We search more carefully now. I let Snape take the lead, as he can follow the trail of magic – or at least sense it; I'm not really envisioning him as a bloodhound – and following the trail of magic is something I cannot do.
The search comes to an end surprisingly quickly. Snape slides open a door in the wall and I follow him. And right there in front of us is a massive cabinet, filling half the room from one wall to another. It's metal, and we cannot see what's in it, but here, in this room, even I am feeling the tendrils of magic reaching out to me.
And as if that isn't enough proof, there is a label on the door of the cabinet.
I wonder, not for the first time, why the signs we've seen are in 21st century English, or at least something not distinguishable from it. Did the Germans get a ship with labels in their language? Are the people behind all this, the ship and the kidnapping and everything, people from our time? It just doesn't seem likely – the Muggles wouldn't have the know-how, and I just can't believe it could all be wizard-made.
I wish I could ask the computer. Even if I still wanted to, it's not like we'd get answers.
Snape's palms are pressed against the doors of the cabinet, his slender fingers splayed. I step closer and see that his eyes are closed. He's tilted his head slightly, twisted it so that there is only the narrowest gap between the door and his left ear. As if he was listening to something inside.
I know without asking that the cabinet is locked.
The strength of the magic around me, whispering to me, calling out to me, tells me that the cabinet is locked magically. With spells too strong for us to break.
Too strong for me to break, without a wand.
Snape's lips are moving, almost imperceptibly. There's a deep crease between his eyebrows; as he shifts his hands, the crease deepens further.
I'm burning with curiosity. I want to know what's inside. I want to know what spells Snape is using, and why he's not saying the words aloud.
Perhaps it's something that only Unspeakables are supposed to know. But he's shared some things with me already. It's surprisingly hurtful, his keeping this spell from me.
Or perhaps he can concentrate better like this. I make a mental note to ask him later.
I want to step even closer. I want to do something to help. But I don't dare to break his concentration, so I stand back and watch him work his silent magic.
I imagine the contents of the cabinet. Are the wands kept in boxes, sleek and elegant, the way they were stacked in Ollivander's shop? Or are they standing in rows, row after row after row, like an army of thin wooden soldiers? Or have they just been piled up randomly? Are they labelled? Will I find mine? Is mine even there among them?
My hands tremble. My palms throb with hunger; it's coursing through my veins and makes my fingertips tingle with anticipation.
I miss it so much – the feeling of a wand in my hand, ready and willing to do my bidding, sparkling with the live, raw magic that flows through me, transforming it into a controlled force more powerful than most people could even dream of.
I didn't even realise, until now, just how much I've missed it.
Snape is standing so still. If it wasn't for his lips moving and his eyelashes fluttering, I could almost take him for a statue. A very lifelike statue.
I look at him, taking in his appearance. It's the first chance I've really had to scrutinise him like that; I haven't exactly wanted to stare, but now, when his eyes are closed and he doesn't seem to be aware of my presence, I use the opportunity and really look at him, this man who has invaded almost all of my thoughts these days.
He's older, of course; older than he was at Hogwarts. I imagine what he'd say about that thought – Stating the obvious again,Granger? – and I smirk. It's funny how his words, which once upon a time would always have been meant as an insult, can sound almost teasing these days; it's in his tone and in his eyes. Oh, he's still horrible at times, and yet … There's so much more to this man – so much that never occurred to me to wonder about before; and it's this that makes the idea of spending the next several months alone with him, here, almost attractive.
Attractive. Is he? I let my gaze wander across his face, or at least the side of it that is turned towards me.
Not attractive in a traditional sense, at least. His nose is still hooked, his lips are thin, his hair is limp. On the other hand, his ear – barely visible through his hair as it is – is of a nice shape. And his nose, well … it adds character. And his lips, thin as they are, are oddly enticing. I remember staring at them earlier, in that tunnel of weightlessness, and wanting to kiss them. I still do.
His hair … I sigh. Probably a lost cause. And that stubble would have to go.
Once we get our wands back, it should be easy.
I fidget. I'm not used to standing by and letting someone else solve problems. I've always been the designated problem-solver, the one with all the answers. I hope he either gets through the protective spells soon or asks for my help.
He's got a nice body. He's wearing only shirt and trousers now that he's discarded his robe, and while I can't tell exactly how fit he is, he's obviously lean and well built. Really nice for a man his age. He must be over forty now.
It's been a while since I've been with anyone – a very, very, very long while – and it's obviously having an effect on me. Oh dear.
I so would, though.
I really hope he can't do Legilimency with his eyes closed and his concentration elsewhere.
Actually, maybe a bit of Legilimency wouldn't hurt …
Ack. I must stop this train of thought before it derails and takes me with it. We have other things to do here. Like getting our wands, deciding whether to stay here or go back to the other side of the ship, immobilise the evil bots and force the computer to spill its secrets.
And then what? We can't just turn the ship around and go back home, can we?
Snape stirs and I avert my eyes hastily. He doesn't seem to have noticed.
'We have a problem,' he says, massaging his forehead. 'The cabinet is locked.'
He looks at me and raises an eyebrow. I smirk at him. His lips twitch in response, but then he grows serious again.
'I can't open it. I tried every spell I know and then some, but without a wand, I can't even hope to begin to unravel the layers of protection placed on the locks. I dismantled the top layer, I think ... It's impossible to know, and I'm afraid that if I stumble on blindly, I may trigger something unpleasant.'
I consider his words. With layers upon layers of protection, spells weaved into one another, the two of us working together – stumbling along blindly, as Snape says – wouldn't really help either.
'Locks,' I say slowly. 'You said the protection is placed on the locks.'
I bite my lip, trying to make sense of the tangled mess that is my brain.
'Just the locks?'
His eyes widen as he realises what I'm saying.
'I think so. I focused on the locks, so I'm not absolutely certain; give me a moment.'
He presses his palms against the doors again, moving them around slowly, hesitantly, but with a confidence on his face suggesting that he knows what he's doing. I'm reminded of a doctor using a stethoscope to listen to someone's lungs or heart.
Several long moments later he stands back from the cabinet.
'Just the locks.'
'And the doors are metal?'
'Yes. Some sort of alloy – the texture and smell are not familiar to me – but it's not magical.'
'Can we blast through it?'
Now he's grinning. 'We can try.'
He shows me the areas where the spells have been layered. We consider the doors for a moment and then decide that attacking the hinges is our best bet. We don't want to risk destroying the contents, after all, and besides, the hinges are the parts furthest away from the protected bits, so there's less chance of triggering a trap.
After the struggles with the doors leading to and from the tunnel, we seem to have an unspoken agreement now to coordinate our wandless spellcasting. Which is not as easy as it sounds, not in this case: I think we should use Bombarda; Snape favours Confringo. We both agree that Expulso is too much under the circumstances, so at least there's that.
'I don't think I could control Confringo with enough care,' I admit at last. 'Not wandless, in any case.'
'And Bombarda is easier?' Snape's face mirrors the incredulity in his voice. 'Have you ever tried controlling Bombarda without a wand?'
'No,' I mumble. 'But it's less powerful than Confringo. There's no telling what that one might take with it.'
He sighs. 'If you can't do this, Granger, then perhaps I should try on my own at first.'
'I didn't say I can't do this. I'd just prefer us to try Bombarda first. If it doesn't work, we can move on to something stronger.'
My head hurts. I've done more wandless magic today, successfully, than ever before. It's starting to take its toll on me. I just hope we can overcome this one last challenge, no matter how much effort it takes; when we've blasted through, we'll have all the wands at our disposal that we could ever wish for.
I really just want mine back.
'Let's tackle the upper one first, the one on the right,' I suggest.
Snape nods. He puts his hand on my upper arm and guides me a few steps away from the cabinet. 'Be ready to duck,' he says. 'I don't like standing as close as we are now, not without knowing how strong the blast will be, but—'
'—but the further away we are, the more difficult it is to focus the magic,' I add.
His hand is still on my arm. I don't want to shrug it off, but it makes it impossible to concentrate on the task ahead.
When he removes it, I miss the warmth.
I visualise the hinge in my mind. Metal, cold and brittle, ready to be blown apart at my will. It wants to be blown apart, I tell it; it wants the freedom that one word from my lips can offer it – the freedom to stop doing its duty. It's done it for such a long time. It's enough.
The hinge cracks, and breaks. A few metal shards float lazily down to the floor, no threat to us.
I beam at Snape, breathless from the effort and exultant at our success.
The hinge in the middle splinters as easily as the first one, but it has taken so much out of me that I ask Snape to stop for a few minutes. He nods and slumps down on the floor, where I join him after a moment's hesitation.
We're sitting close enough to one another for our shoulders and arms to touch. When he turns and looks at me, his eyes, exhausted as he is, sparkle.
I jump up again, cursing silently as I waver on my feet. I reach out a hand to use the wall to support myself, but Snape's fingers clasp mine before I can do so. I clear my throat, not looking at him.
'Shall we try the last one?'
'If you think you are ready.'
I'm not, but if I'd spent another moment on the floor with him …
Focus. Visualise. Cast the spell. It's harder than it sounds, but together we manage. There is a crack, a very fine fracture, in the metal, but it should be more than enough.
Snape lets his fingers run along the side of the door.
'We need something to pry into the gap here,' he says, indicating the narrow line between the door and the wall.
He's right, of course, but we don't have anything that we could use. Unless … I pat the pockets of my trousers. I had a tiny Swiss knife once; it was a present from Uncle Peter many years ago, and I've got used to carrying it around with me whenever I've remembered, just in case I needed it in a situation when magic was out of the question.
Luck is on my side. I dig the little knife out and offer it to Snape.
He weighs it in his palm for a moment and flips the blade open.
'It should do.'
It looks so small and flimsy, when he inserts it into the gap. I hold my breath, hoping the blade won't break.
He takes infinite care with the knife, sliding it back and forth, trying to find purchase. I follow the movements of his fingers, caressing the door so gently, and shiver.
'Here,' he murmurs.
The gap widens, and Snape flashes a triumphant grin.
I join him, and together, we push and pull on the door. I hope that whoever it was who cast all those protective spells didn't take a sneak attack from the side into account.
With one final heave, the lock mechanism breaks and the door is off.
We were right. Wands are the source of the magic Snape felt.
I fall to my knees in front of the cabinet, taking in the sight before me. I've never seen so many wands – not even at Ollivander's. All he had was boxes. They could have held anything. But this, here, thousands of wands stacked and piled in heaps ... it's a treasure trove of magic.
'Careful,' Snape says when I reach out. 'Wands may be just conduits for magic in their natural state, but these here have been imbued with the magic of their owners, the spells that have been cast with them, and now that they've been here for centuries, letting all that magical energy mix and intertwine ...'
I withdraw my hand. He's got a point.
We peer inside. It's dark in this room and even darker inside the cabinet, but from what I can tell, the wands are labelled. I'd know mine in an instant, of course – vine, 12 inches, dragon heartstring; it's very much like my original wand, just a little longer and even better for charms – but still, it's good to know, somehow, that they haven't just been crammed in here in an anonymous pile.
I wonder if I could Summon my wand now.
Snape's obviously had the same thought as he's crouched down next to me and is trying to nudge me aside. I clear my throat and send him a reproachful look.
'Accio Hermione Granger's wand!' I say clearly, holding out my hand.
I am dizzy with exhaustion, and I really don't know if I have enough left in me to be able to manage even this simplest of wandless spells, but then I spot movement in the heap of wands on the second shelf from the bottom and barely manage to catch the wand as it's shooting straight at me.
I have it. My wand. I hold it and caress it and very nearly kiss it, before I remember it's been lodged between other wands for an eternity. Dirty wands. Wands full of dark magic, even. I shudder and cast the first cleaning spell I can think of on it before it even occurs to me to test it with something simpler.
To my relief, it works, effortlessly at that. I glance to my left and see Snape holding his own wand, a familiar-looking black length of wood. He's devouring it with his eyes.
He pulls a handkerchief out of his pocket and starts cleaning the wand. I'm mesmerised by the way his hand moves – to and fro, firmly and yet gently – as if this is something he's done thousands of times. Which he has, of course.
I blush and avert my eyes. There is something so acutely private about this, the way he's completely focused on his wand, that it feels wrong for me to watch.
'Do you still have the note?' he asks abruptly a few moments later.
'Shacklebolt's note. The one we found in the control room.'
Oh, right. That note.
I take it out of my pocket and unfold it. 'Here.'
Snape takes the note from me. 'Specialis Revelio!' he says, as I shuffle closer. A quick Lumos and the tip of my wand is glowing; at least now we can see well enough to read the words on the parchment.
At first, there is nothing – nothing beyond the apology that was there before. Snape curses and tries some other spells, which I haven't encountered before; he is saying them aloud, probably for my benefit, but the words and the wand movements are unfamiliar to me.
Finally he lets the parchment fall on the floor and sits back with a groan. 'I was so sure there would be more to it,' he says. 'It makes no sense; why should Shacklebolt simply write that he's sorry and leave it at that?'
I shrug, disappointed as well. I'd been thinking along the same lines.
I pick the note up again and look at it carefully. The parchment is old, yellowed and frayed; whatever secrets it's holding, if any at all, must be on the surface.
I don't hold any real hope that it would respond to me, when it didn't to Snape, but to my surprise, words start forming on the parchment.
'It was keyed to you,' Snape says.
'So it would seem.'
I don't know how I feel about that. On the one hand, there's a part of me that delights in this – knowing that Kingsley cared enough – but on the other hand, if I, and only I, was meant to be able to read the note … Well. That can only mean that Kingsley knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that I would be here, among everyone else, on this ship.
We wait until the parchment is covered with inky lines, and then I start reading it aloud.
If you are reading this, I am sorry. I tried to keep this from happening, but one man against them – and they came at night, so fast and unexpected – there was nothing I, or anyone else involved, could do.
Yes, I realise this makes no sense. I cannot go into detail. I'm constantly kept under the XXXXXXXXXX and was forced to XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. Writing as much as I am doing now is all that I can do; it's agony, even if I scratch out the worst, and I can only write this now that you've all been loaded onto the ship.
All I can say is that they, and I don't even know who they are, came from XXXXXXXXXXXX and for some reason, they want wizards and witches. I don't think they intend to harm you; they just want a magical population. They have XXXXXXXXXX but couldn't use it to transport so many people at once; hence the ship.
I'm really sorry. I did what I could to guide the Unspeakables, in the hopes that they would work it out and stop it before it was too late, but my hands were tied.
I've tried to convince the ship's computer to wake you and one other person before you reach your destination. I don't know if that worked, or what use it will be, but if it works, at least two of you won't be caught unawares when you get to XXXXXXXXXX.
I drop the note.
'That's all?' Snape asks.
I shake my head. 'I guess it answers some questions.'
He picks the parchment up and looks at it.
'I don't suppose we can find out what's been blacked out, can we?' I ask.
'I don't think so,' he says. 'But we can make some educated guesses. Such as that he was being held under the Imperius Curse. It's either that or another method of surveillance that he was kept under, but he wouldn't have tried to write "the surveillance" and besides, anything else wouldn't have been a problem for a former top Auror to deal with.'
I nod. 'And he was forced to take a vow – either an Unbreakable Vow or something similar – while under it, just in case he would have managed to throw off the Imperius.'
'Quite. And he must have done, to write this.'
I sigh. 'So now we know that someone came from somewhere and wanted witches and wizards for their own purposes. What do you think that third black bit stands for?'
He re-reads the note. 'The future, maybe? It could be the year, although I doubt it. Too long.'
'Or the name of their planet.'
'Also possible. Either way, I'm more interested in the next one.'
I take the note from him and look at the part he's indicating. 'They have … something. I suppose it could be a mode of transport; something faster than this slow spaceship, but I have a feeling it's something else.'
'Time travel,' I say. 'It has to be, really!'
Snape looks at me and grins. 'If they're from the future, it's the only thing that makes sense. They must have made the ships, and sent their emissaries to our time – with a very advanced Time-Turner or some similar technology—'
'—but while it's good enough for a handful of their agents, it's not enough to transport thousands upon thousands of people back with them,' I finish the sentence for him.
The implications of this make me reel. I have no idea what's waiting for us – I have no idea who they are or what they want with us – but if they have time travel, then …
'We can get back home.'
It takes me a moment to realise the words come from him, not from me.
I doubt they've left Time-Turners floating around here. We have to wait until we reach our destination, and then we can make our move.
The sense of relief makes me dizzy. I grab Snape's hand and pull him up from the floor.
We have a ship to explore, but we also have months for that; for now, we have some trigger-happy maintenance bots to neutralise and a computer to have some serious discussions with. Maybe we can even convince it to wake up some more people, although we need to check our supplies first. I wouldn't want to wake everyone up and then run out of food.
I avoid thinking about how there might not be enough Time-Turners for everyone. I'm sure they can think of something else. And who knows – perhaps we will actually like it there? There will be a whole new world waiting for us, after all.
In the meantime, we have months to fill and nothing to do but wait. But we have each other. The thought makes me all giddy inside.
And we have our wands.
We have hope.
Original Prompt: A variation on the "trapped together" scenario. Wizardingkind leaves Earth (insert reason and mode of space transport here) for a new star and home. The ship's intelligence (AI computer or resident ghost or whatever) wakes two magicals from stasis (Granger and Snape, yes) to solve (insert crisis or problem of choice). Bonus points for free-fall lemons :)
The title of the story has been shamelessly nicked from 2000 Light Years From Home by the Rolling Stones.
A/N: I know the ending is rather, well, open, but that's what this story required. I apologize to anyone who feels disappointed by this; I didn't feel that I could honestly, without resorting to even more contrivances, have our two heroes find out more – Shacklebolt's letter was already something I debated over for quite a while.
I briefly considered a sequel when I finished writing this story in the summer, but real life interfered and my SS/HG muse disappeared, most likely for good, so it's highly unlikely there will be one.