Chapter 20: Horcrux
Her first sensation was pain, a dull ache throughout every inch of her body. She took a deep breath, noting the scent of parchment and minerals in the air as she forced her lungs painfully to expand.
Her face against a stone floor.
And footsteps. The sound of footsteps.
One-two-three-four-five. One-two-three-four-five. One-two-three-four-five.
She forced her eyelids apart and watched the feet move in and out of her view.
"What…" she managed to whisper as the memory of where they were and what had been happening when she blacked out came flooding back to her.
The pacing stopped and Harry's face popped into view. He looked both relieved and terrified.
"Oh thank Merlin. Are you alright?"
And his hand pressed to her forehead as if she were a sick child and he were her mother. She tried to smile but didn't quite manage it.
He helped her pull herself up into a sitting position as all her muscles protested.
Her mouth felt dry, stuffed full of cottonballs.
"He wouldn't come inside."
She closed her eyes again, trying to gather herself together.
"Dumbledore's dead," Harry whispered into the silence. It was obvious that the admission was as much for himself as it was for her.
She opened her eyes.
"Do you have the book?"
"Yes." He nodded toward a large, leather-bound volume on the floor.
"We can't stay here." Her gaze drifted to the door. "He can't stay here."
Where could they go? It hit her suddenly that they had just murdered Albus Dumbledore. Would the Aurors be looking for them? All three of them had been missing from Hogwarts for days, surely someone would put it together.
It was Harry that came up with the first idea.
"Grimmauld. We can go to Grimmauld."
It was not exactly the best location for a hideout, but it was the only place they had.
Strong arms lifted her to her feet and supported her limping gait out the door and into the elements. The driving rain hit her like a physical force and only Harry's steady embrace kept her upright. She stopped cold at what she saw.
The man was bent down against one of the low stone walls, huddled against the elements and against the torrent of his own soul.
Harry stood with the large book clutched tightly under his jacket as Hermione knelt beside Severus, whispering words of comfort into the man's ear. He flinched away from her, trembling.
She reached down and pulled his head up with both her hands even as he tried to pull away. He was cold, so cold. She pressed her lips against his forehead and and his cheek and his nose and his lips. And his lips. He was unresponsive, but she caressed his lips with her own. She had to get him away from here.
Squinting her eyes against the storm, she looked up at Harry.
Can you Apparate us she mouthed, knowing the sound would be lost in the howling wind. I don't think that I can.
She encircled Severus in her arms as Harry encircled her. There was the sensation of warmth and safety for a brief moment before the sudden flurry of apparition.
They appeared on the doorstep. Harry moved his wand in a few jerky motions and then tried to open the door. It seemed not to budge and he tried again, this time shoving his shoulder against it. The door swung free of the frame with a loud creak, stirring up a cloud of dust from within. Since Sirius' death, since the students had returned to Hogwarts, Order meetings had been held at the Burrow more often than not, leaving Grimmauld Place to fall into a state of disuse. It now looked much as they had originally found it.
Severus leaned heavily on her as she tried to support him. She could feel him shaking. Harry positioned himself under Snape's other arm as the two of them tried to move him forward and into the house.
Without speaking, they maneuvered him toward the staircase. "I'm losing him," she gasped as he slid away from her. Harry braced himself against the railing, catching the full weight of the larger man. They had to work for several minutes to all get upright again. The top of the stairs seemed like an impossible destination, but they eventually made it.
She picked the first bedroom they came to, the one with the bathroom attached. His robes were soaked through and his skin was cold to the touch.
They lowered him into the bathtub. Hermione moved back into the doorframe as Harry got him settled, trying to collect herself for a moment.
He stopped as he passed her, laying a reassuring hand on her arm as he exited the room. She fell into his arms, comforted by the strength and the warmth she found there. She laid her head on his shoulder, allowing herself to give in momentarily to the despair before she pulled herself together for what needed to be done.
She stepped back from her friend, wiping a tear from her cheek and noticing for the first time the accumulation of injuries he had sustained over the preceding days. Her eyes scanned his body, noting the various cuts and burns. He noticed her gaze and when she started to say, "Are you…" he shook his head and took a step toward the door.
"I can take care of myself, Hermione. Go help Snape."
He shut the door softly behind him.
Taking a deep breath, she turned back into the bathroom and to the unconscious man in the tub.
As she walked, she stripped off her sodden clothing, leaving them discarded on the dusty tiles on the floor. Fortunately, the tub filled quickly with hot water.
She climbed in, kneeling between his legs as she unbuttoned his shirt and forced it off over his shoulders. He shuddered slightly but was otherwise unresponsive.
She pressed both hands flat against his chest and closed her eyes, reaching for the unseen. There was a sharp gasp in front of her and she opened her eyes in time to see his shoot open. But as suddenly as they had opened, they rolled back in his head and shut again and his head fell back, making a sharp thunk against the rim of the tub. She took a deep breath and focused.
She had one vial left with her. Her hand groped along the floor until she felt her discarded robes. The vial was still there in the inner pocket. She withdrew it and downed the contents in one gulp, feeling the warmth quickly flood her body.
He was alert enough by now to follow her lead out of the tub and into the bed. He lay on the thin sheets as the water from his skin soaked into them. She didn't dare use magic to dry them. She climbed into bed with him, pressing her body to his.
"Hermione," he whispered her name in a groan of pain.
She ran her hands across his slippery skin.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm bringing you back."
If you could even call it that. She was patching him together. It was rough and dirty, but it would hold.
She knelt between his legs, droplets from her sopping hair dripping onto his skin. The artificial confidence of the potion told her she could make this work. It strummed in her veins and set her on fire. She had ingested far too much of it in the last twenty-four hours. His penis was limp and unresponsive, but she took it in her hand and began to stroke. Her other hand reaching for his balls and massaging them gently. She was relieved when she finally felt him start to harden in her grasp.
Her wet skin slid against his, close, but not close enough. She positioned herself over him and sunk down, impaling herself on his cock at the same time she reached for his soul. His eyes opened suddenly, his gaze sharp and alert.
"What are you doing?" he asked again.
"I'm bringing you back."
The morning light streamed through the crack in the heavy drapery, a single, brilliant ray against the dark, dusty carpeting. She dragged herself out of bed, feeling every muscle protest. It had been a long night.
Her clothes from the night before had not dried, being left in a heap on the bathroom floor all night. She supposed she could spell-dry them, but it seemed like less work to open the dresser and rummage through until she found a spare shirt that someone had left there during the summer. She pulled her hair back into a messy ponytail and sat down on the side of the bed, sliding her finger to Severus' neck. His pulse was still fast, too fast, and his skin was pale. She hoped that whatever she had done had worked, but she couldn't be sure. He groaned and shifted in his sleep, as if fighting an invisible battle of which she could be no part.
She opened the door carefully as not to wake him and slipped out into the hall. She was surprised to see Harry there, waiting for her. She could tell from the way his gaze tightened as it surveyed her body that she looked terrible.
"You were waiting for me?" she prompted him."
"I was just thinking... when Dumbledore doesn't return to Hogwarts in a few days, the Order is going to go looking for him. When he died, every member of the Order was made a secret keeper. If they look for him, they're going to come here."
She rubbed her eyes.
"There's a book on magical property ownership on the bottom shelf of the bookcase, right inside the door that you should check. I think the exact phrasing of the Fidelus Charm was, 'The Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix is Number 12 Grimmauld Place.' I think, as the property owner, that you have the right to revoke the building's status as the Order Headquarters, which would revoke their access."
Harry seemed to be keeping up.
"So if Grimmauld Place is no longer the Order Headquarters, the existing Fidelus charm ceases to apply, therefore leaving the building free to have another Fidelus charm placed on it."
"Exactly. But you probably want to check the procedure in the book."
She turned to head back into the bedroom.
She turned around.
"How…how is he?"
She shook her head.
It took Severus two days to be able to leave the bedroom. He had but a few blissful moments alone with his coffee before Potter appeared in the doorway.
Potter entered the kitchen, but simply stood near the stove, watching him. Severus brought the mug of coffee slowly to his lips. His hand trembled as he sipped the warm liquid and he placed it carefully back on the table.
He looked like shit. Why did Potter have to see him like this? He had chanced a glance in a mirror of the way downstairs and had caught a glimpse of the bloodshot eyes and the dingy stubble that defined his appearance.
But Potter was looking at him with neither mockery nor pity. His gaze held in it a sort of horrified awe.
"Is that what it's like…to rip one's soul?"
"Yes." His voice sounded ragged, even to his own ears.
"Will it be like that…for me?"
"No, not if all goes according to plan. You are separating your soul along the weak points, your own soul will remain intact and the excess piece…the Dark Lord's will be splintered off."
"But there's still a risk…that my soul will fracture in a different spot?"
He stared down at his hands, willing them to stop their slight tremor. There was no use lying, no use trying to sugar-coat anything. The boy needed to be prepared for the harsh reality of what he was facing.
"Sir, I realize what you've done for me."
He looked up into the earnest gaze.
"I know you've always thought I was ungrateful, but I'm not."
Potter turned away suddenly and busied himself with making tea. And then the tea sat steaming silently as the young man stared distantly out the window.
"When the time comes for me to cast it…what if I can't?" he asked without turning around.
Severus stared silently at the younger man's back for a few moments.
"You lack neither the ability nor the necessary intent. The Dark Lord has been hunting you since you were born. He killed your parents. He … He… Do you honestly think that you wouldn't be able to summon enough hatred?"
"No, but the others…the Horcruxes…they didn't want to be destroyed. They resisted with whatever they had. This piece of his soul…it's still a part of me and what if…" The boy turned suddenly, meeting his eyes with a gaze that burned, "What if when the time comes, I don't want it to be destroyed?"
He stared into those green eyes silently for several long moments.
"Then I will destroy you."
And the eyes showed neither sorrow nor fear.
"Do I have your word?"