Chapter 18: Precious

Hermione had not spoken to Salazar in twenty-four hours, which was a long-shot considering how much time they had spent in each other's company. Hermione moved the food around on her plate with a fork. Her eyes would occasionally drift towards the faculty table in some hopes that she may suddenly find him having somehow manifested himself. Merlin knew the man sure managed to make himself quite scarce recently.

He'd ordered her to oversee the class' Polyjuice preparations yesterday before disappearing into his office.

After fifteen minutes worth of internal debate, she decided against going to check on the man. She didn't need to provide anymore material for Parkinson and Greengrass to pollute the rumor pool with. Fortunately, he returned briefly before the end of class to remind them about their assignment. However, he secluded himself back in his office shortly thereafter. Hermione dismissed class in his stead and waited for the room to empty before making an attempt at his attention.

When she tried the handle, it failed to give. She rattled it; hoping annoyance would prompt him to unlock the door. The action only succeeded in irritating her instead. She began to lecture him through the door about shirking his duties as a professor. She'd left after delivering a parting kick to the door that he was sure to have heard.

Destroying the locket horcrux had been an experience she would not quickly forget. It had been horrifying, for both of them, but you didn't see her barricading herself in her rooms. Though, she supposed it had been slightly more emotionally wrenching for him. She'd give him that much.

But still...

Time was not a luxury afforded to them! He could deal with his demons later. There were far more pressing matters to attend to. She'd be damned if he expected her to play substitute for the rest of term. The man's level of irresponsibility was ridiculous!

CRACK.

Hermione gasped. Her innocent prodding had apparently escalated into an all out assault at some point. Her plate had shattered, the fork lodged into the wooden surface of the table. She looked around, heat creeping up the nape of her neck. Colin Creevey was staring at her from across the table, mouth hanging open and eyes wide with fear.

Oh.

She smiled weakly at him and carefully yanked the fork free before setting it down. Mumbling a spell to fix the plate, she reached for her belongings and scurried out of the Great Hall, careful not to look at anyone else or else risk betraying the blush staining her cheeks.


Salazar massaged his temples, trying to avoid eyeing the stacks of parchment atop his desk. It appeared he was destined to spend every waking moment of the approaching weekend grading. He honestly had not expected so many students to turn in the lengthy assignment. He supposed he should be pleased by such a positive output of work. The door to his classroom creaked open, students stumbling in warily. He recognized Granger easily by her particularly steady gait. She took her seat with the rest of them and began unpacking her quill and ink. He watched her inconspicuously.

Her book was splayed open and her eyes were already scanning the length of the page as her right hand proceeded to pen notes on a separate piece of parchment. The girl was so meticulous in manner. It was rather aggravating. He smoothed over the trimmed patch of hair on his chin with the pad of his thumb. His eyes eventually strayed from the Gryffindor female back to the tower of assignments piled high on his desk. They seemed to grow more daunting by the minute. It occurred to him then that he had detention scheduled for that evening. He had almost forgotten entirely. He stared at the parchment piles again and smiled.

Problem solved.

He sighed; his mood lightened, "I assume all of you have completed the assignment,"

Salazar noted the select few students whom shifted uncomfortably in their seats.

Exhaustion weakened his otherwise iron resolve, "For those of you-other than Miss Granger- that have managed to keep up with your calendars," His little snide insert earned him a look from the girl.

He had to restrain a chuckle, "You'll be aware that your potions are scheduled to stew for the day, and seeing as how I'm feeling uncharacteristically merciful this afternoon,"

He leaned back in his chair, "I've decided to allow the duration of this class period for those of you who failed to complete the assignment."

There was a collective sigh of relief amongst the students, but before they could get too comfortable, he made sure to add on a final note.

"Regardless, I do not condone latework. Two points will be deducted from your final grade for all of you who turn in the essay at the end of class. Do not expect such leniency in the future."

Half the class set to the task while the other sat silently in their seats. He knew it was only a matter of time when sure enough, Granger rose from her seat and stalked over to his desk, assignment in hand.

"Professor," She spoke acerbically.

"Thank you, Miss Granger. Seeing as how I have nothing more for you, you are dismissed- same applies to the rest of you lot that actually know how to follow directions." He addressed the select few still seated.

"I expect to see you this evening for your scheduled detention, young lady, seven o' clock, not a minute later."

Hermione pursed her lips, eyes narrowing dangerously, "Yes sir."


Hermione deposited her bookbag on the floor halfway between the door and her bed. She collapsed onto the mattress, relishing in the feel of cool linen against her warm face. All that stair-climbing and walking was one hell of a workout. She wondered how she managed to do it most days. Crookshanks snored softly a few inches away from her. She reached out to scratch his head. He stared at her for a moment before shutting his eyes again.

Hermione rolled onto her side and gathered the ball of fur, dragging him across the bed to her. Crookshanks mewled in protest, claws digging into the covers weakly, but once she had him resting against her stomach, he settled down. She longed to follow her pet into sleep but she feared she may not wake up in time for "detention". Rolling her eyes, her mouth turned up in a small, perturbed frown.

Not wanting to wake Crookshanks, she summoned a book from her bookshelf. It floated over to where she rested, flipping open to the appropriate page. Hermione read until the light from her window was not enough to make out the words on the parchment. She reached over and plucked the thing out of the air, setting it down on the bed.

Crooks pushed himself up and stretched. Rubbing his massive body against her, he jumped off the bed and strutted toward the door where he sat, meowing to be let out for the evening.

Hermione got up and walked over to him, "Be good," She instructed, patting him on the head before opening the door.

He nuzzled her hand and slipped out.

Shutting the door behind him, Hermione ran a hand through the tangled mess that was her hair. She looked at the alarm clock on her nightstand. It was already six o'clock. Dinner was being served, but she didn't feel like making the long journey just yet. Instead, she decided to take advantage of what was sure to be a completely deserted Prefects' Bathroom. She dug around in her trunk for a change of clothes and her bag of toiletries.

Necessities in hand, she headed out, anticipating the inviting warmth of the scented waters that awaited her.


Having managed to fall asleep in the tub, Hermione only had time to run back to her rooms to put away her hairbrush and personal items. Her hair was still sopping wet despite the ferocious attempts she made at drying it with her towel on the jog back up to Gryffindor Tower. She only had seven minutes to make it down to the dungeons. Taking the stairs two, sometimes three, at a time, she made it onto the ground floor, descending into the dark dungeon passageways beyond. The back of her sweater was soaked through and the damp chill stung the skin between her shoulder blades.

Hermione slowed her pace within a few feet of the Potions Classroom. The door was ajar allowing light to spill into the hallway. Entering the classroom, the door slammed shut behind her. She withdrew her wand, startled.

A piece of parchment was tacked onto the back of the door:

Meet me in my quarters. Use the office entrance.

You have:

12 seconds

-S

Her eyes widened as the "12" dissolved and turned into an "11". The bastard was actually keeping track of time!

"Arse!"

She sprinted across the classroom and yanked the door to his office open, striding through it and into the stairwell beyond that led to his private rooms. Chest heaving, she found him lounging on his sofa, barefoot, still clad in slacks with his shirt unbuttoned at the collar. He had a pile of parchment stacked nearby, a quill resting neatly on top.

"Ah, there you are!" He stood up to greet her, a mocking smile on his face.

Hermione refrained from name-calling or else risk him docking house points, instead giving him the dirtiest look she could muster.

"What would you have done if I had not made it to the classroom on time?"

He shrugged, "The door would've closed anyway and you would have been locked out. I did say seven o' clock and not a minute later, did I not?"

His eyebrows furrowed as he looked at her.

"What in Merlin's name happened to you?"

He reached out to grasp a strand of wet hair, twirling it around his forefinger.

She jerked away from him, "I bathed."

"Now what is it you'll have me do?"

Salazar arched an eyebrow at her attitude.

"You'll be grading papers for me this evening. Everything's ready for you. Have at it."

He pointed toward the stack of papers.

She complied without protest and got to work.


Salazar sat on the sofa across from her, marking up a fifth year's pathetic excuse for a paper. He was already starting to weed out the inclined from the inept. Setting the paper down in his lap, he rotated his wrist. He watched absently as Hermione nibbled the end of her quill before jotting something down in the margin of the paper in her hand. She was already three-fourths of the way through; then again, he had given her first years to work with. And the prompt had been relatively simple.

Her hair was still damp. It hung loosely down her back and over her shoulders. His thoughts turned to the way her cheeks had looked when she'd stormed in earlier, all flushed pink. It was a good look for her…

He shook his head and continued grading.

About two papers later the sound of rustling parchment pulled him out of his work long enough to see that the girl had fallen asleep. Her arm was draped over the side of the sofa, head resting on it awkwardly. Her legs were pulled up close. The quill dangled weakly in her right hand.

Salazar rubbed the back of his neck. They'd been grading for a while now, it must've been at least midnight. He set his quill aside and got up to stretch. Releasing a yawn, he went to wake Hermione so that she could return to her rooms. Placing a hand on her shoulder, he shook the girl softly. She moaned and batted him away.

"It's time you headed back to your quarters."

She ignored him and continued to sleep.

"Have it your way then."

He returned to his grading, finishing up the paper before deciding to just move Hermione himself. It was getting cold despite the fire in the hearth and he couldn't let her sleep in the common room. He kicked pieces of parchment out of the way and retrieved the quill clenched in her hand. The thing had already dripped ink onto the carpet. He'd make her clean that up later. Slipping one arm under her legs and the other around her shoulders, he heaved her small frame up.

Salazar carried Hermione to his bedroom where he laid her on the bed. Thankfully, the house elves had already taken care to pull back the covers. He threw a heavy blanket over her and dimmed the lights before dragging himself back to the common room. He wanted to get through a few more papers before calling it a night.


Warm lips pressed against the skin of her neck. She smiled, biting her lip to contain the giggle that threatened to bubble up her throat. A hand splayed itself across her bare stomach and she felt the muscles contract beneath the calloused palm. She fought to keep her eyes closed, feigning sleep, albeit failing horribly. Her body was all too willing to betray her. The pair of lips continued to assault her neck, bestowing light kisses along the column and offering an occasional nip that made a flood of warmth spread throughout her body. The hand that had previously rested so innocently against her belly was now rubbing circles against the tender flesh.

When those lips descended upon the crook of her neck, she released a strangled laugh.

"Salazar! Stop it!" She demanded feebly…

in a voice that was not her own.

Suddenly conscious, her eyes shot open and she was staring into the face of the man she'd been grading papers for only a few moments before (or so it seemed).

What the bloody hell was going on?

Hermione felt him grip her chin and angle her face as he prepared to kiss her. Her first reaction was to move away, but when she tried, her body remained still. He kissed her slowly, sensually. Her arm moved of its own volition to wrap around the back of his neck, pressing her naked body against the cool skin of his chest.

She was mortified.

"Cecilia…" He moaned into her mouth.

What?

"It is late, my love. We should get up. I need to bathe."

"Never." He protested, wrapping his arms around her torso.

Hermione listened intently, trying to ignore the tingling sensation in her abdomen. Obviously she had zero control over the situation. She could feel everything, see everything, hear everything, but this body was not hers. She was some sort of imprisoned subconscious.

Cecilia untangled herself from Salazar long enough to escape him and wrap a sheet around her form. She glided over to a dressing table and sat. The face reflected in the looking glass was a lovely one. Hermione admired the gentle curve of the woman's jaw line as she combed through her jet black hair nimbly with slender fingers. She saw Salazar watching her through Cecilia's eyes. He looked younger than the man she'd come to know in real life- for surely this was a dream.

"Beautiful, isn't he?"

Hermione did not immediately realize that the question had been addressed to her, yet she found herself answering anyway.

"Yes…yes, he is."

The woman chuckled and the image reflected in the mirror changed. The world spun for a moment and Hermione found herself seated in front of the very same mirror, sheet clinging loosely to her small frame. Cecilia smiled at her from the other side and continued to fix her hair. Hermione gathered the sheet tighter around her torso, self-consciously. She was too stupefied to notice Salazar standing behind her. She watched his reflection through the mirror as he brushed the strands of hair over Cecilia's shoulder, simultaneously doing so to her own.

She gasped and her hand darted to her shoulder, expecting to find his hand resting there as it did in the mirror's reflection...only it wasn't. She could feel the warmth of his skin and the pressure of his palm, but otherwise, it was not there. For some reason, she longed to cry. The corners of her eyes burned.

Salazar leaned forward and Hermione could feel his breath against the shell of her ear.

"You are perfect."

Hermione choked on a sob.

The background faded away until all that was left was Cecilia's face.

"Don't be fooled. He'll never love you. He's incapable of love. He's nothing more than the empty shell of a man who sold his soul out of ambition."

"What are you talking about?"

Cecilia's face darkened. The mirror shattered and a hand shot out to wrap around Hermione's throat. She screamed before it could constrict her windpipe. Nails bit into the back of her neck.

"HE'LL NEVER LOVE YOU…JUST LIKE HE NEVER LOVED ME!"

Hermione was able to choke out one last scream before everything went black.


Salazar was jolted awake by the sound of screaming. He shoved himself off the sofa and dashed for his bedroom. With a wave of his wand, the lights illuminated the room. The covers were strewn aside and Hermione lay choking in the middle of the bed. Her face was red and sweat beaded her brow. He climbed over to her and shook her shoulders so hard he was afraid her neck might break. Her hands shot to her throat and she continued to cough, scrambling for air.

"WAKE UP, GIRL!"

His heart beat painfully in his chest as he watched her struggle to breathe.

"HERMIONE, PLEASE!"

With a gasp of air, her body arched and her eyes snapped open. He pulled her into his lap and she clung to the front of his shirt as she took in deep gulps of air. She trembled ferociously. He grabbed her face and smoothed the hair away from her cheeks. She stared up at him, tears streaming out the corners of her eyes.

"Hermione,"

She sobbed, throwing her arms around him. Salazar cradled her head in his hand and rocked her gently until the sobs subsided. They stayed like that for what felt like hours until Hermione calmed down and Salazar's legs had gone completely numb. She refused to move more than an inch away from him when he attempted to separate. Her hands maintained a vice-like grip on his shirt. When he moved to tilt her head up she winced. Puzzled, Salazar was able to pull them far enough apart to be able to inspect her throat. It was bruised. He brushed her hair out of the way and spotted multiple crescent moon indents at the back of her neck. Salazar prodded at them carefully in disbelief and she whimpered.

"What in Merlin's name happened to you?"

His eyes searched hers for some sort of answer.

She avoided his gaze.

"Fine, I suppose we'll figure this out in the morning."

Salazar collapsed onto his back, taking her with him. Despite everything, she fought him, pushing feebly against his chest. He held her to him until she stopped struggling. They laid there in silence, Hermione's head pillowed on top of Salazar's chest. He reached out to grasp the blanket and pulled it over them. Throwing an arm over his head, he released a heavy sigh as a hand found its way to Hermione's back. He started to rub it softly with his thumb and felt her tense beneath his touch.

"You need to relax and get some sleep."

She released a sigh of her own and he felt her back muscles loosen. He waited until her breathing evened out before falling asleep himself.


Thu-Thump…Thu-Thump…Thu-Thump…

Hermione listened to the steady beat of Salazar's heart as it thrummed beneath his breast. It was a rhythm she was learning to cherish. It was the rhythm of life. She would doze in and out of sleep, but when she woke up, it was always to that sound. She lifted her hand and let it hover over the middle of his chest, just above the area where the organ pulsed. She could feel the heat radiating off his skin.

She glanced at him. His face was passive. He was still asleep. She placed the palm of her hand gingerly against the exposed patch of flesh. For a moment she wasn't able to discern his heartbeat from her own.

Thu-Thump…

There it was.

Hermione allowed her hand to rest against him for a while longer before deciding to remove it. As soon as she'd lifted her hand, his own promptly found it and kept it in place. She mustered her courage enough to look up at him. The stormy grey of his eyes were staring lazily down at her. He entwined their fingers and turned his head away, shutting his eyes again.

She sidled up closer to him and he adjusted to accommodate her.

She guessed it had to be around noon the way the light played on the waters of the lake outside the windows. Thankfully, nothing too frightful had drifted by, only a school of fish here and there. The mermaids kept to their colonies and the grindylows rarely ventured out of the kelp beds. She figured she ought to be leaving soon. Ginny was probably looking for her and Crooks…

Thu-Thump…

They could wait.

She watched him sleep. Her mind was uncharacteristically silent.

"How many times must I reiterate how rude it is to stare?"

He always had to ruin the moment by opening his mouth. She smiled. Hermione pushed herself up on her elbow and extracted her hand from his, placing it against the side of his face.

He eyed her.

She leaned forward and pressed her lips to his forehead, "You are beautiful," She mumbled, "When you sleep."

His hand rose to caress her cheek and she screamed at herself to run before it was too late.

But it already was- far too late, that is.

Salazar pulled her toward him, kissing each eyelid, the tip of her nose, and then her lips. She responded, matching every movement with her own as her hands slid slowly down his chest.

"Salazar," She managed in between kisses.

"Hmm…?"

"What is this?" She traced a patch of raised skin with her fingertip.

His motions abruptly stilled.

"Oh, that…"

Hermione leaned back to get a better look.

"YES, that."

She sat back on the bed.

Salazar eased himself up, his back to the headboard. His head lolled back with a soft thud.

"Salazar,"

"Yes, yes, I know…just give me a minute."

"A minute?" She parroted, "A minute for what; to make something up?"

"No," He grumbled, "A minute to recover."

Hermione blushed.

"Oh."

She started to fuss with her hair, imagining the wreck she must look like.

Salazar cleared his throat.

"First and foremost, surrender your wand, please."

Hermione crossed her arms over her chest, "What for?"

"So that you may not be tempted to curse, kill, or hex me for what I am about to tell you."

"And if I refuse?"

"Then I will divulge nothing."

"You know I don't need a wand to do any number of those things."

He seemed to mull it over.

"Perhaps, but nonetheless, those are my terms."

Hermione rolled her eyes and fished around in her pocket, pulling it out. She offered it to him and he took it from her with a bewildered look on his face.

"How are you able to store this in those tight little trousers of yours?"

"Extension charm, now get on with it already."

"Very well then…"


"You did WHAT!"

Salazar winced, "No need to yell, love."

She'd been taking it rather well up until now, actually.

"Oh god, things can't get any worse, can they?" She moaned into her hands, "And don't call me that." She added as an afterthought.

He smirked, "Don't call you what, love?"

She looked ready to smack him.

"I'm just saying you shouldn't throw that word around so carelessly is all." Hermione muttered, looking away.

That struck a chord in him. She was right, he was acting foolish.

"So, let me get this straight, you were never officially dead?"

Salazar grabbed a pillow and shoved it behind him so that he was half propped up, half lying down.

"Correct. My physical body had deteriorated, but the magic sustained my consciousness. Therefore, I was not completely lost to the world, just in a state of suspended animation."

He heard her flop back onto the mattress near his feet. He interpreted the ensuing silence as her taking the time to digest everything. His hand strayed to the brand on his chest. It symbolized the pact between himself and the Goddess, a promise he could not break. She'd made sure he could not escape her this time. To live without magic: that would be the ultimate punishment. Catering to Circe in the afterlife for an eternity was hardly as terrifying. He tried to smooth down the ridges on his skin in vain.

"I'll have no part in this." Hermione said, "I refuse to help you condemn another."

"Fair enough."

He had not been entirely honest with her about his predicament. Salazar mentioned only half the conditions of the agreement he had made. He decided, for some peculiar reason, to leave out the part where he could potentially lose his magical ability should he fail. It was just something his pride wouldn't allow him to admit out loud. That and perhaps, he feared the possibility of failure enough…

Hermione rolled onto her stomach, "You are one of the most taxing individuals I've ever had the misfortune to have met, I hope you know that?"

Salazar grinned, "And yet, you're still here."

She got up, "Good point. I'm leaving."

"Wait!"

Salazar reached out to stop her.

"What?"

She turned to look at him with an air of impatience about her.

"You owe me an explanation."

"What are you going on about now?"

"Last night," He said sternly, "What happened to you?"

She flinched, "I-It was nothing…a nightmare."

For all her cleverness, the girl was a miserable liar.

"Nightmares do not leave bruises around a person's neck."

She lightly touched her throat, "Please don't make me talk about it. Just let it go."

He hesitated, but the tone in her voice convinced him to do as she asked.

Hermione slid off the bed.

"My wand?"

Salazar handed it to her and she started for the door.

Pausing halfway across the room, she turned, "Thank you."

He nodded at her from his spot on the bed.

When she had gone, Salazar let himself fall back down onto the mattress. Something was truly troubling her. What in the world had she been dreaming about? Furthermore, was it even possible for dreams to cause an individual to sustain physical damage in the real world? If her injuries were any indication of that, well, then he already had an answer. Suddenly, he wished he hadn't allowed her to go so soon. It wasn't safe.

He decided to leave her alone for the time being, but he was determined that she not sleep alone for the next few nights. He shuddered to think what would happen if there was a repeat of last night. She wasn't going to be too happy with his decision, but it was for her own good. If he had to, he'd threaten to tell one of the Order Members about what happened just to get her to comply with his wishes. He doubted she would allow that, therefore, she would have no choice.

Salazar decided he'd owl her about it later that evening.

Meanwhile, however, he needed more sleep.


Salazar woke up later that day with a strange feeling stirring in the pit of his stomach. It was a sensation he had felt before but couldn't quite put his finger on, at least until he decided to finally open his eyes. It occurred to him all at once that the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach was his body's mechanism of warning him. There was a disturbance in his present environment that he should be wary of, the figure of a woman hovering at the foot of his bed, for example.

The room was unnaturally chilly.

"Lord Slytherin, Merlin! It is you! The rumors were true!"

She looked so familiar, this woman. Thick blonde curls spilled over her shoulders and plump, pink lips, but it was the set of her eyes, almond shaped with violet irises. A telling feature; they were her mother's eyes.

"Helena? Helena Ravenclaw?"


Author's Note:

Yes, I know. This chapter had been a LONG time coming. Unfortunately, school and work have been keeping me very busy. I do apologize, but seeing as it is now that time of the year again (SUMMER) I can promise you more updates!

Starting with this one! Yay!

This chapter was titled after the song Precious by Depeche Mode. I had it on replay a couple of times while writing this. It seemed to mesh well with the content.

So I have a few random tidbits to throw out here:

First of all- In the name of Merlin's saggy left nutsack, we need some Hermione/Salazar fanart out there! I've searched all over and have come up with naught. This is very disappointing! I usually take great inspiration from fanart, so it'd be nice to have some. I'm tired of looking up Hermione/Snape stuff on Deviantart and mentally photoshopping Salazar in Snape's place. So, if any of you lovely readers out there would like to be the first to supply the world with Hermione/Salazar fanart, I prompt you to do so! And please, SEND ME THE LINK! Fanart, photomanipulation, icons, ANYTHING!

Secondly- I've compiled a soundtrack of songs for this story if anyone's interested in a little mood music.

1. The Story- 30 Seconds To Mars (Salazar's "Theme")

2. Hometown Glory- Adele (Hermione's "Theme")

3. Another Round- Foo Fighters

4. Letters from the Sky- Civil Twilight

5. Disappear- Hoobastank

6. Letting Go- Nitin Sawhney

7. Haunt Me- Sade

8. Please Don't Go- Barcelona

Bonus Tracks: La Vie En Rose- Edith Piaf (Rabastan) & Precious- Depeche Mode