On Oaks and Reeds

Disclaimer

Anything you recognize belongs to JK Rowling; I am not making money on this and I certainly don't own anything, except the plot and the sacred right to steal from real literature...Oh, wait, I don't even own the whole plot, as this story is an answer to HermySnape's Impostor Challenge on WIKTT.

Warnings

This story may consider a love relationship between Severus Snape and Hermione Granger at seventeen. If such an idea disturbs you, please don't read it. Also, this fic will be concerned with torture and sexual ambiguity – you'll be warned in advance in the occurrence of graphic descriptions.

Chapter 15 – The Broken Canvas

"The time has come, my Lord," said the hooded man.

The hideous man who had once been handsome Tom Riddle didn't look round.

"Go," he hissed quietly. "I need my servant."

The man bowed respectfully disappeared into the darkness.

HHH

"Hermione? Are you there?"

Hermione sat shock still on her bed, barely breathing. Harry's voice was excited and happy – so he'd come back, and he'd found the Water of Wisdom. And the poison was finished, they could start working on the Horcruxes. The thought gave her no joy.

"Come on, I know you're there. Just don't come out in my clothes," he said merrily, and Hermione started to suspect that something was wrong – was he mad, shouting about her Glamour in a corridor?

"Coming," she mumbled, despite herself, and she started to get dressed. Harry was the last person she wanted to see at the moment. Snape had wanted him, Snape had kissed him. She thought he had been hers for a second, but he never had been.

Harry's face was even worse than his voice. He literally shone, he was the boy in the ads eating his artery clogging cereals at six in the morning and still smiling, waving, wide awake. Hermione groaned inwardly.

"You found it?" she asked, and he looked confused for a moment. "The Water," she clarified, bemused.

"Oh, that – yes, we have to work on that," he said distractedly, rearranging his glasses.

"Harry, what's the matter?"

Harry looked around, but the corridor outside the Head Girl's room was empty. Still, he hesitated – one part of him didn't want to share his night with Ginny.

"I…" he said in the end. "Ginny wants to be with me."

"She too?" moaned Hermione, before she could stop herself. Lurid images of Harry, Ginny and Snape eating chocolate hearts and looking lovingly at each other crossed her mind.

"What do you mean, she too?" said Harry, laughing. "Come on, we'll be late for breakfast."

As they walked down the stairs together, he filled her in with everything that had happened in Bath. She was, as ever, a very good audience, and gasped at all the right moments.

"And what about the poison?" he murmured, as they stepped into the Great Hall.

Hermione blushed and tried to push her hair in front of her face – but of course, she didn't have enough hair for that.

"It's finished. Speaking of which, could you go and collect it from Snape's rooms?" she asked, acting on a sudden instinct. She couldn't bear to see the man today, she just couldn't.

"No problem," said Harry cheerfully. "Has he been giving you a hard time?"

Hermione was spared the need to answer by the appearance of Ginny, sitting composedly at the breakfast table, waiting for them. Well, for Harry at least.

"Good morning," she said, a sparkle in her eyes.

Harry smiled and sat down opposite her. There was something very strange going on – Harry had never looked so stupid, and Ginny was just…shining from inside.

"Harry…you will remember to fetch…to fetch it?" said Hermione tentatively, staring at the two of them.

"Of course," he said absently.

In fact, Harry did remember about the poison. He thought about it as he was walking hand in hand with Ginny back to Gryffindor tower; and once, very briefly, when they were kissing; and again, as a nagging task, when they were sprawled in bed together, still clothed but flushed and giggling. It was eight in the evening before Harry found the time to walk down to the dungeons. He was too happy to suspect that two people had waited eagerly for him to do so, Hermione in the cold library and Snape pacing up and down in front of the awful painting.

When he arrived at the dungeons' door, Harry could still feel the warmth of Ginny's lips on his face. He paused and thought whether he should knock, but decided against it. Snape was a prisoner, why should he bother? Harry smiled. Snape a prisoner, the poison done, the Water of Wisdom in his trunk – everything was well.

Hermione watched the little dot labelled 'Harry Potter' walk into the dungeons and her eyes darted immediately to the 'Severus Snape' dot, which was moving quickly towards it. Her paper ("Burning Hexes – How to Heal Them") lay forgotten on the desk. She felt sick. She watched the two dots and saw in her mind Snape's discoloured eyes shine with desire, and it was not for her, and she could not bear it. She knew that Harry would never yield to it, but he would still see it, and he would understand what had happened. She would not have it.

Blindly, Hermione stood up and ran, outside the quiet, darkening library, through cold corridors and silent portraits, hoping and praying that she was not too late; but too late for what, she could not say.

Behind her, the Marauders Map followed her footsteps for everyone to see them.

HHH

Harry stepped quietly into the dark lab.

"Lumos," he said.

The place was heavy with Snape's presence. Harry had not forgotten his professor's taunts and tortures, and the unwilling help of the sharp-witted boy he'd been, the Half-Blood Prince. As he walked forwards, he could recognize the place that used to be his own, at the front of the class; he could still hear Karkaroff's low whisper and see Snape's eyes, flashing with anger.

All this didn't matter, though. Harry was love drunk, and he found in his heart that Snape's cruelty and Dumbledore's blindness at hiring him were unimportant. He felt at peace. He even had a smile on his lips.

Standing on the threshold of his private chambers, Snape saw the boy's foolish smile and his eyes hardened. He'd thought he wouldn't dare to come, but he had. Snape felt uneasy, but he knew he had nothing to apologize for – the boy had responded, his mouth had been hot, his skin flushed. All day Snape had played with the idea of seducing him – didn't he deserve it? Hadn't he worked for years in this ghastly school, for nothing? Hadn't he served his master well?

But as Harry Potter glanced dreamily at cauldrons stored neatly on the shelves, Snape couldn't feel any heat, any desire. Another reward would slip through his fingers. He must wait. There would be no truth, only games and plays.

"Why, good evening, Potter," he said venomously from the shadows.

Harry jumped and looked around, his wand ready.

"Professor?" he said, hesitantly. He didn't want to use the man's title anymore, but it seemed unnatural to call him 'Snape' to his face. Once a student, always a student.

"Don't you threaten me, boy. Lower your wand."

Harry took a step towards him. With his own wand light in the face, he couldn't see his opponent.

"I've come for the poison," he said.

"Your ability to state the obvious is, as always, charming."

Harry was determined not to get angry, and he forced himself to smile.

"So, where is it?"

Snape turned and walked into his chambers, and Harry followed him, keeping his wand on him. As he walked through the room for the first time, Harry was shocked to see the state of destruction of it. Of course, he knew that Aurors and Order members had searched it, but it still disturbed it that they had not been put right, and that Snape himself had done nothing in the months he'd been living there. Even the books were still upside down on the floor, and the fireplace looked as if it had not been used in a long time. Forgetting where he was, Harry moved to peer through the destroyed door on the right side of the living room. It was Snape's bedroom. The bed, a simple, monastic single bed, had been wrecked, the battered green and silver sheets thorn. It looked like an unwanted and unloved room, and it was clear it had not been used for months. Harry wondered vaguely where Snape had been sleeping. Turning around, he saw that Snape was staring icily at him and felt his cheeks redden.

"You are still a child and I am still your superior. Don't you dare to presume that last night has changed anything," Snape hissed angrily. The casual wandering of Potter through his quarters was unnerving – did the boy think that because of one kiss he could come and go as he pleased?

Harry was rooted to the spot, utterly shocked. He had long suspected that Snape could read minds, and he'd had the certainty of it in his fifth year, but still – didn't one need eye contact for Legilimency? But then again, Lupin always said that Snape was very skilled. He'd never felt so humiliated in his whole life. It had been bad enough that Snape had seen his childhood misery and his kiss with Cho Chang – but thinking that the surly, mean double spy in front of him could see he and Ginny…that he could see Ginny naked…

"You don't know anything about last night!" Harry shouted, furious and embarrassed. "Shut up about it!"

Snape's eyes glittered dangerously.

"You think you are special, Potter? You know nothing."

"I don't think I'm special! But I know that last night was special! I'm sure of it!"

Snape kept his eyes on the boy, hiding his unease. He'd waited fifteen years to hear Lily say these words – surely Fate was not so cruel as to put them in the mouth of her son?

"And why would you?" he whispered, his hand instinctively moving to his wand pocket, which, of course, was empty.

Harry hesitated, but what he was thinking blurted out of his mouth before he could stop himself.

"Because it was love. True love. And you know nothing of it."

Harry saw Snape's face becoming even paler than usual. The man in front of him could have been a corpse – there was no blood in his cheeks, no audible breath. From the look of mingled incredulity and shock in his pale, gleaming eyes Harry knew that he'd finally, unwilling succeeded what he'd been trying to do for six years. He had mortally offended his former professor. More, he had hurt him. Harry shuffled his feet and turned around. He didn't want to see what he'd done. He forgot that Snape was a murderer and his enemy – for a moment, he saw him as the kid he'd been, alone and forlorn, and he was deeply ashamed of himself.

Snape watched as the boy flushed and turned to look at the awful winter landscape, but in his mind the boy had turned into Lily. Lily saying exactly the same thing to him on the eve of her marriage to James. Snape had contradicted her then; and his mouth had moved of a fraction, ready to contradict her son now. But he found he couldn't. The boy was right.

As they both stood there, trying to avoid each other's gaze, the door clicked and Hermione stepped into the room. She stood on the threshold, uncertainly looking at both in turn, but before she could say anything an explosion resounded over their heads, immediately followed by Professor McGonagall's harsh voice.

"The castle is under attack. I repeat, the castle is under attack. All doors will be sealed. Stay where you are until a senior member of the staff comes to fetch you."

Snape and Harry understood the meaning of this at once, and they both ran to the door, pushing Hermione roughly aside as they tried to prevent the it from closing. As Hermione steadied herself on her feet, she saw that they'd been too late. She looked a Harry for orders, but he was swearing under his breath and didn't look back at her.

Snape walked to the panting on the wall and leaned his head towards it, as though he was trying to hear something. Hermione felt a creepy sensation in her hands – Snape couldn't stand there, he could not be allowed to – why she didn't know. She drew her wand and moved towards him, but as she reached him Snape stepped hastily back and threw himself to the ground, instinctively taking her down with him.

The canvas ripped as a jet of black light blasted through it, and they all knew the voice crying in delight beyond what now was a hole in the wall. It belonged to Lucius Malfoy.

Snape stood up quickly and raised a hand to rip the canvas. He had always liked being a scholar and had lived most of his life inside, but the smell of fresh air was intoxicating. He looked through the hole and saw Lucius hovering in front of it, his expensive broom perfectly steady and his silver mask slightly raised.

There was a cry of rage behind him and Harry pushed him hard in the shoulder, trying to aim at Malfoy.

"Move away from there, you fool!" Snape shouted at Lucius, and lowered his arm, hard, on Harry's wand arm, causing his hex to miss. Harry turned to face him instead, but Hermione cried 'No!' and both man and boy turned despite themselves to stare at her.

And in one moment, Snape understood. He saw Hermione's anguished gaze, her soft lips quivering with anxiety, and everything was clear in his mind – Potter's sudden skill in Potions, the grace of his movements, his interest in his books. He was so relieved that he quirked a smile at her.

"Keep it safe," he said, as Harry's eyes darted in confusion from one to the other. As he was looking at Hermione's face, trying to read her most peculiar expression, he saw it change to sheer terror – he felt Snape push past him – the man had thrown himself out of the window – but he was not falling, he was running on thin air towards Lucius Malfoy's broomstick.

The sight was so incredible that Harry felt his wand arm lower. Dumbledore's words rang in his mind. You will face magic during your quest the like of which you have never seen before. Snape ran very fast, his cloak billowing behind him, his slim silhouette outlined by a fire in the Forbidden Forest. His steps were unnaturally long. He seemed unsubstantial, as unreal as a shadow.

Even Malfoy whistled in admiration as he lowered his mask on his face. His grey eyes locked with Harry's as Snape jumped on the broom behind him, and in the blink of an eye they were gone, swallowed by the night.

HHH

Silently, Hermione came to stand beside him, her eyes shining with tears. She put one hand to the edge of the canvas, trying to straighten it up, or perhaps simply leaning on it for support.

"There's something written on this," Harry said, out of the blue. He had noticed her tears and didn't know what to think of it. And he surely didn't want to talk about it.

"Lumos," said Hermione wearily, as the Forest fire subsided. Centaurs were spreading on the grounds. They looked no more than dots from were they were standing.

Her wand tip revealed an Oriental writing on the back of the broken canvas.

"What's this?" she said, amazed.

"Chinese?" Harry offered, glad to see that she had her usual curious, determined look.

"Traduce," she said, carefully putting her wand on the fabric.

Black words shone for a moment in front of their eyes.

Walking, walking, I plod endlessly

Along the road that leads me away from you.

More than ten thousands li separate us,

For you and me, the horizon is otherwise.

Long and laborious are routes,

Nor are we sure of seeing each other again.

The Mongolian horses are harnessed to the North Wind.

Birds from the land of Hiu are perched on the branches of the South.

And I am

The writing turned back to its original ideograms.

"Do that again," said Harry.

"It's a poem," stated Hermione, amazed, as she repeated the spell.

They both read it a second time. Hermione felt her throat close. Snape's face swam in front of her eyes – his amused smile, his final words. Keep it safe.

"There's another part to it," she said in dismay. "Where is it?"

Harry put his hand on the canvas as the writing changed. The night wind blew through the hole, and they both shivered.

"The second part is lost," he said quietly. "The canvas is broken."

Hermione stared blankly at it. Harry was right. For you and me, the horizon is otherwise. But what came after that?

"The enemy has fled. You are now safe," boomed Professor McGonagall's voice over them, and the door opened with a soft click.

A/N Hope you enjoyed this chapter, even if it's a bit short. It was tremendous fun to write.

The poem is a real one, which, alas, I did not write. His author is an unknown poet who lived in China during the Han dynasty (206-220 AD). There is a second part to it, but I'll save it for later because I'm wicked. The Mongolian were, of course, the enemy the Chinese most feared; the Chinese wall was built to keep them out of the country. Their horses were renowned for their speed and endurance. The li, lǐ) is a traditional Chinese unit of distance, which has varied considerably over time but now has a standardized length of 500 meters or half a kilometer (c. 1640 feet). At the time of our author, though, it was about 80 m.