Disclaimer: Everything recognizable from the Harry Potter universe belongs to J.K. Rowling, no infringement is intended to any copyright holder
Hogwarts is thought to be the one safe haven from a direct attack by Voldemort, though Hermione Granger and Professor Snape find that this does not mean the castle is safe. The two must work together when they are thrust into a dark, still world. SS/HG Romance
Chapter 1: Fissures
Hermione moved easily through the maze of students gathering for dinner in the Great Hall, as she made her way to sit at the Gryffindor Table. Her eyes scanned the new and familiar faces engaged in the animated conversations that brought life to Hogwarts.
As she reached her seat across from Ron and Harry, she smiled a light hello to the two, who were currently engaged in a heated debate over the Chudley Cannons' Seeker, Devon Daedalus. The Cannons had placed third in the league this year, largely due to Devon's skill and special "Daedalus Dive"; just when and how to best use this move were of utmost concern to the duo.
"Boys and Quidditch," Hermione sighed, knowing full well it would be impossible to focus their attention on anything else at present.
Within the next few moments, mounds of mashed potatoes, baked chicken, ham, Yorkshire pudding, peas, and carrots appeared on the tables filling her lungs with the most delicious aroma. She pondered how this routine had amazed and excited her after the Sorting Ceremony, as her thoughts drifted to previous events.
This year had started off well enough. It had been only three weeks since the beginning of her seventh year. The weather had been particularly warm and pleasant, and the bright sunshine filtering through Hogwart's windows filled its hallways with a sense of comfort and light contentment.
The seventh year classes were especially challenging. Her teachers wanted to instill the students with as much knowledge as possible in preparation for the NEWTS. Hermione preferred the in-depth study of specific areas within the general Wizarding fields, and seventh year classes provided that in abundance.
Looking around the room, Hermione could easily push aside the growing danger that had reappeared in her fourth year. School was a safe haven for learning, as well as a distraction from the dark times the Wizarding community now faced.
For the first few months after the Triwizard Tournament, the Ministry of Magic, headed by Cornelius Fudge, had adamantly denied Voldemort's resurrection claiming Harry was not in his right mind. The Daily Prophet supported the Ministry's claims by running a series of articles condemning the once adored "Boy Who Lived."
This all ended the Christmas Holiday of their fifth year, when Voldemort began very publicly taking revenge on all who had opposed him.
No one was safe.
Top officials and Aurors suddenly vanished without a trace. Muggle-born witches and wizards, along with their families, were being violently attacked and murdered. The Dark Mark's frightening glow above homes had again become a nightmarish reality for those unlucky enough to be targeted.
Voldemort preferred whole families together when his servants visited leaving no potential enemies to resist him. Hermione found that separation from her family was her best line of defense. As a result, much of her summer vacations was spent with Ron at the Burrow, and she extended her stay at school through winter break.
Hermione knew that temporary separation from her parents was a small price to pay for their safety. Dumbledore had placed protective wards on all the Muggle-born students' homes last summer; nevertheless, she doubted their effectiveness should Voldemort ever become determined.
Hogwarts however, remained the one place that Hermione was free to be at ease.
During Voldemort's first reign, the only wizard he feared was Albus Dumbledore. Hermione took comfort in the knowledge that Voldemort never attacked the school in the 1970's, and was unlikely to attack Hogwarts now, as long as Dumbledore remained.
A waving hand in front of Hermione's face brought her out of her reverie. Hermione lifted her head to look at Ron and Harry staring at her quizzically.
"What's going on that you're not telling us?" Harry questioned in a low voice which would carry no further than to her and Ron.
"What are you talking about?"
"Well, the professors have gone missing, haven't they?," Ron motioned with his eyes towards the High Table, "and your mind is off elsewhere. They'd tell the Head Girl wouldn't they, if something was wrong?"
"Hmm, well I have no clue. It must be something particular to keep Dumbledore and the heads of houses away though." Hermione's voice began to trail off in contemplation.
Hermione caught the edge of anxiety on the boys' faces and reassured, "Really, I'm sure everything is fine. What I'm worried about is our Advanced Potions class. The infusion of wormwood is a very difficult process to begin the year with, and I'm sure it will be mentioned on the NEWTS. I'm going to review Magical Drafts and Potions, and One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi this weekend. If you'd like we could form a study group to thoroughly explore the topic, or I could lend you the books when I'm through with them," a slight curl formed on her lips.
"NEWTS?" Ron coughed out as he choked on his milk. "At least give us time to unpack before bringing up that lot!"
Hermione leaned back giggling at the feigned disgust showing on Ron's face. Rolling her eyes, she glanced quickly at the enchanted ceiling that now burned with color from the setting sun.
A dark image appeared near the edge of a cloud, but quickly glided across the ceiling catching her attention.
"What in the world?" Hermione gasped pointing at the image.
"Don't suppose that's part of the natural sky." Harry replied, his eyes wide with amazement.
The apparition was indeed unnatural. It resembled a shadow, though the deep onyx black was darker than anything Hermione had ever seen. Its depths hid whatever lay within its boundaries. The edges of the square shaped figure were warped in a concave manner, as if fighting to remain open.
Just as quickly as it had appeared, the edges collapsed upon themselves leaving no trace of its existence.
The trio's musings were soon interrupted by the entrance of two of their missing professors.
Dumbledore entered the Great Hall from a plain door near the High Table. He made his way to the center of the table followed closely by an obviously tense McGonagall.
Professor McGonagall whispered something to the remaining teachers and quietly led them through the door from which she had entered.
Hermione decided something must be very wrong.
Standing behind his seat at the High Table, Hermione saw that the twinkle in the headmaster's bright blue eyes was now replaced by determination and concern. Dumbledore held his arms out wide signaling an announcement. He began once the room fell silent.
"Ahem," clearing his throat, Dumbledore looked soberly around the room. "A concern has arisen that requires the faculty and staff's attention. I must ask that the students return to their House Common Rooms for the remainder of the evening. Prefects, you will please escort your housemates back to your common rooms. Send word of any disturbances or unusual occurrences with your house ghost."
With that short and intentionally vague statement, Dumbledore motioned to the prefects, who moved to the ends of their house tables leading the students out of the Great Hall in four orderly lines.
As Head Girl, Hermione stood by the portrait of The Fat Lady waiting for her housemates to walk through. By the time Hermione entered with the last of the first years, the Gryffindor Common Room was disorganized commotion at its worst. The confused students began spreading wild tales becoming louder and more excitable with each new story.
"Quiet!" Hermione commanded shooting red sparks toward the ceiling. In stunned silence, the students turned to face her, fear emanating from their bodies.
Calmly, Hermione began, "Yes, well that's better. Now, before we go off half-cocked mad at the most preposterous claims, let's focus on the facts." She paused giving the students a hard glare, "Several things are obvious. For whatever reason, this is the safest place to be right now. We will not help solve the problem any faster by making ridiculous assumptions or spreading unverified gossip. Go to your dormitories immediately and remain calm. If anyone gives me reason to send for Professor McGonagall, I can assure you that the student responsible will be punished to the fullest extent possible!"
The students looked sheepishly at one another before slowly heading to their rooms. Several voices muttered words that sounded vaguely like, "this stinks" and "unfair" on the way up the winding stairs.
Seamus Finnigan, followed by Harry and Ron, moved next to Hermione with a worried look in his searching eyes. He spoke more calmly than he looked. "My sister Lizzy and Emma Bell are missing. The other first years said that the girls left dinner soon after they arrived to retrieve Emma's pet ferret from their History of Magic classroom."
First years were the least experienced, and therefore were in the most danger from whatever was threatening Hogwarts. The sooner the girls were found and brought back to the common room, the better.
"Right then, I'll be back." Turning to leave, Hermione added, "Watch the portrait hole, and make sure no one, visible or otherwise, attempts to leave the area." Her statement was directed at Seamus, but she raised her eyebrows at Harry and Ron before starting off.
Ron plainly did not want her to go when he coaxed, "Why don't you just send Nearly Headless Nick to fetch the girls?"
"I'll only be gone ten minutes at the most." Remembering the black apparition at dinner she continued, "Besides, we might very well need to send Sir Nicholas for help in case anything strange happens." With that settled, Hermione headed to Professor Binn's classroom.
A group of hooded monks, from a large painting that hung ceiling to floor, gave Hermione ominous glares as she walked quickly through the deserted corridors.
She felt distinctly uncomfortable.
The hallways were never this empty and quiet so early in the evening. The only sounds she heard were the gentle swishing of her robes and the light clicking her shoes made whenever they came in contact with the stone floor. Torches on the walls dimly lit the halls creating shadows that danced and played with the senses.
She rounded the corner to make her way down to the center staircase when she became aware that something of definite substance moved on the wall next to her. A strange tingle ran through her body, as she jumped back a bit facing the wall. Her eyes ran searchingly up and down the area on the wall where the movement had occurred. She soon realized that a strange creature--if it was indeed alive--was gliding like a centipede up the side of the wall.
The first thought that entered Hermione's mind was that the thing resembled a small glass brain. A network of tendrils intertwined and moved among themselves becoming infinitely changeable. As it moved up the wall, its translucent skin mimicked the stone wall and tapestry, camouflaging its existence. As it disappeared from sight, Hermione became very aware that she had certainly never read or heard of anything similar to this thing.
From behind her, black robes approached silently.
"Miss Granger" Snape commanded in a low, but dangerous voice, "Explain your presence."
Hermione started with a small cry at his sudden appearance. Her attention, now focused up at the very cold glare of her professor, allowed a tiny pin-sized void to grow larger, unnoticed within the shadows of the tapestry.
"You have been crossing lines for far too long, certainly a Head Girl..."
"There was something here sir," Hermione gasped, finally gathering her wits, "I'm not sure what it was, but...
"Where precisely?" Snape's voice was barely audible as he drew closer eyeing the wall; his wand pointed out defensively.
The concave edges of this dark void did not readily collapse upon themselves as they had in the Great Hall. Rather, the edges grew, instantaneously lunging forward and engulfing the student and teacher in blackened emptiness.
Hermione screamed, but the sound that came forth was a muffled whine. She felt like she was falling, tumbling, being pushed and pulled until her feet unexpectedly came in contact with the floor. Her legs buckled under her causing her to fall forward and her head to slam against something hard.