Hermione Granger wearily trudged down the hallway towards the underground public bathroom, twirling the golden Ministry of Magic coin between her fingers. If she had her way, there'd be a more dignified way of entering and leaving the Ministry besides flushing oneself down a toilet. Granted, if you flushed in, you ended up in the Atrium, but the return trip always left much to be desired.
Giving herself a mental shake, she exited the stall and walked to the washroom sink. She looked tired… good thing she had a vacation to the Bahamas booked. Sure, it was with her parents, but a free trip to somewhere, anywhere that wasn't London, was always a welcomed reprieve.
She sighed, and bent forward, her head touching the mirror over the sink. So what if that wasn't exactly true? She had no choice, she had to take this vacation, per her managers' request. It wasn't that she was opposed to going anywhere – it just seemed futile to do so now that Ron was gone. It hurt too much to go off to some place exotic without him when they had constructed so many plans to see the world together.
Still, given the alternative of going nowhere during this imposed time off and being available for Molly to drop in on (probably pulling Percy or some other poor bloke along to pair her off with) and being somewhere sunny and warm with her parents who'd probably go off on their own, she'd take the trip.
Giving herself a mental shake, she Apparated to the alleyway just behind her favorite take-away place. Concealing her wand in her purse, she strode forward towards the front of the building. Twenty-five minutes later, she was trudging up the three flights of stairs to her small flat. She fished out her wand and keys and let herself in, stepping over the nightly London newspaper. Dropping her purse, keys, wand and the bag of kung po chicken with low mien noodles onto the side table, she turned around to pick up the newspaper.
As soon as her fingers touched it, she felt a huge a jolt – as if she were being picked up by a giant hook and whirled about. She seemed to spin in the nothingness of the Portkey forever, until suddenly she was dropped. She landed hard on her stomach.
Severus Snape pushed the small spectacles back up the bridge of his nose. They had started slipping as he bent down to inspect the stock of lacewing flies on the bottom shelf. While the selection of ingredients wasn't as fine as the stock at Slug and Jiggers Apothecary, it was adequate enough for his needs. Deciding that the lacewing flies looked off, he straightened. The infernal spectacles slipped down the bridge of his nose once again, and he pushed them up with an impatient huff.
"We have an impressive, fresh stock of dragon liver," the clerk yelled out from behind the counter. Severus shot the man a quelling look. "If I were looking for dragon liver," he said, pressing his thumb against his throat. His voice rasped out in a soft, almost monotone whisper. "I would have asked for it."
"We've also got some runespoor eggs."
"Do you mind?" Severus snapped. "I am trying to shop."
"I'm just trying to be helpful," the clerk whined. "It's part of my job."
"Fine, suite yourself," the clerk called out. Then under his breath he muttered, "Bloody git."
Only a slight stiffening of his spine betrayed the fact that Severus had actually heard what the clerk muttered. Deciding to ignore the dullard, he moved down the aisle towards the selection of alihostsy leaves. These were, at least, fresh.
He was pleasantly surprised to see the owner of the apothecary at the check out counter when he returned twenty-five minutes later with all the supplies he needed.
"Ah, Mr. Snape," the proprietor said with a small smile. "How nice to see you again. I do hope you found everything you were looking for."
"Quite," Severus said softly, placing his items on the check out counter. "Though I didn't care for how the lacewing flies looked."
"We could order some fresh ones in, if you prefer," the proprietor responded, sorting through the items Severus had set on the counter.
"No," Severus said with a slight shake of his head. "I really don't need them for anything pertinent."
"If you're sure?" he asked without pause, placing the items into a shopping bag.
Severus arched a dark eyebrow. "I would deliberately ask for it were they a requirement."
"Yes, yes," the proprietor replied. "Of course, you are right. Though, it never hurts to make sure." Severus merely grunted in response.
"Right then," he continued, as if Severus had not uttered a sound. "That shall be ten Sickles and seven Knuts." Severus started to reach into his robe pocket for his change purse. "We do take wand credit transactions," the proprietor said when he noticed Snape's actions.
"I find it is immensely less of a hassle to pay in actual coin," Severus replied placing the coins on the counter. "I dislike the idea of money being removed from my account by anyone but me."
"Indeed, sir." He handed the change back to Severus.
Severus pocketed the change and reached for the shopping bag. With a curt nod to the man, he turned to make his way out of the store. He didn't acknowledge the man's overly cheery, "Have a nice day," as he walked out. Old habits die hard; he fished his wand out, prepared for any unexpected problems as Apparated to the first safety checkpoint. He waited a minute to see if anyone had followed, and when no audible 'pop' was heard, he Apparated to the next destination. Five jumps later, he was on the porch of his house on Spinner's End. He tested the repelling spells he'd placed around the doorframe earlier; satisfied that everything was as he left it, he disarmed the protection spells and entered. He bustled towards the back of the house, placing his parcel on the table as he walked into the kitchen.
With a swish of his wand, the stove started, heating a kettle of water. He set his wand down on the counter as he reached up, into the cupboard above his head for a mug. The fingers of his left hand never strayed far from the slender piece of wood as he reached into another cupboard for a packet of tea. He peeled the protective paper from the tea bag. He had barely touched the inner tea packet when the Portkey activated; twisting him about as it pulled him through time and space.
"Oh, bloody hell," muttered Hermione, pushing herself up into a sitting position.
"You!" Snape growled softly, as he rolled over.
Hermione scrambled back, eyes wide. "Snape!" she gasped. "What…? Is this your idea of a joke?"
"Of course, I go around kidnapping young, nubile woman for my sadistic pleasure on a routine basis." He shot her a scathing look. "Obviously I missed my mark tonight."
Hermione flushed. "Yes, I suppose you have," she shot back. "But then, now that Bella's dead and Narcissa is on the continent, psychopathic bitches are in short supply."
"Ah, not so much," he countered, sitting up. "You're still here."
"Oh… you… you…" Hermione stuttered.
"Yes, do go on," he sneered. "Your articulation is at its best tonight."
"You sanctimonious arse!"
He touched a hand to his heart. "Oh, how your words wound me!"
"Oh, I'll wound you all right," Hermione muttered, groping around the ground for her wand. She came up empty.
"Shite! Damn! Blast! Buggering Hell!"
"Do you kiss your mum with that filthy mouth?"
"Fuck off, will you? I've bigger problems than you at the moment."
"Yes, I'd say so, stuck in the middle of god-knows-where… wonder who dislikes you enough to send you off into the vast nowhere."
"Ah, yes, but I, at least, know that people hate me, and protect myself against it."
"Yes, you've done so well. Of on a holiday in Venice are you?"
"If only," he shot back. "Then I wouldn't be stuck with a shrill harpy."
"Yes, well, unless you have your wand, we are decidedly stuck."
Severus let out a strangled laugh. "Oh, that's rich. You're wandless?"
"I wouldn't laugh," she scolded him. "Chances are you're wandless too."
"I would never…" he started as he patted down the side of his robe. "Shite!
"I thought so," Hermione said smugly.
"This is unconscionable!" Severus ranted.
Hermione cocked her head to the side. "Just a moment ago, you thought it was funny."
"Of course it was whilst it was happening to you."
"You're not a very nice person."
Severus snorted. "I never claimed to be."
"Don't get me wrong," Hermione continued as if he hadn't answered. "You were a right bastard as a teacher – but that was understandable. Yet, I always supposed you couldn't be a total rotter." She shrugged her shoulders.
"I guess I was wrong."
"That must be a first," he threw out with a sneer. "You, admitting you're wrong. The whole bloody world must be ending."
"Yes, well, I've been wrong about a great many things in my life," Hermione said with a sigh as she stood up. She brushed the dirt from her robes. She turned to get a look at her surroundings in the fading light. About fifteen feet away stood a small tent with a rock-pile campfire ring in front of it. "Well, whoever has done this obviously doesn't hate us that much."
Severus snorted. "Your Gryffindor optimism is showing."
"Yes, but…" She swung a hand at the lone tent in the clearing. "…we could've been left with nothing. So far, we at least have a tent. I don't relish the idea of sleeping outside in the middle of nowhere freezing my arse off."
"A tent. A tent we have to share." He gave her a scathing look. "I don't share."
"Well, you have to," Hermione huffed.
"What's to stop me from claiming it for myself and leaving you out here to rot?"
"The same thing that's keeping me from hexing your balls off, you disgruntled git!"
"Ah, yes… a lack of a wand." He arched an eyebrow. "Do you really think the lack of a wand will keep me from claiming it?"
Hermione flushed. "I – err…" She shook her head. "I suppose not," she said softly.
"Quite," he replied smugly.
That comment was the final straw. Hermione straightened her back, giving Snape a haughty look. "I'm not afraid of you," she spat. "You may think you can claim anything you wish – push me out if you want, but I'll not roll over and give it to you without a fight." She pointed her index finger, wagging it at him as if he were an exasperating three-year-old. "You'll share, and you'll share nicely."
With that, she turned from him and stormed off towards the tent. Severus watched her, torn between irritation and bemusement. Hermione Granger had been a vexing child; apparently time, instead of curbing that horrendous trait, had only added to it. Yet, instead of being annoyed and revolted by the brashness she displayed, he was intrigued. She'd certainly developed a personality in the years since she'd been his student. It might be amusing to see how much of a personality she had…
That sodding prick, Hermione mentally seethed as she stomped towards the tent. As if I planned this!
As she neared the clearing where the tent sat, she picked up a rather large stick.
"What do you plan to do with that?" Snape yelled from behind her. She ignored him.
She might not be able to practice protective magic without her wand, but she'd be damned if she'd blithely go near the tent without checking to see if it had any traps. If she poked at it with a stick, perhaps any booby-traps would snap at the stick and not her.
"I doubt you'll be able to do anything with that thing," he called out.
Hermione merely shrugged her shoulders without turning around. "It isn't as if I have anything better to use," she yelled back. The weight of the stick was rather hefty, so she adjusted her grip.
"Do you realize how absurd it is for you to be carrying that stick around?"
"I don't care," she said, throwing him a look over her shoulder. "I'm sure I could find something useful for this."
"It won't protect you from any magic."
"You don't know that." She waved the stick at the tent. "I'd much rather have the stick affected by any extra spells that might be set up around here than me."
She shot him an unreadable look over her shoulder. "I think that's the nicest thing you've ever said to me."
"I wasn't trying to be nice."
"I know," Hermione replied with a sigh. "But I'm going to take it as one – then I can at least pretend that something is going right today."
"Oh dear, has the third wheel of the 'Golden Trio' gone and had a hard day?" he asked in a sarcastic tone. She wheeled around, and even from where he sat, he could see how pale her face was.
"Do you have to be such a rotting bastard?" she asked, tossing the stick aside. He thought he heard her mutter, "I don't know why I bother…" before walking off in the opposite direction.
"If you get lost," he called after her, "I'm not searching for you."
Snape stared at her retreating back, suppressing the urge to laugh at her antics. Hermione Granger had grown up. She was no longer the young, eager to please, socially unsure and verbally inept teenager he remembered. She'd grown hard, almost brittle, though that outer shell still protected the soft inner core of herself.
Part of him wanted to keep poking at that brittle shell, wanted to see the volcanic reaction he knew was lurking under the surface. He wanted to see the changes time had wrought, wanted to see how far he could push her before she crumbled. Yet another part of him, the cautious side – the one he normally listened to – wanted to just ignore her. He knew that eventually this farce of a kidnapping would be over; it was just a matter of time.
It was obvious that whoever did this constructed the whole escapade with unfailing care. Whether for good or ill intentions remained to be seen, but for now, he and Hermione were relatively comfortable.
There was actually no real reason why he should contain himself.
It was nearly dark when Hermione walked back into camp. She hadn't planned to return, but somehow she had ended up in the exact same spot she'd left. Snape had been busy during the time she'd been gone. Near the front of the tent was a fire pit with a nice little blaze in the center. He'd placed a large rock near it. On top was a pan. She assumed he planned to use it as either a counter top or a tabletop.
She walked closer to the fire, noticing that Snape had already made himself at home. Inside the pan were the dregs of can of beans - the bastard must've eaten the entire thing.
"Here," Severus said, startling her out of her black musings. He handed her a metal plate with beans and some sort of meat on it. Hermione gave him a suspicious look.
"Take it," he said, pushing the plate towards her again when she made no move to take it. "I'd rather you eat, even if I am sharing, then have to listen to you complain all night about how hungry you are."
"I don't want it," she said, ignoring the plate in his hand.
"Now you're just being childish," he said, thrusting the plate into her hand. "Eat the damn food and be glad to have it."
Hermione gave him a mutinous glare, and was tempted to toss the food on the ground, but the hunger pains in her stomach, and her practical nature won out.
"Fine," she said through gritted teeth.
"Good girl. Glad to see you have some common sense," he muttered, walking away. Hermione watched as he walked around to the other side of the tent.
She brought the plate up to her nose and gave it a small sniff. It didn't smell off, though if Snape really wanted to poison her, he could probably do it with something that had neither a taste nor a smell. Her stomach rumbled painfully at the scent of the beans.
"Just eat it all ready," Snape yelled from the other side of the tent.
With a sigh, she sat down on one of the rocks near the campfire, and took a small bite. Strangely enough, beans had never tasted so good.
"I sleep nude," Snape said, walking towards the fire.
"What's that?" Hermione asked in a sleepy tone. She'd been slowly nodding off as she sat on the hard rock in front of the nice, toasty fire.
"I said I sleep nude," he replied moving into the light. He had lost his robe sometime between handing her the plate of beans and taking off on his own. He was dressed in a pair of dark trousers and a dark blue shirt, and it looked as if his dark hair was damp. "Completely starkers." His smug tone suggested that he was trying to shock Hermione.
"And I need to know this because…"
"There's only one sleeping bag in the tent."
"Oh," she said softly. "I guess you'll be wearing pants then."
"No, I won't."
"You – you can't mean to sleep naked out here!" she exclaimed, her cheeks feeling hot.
"I can and I will."
"But…" Hermione shook her head. "Surely you'll be… umm… uncomfortable."
"I will be if I can't sleep as I'm accustomed to."
Hermione worked her jaw, unsure of what to say to him. He slept naked. She didn't know anyone who slept that way. Hell, she and Ron never slept that way and they had been married for six years.
"Do close your mouth," Snape ordered. "It's perfectly natural."
"But – we – I… I have to share with you."
"This is why I'm telling you. I don't fancy having my bits ripped off in the middle of the night if you get startled."
"Then I suppose you'll be sleeping out here," he said slowly with smug satisfaction.
"I will not," she huffed. "You'll just have to cover up."
"I'm not changing how I sleep to suit your Victorian notion of what is and is not the morally proper way to sleep," he rasped out, pressing his thumb against the side of his throat. "You and your delicate sensibilities can sleep out here, far away from my indecent exposure."
"My delicate sensibilities can stand anything!" she shot back. "Go ahead, sleep naked. What do I care? You'll just freeze your bits off." She stood up and purposely strode towards the tent. "I'm going to bed. The least you can do is wait until I'm settled before coming in."
"And you're just going to ignore the fact that I sleep naked?"
"I've ignored far more impressive things," she replied, entering the tent. She thought she heard him chuckling outside the tent as she kicked off her shoes. It had to be her imagination, she decided pulling her robes around her as she settled down on the sleeping bag. She was asleep within minutes.
Severus sat on the rock Hermione abandoned, poking at the fire with the stick she'd brandished earlier. She had bristled, just as he intended – though the flush that crept up her cheeks had been quite becoming.
Shite! Quite becoming? He grimaced at the internal thought as he thrust the stick into the fire, causing the flames to flare up. The last thing he needed was to find Hermione Granger becoming. Obviously, he'd been alone for far, far too long. Hermione Granger becoming? That was the last thing he needed to be thinking.
Shaking his head, as if the action could dispel the errant thought of Hermione Granger's attractiveness from his head, he reached over and grabbed another log. He slowly fed it to the fire, watching the flames flare wildly as the wood was consumed. He'd stay out here for a bit – no sense in waving a red flag at temptation.
Hermione felt warm and cozy. She snuggled in closer. Hair prickled against her palm as she slid it over the warm body next to her in her sleep.
"If you keep doing that," said a sleepy voice next to her ear. "I'm going to think you actually like the fact that I'm naked. Not that I mind a little tickle the pickle."
It was as if someone had dumped a bucket of ice-cold water on her head. Hermione yanked her hand back and rolled away from him in one small, jerky movement.
"I – uh…" She sat up, scooting out of the sleeping bag, making sure she didn't brush up against him as she moved. She quickly stood up, adjusting her shirt. "I'm going… I need to… nature call." Hermione wrinkled her nose. "I'll just let you get dressed."
She grabbed her crumpled outer robe and pushed the flap of the tent forward as she scrambled out. She suppressed a shiver as the cold air attacked her warm, sleep-drenched body. She threw her outer robe on over her mussed clothing and set out to find a likely spot.
If I had to be kidnapped, why did it have to be camping? she moaned internally as she searched for a spot that wasn't too close to their current living area. She'd had enough camping during her defunct seventh year and that was with people she actually liked. This was akin to hell.
She sighed; bunching her outer robes around her waist as she deftly unclasped her trousers. The cold air hit her warm skin causing goose bumps. She squatted, feeling gangling and inelegant as she let nature take its course, cursing as she realized she hadn't grabbed some proper leaves for the final step. Maybe she could kick Snape out of the tent for a bit after heating some water on the camp fire – while it wouldn't be as good as a full fledged bath, she could at least sponge herself clean.
Snape was back into his austere black robes by the time he emerged from the tent. Hermione gave a mental sigh of relief; this was more like the intimidating man from her youth. A normal Snape she could handle.
"There's some scrambled eggs still in the pan," she told him.
He arched an eyebrow. "You cooked?"
Hermione shrugged. "I've been known to."
He walked over to the large rock near the fire pit and started scraping the eggs onto a metal plate. "Where'd you find the eggs?"
"They were with the supplies."
"Well, that answers one of the questions I had."
"What?" she asked.
"We didn't have any eggs last night, so obviously, whoever did this doesn't want us to starve – we'll probably get supplies on a fairly regular basis."
"They could've included toilet paper," Hermione grumbled in a low voice.
Snape barked out a harsh laugh. "That proves that no woman is behind this."
"Well, would you have forgotten such a thing?"
Hermione shook her head no.
"Men don't think in those terms."
Hermione snorted. "Are you telling me men don't use toilet paper?"
"No," he laughed, startling Hermione with its rich timber. "But we're simple creatures. Give us a fire, food, and some sort of shelter, and we're pretty much set. Everything else is secondary and usually unnecessary."
"So, by that reasoning, it couldn't be a woman who thought this whole thing up?"
"It seems unlikely. Even you, by your own admission, would've included toilet paper."
"Well," Hermione huffed, pushing her hair back from her face. "It seems like dodgy reasoning to me. Just because I wouldn't forget toilet paper doesn't mean that another woman would."
Snape waved his fork at her; she watched his neck work as he swallowed a mouthful of eggs. "Woman are creatures of comfort," he said once his mouth was clear. "I highly doubt that toilet paper would've been forgotten. Hell, had a woman planned this, there'd probably be a fully functional loo out here, complete with an oversized tub."
"A tub would be nice," Hermione sighed wistfully.
"See?" He forked more eggs into his mouth and chewed them thoughtfully. "The longer we're here, the more I'm convinced it was all a man's idea."
"Even if you're right," Hermione said, sinking down onto the rock beside him. "It still doesn't answer who did this to us. I mean, it couldn't've been random, could it?"
Snape shook his head. "I don't think so. But the fact that we're both alive does narrow the field down a bit."
Hermione cocked her head to the side. "How so?"
"We could be dead," he said with a small shrug.
"And that's supposed to be comforting?"
"Well, yes," he said, putting the metal plate down on the rock beside him. "Think about it. It would be rather easy to kill us off. The person who did this needn't have thought about giving us food or shelter. We're in the middle of who-knows-where without our wands. It's nearly winter. There are a variety of ways we could die out here."
Hermione shivered. "You don't know that. I've survived much worse."
"A winter in a magical tent with your wand at your side does not make you a survivalist."
"But it does give me an advantage."
Snape snorted. "If you believe that, I've got a potion to sell you that will lead to true love."
Hermione seemed to deflate a bit at his words. "You know, it wasn't easy," she said softly. "We didn't know what we were doing – we could've died."
"I know," Snape sighed. "I'm not trying to make light of what you, Potter and Weasley accomplished that winter. The fact that you're all still alive, especially considering the options that were stacked against you speaks greatly of your fortitude. Just don't think that one situation prepares you for this."
"I think you're wrong," Hermione said with a sniff. "Just because it's not the same – and yes, I know not having my wand puts me at a distinct disadvantage – doesn't mean that I can't cope."
"Fine," he muttered, savagely biting off the rest of what he wanted to say. If she wanted to be stubborn, then he wasn't going to enlighten her.
"Fine," Hermione echoed, giving him a glare.