers if you want."

She looked up from the sandwich to find him watching her with a shrewd expression. At that moment she wished desperately that she wasn't so hungry. She wanted nothing more than to leave that sandwich where it was and keep her pride. But...

Lowering her eyes, she reached out for the sandwich, only to have Snape grab her wrist before she could touch it.

"You didn't say thank you, Granger. I thought I told you to learn some respect, girl!"

He shoved her hand away and took the plate to the trash bin. Hermione bit her lip to keep from crying out for him to stop, but couldn't stop the wince when he dropped the sandwich into the bin. Placing the empty plate onto the counter, he then crossed the room to loom over her.

"Well? What have you to say for yourself?"

Hermione stared at the floor, willing herself not to cry.

"I'm sorry, sir," she whispered.

"Look at me when you're talking, and speak up!"

Hermione lifted her head first, then her eyes, still willing herself not to cry.

"I'm sorry, sir." Her voice was shaky, but audible.

"Sorry for what, precisely?"

Clenching her eyes shut, she jumped when she heard something whip against the table, and then felt the wind of displaced air brush against her face. Opening her eyes, she found Snape's face inches from hers, his cold eyes glaring at her with obvious malice.

"You will look at me when I am talking to you. Do you understand?"

Hermione nodded fearfully before remembering to vocalize. "Yes, sir."

He backed off enough to stand up and loom properly again. "What are you sorry about, or were you just offering false platitudes?" he demanded.

Hermione pursed her lips, trying to keep her chin from wobbling. "I'm sorry I was disrespectful, sir."

"Is that all?"

Hermione shook her head while trying to think what else she should be sorry for. To him. She sniffed and wished she could keep from crying. When he crossed his arms impatiently, she looked around the room for inspiration. That's when her eyes fell on the trash bin.

"I'm sorry to have wasted food, sir."

"Is that all?"

Thinking for a moment, she nervously nodded. "Yes, sir?"

"Is that a question?" he asked, his lips turning up into a wicked smirk.

"No, sir!" Hermione said quickly.

His smirk grew as he regarded her coolly, but then he backed off, and his stern demeanor waned. "I shall forgive you this time, for the disrespect, but as for the food..."

"I really am sorry, sir!" Hermione cried, letting the tears flow. She was sorry! She hadn't wanted that sandwich to go into the trash. She wanted to eat it! She was so hungry!

He leaned back against the counter lazily. "If you feel so horrible about it, I suppose I could let you remedy the situation."

Hermione froze. She didn't like that tone. She didn't like the possibilities that were presenting themselves. She really didn't like Snape. Swallowing, she looked up at him.

He was regarding her coolly, smirking in a self-satisfied way and obviously waiting for her to make the next move.

"Wha—I would appreciate the chance, sir." She didn't like the way he smiled when she said that.

"Then let there be no waste."

She looked at him in wide-eyed comprehension, trying to believe he didn't mean what she thought.

"I..."

He shrugged. "Either dig out the sandwich and eat it or go without food and water for the next three days. Your choice, Granger."

She realized her jaw had gone slack and closed her mouth with a snap, suddenly resolute.

"I'd rather starve, sir."

His smile didn't fade, but it got very hard around the edges.

"So be it. Now come. You've wasted food and time enough."

Allowing herself one muffled sob, she followed him out of the room, trying not to think of the half eaten sandwich lying in the trash.

XXX

Oh, how terribly predictable. Foolish girl. Does she really think that starving herself is going to help her out? It'll just make the landing that much harder when her pride finally falls.

XXX

She set the plates full of food on the table, gritting her teeth at the sight. Even though she wasn't eating, Snape was still making her cook. She had hoped she'd be able to sneak something while preparing the meal, but he'd watched her very closely the entire time. It was worse than Potions used to be.

She sat down across from them, trying to block out the sounds and smells of dinner, but Snape was being unusually vocal, the bastard. He was being as bad as Ron: sighing every time he took a bite, smacking his lips disgustingly, and audibly chewing. It was almost enough to destroy her appetite. Almost.

She was not going to go through the trash, though. She was not going to beg. She'd already apologized, and that was humiliating enough without begging for literal garbage to eat.

Her stomach growled again, painfully.

She saw Wormtail looking at her again.

"Let her eat, Severus."

"She has chosen not to. Who am I to force her?"

Wormtail eyed her shrewdly. "It doesn't look like this is her choice."

"Consequences, Wormtail, consequences. I know that's a big word, and it's difficult for you to understand, but she has chosen to suffer."

"And what will the Master say when she dies of hunger?"

Snape sighed and shook his head pityingly at Wormtail. "She won't die. Why the concern, Wormtail? Are you feeling sorry for the girl? Have you suddenly tapped into a wellspring of house loyalty for her? Is this something I should report to the Dark Lord, that although you had no problem betraying your friends when they trusted you with their lives, you're showing signs of disloyalty for a girl half your age?"

Wormtail glared at Snape. "The Dark Lord knows I'm faithful to him alone."

Snape's face twisted into a sneer, and he said with delicately intoned sarcasm, "Yes, and that's why he put you here."

"Whatever you think, Snape, you're not my keeper."

Snape just chuckled condescendingly. "Of course not, Wormtail."

"Your arrogance will get you killed one day."

Snape delicately wiped his mouth with his napkin. "And who will be my executioner? You?" He laughed outright when Wormtail continued to look at him hatefully.

"Wormtail, look at yourself! You're about as threatening as a flobberworm. Why do you think the Dark Lord doesn't keep you at his side where he can watch over you personally? He doesn't want to tarnish his reputation by having a weak idiot like yourself as a visible sycophant. It would give a terribly bad impression, after all."

Wormtail turned red and stood up so fast his chair rocked back and fell over.

"Go fuck yourself, Snape."

"Oh, once again such a clever comeback. Bravo." Snape clapped slowly, mockingly.

Peter narrowed his beady eyes at Snape and left. He hadn't even finished his dinner.

Hermione looked longingly at the plate of food, and Snape noticed.

"Tsk, tsk. Such a waste."

Hermione turned to him with fearful eyes and was not relieved when he smirked until he said, "Don't worry. That's Wormtail's fault, not yours."

Relief flooded her, as well as a touch of gratitude for him being fair enough to recognize the truth. She barely noticed when he threw the remains of Wormtail's supper into the bin.

XXX

This is far too easy. But enjoyable.

XXX

She woke to Snape's hand on her shoulder, shaking her.

"Wake up, Granger."

She sat up immediately, staring bleary-eyed around the room. She had not slept well; her stomach kept protesting throughout the night. It was still upset, but now she just felt ill, rather than hungry.

Snape must have thought so as well, as he stepped back from her with a look of distaste, as if expecting her to vomit on him. She wished she could.

"You need to bathe today," he said.

She felt her shoulders collapse in defeat at the promised humiliation. So far she'd escaped being completely nude around Snape, to her knowledge. She still wasn't sure what had happened when he'd knocked her out, but that seemed so long ago, she barely took that into account.

"Yes, sir," she said as clearly as she could, but unable to look him in the eye. She chose to focus on his chin.

His mouth thinned, and he stepped back again, gesturing for her to make her way to the bathroom.

She sluggishly got up, finding that she felt weak and slightly dizzy. Snape must have noticed, for he stepped forward and took hold of her elbow, gently supporting her.

"Thank you," she mumbled and tried not to lean into him.

He filled the tub with a wave of his wand and then let go of her. She stared blankly at the water for a moment before an impatient noise from Snape reminded her that she was supposed to be in the water. She slowly started taking off her clothes, keeping her back to Snape for as long as possible.

She lifted her leg to get into the tub, and the world started to tilt. The room was spinning around her, and she couldn't tell which way was up.

Suddenly, a hand gripped her arm firmly, stabilizing her until she regained her balance. She clenched her teeth together at the feeling of his hand on her, but couldn't help being grateful. She nodded her head in thanks, still refusing to look at him.

He guided her into the tub of warm water, and she sighed in appreciation as she sat down. He let go of her arm then, and backed away.

Her first thought was to lie back and relax into the warmth and had started to do so when she remembered that Snape was watching her. That realization woke her up. She sat up, trying to twist away from him and cover herself at the same time, even though she knew it was pointless. She looked around for the soap and found it was on a shelf just out of reach.

Snape reached around her and handed her the soap. She took it, still refusing to look at him.

She was able to wash most of her front before she started fumbling the soap. The third time the soap slipped from her hands and plunked into the water by her feet, she heard Snape sigh in exasperation. She cringed, not knowing what he would do if she continued to let the soap slip through her fingers.

She was surprised when his bare arm reached into the water to retrieve the soap.

Looking at him fearfully, she was relieved to find that only his shirt was missing. His trousers were still in place, and it seemed he had no intention of losing them.

"Lean forward," he ordered gruffly. Tensing, she complied and was surprised when he gently started soaping her back, using his hand to spread the lather around her back. She found herself relaxing into the luxury of his touch, although she kept waiting for him to do something unpleasant.

"Are you hypoglycemic?" he asked as he started scooping water onto her back to rinse her off.

"Not that I've been diagnosed."

"Hmm," was all he said in reply until he finished rinsing her.

"Can you stand?"

She nodded and started getting up, but soon found the room spinning around her again. Once more, Snape came to the rescue, grabbing her arms till she was steady, then offering his hand for support as she got out of the tub.

Once she was standing on the tile, dripping everywhere, he opened a towel for her. After a moment of hesitation, she walked into it and then took the ends from him, wrapping it around herself snuggly.

He stepped back and motioned for her to go to the bedroom. She looked at her clothes for a moment and swallowed, not sure what to expect. He motioned for her to sit on his bed, which she did while nervously keeping an eye on him. He went to the wardrobe and pulled out a ragged robe of his and handed it to her.

"This is yours until you've laundered your clothes sufficiently."

She took the robe, grateful once more for his generosity. She slipped it over her head and did up the clasps to the neck. The hem dragged about her feet, and the sleeves covered her hands past her fingertips, but it was clean.

"Thank you."

"See that you don't ruin it. And now for breakfast. It seems I need to find another consequence for your impertinence, as it's obvious you will be more of a hindrance without food."

He then swept out the door, assuming she would follow him, which she did.

XXX

I think I will cook the next few meals for her. I will blindfold her once we are in the kitchen after she's seen the array of potions by the stove and force her to eat everything I prepare.

A mild poison here and there will just add spice to the mix. The fact that Wormtail will suffer as well is just something I'll have to learn to live with.

XXX

She was setting the meal on the table when Snape let out a hiss and clutched his arm. Wormtail looked up at Snape, his expression worried at first, then confused.

Snape saw his confusion and scoffed. "Are you really so dim, Wormtail? Nagini is obviously hungry. We all know how difficult it is to distinguish you from all the other rats."

Wormtail flushed with either embarrassment or anger, though probably a mixture of the two, as Snape stood up and looked at the two of them disdainfully.

"I know it goes against your nature, Wormtail, but do try and refrain from doing anything stupid." He then waved his wand, clothing himself in his Death Eater costume, and disappeared with a very quiet 'pop.'

Hermione looked at Wormtail warily. He'd been avoiding her for most of the week, and she didn't know if that was because Snape had kept her by his side most of the time or because Snape had been getting extremely nasty toward Wormtail over the past week, even going so far as to hex him if he coughed too frequently. She knew that she was doing everything she could to avoid upsetting Snape.

Wormtail didn't look at her, though. He kept his eyes focused on the food he was eating. He looked to be in a sulky mood, and she wasn't sure how to use this opportunity to her advantage. It wasn't until he finished his plate that she saw an opening.

"Would you like some more?" she asked, forcing herself to sound tremulous.

He did look up at that, surprised, and possibly pleased. "Yes. I'd like that."

She offered him a shy, nervous smile as she refilled his plate. She opened her mouth to say something, but then decided it would be better to wait for him to make the next move.

As it turned out, that in itself was the perfect move.

"What were you going to say?" he asked.

She cast her eyes down in what she hoped was a demure fashion. "I just wanted to say thank you, sir. I really appreciate your getting Snape to lend me his books."

It was a gamble, as she was fairly certain he hadn't actually asked Snape for that favor, but this gave him an opening. She was hoping he would stick to his slimy self and take the credit.

He did seem to debate it for an instant before his eyes took on a shrewd look. "You're welcome, Hermione."

She smiled at him again, and this time it was genuine, though she struggled to rein it in. She ducked her head and looked longingly at the food on Snape's plate.

Wormtail picked up on that and decided it was in his interest to act chivalrously. "Here. I doubt I'll be able to finish all this," he said as he put a good portion of his second serving onto her plate. She thanked him heartily, and they ate in silence, though she felt him looking at her throughout most of the meal.

When he finished, he pushed his chair back a little and gave a little sigh of satisfaction.

"It's good to have you cooking for us again," he said, rubbing his belly contentedly. "Not only does it taste better, but with you cooking, I don't have to worry about him slipping something into the food."

He couldn't have given her a better opening if they'd rehearsed beforehand.

"Oh, Snape's just horrid! I can almost understand him treating me the way he does – after all, I am his prisoner – but the way he treats you is abominable!"

Wormtail looked at her sharply, and for a moment she feared she had laid it on too thick. Subtle and slow were the keys here, and that hadn't been either. She hoped he would overlook it, but she'd have to be extra careful from here on out.

"How does he treat you?" Wormtail finally said, still giving her a hard, searching look.

She only barely managed to keep herself from smiling too happily, restraining it to something that might look like a brave smile.

"Oh, you know... He... he's just his normal, cruel self. I think he actually enjoys the power plays he makes to lord it over me, like those potions by the stove while he was cooking? Those were for my punishment. He just... he uses the normal head games to control me, to make sure I remain compliant."

And I hate that I do comply, she added mentally. The bitterness must have shown on her face, however, as Wormtail reached out and patted her hand with a wry smile.

"That's how he does things. He didn't have the weight to throw around bodily as a kid, so he mastered the fine art of fucking with your head." He sounded as bitter as she felt. He absently patted her hand again.

They sat there silently for a few minutes. Hermione didn't quite know where to go from there without being too obvious. Finally, she decided that maybe some basic hosting was in order.

"Would you like some tea, sir?"

He withdrew his hand rapidly and looked up, obviously startled. He looked around the room for a moment until he realized that she had been talking to him.

"Er, yes, please. That would be nice."

She smiled at him again and got up to make the tea, glad to get away from his sweaty hand. Once again she was having doubts that she could go through with her plan. If his touching her hand grossed her out...

"Hermione," Peter called out from the table. She turned to find him watching her with that shrewd look on his face again.

"Yes, sir?"

He flinched. "Please don't call me 'sir.' It makes me think of either my father or... other authority figures."

Hermione smirked to herself. "Then what should I call you?"

"Most people just call me Wormtail," he replied in a sulky tone.

She carefully avoided his eye. After a few moments, she said in as timid a voice as she could fake realistically, "Would you mind terribly if I called you Peter?"

If she hadn't needed him for her plans to work, she would have given up right then thanks to the scheming, self-satisfied smirk that crossed his face.

"Peter would be fine," he said, trying for charming and falling well short. His tone reminded her of that night in the Shrieking Shack – oily and smarmy, only without the desperation. She didn't grimace in disgust, though it was a close thing. Instead, she smiled.

XXX

I wish I didn't have to leave Wormtail unsupervised in my house. I hate the thought of that dirty little animal crawling over my belongings.

XXX

"Well, well, well," Snape drawled lazily, "doesn't this look cozy."

Wormtail immediately shut his mouth and backed away from Hermione, looking at Snape warily, though definitely with a put-out air.

Hermione, however, was glad Snape had interrupted them. Wormtail – Peter, rather – was telling her about his pivotal role in bringing Voldemort back, whether to impress her or scare her, she wasn't sure, although he was failing miserably in either case. He had been inching closer and closer to her, and although he hadn't actually made a move yet, things were moving far faster than she wanted.

She needed to play on his sympathies and get into his heart, not just his pants. She suppressed another shudder at the thought and looked to Snape.

He was looking at Wormtail with undisguised loathing.

"I thought I told you not to do anything stupid, Wormtail," he sneered, leaning against the kitchen wall.

Wormtail looked confused and angry. "I haven't!"

"Oh, and the Dark Lord's secrets are just the stuff of polite conversation?"

"He didn't tell me anything I didn't already know," Hermione said and immediately regretted it when she was blown off her chair with an unfamiliar hex. She landed hard on the floor with the wind knocked out of her and her ears ringing. She could see Wormtail was standing now and was saying something to Snape, probably yelling, judging by the color of his face. She wondered if he was scolding Snape.

That thought amused her, so she chuckled – and immediately regretted it. Her chest objected strenuously to the contractions of her diaphragm, and she rolled over onto her side, clutching her ribs.

As she struggled to regain composure, she saw Snape curse Wormtail with a Body-Bind Hex and then he came to loom over her. He was obviously yelling something at her, but her ears were still ringing so badly that she couldn't make out even a word.

The effort of trying to keep her eyes on Snape, combined with trying to control the pain and breathe at the same time, proved to be too much, and the world faded away.

XXX

Stupid girl. Or possibly very clever girl. Clever for figuring out a way to keep his hands off of her, but stupid for even thinking of defending him. She should know her place by now.

Oh, fuck.

That was what Father always said.