Chapter Fifteen: Truth and Denial
It was an odd feeling at first. The tingling sensation shot through her arms and hands and she knew that she was dreaming. However as she opened her eyes she knew that she wouldn't remember it as such. It would remain in her mind as a second reality simply because her senses were on fire. She could smell the burning wood, feel the soft carpet, see the red and gold tapestries, hear the pounding rain against the high window and almost taste the smouldering air. Everything felt, sounded and looked so real as she opened her eyes to see her own memory of the Gryffindor common room.
Everything was exactly as she had left it just over a year ago, before her nightmare had begun. It amazed her that her memory of the place was still so powerful. Slowly, she stood and dusted some ash from her old school robes. She crinkled her nose in confusion for a few moments at the sight of the pleated skirt and black jumper. She definitely hadn't come in wearing these. Then something came to mind. The point of the potion was to help her make a decision, so…why was she the only one there?
"Hello?" She called but there was no reply. Severus had told her that she was supposed to have a few guides of sorts, different sections of her consciousness represented in people she knew but she appeared to be thoroughly on her own.
The roar of the fire suddenly caught her attention. It hissed at her, begging her to step forward and peer into its golden depths. Her worries suddenly subsided as she was captivated by the dancing flames.
The pain was phenomenal. Never in his entire life had he felt such excruciating, exquisite torture. There were thousands of knives on the inside of his skin, nudging at his muscles and nerves and then slowly gliding their sharp edges along his skin. It was slow, it was pain in its purest form but mostly…it was all her fault.
He could feel it inside his mind. He was taking the punishment for something that she had done, making him pay for his earlier visit. He clawed his way up the wall, his snake like mask thankfully still in place as Lucius Malfoy cowered in a nearby corner. Her curse had taken hold just as he had finished with the blond buffoon. As the knives continued to probe at his organs and lash at his senses he beckoned Malfoy forward. The boy slowly walked towards him and regretted it the moment he felt his master's spindly hands wrap around his delicate neck.
"If you wish to redeem yourself," he hissed, "Bring me Hermione Evans so that I can tear her limb from limb."
He didn't need telling twice. As soon as The Dark Lord threw him to the floor he scampered out of the meeting chamber and into the nearest fireplace to Hogwarts. Tom then collapsed against the wall and his mask finally fell. His glowing red eyes had dulled somewhat with the pain and his hair was soaked with sweat. If Malfoy didn't bring her to him before he passed out from the pain he was going to murder him. Malfoy line be damned!
Severus knelt down beside her the moment she fell and healed her bleeding palm before it could make a mess on the carpet. For mere moments he had thought that the potion had worked the way it should but when he touched her skin and felt it to be icy cold he knew that something had gone wrong. If it weren't for the fact that she was close to death from a curse he had already inflicted he would have lit her robes on fire for being so idiotic! Did she have a death wish? Was that it? Then why couldn't she have knocked herself off some other way that didn't involve him taking the blame!
"This is all your fault Evans," he hissed at her as he picked her up and carried her to the bed. Even as he let the words escape his lips he regretted them. Though she wasn't conscious to hear them he couldn't help but feel a sense of betrayal at allowing them to be audible. It wasn't entirely her fault. He had made the potion, allowed her to drink it without it being tested, known that it was volatile and mentioned nothing. It was all his fault that his only friend was going to die a slow and torturous death at the hands of a nightmare that he had created.
Before panic or despair could take hold he focused and tried to figure out where the potion could have gone wrong. He had made it perfectly, just as he had thought it should be done and had made sure that no ingredients would conflict with one another. Sure, when they had added the blood they hadn't allowed it to simmer and set for the half hour that his mother had recommended but all that did was connect with her magic. It couldn't be the reason she was now in a coma. Perhaps she had taken something before coming here? A headache solution, Pepper-up Potion, or some other remedy to a common ailment? Any one of them would conflict with the Magic Mushrooms he had used to produce the hallucinations within her mind, any one of them could be the cause for her torture.
As he sat down beside her it occurred to him that unless he could wake her up and save her he would never know. He needed help, he needed someone to tell him what to do, how to fix it but he knew that he couldn't trust anyone now. Professor Slughorn would most likely report him to Dumbledore who would surely expel them both. Professor Evans would probably avada him on the spot and then Hermione out of sheer anger and as he thought about it he realised his mother would probably do the same thing.
I need someone who isn't going to punish us for our mistakes, I need to find someone who will save her without question, I need someone who will keep our secret safe.
Immediately he felt the ground beneath him shake and the carpet on the opposite side of the room suddenly peeled back. A door emerged from beneath him, simply carved with a golden handle, and attached itself to the wall. Severus was sceptical at first but he had heard tales of the Room of Requirement from other students around the school and knew that it planned to give him what he needed. He marched over to the new object and opened it, only to be tackled by a pale, blond intruder.
The thunder seemed to pick up as she moved closer and closer towards the fireplace, as if protesting, screaming that she was going the wrong way. She screamed and dove to the floor when it shattered the high window and glass came raining down upon her. Fork lightning danced over the ceiling but never left a mark to spare. She caught herself gazing at it in wonder for several minutes before she got up again. The fireplace let out another mighty roar for her attention and she was certain that she needed to go to it but the outside called to her just as strongly. It was beautiful and exotic and enticing, she couldn't help but stare in wonder and that was when she furrowed her brow.
"What kind of screwed up dream is this?" She asked herself aloud.
The thunder cracked at her again and she moved over to one of the lower windows to take a look at the storm outside. She counted seven twisters, each spinning on the spot, some clashing with others. There was one in the Quidditch Pitch, another on the lake, two in the Forbidden Forrest, one just on top of the Astronomy Tower and the other two sitting on either side of Hagrid's hut. The ones in pairs would occasionally crash into one another but the rest of them stayed still and silent. The one of the lake in particular stood out to her, solitary and confined.
As the thunder gave a particularly loud boom and the fire seemed to rise out of the grate, Hermione knew she had to leave this portion of her mind, whatever portion it was, before it consumed her. Destructive elements were everywhere in a place she had once felt safe and she now knew that this was not where she was meant to be. She ran across the room and attempted to open the portrait door but it was sealed shut somehow. She tried hitting it, kicking it, slamming odd bits of furniture against it but nothing seemed to make it budge. She then tried to reach for her wand but it was nowhere to be seen.
Suddenly the tower itself began to shake and she fell to the floor again, completely unable to keep herself steady against the quaking carpet…
"Wake up Evans! Wake up!"
"Stop it Malfoy! You'll kill her!"
"Then wake her up!"
After Severus had told him what had happened Malfoy had done nothing but panic and wouldn't tell him why. He had never seen his friend this way. In all the years that he had known him, since the day that Lucius had taken him under his wing, he had been nothing but calm and collected, just as every Slytherin should be. Now he was acting like an irrational Hufflepuff, almost hyperventilating at the prospect that Hermione Evans could not wake up.
"You created the damn potion!" Lucius roared at him, "You should have created an antidote! You should have tested it first! You should have-"
"I know!" Severus roared back and then sighed, trying to calm himself, "I didn't want her to take it but…She can be rather persuasive. Lucius just tell me what's going on and we will deal with it, we'll find a way out of it."
"There is no way," the blond's voice was shaking now, "You have no idea what you've done, Severus. I can't protect either of you now."
"Lucius what are you talking about?"
"I've been ordered to take her, Severus," he told him, "The Dark Lord is in pain and he thinks that it's her fault. I can't return without her or it'll be my life."
"Ridiculous!" Snape protested, "What could possibly make him think it's her fault? She's been here the entire time!"
"How did she get these bruises?" Lucius asked him, peering down at the girl's face again.
"I don't know," Snape snapped at him, "I'm not her babysitter."
"Then how do you know she's been at the castle the entire time?" Lucius asked him, "You've got no idea what she's been up to, no idea where she's been and instead of saving your own backside you're attempting very badly to look after hers! What's gotten into you? Have I taught you nothing?"
"Says the one who lost his composure the moment he entered the room," Severus sneered, "You can sit here and reprimand me all you like for wanting to protect her, Lucius but you and I both know that you're not just here for yourself. I know how he works and he won't just stop at you for punishment. He'll go after your father, your mother, probably Narcissa first just for good measure and you know it too!"
Lucius was staring at him oddly now, his eyes narrowed and his brow creased in confusion.
"Severus," he said quietly, "You're not in love with her are you?"
Severus looked at him completely dumbfounded for a few seconds before the rage took over.
"Why is that the first thing you always think whenever I hang around a woman longer than thirty seconds?!" He roared.
"You've never been around a woman longer than thirty seconds."
"I'm quite capable of having a female friend without sex being involved!"
"Well you can't have sex with this one anyway!" Lucius told him earnestly.
"Even if I wanted to, why couldn't I?" Severus sneered, "Is it you think I'm not good enough for her?"
"It's not that Severus," Lucius shook his head, "You really don't know, do you? She hasn't told you?"
"Told me what?" He asked.
"Come over here," Lucius sighed. He really didn't want to be the one to have to break it to him and all his Slytherin cunning was screaming at him that this was a bad idea but none the less he beckoned the young man over. When Severus was level with him he pulled up the girl's sleeve and pulled down the bandage. The glowing mark glared up at them both as if to say that it knew something they didn't. Severus swallowed as his dark eyes roamed over it and he breathed a little deeper to try and keep himself calm.
"How did you-"
"I didn't know for sure," Lucius shook his head, "But when the Dark Lord tortured me inside her rooms this morning I had a feeling."
"Tortured you?" Severus asked, "In her rooms?"
"She helped me make progress with Narcissa," he admitted, a small blush creeping about his cheeks, "I sent her some roses as a thank you and the Dark Lord was displeased by it. If I did not know him better I would say that he wanted her but in the years of service that I have given him he has never taken a woman into his bed, not even Cissy's sister, Bellatrix and she's gagging for it."
"She's being courted by Lestrange isn't she?" Severus asked.
"Her father doesn't know," Lucius told him, "Nor does he know that his daughter will be marked this coming fortnight and I'm hoping he won't be told until after Cissy and I are married."
"You love her that much?" Severus asked quietly.
"I do," Lucius nodded, "Though I'll wait awhile before I make it known. Her father would have a fit."
They both stared back down at the woman who had made it all possible and Severus sighed. For whatever reason she had lied it didn't matter for the moment. Yes he was angry at her and probably would be for some time but he would have to set that aside if he wanted her to wake up. Then he could yell at her all he liked.
"So what are we going to do with her then?" He asked the blond.
"I have to take her, Severus," he told him, "There's no way around it. I've never seen him this angry."
"There must be another way to appease him until I can revive her," he said, "There has to be some way to stall it."
"I could try but it would only make him angrier," he said, "All we could do is make it look like she hexed me horribly and said she would see him when she was ready but even then he would probably curse me himself and send me back with orders to retrieve or kill."
Severus looked down at her face again, searching it for answers. He placed one of his hands on her icy skin and he knew he was running out of time. That was when it hit him. The door had opened specifically for Lucius, just as he had been passing by the corridor. There had to be a reason for it. The room didn't have feelings, wasn't driven by pettiness or revenge so it had no reason to try and trick him into leading her to danger.
"The Dark Lord's stores," Severus looked up at Lucius with wide eyes, "His potion stores. They would be stocked with every ingredient imaginable, yes?"
"Anything he doesn't have in his private stores he always draws from ours at the Manor," Lucius told him, "Why?"
"There's a reason you fell through that door, Lucius," Severus said, his mind suddenly a light once again. He picked the girl up from the bed and looked back at his friend, "Take me to him. If he wants her, he can have her, but I need to fix her first."
Lucius stared at him for a few moments, searching his eyes for doubt but he found none.
"What are you planning?" He asked, "You never do anything without an ulterior motive."
"Just take me to him," Severus demanded, "I'll make sure you don't get caught up in it but I need to meet him."
"He won't let you go Severus," Lucius told him.
With a final nod, the blond led him out of the room and disillusioned all three to avoid suspicion from passers-by. They moved quickly and quietly across the hall and down a few flights of steps to Hermione's and Professor Evans' rooms. Severus automatically grabbed Lucius by the shoulder and swung him around.
"You're supposed to be taking me to the Dark Lord!" He hissed at him, "Not her bloody uncle!"
"I am taking you to the Dark Lord," Lucius hissed back, "How do you think I got here in the first place? Apparation? While he was still at school here the Dark Lord linked her fireplace and his with an undetected branch of the floo network and concealed it. He added another password to the door so that he could get in and out as well. Dumbledore has no idea that it exists."
Severus was astounded. Why would Voldemort make himself a way in and out of the castle so young? There was no way he would be plotting his campaign against muggleborns so early! It just didn't make sense!
Lucius whispered a password that Severus couldn't catch and the door swung open for them. Thankfully Leopold Evans was occupied with a staff meeting that night and so it made it easier for them to cross the room, grab some floo powder and step into the emerald green flames before they overstayed their welcome. Severus held onto Hermione tightly as they passed grate after grate and just barely managed to get out when Lucius did. He didn't know what he had expected the Dark Lord's hide out to be but it certainly hadn't been this. The place was a run down hobble compared to his home and that was saying something. The curtains were tattered and moth eaten, the carpet was rotten in the corners of the room from leaks on the roof that let water drip into the house. The paint was peeling horribly, the wallpaper wasn't much better and there was a general air of mustiness everywhere they went.
"My father has offered the Manor many times to him but for some reason he wants to stay here," Lucius spoke up, "Come on. I'll take you to him."
They walked out of the parlour they had landed in and moved into a dark hallway. The eerie silence was enough to put a chill up Severus' spine. Lucius led him to the last room on the left and that was when they came face to face with the Dark Lord for the first time. His gleaming red eyes were far more vivid than Severus had imagined, the pale pallor of his skin almost translucent against the lamp light. He could almost see the sweat gleaming off of his bald head as his spidery fingers clutched at his gut.
When he saw the three of them he was far from happy, though not in the way that they had expected. His eyes flared at the sight of Hermione unconscious in Severus' arms and he instantly stood from his seat.
"Severus Snape," he almost growled, "What have you done?"
Severus was taken aback.
"How do you know who I am?"
"I will only ask once more, Snape," he hissed at him, "Do not test my patience tonight."
Severus swallowed but said nothing.
"Put her down on the couch," the Dark Lord told him, "And then tell me everything."
The boy finally did as he was told. After leaving the girl on the couch he then stood before Voldemort like a veteran Death Eater and told him everything he could remember about the potion, what happened to Hermione after she drunk it and what kind of state she was in before. Voldemort's eyes seemed to wonder over the girl, as the young man spoke, in ways that made Severus uncomfortable. He'd seen other boys look at her that way but coming from a man that was twice her age and the lord of all evil just seemed wrong, especially while that man was in pain supposedly because of her.
"Tell me, Mr Snape," Voldemort finally spoke, "Do you care for her?"
He was loathe to admit it but Severus did give him a nod.
"You really are nothing like your mother," the Dark Lord told him, "She would have jumped down my throat for even asking."
Severus felt it wise to say nothing and so remained silent. Even in his weakened state Voldemort had to admire the boy's common sense and composure in the face of pure evil. He didn't try to defend his mother, he didn't try to defend Hermione, he remained as truthful as possible without giving anything away and generally knew how to act in the presence of his betters.
"You've taught him well Lucius," Voldemort told the blond, "I assume he's your work?"
"Yes my Lord," he said hurriedly, "My last two years of school were dedicated to grooming him."
"Very well," the Dark Lord nodded, "I don't suppose your mother has mentioned me, Mr Snape?"
"I know she went to school with you," he said, "I know at one point she worked for you but she dropped out of Hogwarts before you could mark her."
"So she is the gossip I thought she was then," Voldemort mumbled, "I may have to deal with that."
"You can relax boy," Voldemort told him, "Thanks to Miss Evans here I can't do anything to your dear mother, I'll have to get creative if I want her to shut up."
Severus looked down at Hermione again with a furrowed brow. Confusion seemed to be a common theme when it came to this girl.
"Of course I could always trade your life for her silence but I'm sure dear Hermione would be just as aggravated by that as she would be by your death," Voldemort continued to muse, "So I will make you a deal. I will allow you to use my private stores and that of Abraxus Malfoy's to cure Miss Evans before she dies. By the twisting of my own intestines I give it about two and a half hours before she kicks off. In return you will owe me a favour of my choosing."
Severus thought about it for a few moments.
"But you're in pain," he finally said, "You think that if I cure her, your pain will subside, therefore I'm already doing you service. What do I get out of it?"
"She lives," Voldemort told him, "That's what you want more than anything else in this moment, isn't it? And time is ticking Mr Snape. It would be a great loss for me if she were to die but I would survive. I've gone the last twenty years of my campaign without her, I'm sure I can do another twenty."
Severus scrutinized him looking for any kind of lie in his anguished face. There was nothing he could do but accept the offer but there was one more question he had to ask before he did.
"Will you hurt her?" He asked, "If I wake her up and restore you both to health, will you punish her?"
"I haven't decided yet," Voldemort told him without pause.
Severus gave his face one more look over but finally agreed. From somewhere deep within his gut however, he felt he had made the wrong decision…
The shaking had ceased and she was breathing heavily against hearth, coughing every now and then from the ashes that floated out from the grate. Subconsciously she thought that she had spent far too much time on the ground lately and knew that she should attempt to get up but she couldn't seem to find the strength. Suddenly she felt weaker than she had ever been in her life and as her resolve and her strength depleted she saw that the fire grew weaker and weaker. She furrowed her brow at it and managed to crawl closer to see what was burning besides a few logs. Scattered around the kindling were a necklace, a teacup, a ring, a picture of a cobra, a tattered book with a black binding, a crown and a plain theatre mask. The flames licked at them all but none of them burned and slowly she could see the fire dwindle before her eyes. She was struck by a sudden panic, a need to feed the fire with everything that she had but she couldn't understand why.
That need was trumped by the growing weakness in her limbs. Suddenly she couldn't feel her legs anymore and the paralysis was climbing quickly. First her hips, then her hands and arms and then her lungs all turned to stone and she felt the chill of death touch her spine.
That was when he finally emerged from the shadows. Tears were tracked down her cheeks by the time she finally saw him and she could tell that she wasn't the only one who wept. His glasses were fogging up at the sight of her and she could tell that his scar was throbbing. It was the first time she had seen Harry Potter in just under a year and he was looking at her as though he himself had nailed her to the floor.
"I'm so sorry Hermione," he said, kneeling down and stroking her hair, "I tried to be strong for you, I really did."
"H-Harry," she gasped.
"I'm sorry I wasn't enough," he whispered.
"Get out of the bloody way Potter!"
Harry was shoved out of her vision immediately and she felt cool hands sink into her shoulders. She could barely keep her eyes open but she knew by the sound of his voice that her incarnation of Draco Malfoy was the one shaking her.
"Come on Granger, you don't want to die!" he growled, "You've fought too long and too hard! You have so much more to do! Don't you dare quit!"
At his words she suddenly felt her lungs re-inflate and life re-enter her body. She swung her arms around him and clawed at his shoulders, every inch of him exactly as she remembered. He was a welcome dream in the throngs of a glorious nightmare. He clawed back at her, buried his head in the crook of her neck and together they laid there on the floor, catching their breath and revelling in the physical comfort the other brought. In her heart of hearts she knew it was an illusion, she knew it was just her own mind and magic coming up with a solution to her growing desire to see him but in that moment she didn't care if he was real or not. He was there, that was all that mattered.
"I've missed you so much," she whispered, tears falling from her eyes again, "I'm so sorry I lost you."
He pulled back to allow her to sit up and she managed to get her back onto the wall next to the fireplace that was burning brightly once again. She could feel its warmth radiating off her skin and for some reason it brought just as much comfort to her as the sight of Draco did.
"Why did you take so long to get here?" She sniffed, "Why didn't you say something when I called out?"
"I don't have time to explain," he said, completely ignoring her question, "You need to know something before he finds us."
She narrowed her eyes at him.
"What are you talking about?" She asked.
"He's on his way Granger, I can't protect you anymore!" he suddenly roared and shook her again, "I've tried so hard because it's what you wanted and some piece of you still hates him but the rest of you…"
"Draco stop, you're hurting me!"
"You need to listen!" He screamed and she instantly stopped fighting him to look into his eyes. They were wild and deranged with fear. It told her that something in her inner psyche was frightened but…frightened of what?
"Shhh," she cooed, moving her hand along his cheek in a soothing manner, "I'm listening. What's the matter? Who's on their way?"
"Him," he sobbed, "He's going to rob you of everything that you are. He'll take you away from us and fill your world!"
He grabbed her hand and yanked her up so that she was standing and then moved her in front of the fireplace. The objects in the centre still didn't burn even though the logs around them were turning to ashes before their eyes.
"Never forget," he whispered in her ear, standing behind her and wrapping his arms around her waist, "Don't forget about them. Don't forget about me."
She found herself staring into the depths of the flames for several moments before she felt the weight of his arms disappear and she swung around to find that he was gone.
"Draco?" She called.
The common room door was taking a beating to try and keep her safe. Whatever was on the other side hammered and clawed at the wooden barrier and when it couldn't get what it wanted it let out an eerie growl. She had no wand, no weapon, she was still weak from…whatever it was that had taken the air out of her lungs and now she was being attacked by some kind of monster that her sub consciousness had unleashed. She instantly decided that when she got out of this she was going to give Severus a piece of advice for inventing potions in the future…
"Normally I would say that you shouldn't have been so ambitious but if corrected this potion could be a real money maker."
Lucius and Severus were sitting in the parlour again. While Lucius was bent over the paper reading the gossip column of all things, Severus was bent over ingredients and texts that he had always wanted to use but had never had the resources for. The Dark Lord's stores had been everything that he had imagined and more with leaves and ligaments that were so rare and powerful that he thought not even Dumbledore had ever laid eyes on them. To further shock him the Dark Lord had presented him with a long forgotten copy of The Potions of the Darkness and told him to search for solutions there. So far it had been helpful in giving him ideas on how to hurt Potter and Black but it had nothing on how to cure Hermione.
"It wasn't meant to be bottled and sold, Lucius," Severus told him as he scrawled notes on a scrap bit of paper.
"Then what was it meant for?" Lucius asked.
"My own personal use," he said as he looked up from his paper, "I couldn't make it without the help of the school or the ministry as there are certain ingredients in it that are…potent. I chose the lesser of two evils."
"If you can really call Dumbledore the lesser," Malfoy smirked.
"Compared to all the paperwork and red tape I would have to cross if I went to the ministry, yes this time he is," Severus told him, "Look, I don't mean to be rude but can you please read that thing elsewhere? I only have an hour left."
"The Dark Lord wanted you supervised," Lucius told him nonchalantly, "Rather than alert anyone else to the situation he elected me while he takes rest."
"I don't like the idea of him alone with her," he muttered, "It doesn't feel right."
"You love the girl," Lucius rolled his eyes, "Knowing she's alone with any man but yourself will always feel wrong."
"I'm not in love with her Lucius," Severus growled, "You had best put it out of your mind."
"Perhaps you don't know it yet, but you are in love with her," Lucius told him, putting the paper down. "The sooner you accept it, the better."
"And you're being ignorant, do you hear me complain?"
Severus rolled his eyes at him again before looking back down at the text. He had just moved on to The Potions of the Darkness and finally he had come across something useful.
Poisons and Bonds: Torture without ingestion
I have spent many years researching and revelling in pain. I've watched people burn, strangle, drown and stabbed many times over just to get a glimpse of it. Nothing, however, has ever been so satisfying, so thrilling, as watching one person suffer another person's physical pain and never die from it. It brings a smile to my face every time I think about how much agony I can put someone through, not only physically but emotionally, when they literally feel the pain that a loved one is going through.
I was barely eighteen when I discovered something like this was even possible. I had been experimenting with the Draught of Living Death that afternoon, trying to find a way to make it so potent that it would slowly torture my victim into a permanent coma full of nightmares. Once I had completed the potion itself in its regular form I made quite a fortunate mistake by placing Acromantula venom in the bubbling liquid, rather than the Salamander Blood I had planned to use…
Severus couldn't bear to read much more of it but managed to skim through and find out that instead of inducing nightmares, the author had created a bond between his two victims and while slowly poisoning one he was able to make the other feel exactly what they were going through without doing any real harm. While the scenario wasn't exactly the same, Severus could still garner some useful facts.
The first was that the Dark Lord and Hermione were bonded.
The second was that the Dark Lord wasn't really dying and Hermione was.
The third was that they could use the Dark Lord to tell how much time Hermione really had. Severus had assumed that he had been exaggerating before but he apparently hadn't been. Whatever Hermione's body suffered through, the Dark Lord's would suffer as well…
He suddenly sat up straight in his chair and looked wide eyed around the room. Lucius scrutinized him. Without warning the younger boy threw his chair aside and raced out of the room. It took Lucius a good second or two before he got over the shock and ran after him. He chased his friend down the hall and almost crashed into him when they stopped outside the Dark Lord's door.
"For Merlin's sake, Severus-"
"Shut up, Lucius," Severus hissed. He was peering through a crack in the doors that led to Voldemort's chamber. It was there that he kept Hermione in the middle of a comfortable four-poster bed. He had removed her outer robes and only her jeans and polo sweater remained, seeing as he'd also taken the care to remove her belt and shoes. She still looked icy and twitched on the odd occasion but other than that she looked perfectly safe in his presence, even if he was looking at her so strangely.
"You had better get out of this, Evans," Severus heard him whisper, "I've worked too long and too hard to let it all end like this and if you're my downfall I swear I'll make your afterlife hell."
Yet his actions contradicted his words. He was stroking her hair, hovering over her like a protective shield and there was a wariness about him that told Severus he was ready to destroy any threat that came through that door. Whether Hermione wanted it or not, he was unsure, but she now had a very formidable body guard.
"How many times have I told you that you're made for more than this?" Voldemort continued to speak to her, "How many times have I told you that we were destined for greatness? This is where you prove me right, Evans. This is where you show me what you're made of. I can feel the pain you're going through physically and it is exquisite. Merlin only knows what that potion is doing to your mind, but if it is half as bad as what it is doing to your body and you make it out of this you may actually earn some of my respect."
"We should leave," Lucius suddenly said, "He wouldn't want us-"
"At the moment I couldn't care less what he wants, Lucius," Severus hissed back at him, "I need to talk to him."
"You can't just go barging in there!" Lucius looked appalled at the idea.
"What am I supposed to do then? Wait until he comes out?"
"You two breathe like hypogriffs in heat." They suddenly heard from the bedroom, "Let him in Lucius, if he has a break through then I want to hear about it."
Severus slowly opened the door to see the glowing red eyes of the Dark Lord staring at him intently. He swallowed, straightened up and stared back at him, full in the face, doing his best not to flinch away.
"What do you have for me, Snape?" the man asked.
"A simple theory for the moment but before I can confirm it, I need you to answer a few questions for me, sir," Severus told him. The Dark lord thought about it for a few moments before giving him a tight nod to continue.
"Are Miss Evans and yourself bonded?" He asked.
The Dark Lord narrowed his eyes.
"Yes," he replied.
"Was the bond forged through a potion?"
"Do you have any of the potion left?"
"Could you make it again?"
Severus paused to think carefully about how to phrase his next question. If he said any part of it wrong it could very well be the last thing that left his lips.
"Would you, in order to save her," he began, "Be willing to open the bond more fully?"
For the first time, the Dark Lord looked confused.
"Elaborate." He demanded.
"At the moment you feel whatever Miss Evans feels," Severus stated, not needing to confirm it, "The definition of a magical bond clearly states that not only should you be able to feel everything, but you should be able to see everything, hear everything, even share her thoughts. Would I be correct in saying that you do not?"
"And how do you know this?" The Dark Lord asked him.
"If the bond had been fully formed you would be unconscious just like she is right now," He said bluntly, "If I find a way to open the bond fully, to connect you properly, then I can save her."
"You would fall to the effects of the potion yourself," Severus told him, "But because you are connected, in theory, you would fall into her mind instead of your own because she is the one who drank the potion-"
"In theory?" the Dark Lord raised a muscle where his brow should have been.
"This is the first time my potion has ever been made," Severus told him, "Everything we do from here on out is just a theory. My point is that your mind is obviously stronger than hers, your magic is obviously stronger than hers. If you can get inside her mind then you can overpower the illusion that it's created and snap her out of it."
"Why not just use Legillimancy then?" He asked, "It would certainly make this problem less…complicated."
"Forcing yourself into her head may cause damage while she is in this state," Severus told him.
"Or to you," he was told, "Anything is possible. While you may be stronger, she is already operating at her pique. There is more chance for you to be caught off guard by her defences. By entering her mind and not forcing your way in, you won't have as much to fight in order to bring her back."
Doubt was clearly present on his serpentine face. He was unsure of what Hermione's reaction would be to his plan. Lucius was looking at him rather strangely too. But none of it mattered. It was the only to get everyone out of this mess he created. Hopefully no one would feel any pressure to torture him after he saved all their lives.
The Dark Lord glided over to where Severus was standing and peered into the black depths of his eyes, as though searching for any hint of untruth. Severus held his ground and braced himself for the impact of the Dark Lord's mind on his own but it never came. Instead he stood back and smirked at the boy.
"Your mother taught you well," he said. He waved his wand and a sheet of parchment suddenly appeared in his hand which he offered to Severus.
"This is the potion I made to bond Miss Evans to me. It didn't go nearly as well as I planned it the first time around. Do what you must to get me inside her mind."