A/N: As explained at the end of this Chapter, the old Chapter 4 has been replaced.
A big thank you to Shorty 653, xSeverusCrookshanksx, Russian Flower, liidg, ellebell6, WannabeWolfe and sjrodgers 108 for their kind reviews and motivation! Hope you enjoy this next chapter...
Hermione stumbled out of the fireplace, pushing herself away from Snape as forcefully as she could. His arms still hovered in the air from where he had tried to steady her on their landing.
"Miss Granger -" he began, his voice measured.
"Don't you dare!", she cut him off, spinning around to face him. "Don't come any closer!", she warned as Snape made a move to approach her. The emotion that was plain to see on her face stopped Snape momentarily, but after a short pause he moved forward again.
"I said don't come any closer!" Hermione yelled at him, tears starting to fall down her face. At Snape's slow advance, she tried desperately to back away from him, until her buttocks hit a solid object which caused her to stop sharp. Panic filled her eyes as she flattened her palms against whatever it was behind her, trying to twist her head to take stock of her surrounding, but feeling utterly panicked to let him out of her sight for even a brief moment.
She was there, in that room again, left trapped between a wall and him. She could not escape, not do anything.
Still Snape moved forward. His wand was away and he made clear to show her that he was unarmed by turning his palms towards her. Finally he stood no more than an arms length away from where she cowered like a frightened animal against a high wooden bookshelf. "Miss Granger, ple-".
"I SAID DON'T TOUCH ME!". She was screaming now, almost hysterical as she tried in vain to push herself backwards further, as if the smooth mahogany would somehow give way and absorb her into it. With no warning though she changed course, spotting an opportunity at escape and launched herself at the small gap between herself and Snape. His arm immediately sprung out and caught her around the waist, pulling her sharply backwards.
Although she had been beaten, tortured and raped, Hermione felt her strength come back, adrenalin coursing through her muscles like a dagger. She twisted and struggled in his grasp, her hands trying to push away his arm from where he held her in an iron grip. With no use, she tried to hit out at him, although her back was to him and her limbs flailed madly in their hysteria and panic.
Snape's free arm was suddenly around her, catching hold of both of her wrists and stopping her repeated attempts at attack. Hermione groaned in sheer terror as she felt herself embraced by the unmoving arms of the monster but still she tried to struggle against him. Struggle was better that nothing.
"Miss Granger, if your actions continue in this way you will end up hurting both of us", Snape warned, his voice low and dangerous. At first it had seemed as though Hermione had listened, and she became still momentarily, before aiming a sharp bite at his hand. Snape saw it coming and moved his grip lower so that she could not reach him, but his patience finally seemed to snap.
"I warned you", he growled, and started to drag her over to the other side of the room. Yanking open an iron clad door he pulled her into what looked like a small alcove, which actually widened at one end and turned into a small room with large black granite slabs running along its length. Gripping her wrists in one of his hands, he rapidly began to search in a large chest for something. His fingers finally closed around a small glass vial, filled with a clear liquid.
He unstoppered it with his free hand, bringing it to Hermione's lips, but she squeezed them tightly shut, thrashing her head from side to side. If he let go of her arms to force the potion down her throat, she would surely try something stupid and end up hurting herself, Snape thought to himself.
"Open your mouth", he commanded her, but her lips remained firmly locked, and she had squeezed her eyes together for good measure too. "I said, open!", he shouted at her, unused to being disobeyed, but still he received no compliance. Snape snarled, slamming down the vial on the counter so that the liquid inside sloshed around, and gripped Hermione's jaw with one hand, his long fingers pressing hard into her cheeks. Hermione whimpered in pain but firmly clenched her teeth. She knew pain now. She knew that it was not merely physical, no, that she could endure now. They had tortured her, but she had kept her information secretly guarded, and knowing that she could do it, gave her the strength to resist the pain now. He was trying to poison her, she knew it. That, or he was going to feed her veritaserum, and she would never be able to stop the spill of secrets from her lips them. If Voldemort found out what they were hunting, the war would be lost before it had even properly begun.
She could feel Snape's fingers loosening their grip, and she gave herself the satisfaction of knowing that she had beaten him at his own tortuous game. In a split second though he had moved his hand away, driving it directly into her bruised abdomen. She could not help it as her mouth flew open, and Snape took the opportunity to pour the liquid down her throat, slamming the empty vial back down onto a work surface and pulling her out of the strange potions room.
This is it, Hermione thought. Cho had told her what veritaserum felt like, as if all her guarded secrets merely felt irrelevant and ready to tumble off her tongue at the slightest provocation. Hermione tried to build up even higher walls around her secrets, the fight gone from her body as she concentrated purely on focusing her strength to ward her mind. But her walls did not break, did not even waver slightly. Perhaps this wasn't a truth potion after all.
Suddenly Hermione felt tiredness clamp down on her like an iron blanket. The adrenalin that had just minutes ago coursed through her body was leaving her system and she felt herself weaken and her muscles become stiff and heavy with fatigue. She could feel her eyes dropping, and was vaguely aware of being led somewhere. Her eyes shut and she felt a dark shadow of blackness come over her.
"Come in Severus", Dumbledore called from behind the thick wooden door to his office, before Snape had even had a chance to reach it.
With a resounding bang the door was thrown against the wall and the tall dark form of Severus Snape stalked in. His hair was tussled and sticking out in strange directions, as if if he had been constantly running his fingers through it and his black eyes seemed agonised. His skin was even paler than normal and as he slumped into the chair before Dumbledore's desk he let his head fall into his hands.
"Severus, my dear boy, what is-"
"Don't!" Snape spat out, his eyes flashing angrily towards the man in front of his before letting his head rest back into his hands. "Don't call me that".
Dumbledore nodded briefly and eyed Snape from behind his half-moon glasses, although his blue eyes remained kind and patient. After a short while Snape spoke, his words muffled from where he spoke into his hands.
"I - I was called tonight..." he began.
"I am aware Severus. Am I to take it that we have reason to fear some impending plan of the Dark Lord?" asked Dumbledore, his voice betraying nothing.
Snape leaned back in his chair and ran his long fingers through his hair.
"Albus, he made me - he made me...violate, a young woman...a child"
Dumbledore frowned slightly and stroked his long beard. "Severus, this is not the first time though. This is nothing new".
Immediately Snape launched forward off the chair, his fists landing heavily on the wooden desk and his eyes glaring dangerously into Dumbledore's, although the older man did not flinch.
"That is not the point" Snape hissed vehemently, before a tired shadow passed over his face and he turned away. "It was one of our own. One of the students".
"I see", said Dumbledore who suddenly looked like the old man he truly was. He took off his glasses and rubbed them in the folds of his purple robes before placing them back on his long nose. "The boundaries show no trace of having been breached. Am I therefore to assume that the student that you speak of has not yet returned to Hogwarts for the new school term?"
Snape's voice faltered slightly. "Yes Albus, that is correct".
There was a short silence before Dumbledore quietly asked Snape the question he had been dreading. "And where is Miss Granger now?"
"I- I did not know what to do", said Snape, resting heavily on the stone wall that allowed him to look out at the moonlit school grounds. "I brought her back here"
"They caught the girl alone. Potter and Weasley were no where to be seen" said Snape, disgust all too evident on his face. Dumbledore was silent for a short while, seemingly lost in thought before he turned his blue eyes towards Snape.
"Is she hurt?"
Snape sighed. "She was when I arrived, but I saw to it that she was healed, although -"
"Yes Severus," Dumbledore gently probed when the words ran dry from Snape's voice.
"I fear the emotional trauma of her ordeal may have dire consequences. One does not need to be physically weakened to be broken. I fear that she may be a danger to herself at the current time", Snape explained as he rested his forearm onto the wall above him and rested his forehead onto it.
"I am sure there is nothing more you could have done", the older man gently tried to comfort but Snape only groaned.
"You do not understand old man" said Snape, finally turning around to face him. "The Dark Lord- there was a reason he did not kill her. He wants Potter and he wants him now. He becomes more restless the longer the search goes on".
"And he believes that the girl will help him to find Potter?" Snape nodded. "But how?"
"Oh my", Dumbledore muttered quietly to himself. "So we must let her go and then welcome her back?"
"Yes Albus, that is correct"
Suddenly the door was thrown open once again and in the doorway stood a woman whose emerald green robes swished around her feet as she walked forward. Snape said nothing but Dumbledore gave a small smile to the woman as she moved angrily forwards, her expression furious.
"Minerva, how nice of you to join us"
"What is the meaning of this Albus?" Minerva McGonagall gestured wildly around her. "Explain. Now".
"You have been eavesdropping woman?", Snape snarled at her but Dumbledore raised a hand to silence both Snape and McGonagall who looked ready to launch some insult at the black-clad man before her.
"How much did you hear Minerva?" said Dumbledore.
"Enough", said McGonagall and the anger seemed to disappear from her face to be replaced with a grave look of concern.
"The spell...Sapiunt Ligaveris, I have heard of it before although I profess to be no expert", she twisted in her seat to face Snape. "If we do not let her go, she will be safe yes?" Snape said nothing but Dumbledore answered for him.
"If we do not let her go then the Dark Lord will suspect something. If we do not let her go, then Severus will die. The war will be lost".
McGonogall reached up and took her black pointed witches hat from her head and smoothed down her already perfect bun. "And if we let her go and she does not come back?"
"Then she will die", Snape finally spoke, his voice gravely.
McGonogall's had flew to cover her mouth. "Albus, we cannot allow this. Surely there is something that we can do?"
"I am afraid not. But Minerva, surely you realise there is no other way? If we do not let her go, then our best spy is gone and we will surely loose the war. And if we let her go, then if Severus is able to make contact with her again, then the Dark Lord will know of Harry's whereabout and the war will still be lost". Dumbledore signed. "Miss Granger is sadly colla-"
McGonogall launched from her seat, her expression flushed. "DON'T YOU DARE. Don't you dare call my best student collateral damage Albus" she shrieked.
The room was silent and neither of its three occupants could say anything more. Finally Dumbledore spoke. "The choice is yours Severus. I trust your judgement. Do what you think is best".
Snape nodded, unable to say anything. With Dumbledore eyeing him with sad and pitiful eyes, and McGonagall glaring at him with a venom reserved for the worst of her enemies, Snape pulled open the door to the office and left.
Hermione's eyes opened heavily. The world before her was blurry and she raised the heel of her palm to rub away the sleep from her eyes. For a couple of seconds she was in a blissful ignorance of her surroundings but then they hit her with the force of a brick wall.
Immediately Hermione pushed herself upwards but felt her legs buckle underneath her and her head swim uneasily. With a muffled thud her knees hit the cold stone floor and she felt a sharp stab of pain travel up her femur and into her gut.
"Shit", she groaned to herself, desperately trying to stop her head from spinning so that she could make sure that she was alone. Finally it did so, and she managed to pull herself off the floor with what felt like a great effort and stumble back onto the sofa.
Hermione looked around her. She was in what looked like a modest sized reception room. The walls and floors were both stone but the room was still warm from a fire that was down to its last glowing embers in the hearth. Hermione could see no windows but realised that even if there had been, they would have been blocked by the huge bookshelves which ran the length three of the walls, filled with large tomes and small volumes, old and new, red, blue, green, black. It was then that she recognised the familiar scent of old leather and parchment.
Around the mantle was arranged a large sofa, on which Hermione now sat, and an old high backed armchair. There was a book open on one of its arms, its spine facing up. Curiosity overcame her and with deliberate slowness she rose and walked over. The book was small and obviously very old and as she peered down to try and read the faded silver writing across its spine a small pop of the fire startled her and she jumped backwards.
Suddenly Hermione felt too exposed standing in the middle of the open space. Her eyes quickly scanned the room again, checking for any sign of life. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw none, but felt her breaching hitch in her throat as her eyes wandered over the iron clad door towards one side of the room. The potions lab.
She could not tell you how she knew for certain, but certain she was, that these were Severus Snape's quarters. Hermione shivered and wrapped her arms tightly around herself, suddenly feeling cold. Snape wasn't there, but Hermione dreaded his return. What would she say to him? Could she say anything? Thinking about him caused a rush of panic and nausea, and for a moment Hermione though that she might vomit. Last week she would have trusted her potions master with her life, now she could not even imagine trusting him with her homework.
The logical part of her brain sparked to life as she realised though that if these were indeed Snape's quarters, that either he lived in a dungeon whilst he was not at the castle, or they were, in fact, at Hogwarts. And that meant that she was somehow safe. Surely Snape could not keep her locked down here like some animal, some slave, forever? Why he had brought her here?
Hermione pondered over the question for a few moments but could find no answer. No more so because part of her brain was shouting at her that now was her only chance at escape. Hermione could see another four doors leading away from the room than the one that led to the potions room. The others seemed lighter except for one which was also iron clad and which had what looked like an ordinary lock at one side. The exit.
Ignoring the rumble of her belly when she thought to herself that she must be somewhere near to the kitchens, her being in the dungeons and all, she made her way over to the door. Touching nothing she inspected the lock closely. It seemed normal enough, but too decidedly muggle. Gently Hermione blew a puff of breath at it, and staggered backwards in surprise when two rows of small gleaming metal teeth formed along its ridge. Hermione gulped. How was she supposed to leave?
Reaching into her back pocket she again felt lost to find her fingers missing the smooth rosewood of her wand. She grimaced but turned her attention back the door.
"Damn it!" she yelled as her bruised knees bumped into a low wooden table as she moved forward to focus on the door. Looking down she jumped slightly when she saw a small paper parcel tied with string sat on the table. What made her jump was not the parcel itself though, but the fact that her name was written on there in the familiar calligraphy of none other than Snape himself.
Hermione gulped wondering whether this was a trap, but seeing as she could see no other alternative, and the parcel was addressed to her after all, she tentatively picked it up.
It was light in her hands and Hermione could hear something rolling inside it as she tilted it to one side. With a pull the string fell away and Hermione deftly pulled back the brown wrapping. A small white box appeared and a piece of parchment fluttered to the floor as it was revealed. Hermione bent down and picked it up, opening it slowly, afraid for what she might find.
The paper was thick and her hands trembled slightly as she once more recognised the script of her potions master, looping across the page in a thin but elegant hand. Taking a deep breath she started to read.
The written prose offers no substitute for the spoken word. As such, the information I profess to offer you here is as follows:
Please find your wand in the enclosed package. Also find another instrument in the aforementioned package. It will lead you.
The door to this room is unlocked. I trust you will have no problem navigating the hallways. Apparation will be possible past the front gates and this is something which I strongly advise you to complete immediately once past the castle wards.
There will come a time when only one solution will suffice. I am sure it can be found by yourself, but whether you wish to accept it is for your judgement alone.
Hermione's brows knitted and she read through the parchment again. Lead where? She thought to herself. And what solution? What time?
Hermione had half a mind to rip up the parchment and throw it into the dying fire, but she refrained, and relaxed her grip from where she twisted the paper, ready to tear it in half. Sighing, she tucked it into her jean pocket instead.
Pulling open the small box in her hand, she could not help as a small smile appeared on her face as she felt her wand back beneath her fingers. It felt warm to the touch and the warmth seemed to spread through her fingers and run along her arms to hug at her chest. It was as if a piece of her that had been missing had been returned.
Next Hermione pulled out a silvery-black oblong tube. Along its side were intricate carvings and strange knobs. Hermione looked at the thing which sat snuggly in her hand. She had never seen, nor heard of any such a device. It was heavy in her hands as she turned it over. Towards the top there was a catch and Hermione pressed down on it. Immediately the top flipped open, to reveal what looked like an ordinary cigarette lighter. She scoffed to herself. How did Snape think that this would lead her anywhere? Lead me, what, to an early grave from lung cancer? How thoughtful, she hissed sarcastically to herself. Taking her hand off the catch she pushed it deep into another jean pocket.
Could it be a trap? She thought to herself once again as she extended her hand cautiously towards the door. Surely the door could not simply be unlocked. Remembering the teeth which had formed around the lock Hermione pulled her hand away but shook herself. This is the way out, to safety, she repeated in her head. Making up her mind Hermione placed her hand onto the door handle and pulled, in one quick go. The door creaked open and nothing more happened. She breathed a sigh of relief and stepped forward into the darkened stone passageway, candles flickering to life as she advanced forward.
The sight of another door in front of her made her quicken her pace. As she reached it, she felt her magic twitch as she passed through some hidden enchantment. With a quickening heart rate she pushed open the door to find herself in the potions storeroom. Nothing had changed in the small space from her last visit here in sixth year, but something felt different. She felt different. Too much had changed now.
Checking around the corner of the room she found that the classroom was empty, although her stomach still flipped at the sight of the raised platform on which Snape usually peered down at his in classes.
Wrenching her eyes away from the ghost of Snape which lingered in her mind, she hurried to the classroom door and stepped out. At that moment a fourth year Slytherin walked past and Hermione immediately pulled back against the wall. She hadn't thought of other students noticing her, recognising her. Her eyes were wide and startled as she watched the Slytherin walk away, having paid no heed to her whatsoever.
Hermione let out a sigh of relief and carried on up the corridor and to the stairs, encountering no one on her way. At the top she paused and stole a glance around the corner. About two dozen students were milling around the entrance hall, chatting together in groups of two or three, slowly migrating into the grand hall when a final member would join them. Hermione realised that it was dinner time, and her thoughts were confirmed when her nose picked up on the glorious scent that filled the room, making her famished stomach rumble. She placed a hand across it, looking down to tell it to shut up in case anyone had heard her.
Looking back up she stopped breathing when she noticed Neville Longbottom walking nervously towards her. He looked back over his shoulder when someone called his name. "Have to drop this off to Professor Snape's office", he called back, waving a piece of parchment at them. He was only centimetres away from Hermione and as he reached the top step his eyes locked with Hermione.
"Neville", Hermione whispered, trying desperately to think of a way to explain herself, when Neville looked away again and began to make his way down the twisting staircase. "Neville?" Hermione called slightly louder, confused. Still he did not turn around. "Neville, it's me, Hermione" she said, running down the stairs to catch up with him and placing a hand on his shoulder. But Neville continued on his way, silently muttering encouragement to himself at the thought of facing the formidable professor.
With a start Hermione remembered the enchantment she had passed through. It wasn't to keep people out, she thought to herself, it was a disillusionment charm. But why? Why would Snape want to keep me from being seen? But she was too pre-occupied to answer her own question, and made her way back to the top of the stairs, walking unnoticed past her fellow students and silently slipping out of the entrance to the castle.
The grounds were dark although there were stars in the sky and the moon was new and bright. As the front gates grew closer Hermione suddenly realised that she had no where to go, no way of finding Harry and Ron again. The thought seemed to crumble all her strength away and she felt her lip tremble at the thought of being so impossibly alone.
Instinctively Hermione went to reach for her wand but found the silver cigarette lighter. Pulling it out Hermione flicked open the catch again. Somehow she knew though that this thing was important. It will lead you he had said.
With a deft movement of her thumb, she pushed down on the catch, expecting to see the familiar orange flame, but instead a small round ball of white light appeared, bobbing like a bubble before finally detaching itself and hovering in the air before Hermione. Instinctively Hermione reached out to touch it, but her fingers met nothing solid, only a comforting warmth and a strange feeling that everything might be alright after all.
The ball hovered patiently, as if it was waiting for Hermione to explore it adequately, before it started to move towards her. With a gasp it entered Hermione's chest and the feeling and warmth intensified.
Suddenly Hermione knew where to go. It was not a place exactly, but a feeling that wherever she landed, would be right. Placing the instrument back into her pocket she walked forward and opened the front gates. Taking a deep breath she concentrated her mind on no particular place, but with the knowledge and certainty that told her where to go.
A twisting sensation tugged at her core and there was small pop as Hermione apparated into the night.
Sorry all for the long hiatus...finals and all! For anyone with a story alert on this story, you may have noticed that the old chapter 4 has been taken down and this new one placed in its stead. I really felt like writing the last one, but it was completely irrelevant to the story and so it is now gone!
Please review :)