A/N: This story is the sequel to Spellcaster which really should be read first. Santuary takes place about three weeks after the end of Spellcaster.
The island thrust from the waves like a protest.
The curled fist of a giant, defying the waves that broke it.
The witch stood braced against the wind and held one hand to her mouth as she stared across barren rock and jagged seas. The abbey – if ever it had deserved that name – was a weathered ruin buried beneath tough grass and stubby bushes.
Whoever had built this place had built a prison.
There were no flatlands to grow crops. No gentle coves to moor fishing boats. Rough stone and pitted hillsides fell way into chasms and perilous footing. The ground beneath her feet shuddered as the waves slammed into the island, causing an almost inaudible hum to rise from the rocks. It was a living note that crept inside her body and crawled its way across her bones.
"There are caves."
She spun, startled. She'd almost forgotten she wasn't alone. The wind whipped the black strands of his hair away from his face exposing the harsh planes of his cheek and jaw. Hermione looked at him, at the merciless line of his mouth, and thought if any man were a creature of this bleak landscape, it was he.
The cold salt air beaded on the grey wool of his tunic and his leather trousers looked damp. So did the scuffed dragonhide boots that laced all the way to his knee. Battered though his clothing was, it was better protection here than the Muggle jeans and hiking boots she had chosen. The flat black of his eyes gave her no inkling as to his thoughts.
She supposed she probably didn't want to know them.
He picked his way carefully, back to the pile of rubble that marked the abbey ruins. He never glanced back to see if she was keeping up. She wasn't certain she thought he should, it just seemed significant that he didn't. Nor did he pause when he reached the broken coverstone that had once protected the entrance to the cave.
The cave had been a storeroom of some kind. Moisture seeped from the walls, and rotting shelves and the remnants of old barrels littered the floor. They appeared undisturbed, as if they had simply fallen apart when the preservation charms failed. Hermione looked around for evidence of animal infestation – mice, rats, or anything at all – and found nothing.
It was as lifeless as the rest of the isle.
She felt as grey as the stone around her, bleached and pressed flat, knowing only the certainty of failure. She had not expected Camelot, but some part of her had been so certain there would be more than this. Walls. Maybe a roof. Perhaps an ancient weed-choked garden. Something she could put to rights with hard work and magic.
"They must have sent them here to die," she whispered bleakly.
Snape had his wand held high, peering downward into a passageway of some kind at the far end of the cave. A rough set of steps disappeared into the darkness. He looked up and shrugged.
"More likely, to contemplate their many sins, I imagine," he said dryly.
He stepped back toward her, transfiguring some of the rotten planks into a low sofa and wool blanket. Hermione sat reflexively, pulling the blanket around her shoulders when she sensed the warming charm worked into it. She stared sightlessly at the far wall and contemplated the collapse of all her desperate planning.
Snape dropped onto the sofa next to her and stretched out his legs with a sigh," We're going to need people with experience mapping cave systems. I would suggest Bill and Charlie Weasley – assuming you are back to speaking terms with the family."
She frowned at him, unable to decide if that last was sarcasm or not.
"I realize you had your heart set on row upon row of tenting in a bucolic cow field,"Snape said evenly.
She looked at him suspiciously. The bland comment was eerily accurate. The image she'd nurtured had indeed resembled that description. She almost suspected Legilimency before realizing all he would need were the same memories she possessed of the tents pitched during the Quiddich World Cup.
"Underground serves you better," he said, his gaze assessing as he studied the cave walls. "The stone will provide shelter from the elements."
She looked at the cold, damp rock surrounding her and realized he might mean that literally.
Her hand almost – but not quite – rose to touch her right upper arm.
Snape indicated the far passageway with his wand. "For the foreseeable future, I suggest finding somewhere to set the tents up inside. They will already be charmed for space and comfort, and the canvas will protect against the moisture falling on our heads."
He directed a sour look upwards.
She leaned back wearily, turning her head just enough to look at him. He was eying the roof with disfavour, but seemed more intent on solving her problems than commenting on disaster. It was not what she would have expected from him.
"Who are you, "she asked seriously, "and what have you done with my husband?"
He stilled, and she thought at first he had taken insult. Then she saw the careful way he was deliberately not looking at her and realized what specific word had caught his attention. Not, she thought grimly, the best way to bring up that particular hippogriff in the room.
They had never talked about what the magical tattoos on their arms meant. Nor had either of them dared to bring up the Elemental Marriage rites she had used to bind him to her. At the time…
Well, she supposed every bad idea had seemed like a good idea at the time.
And neither of them had been exceeding anxious to discuss the matter.
"You mean, why am I resisting the urge to tear your naïve and pastoral hopes to shreds?"
She stared at the side of his averted head. His tone seemed less mocking and almost - playful? Disconcerted, she continued to stare at him and discovered he was peering back at her through the curtain of his hair.
"More or less," she said cautiously.
The unexpected grin that slashed briefly across his face did disturbing things to her insides. He stretched slightly, drawing her eyes to the taut muscles of his stomach as soft leather molded itself to his body. She shifted uneasily. There was something uncomfortable in her reaction to the lazy sprawl of his limbs.
"Unlike certain brash Gryffindors – who shall remain nameless," he said pointedly, "I was less inclined to fantasize and slightly better educated about the history of my ancestral wealth. Or lack thereof."
She nodded absently, less intent on what he was saying than the lack of bitterness in his voice. Experience with Ron's shamed and aggressive pride regarding the Weasley finances had led her to expect more acrimony from Snape on the issue. Especially from a man as defensive about his consequence as Snape. She regarded him uncertainly.
Surely that wasn't amusement in his eyes.
Her gaze dropped, and snagged on the scars visible across the backs of his fingers. Pale white lines that spoke of pain and torture. They weren't the worst on his body, but they were the most recent. Without thinking, she reached out and took hold of his nearest hand and traced the scars with a tentative finger. He'd almost lost the use of his hands, because of her. His life, too, but to a Potion Master, that would be a secondary consideration.
His body went rigid when she laid a kiss against his knuckles.
He'd almost lost everything, because of her. Because of guilt for what he had unknowingly done to her as a child. Because Dumbledore had used that guilt to drive him back to Voldemort one last time. He'd only said shortly that it had been his choice, the one time she tried to broach the subject, but there was no denying that she had been the weapon.
"What have I done to you?" she asked softly.
He didn't say a word as she continued to explore the scars with gentle fingers, his body screaming a violent tension she was a fool to court, but she couldn't seem to stop. She wished she could feel guilty, about what she had done to him, but she didn't. Part of her was even glad she did not. Given that she had known what she was doing when she chose to do it, guilt seemed self-indulgent.
"I think I'm proud of you," she said. She tilted her head to meet veiled black eyes. "Does that seem strange to you?"
He quirked an eyebrow, "That I might make a Gryffindor proud?"
She shook her head, but didn't know how to put the rest into words.
This war had generated so many secrets – some of them still to be told. So many plans that had required sacrifice and pain. Yet all of it had seemed perfectly natural too, because there had simply been no other choice. Pride implied a correct choice, a decision where one result was as likely as the other.
In the end, she, Harry, and Ron had hunted Horcruxes because there was no other choice. To ignore the threat was to ignore the danger to themselves. That was not real bravery, it was self-preservation.
The Dowry project too, was an inevitable reaction to sanctioned rape and the violation of personal freedoms. The Marriage Law was simply unacceptable, and that was that.
Marrying Snape to gain access to the Unplottable abbey – she supposed some would see that as brave and something of which to be proud. She agreed that it had been a sacrifice, but she disagreed that it should be any source of pride. It had been a matter of practicality, of survival, and she wasn't sure she should be proud that she could be so ruthless in the pursuit of her goals.
All three of them had needed courage for what they had done. She was proud they had not faltered. She was proud of Harry for the way he had faced the uncertainty of what Voldemort had done to him. He could have screamed and yelled and ignored the very real threat he had posed to those who loved him. Instead, he had chosen to deal with the potential, in spite of the cost to himself.
She was proud of Ron, too.
In some ways, she suspected she was proud of Ron most of all, for he was the one who had needed to reach furthest past his own weakness in order to succeed. It was Ron who had given up the most of what he had needed in order for their plans to succeed. Snape had sneered at Ron more than once for his selfishness and need to be in the spotlight. She wondered what he would think of him, when next they met.
"You didn't need to swear to me, "she said finally. "You didn't need to forgive me, and you didn't need to go back to Voldemort. These were all things you chose to do. You could have chosen differently."
"You did not need to forgive me either, "he observed quietly.
She shook her head.
His mouth twisted bitterly and she realized he had misunderstood her.
"I didn't give up anything I needed,' she said carefully.
Because she hadn't.
No part of her self had relied on a hatred of Snape. But part of her had wanted him, and part of her had needed him, and part of her had hungered for what he had implied he could become for her. Forgiving him had been easy, in the end. Hermione Granger had not lost anything she had not already given, in that transaction.
Snape, on the other hand…
"I would not have expected such an observation at your age," he said thoughtfully, his eyes sharpening.
She shrugged again. "It was what you taught us."
He looked startled.
"You kept telling us where we were weak. Or where you thought we were weak, "she amended. Harry had never been the glory seeker Snape had accused him of being.
But if Snape had thought it, so did Voldemort.
"It hurt, "she admitted, and she didn't mean the things he had said them while they were growing up.
It had hurt more than anything in the world, to hear her worse faults, the things she always feared about herself on the lips of her only friends. All the things she hated about herself and all the needs that drove her, that could be used against her. And she had felt small and spiteful and mean when it was her turn, to tell them things they wouldn't want to know.
It had hurt all of them more than they'd expected, more than they'd intended.
But in the end, they got through it. Painful as it was, nothing could be fixed if it couldn't be faced. Hermione truly believed that was the power Harry had, the strength that Voldemort knew not. The Dark Lord had people who only told him what they thought he wanted to hear.
Harry had Ron and Hermione.
And while it had been cold and ugly and painful, they couldn't afford the cost of pretty lies.