Every Rose Has It Thorns

disclaimer: nope, don't own HP yet.

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Chapter 2: Man in the Box

Man in the Box, Alice in Chains

I'm the man in the box
Buried in my shit
Won't you come and save me, save me

Severus waited quite anxiously for Albus. He had cast a disillusioning spell on himself, so he could watch Hermione leave. Albus would know that Severus had overheard most if not all of the conversation after his supposed departure, but Severus had to know what Albus had planned, and the old man had a habit of playing his cards close to his chest.

"Severus, we have to leave," Albus said through the door a few moments after Hermione had left. Severus knew she could cast a disillusioning spell, but the scent of her had left. "If you had wanted to stay, you only had to ask politely."

The old man's eyes twinkled at Severus's obvious distaste for politeness. Severus stalked back into the office and grabbed Floo powder from the mantle, tossing it into the crackling fire.

"My dungeons," Severus said, and the fire blazed green. "Come on, you said we have to leave."

Albus nodded and stepped through the fire and into the dungeons. He looked around and saw how Severus had made his home. The part of the dungeons that Severus called home was nothing like they had been before Severus had moved in.

While the room looked Spartan at first, as Albus's eyes adjusted, he saw the dark, luxurious wood paneling that Severus had put in. No pictures adorned the walls, but rich fabrics hung from rods at the top of the walls; Albus chuckled for a moment, noting that Severus had hung things much like curtains -- yet he had no windows. A low table was slung in the center of the room right in front of the hearth, still covered in papers and tests Severus had been grading. Severus had foregone a desk in this room, and Albus breathed a sigh of relief; at least Severus actually had some sort of sanctuary.

"Are you done examining my quarters? Would you like to check out my bedroom, see if I have anything hidden under my mattress?" Severus asked waspishly.

"That's alright. I just ask the house-elves; they've never minded gossiping a bit," Albus smiled. Severus groaned inwardly; Albus was never one to give up the last word.

"Why are you helping Granger? You know that she'll get all her NEWTs," Severus said, changing the subject quickly. "You should have had her oath of silence and been done with it. She could be followed when she tries to see you, and then where will we be? Potter and Weasley will assume that she's against them, and all your foolish plans will be for nothing."

"Because this way, I'll know what's going on with Harry. Hermione can't talk with them, so she'll have to have someone to talk to, to debrief her, as it were," Albus said, watching Severus draw the wards that would let them apparate out of the room. "And I couldn't leave Minerva all alone, Severus. You have to come with me, and she needs someone with a skill-set not unlike yours."

"I swear, I am dead and this is hell," Severus said to himself. "There. Shall we?"

"Severus, we won't be able to keep this up for long. You will be civil to her, because we may end up depending on her for quite some time," Albus said seriously.

Severus shook his head in disbelief. "I just can't believe that you're putting yet another brilliant student at risk. She's already at stake just by being friend to Harry Potter. You're adding another price to her head, this time one the Ministry could collect."

"I'm aware of that Severus, but now I am done speaking about this with you, and we need to leave. We are going to the flat in London that Halain Roberts set up for you. We'll decide what to do after we arrive."

Dumbledore apparated with a muffled pop and Severus followed after setting a few wards for safekeeping. He closed his eyes briefly before he apparated, wondering how Albus was planning on getting in touch with Hermione.

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Feed my eyes, can you sew them shut?
Jesus Christ, deny your maker
He who tries, will be wasted
Feed my eyes now you've sewn them shut

When they arrived at the flat, Albus and Severus took a moment to breath and collect their thoughts. Soon, however, other things had to be done. Including eating and sleeping.

"While this is a safe house, I think we should sleep in shifts," Severus suggested, standing near one of the windows, looking out into the street. "Of course, the danger could just as well come from some muggle. Trust Halain to pick the dodgy area of London for a safe house."

"I agree," Albus said, taking a seat. "Perhaps you should stay back from the window; it may help your nerves just a bit. Have some chocolate."

Albus pulled a sack from a pocket in his robes, opened it, and produced a box of chocolate frogs. He smiled as Severus took one absent-mindedly.

"Weasleys Wizarding Wheezes?" Severus asked, chewing slowly and letting the chocolate melt in his mouth. He still loved chocolate, just as much as he had as a child.

"Ah, yes. The Expanda-bag. I have a few with different things in them, and I put one in Hermione's pocket before she left. I already put a few things she may need in it, too," Albus said, licking his fingers. "I think we should use this as a base for now, instead of heading somewhere else."

"And what do we do while we wait?" Severus asked, stalking into the small kitchen and putting on the coffeepot. "Oh, I know. We'll play tutor to Granger and hope that no-one wonders where she's getting all the inside information from."

"Severus," Albus said, and Severus stiffened, slamming the pot onto its base. "You are going to have to go back to Voldemort and tell him that I'm dead. You have to save Draco from his deranged aunt. And you must keep an eye out for Miss Granger where you can."

"And you'll be doing what?" Severus said, feeling immature even as he said it. "I mean, what have you planned so far?"

"Honestly, Severus, I have to think for at least a day. I'll need to re-open my link with Fawkes, so that I may check on Harry, and I'll have to use the portraits I gave Halain to put here to check with Minerva. I can't speak with her until she remembers the plan on her own, because she may rush headlong into something she isn't prepared to deal with.

"Outside of that, I'll make sure I come up with some sort of lesson plan for Miss Granger. She'll need more than brewing instruction, you know, and I believe that you may be the best person to help her."

"What is that supposed to mean -- and how are you going to instruct that chit of a witch if you can't reach her?" Severus said, not liking where the conversation was heading.

"Simple. I slipped something in Miss Granger's pocket before she left, something every young woman should have in her purse -- and something very good for us. I gave Hermione a mirror not unlike the twinned ones you and I have. It isn't as if I could count on the portraits to contact her, because they are subject to interrogation and it would be too difficult to constantly track her down. It is attuned to her and ergo will only be available for her use. I can contact her, you can contact her, and she can contact either of us, so long as we have the mirrors."

"And what else am I supposed to teach Miss Granger, Albus?" Severus had noticed that Albus only answered part of his question. His stomach tightened as Albus regarded him over his half-moon glasses, the twinkling in his eyes abruptly stopping.

"Hermione is embarking on a path not unlike the one you chose so long ago. While she is only on the side of light, she will be playing for two teams, acting as the hinge for the trap we've been setting for Voldemort. I can help with plotting, scheming and teaching her a thing or two about Potions brewing and how to manipulate people, but I can't teach her to be an agent. She needs to learn to defend herself in any way possible, magically and otherwise. You are the only one who can help, Severus. She may resist at first, but you are to use any means of persuasion to get her to learn what she needs to know."

Severus exploded. "You can't keep doing things like this, Albus! Manipulating this war, staging your own death, that obscene ritual, and now you're putting yet another student up against insurmountable odds and unbelievable danger! When are you going to stop putting us up like sheep for the slaughter? You've got no right --"

"Stop right there, Severus," Albus said in a deadly quiet voice. "Harry and Hermione made their own decisions, and I'll admit that the circumstances affected those decisions, but I believe you are trying to pin your own fate on me. You chose your fate the night you realized your mistake, the night you saw Lily's son and knew he couldn't belong to --"

"Enough!" Severus roared, thankful for the slight heat he felt coming off the mirror in his pocket. "How dare you throw that back in my face? I couldn't have known. Besides, I believe our Miss Granger has figured out the means of contacting us. Speak no more of this."

Severus sat heavily in a chair, as far from Albus as he could get yet close enough so that he could monitor the older wizard's reactions to whatever Miss Granger had to report. He flipped the black steel cover of the mirror open, mimicking Albus. Hermione's image was a bit fuzzy at first, but soon the image cleared and her voice came through, sounding very far away.

"Hello? I'm in the prefects' bathroom, and I've warded for silence and privacy, but I'll be missed if I'm gone when Ron comes to check on me. Harry has finally come to, and he knows something is afoot, even if he can't put his finger on it. Professor MacGonagall is beside herself in mourning for the Headmaster, and Draco has been kidnapped by the Deatheaters he let onto the school grounds. Bellatrix Lestrange was talking about making him a real Deatheater, and that woman scares me, really scares me. Without being impertinent, Sir, what is she planning?" Hermione's voice was becoming clearer, and Severus could taste the fear in it. As much as Draco had mistreated her, she still cared for him, if only on a human basis.

"Draco only has a mockery of the Dark Mark. Bellatrix is most likely planning on molesting him in full view of the Dark Lord and his cronies, to fully break him before he receives the full mark," Severus said, his voice thick with emotion. Draco was like a son to him, as Narcissa was like his sister; the thought of the boy being broken so completely and horribly sickened him.

"You don't -- she's his aunt, for Merlin's sake! How are we going to stop her? Do you know when and where she's going to do this?" Hermione's voice was a bit tinny, but her concern was clear.

"'We' aren't going to do anything, Miss Granger. You are going to keep Harry from getting himself killed, Albus is going to scheme, and I'm going to rescue my godson," Severus hissed. Hermione glared at him from her side of the mirror. "You have no idea where he is, and even if you did, you don't have the skills needed to mount such a rescue. Besides, it may be too late to save him from such a fate."

"But Professor, they've only just left the grounds--" Hermione protested, but the Potions Master was adamant.

"No. Until you have some training under your belt, you are not rescuing anyone," Albus interjected, and Severus agreed. "Luckily for young Master Malfoy, Severus has graciously agreed to give you said training. Can you get away tomorrow?"

Hermione shook her head. "No. It will be a few days before I can get away, and it won't be for long. Oh -- I have to hide my parents after your funeral, Headmaster. I can use that to get away for a few days before Molly Weasley and the rest start worrying or come after me. Where will I meet you, Professor?"

"The Room of Requirement seems to be out of the question, Albus," Severus remarked dryly. The school would recognize Hermione and if she was supposed to be out of the country hiding her parents, she would be at risk if found in the Isles.

"Very well. Miss Granger, please contact us on a regular basis, and make sure to contact us as soon as you arrive at your parents' home. Severus will need a clear picture of the house so he can apparate there without splinching himself," Albus said, and Snape turned his gaze to the old man.

"I have not splinched myself since my very first apparation lesson, and even then, I only left behind the tip of a fingernail," the Potions master ground out.

"Um, Sir, I don't think that's a very good idea," Hermione interjected. She couldn't imagine her parents face to face with the dread professor. "I don't know how I would explain Professor Snape's arrival; Professor MacGonagall has already informed all the muggleborn students' families of the events tonight. I believe muggle authorities have also been informed. My parents may call the police if they see him."

Albus quirked an eyebrow in thought, then smiled. "But they wouldn't call the authorities if it were young Master Weasley, would they?"

"No, but I don't think I could get you any of his hair right now, and polyjuice takes too long, anyway," Hermione said, and Albus cut her off, mid-thought.

"But a glamour is instantaneous, and you would still see our Severus as himself," Albus said, his eyes twinkling merrily. He loved to scheme, and this was the best he'd done in a long time. "Professor, you did quite well with glamour, as I remember it."

Snape nodded slowly. There was no way to win this particular argument. "I see what you mean, Albus. I will perfect my glamour of Mr. Weasley while we wait to hear from Miss Granger again."

Hermione sighed, sensing she'd lost a battle she hadn't known she was fighting. "Very well. I will contact you as soon as I can. But you haven't answered me about Draco and the rescue."

"For now, concern yourself with your own family, not mine," Snape hissed. "At this point, you'd be barely more than a liability if we mounted a rescue. He will survive the night."

With that, Severus snapped his own mirror shut, severing the link. Albus followed suit. The two men were left alone, with their thoughts. It was a few minutes before Albus spoke again.

"Severus, my dear boy, I believe that I shall take the first rest, if you wouldn't mind taking first watch," Albus said, yawning and stretching in an exaggerated motion. "Please take care to pay attention to your mirror, should Miss Granger try to contact us again tonight. It wouldn't do for her to meet nothing but empty air."

Snape nodded, grimacing. He was getting too old to be a babysitter. He heard Albus trot off to one of the bedrooms, shutting and locking the door before he warded it securely. The coffee was done, and the younger man served himself, black and no sugar, before settling into a chair to look out the window. . .

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I'm the dog who gets beat
Shove my nose in shit
Won't you come and save me, save me

After what seemed like hours, Severus Snape decided to get up and stretch, forgetting about the open potions journal in his lap. It slid to the floor with a soft thud and rustle. He looked at a nearby clock and saw that it would be sunrise soon. He hadn't woken Albus when he should have, and he'd already felt the beginnings of his second wind. Trying to sleep would be useless. He realized he'd never checked on their third partner and grimaced.

"Bloody meddler will know if I haven't checked on the chit," he murmured, reaching into his pocket and feeling for the smooth steel cover of the mirror. Finding it, he drew it out and flipped it open. "Show me Miss Granger."

The mirror clouded for a moment before the fog inside it cleared. It showed a somewhat dark room, sunlight barely peeping through the window coverings. A strange noise came through, and Severus realized the girl was in her attached bathroom, probably just freshening up for the day. He settled in to wait for her, ready to lecture her for leaving the mirror out and uncovered; it also responded to thought, so if Potter or Weasley were to pick it up while grieving for Albus or blaming Snape, things could go from bad to worse very quickly for Albus and Severus.

Finally, Severus heard the soft pad of footsteps, and recognized the person they belonged to. Hermione Granger was singing to herself, a song Severus didn't know, but felt was quite appropriate.

"I'm the man in the box, omm ta oomm, buried in my shit," Hermione sang, making sound effects as she would have heard in the song. "Won't you come and save me?"

Severus stifled a gasp as she stepped into view. Apparently, she'd been doing more than freshening up; it was obvious that Hermione had been in the shower. Her hair was damp and softly curling, much prettier than the dry bush she used to have; Severus realized that since the Yule Ball of her fourth year, the girl had been taking more care with her hair, even if she didn't realize it. It was also much longer, reaching at least midway down her back.

A large, Gryffindor scarlet towel covered Hermione from breast to thigh, but hadn't absorbed all the water. He knew he should turn away from the sight, or announce himself and take the blame, but he couldn't. She continued to dance as she collected bottles from around her room. Severus recognized some of the substances as things she would have learned from her texts, things he didn't bother teaching in class because they were so easily purchased.

She grabbed one last bottle and sat on her bed, securing her towel around her as she sat. She opened one bottle and poured a thick, slightly green but clear potion into her hand. She rubbed her hands together before applying it to her hair, carefully coating each lock, twisting her fingers through it carefully, creating curls but no tangles. She wiped her hands on her towel and closed the bottle, reaching for another.

Severus recognized the other potion as well, an oil used as lotion; it left no greasy feel, had no smell, and came out of the bottle white, clearing and disappearing as applied and rubbed in. She started with her arms and shoulders, then her feet and calves. She stopped for a moment and Severus thought she'd heard his breathing, or perhaps only used it there, but a movement caught his eye.

Hermione took a deep breath, stood, and dropped her towel so she could reach the rest of her body. She contorted herself to reach her back, her breasts arching up as she reached the hardest places. She moved her hands to her breasts, and Severus noted her nipples were already hard and dusky. She shivered as the oil coated her skin, and the rivulets of thick whiteness reminded Severus of something else completely. The lotion disappeared into her skin and she moved to her upper legs.

She worked on her knees first, then her thighs, before moving to her inner thighs. She carefully applied the potion to the backs of her legs, saving her inner thighs for last. She moved quickly, and Severus cursed under his breath for lack of a better view. His only satisfaction came from the sigh she issued when she finished. She smiled slightly before grabbing her clothing.

Her hair was dry by the time she finished. Her clothing was appropriately somber and covered her well. Severus knew that no matter what she wore, he'd think of her as he'd seen her so clandestinely: nude and applying slippery lotions. He groaned as her last article of clothing fell into place. She wasn't going to pick up her mirror, and he gave up, closing his own.

Back in her rooms, Hermione was milling about when she saw her compact open. She saw it and thanked Merlin that her friends hadn't hoarded into her room to 'comfort' her. Breathing a sigh of relief, she picked it up and something strange struck her. She couldn't put her finger on it, so she decided to go find her friend before they came looking for her.

It wasn't until she was in the common room with Harry, Ron and Ginny, all of them in a big puppy pile on the floor in front of the hearth that she realized what had been wrong.

The mirror had been warm.

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Feed my eyes, can you sew them shut?
Jesus Christ, deny your maker
He who tries, will be wasted
Feed my eyes now you've sewn them shut

When Albus woke, he found Severus staring at a window, his jaw clenching and unclenching rhythmically. Albus knew it was a song that had been popular among his muggle-born students not long ago, but he didn't know the name of the tune. Smiling, he ignored the half-singing Severus was engaged in until the Potions Master acknowledged him.

"Sleep well, Albus?" Severus groused. The older wizard had slept an entire night, while the younger had stayed up and kept watch. Albus spied the mirror in Severus's hand and had an idea as to what the other had watched.

"Is Miss Granger well?" Albus asked, trying not to smirk.

"One would hope so. She didn't answer the call when I tried to contact her," Severus said, and Albus detected a slightly strangled tone.

"I bet she didn't," Albus said, more to himself. He puttered into the kitchen, leaving Severus to get up and try to maneuver himself into a nearby bedroom.

"Sure," Severus thought, eyeing the old man. Apparently putting the girl before Voldemort wouldn't be enough danger for Albus.

He intended to put her under a Potions Master.

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AN: Oh, I liked writing that. Ol' Sev's a bit of a voyeur, ain't he?

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