A/N: Hello, everyone! I'm back with a brandspankin' new SSHG tale, and this one's a departure from what I normally write. I've taken myself out of my comfort zone for this, and, thus, it's been quite a long, painstaking process to write (and will likely continue to be in the months ahead.)
Warning: This is a "dark fic," so M-rated material abounds (i.e. violence, smut, etc.). Ye be warned. I will, of course, provide specific chapter warnings whenever I think it's necessary.
Important Note About Updates: I will likely not be sticking to my usual posting-multiple-times-per-week schedule. However, any readers already familiar with my work will know that I NEVER abandon WIPs, so, even if it takes me longer than usual to update, rest assured that updates will come.
Please let me know your thoughts as you read! I'd love to hear from you! Without your thoughts, it isn't worth sharing.
Many thanks to my wonderful beta, Brittny! Of course, I'm prone to changing, adding and switching things around after getting betaed chapters back from her, so any remaining errors are mine and will get corrected as time permits. Accompanying artwork to this story should be credited to the talented Maria.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter is copyrighted to and belongs to JK Rowling. I'm just playing in her sandbox and own none of her associated characters. No money, just fun.
Unto Their Own
"He came unto his own, and his own received him not."
- John 1:11
Chapter 1: Escaping the Past
Hermione attempted to disappear into her book for the good part of an hour but kept finding her eyes darting around her purposely dimly lit room, her mind too on edge to get engrossed in her reading material. It certainly didn't echo how she used to get lost in the pages of a book, swept away by the enticing storyline and characters.
'Used to'... More like 'in another life time...'
Hermione's tethered nerves were hardly a surprise. She had been on the run for nearly a year—nine months and seventeen days, to be exact—and, at times like these, when night had fallen and the world had gone dark and eerily quiet, her highly-charged anxieties came out to play.
And yet, her heightened senses were what had kept her alive this long, so it all seemed highly appropriate: to be awake at three in the morning, to have gotten very little sleep, to toss and turn in the night and moan like a wounded animal for a past long gone. Being isolated and alone during the past nine and a half months, without any communication from the outside world—or the place she had once called home—hadn't eased her restless nights, but at least, as she so often reminded herself, she was still sane.
For the moment.
Hermione often wondered when she would go mad. It was only a matter of time, surely? That was the normal transition of things; the mind would eventually grow too fragile and delicate being cut off from any human interaction, to the point that it would finally snap and succumb to insanity. It was always the unfortunates, as Hermione came to understand them, the ones haunted by the past who cracked. In her case, she had become one of the hunted, thereby forced to be on her guard night and day without much rest or proper nourishment to keep a clear head.
The deterioration of the mind was developing into an obsession of Hermione's in recent months. Perhaps it was the paranoia of going mad that kept her engaged in independent research, or forced her to get swept up in a Muggle mystery novel to give her mind a break. Such novels normally centered around a combative female being chased to the ends of the earth by assassins, though the heroine always managed to outsmart her enemies in the end.
Why do you even read these wretched stories? Hermione privately chided herself, her jaw clenched and her shoulders tense. They only make your anxieties worse, you know...
Hermione already understood why, though: she turned to such finger-biting storylines to remind herself of her own predicament, finding unusual comfort in the main female characters' dire situations, as they so often resembled the bright witch's own miserable plight. She felt less alone when cooped up with what she had deemed "Hermione's heroines"—strong, capable women who, by way of mere words, could inspire her not to give in to what in all likelihood was to be her fate, to not turn herself into Ministry officials or yield to the darker forces that had conquered her world not even a full year ago, taking some of her closest friends with them, both into darkness but also unto death.
Hermione shuddered at the flash of faces that danced before her eyes. She tried not to think on them whenever possible. She tried her damnedest not to reflect on those early, terribly wrought days following the Fall of the Light. The night Lord Voldemort snatched the Wizarding world into his grasp to rule with an iron fist was the night Hermione's entire life had changed. It altered drastically for all who hadn't fought for the Darkness.
Ironic that you should end up here, all the same, came a late night pondering that made Hermione snort into the otherwise silent room.
Truth be told, Hermione missed England terribly. More than that, she missed the Wizarding world that she felt such a kinship to, much more than the Muggle world in which she had grown up. Even now that circumstances had changed and her kind were no longer tolerated, nothing more than slaves with numbers and no names or fraction of a life to call their own, she still felt a deeply-embedded attachment to the magical world that had both given and taken away her freedom simultaneously. Her Hogwarts letter, received at the tender age of eleven, had been a carefully crafted message of acceptance; her seventh year had stolen that acceptance away like a thief in the night, replacing it with a number and a status lower than the Muggle class from which she had been born.
Once they catch you, that is...
Although she no longer held any connections to the Muggle world—her parents were dead and she certainly wasn't getting chummy with anyone else since rejoining her former lifestyle—it was exactly the Muggle world that, for the moment, offered Hermione refuge. For how long, however, remained uncertain. She couldn't afford to speak to anyone, which was how books had, once again, become her only source of connection. She was too much of a liability as it was, and there remained the fearful possibility that whomever she came in contact with might wind up dead, all in the pursuit of her. Hermione couldn't take such a risk, allowing some kind stranger to be tortured or killed on her behalf, and the guilt of bringing anyone else harm by mere association was enough to keep a safe distance.
Everywhere the witch went, human contact seemed to threaten her repeated attempts at a solitary existence. There had been that good-looking chap at that small, tucked away cafe in the heart of Paris, that sweet-tempered, pleasant-sounding Muggle girl, only a year or two younger than Hermione, who had struck up a conversation with her on a train ride to Munich, and then, of course, the strapping neighbor down the hall from Hermione's current residence who routinely offered a "hello" every morning when their paths crossed. Hermione would barely manage a smile in return—Stay away! her mind warned each and every time—but the shaggy-haired, blue-eyed bloke still greeted her with warmth, to what end she couldn't account for, but Hermione was grateful for the small dose of friendliness his smile provided every morning.
The cards falling where they had, Hermione was, naturally, starving for some level of human interaction. It left her emotionally void and numb most days, though a dull ache still lingered somewhere in the middle of her chest, particularly at night when she felt most alone. She recalled in intimate detail the very last conversation she had had before turning her back on the Wizarding world, though it wasn't until she slept and delved deep into her regurgitating nightmares that she was able to relive it to its full glory...or heartache, rather. Only then could she recall that last exchange in its miserable entirety.
It was one of the many reasons Hermione had come to loathe sleep, and, thus, little wonder that she had turned into a steadfast insomniac. Sleeping meant dreaming, which perpetuated the nightmares, the night sweats, and the ever-pending cries of distress. She would then awaken, breathing rapidly and staring into the darkness at nothing but the unsettling shadows that surrounded her flat, dissolving into the corners of her room and leaving her empty and racked with despair.
Awake, Hermione didn't fare much better. Her entire body ached for sleep most days, and it took a considerable amount of coffee to keep her alert and on her guard. Even at her most exhausted, her mind had trouble switching off. And then, of course, there was the painful reality that she had no one to confide in, no one who noticed or cared for her well-being. She, alone, was all she had.
It was odd for Hermione to not find solitude easier to stomach considering how much of her childhood had been spent entertaining herself. With the exception of her doting parents, Hermione had had very few friends before Harry and Ron. These days, she could only read so many books, disappear into so many other worlds, and only get so immersed into someone else's frame of mind before reality sunk in like a ton of bricks. Sometimes, Hermione was convinced that her loneliness mixed with her daily quietude would suffocate her.
But you're stronger than this, Hermione, her fighting conscience would penetrate through during these moments of panic and weakness. This is your new life. And it beats where you could be right now, so bugger off!
Aggravated with her latest book—or was it her latest bout of reflections?—Hermione tossed the paperback onto the empty side of her bed. She glanced over at the clock on her night table, realizing she had eyed it only some fifteen minutes before. Then her stomach growled, piercing the silence with a low grumble.
"Oh, right; haven't eaten," she spoke aloud, something she often did out of comfort and regularity.
Hermione reluctantly climbed out of the warmth of her bed but not before checking the drawer of her bedside table. Yes, it's still there. She breathed a sigh of relief at seeing her wand exactly where she always kept it: within arm's reach. Not that she would have any use for it, unless, of course, they came for her. She hadn't touched it in nearly nine months.
Stretching as she rose from the bed, Hermione let out a weary yawn and dragged her feet to a small, yellow-colored kitchenette off of the hallway that led from her bedroom. Her flat wasn't much to the decorative eye, and she refused to pay more than a month to month rent contract, seeing as she was never certain when she would have to uproot her life again, but the current state of this latest dwelling would do for the time being. It was small, uncluttered, and, most importantly, quiet, allowing Hermione to hear every noise and bother surrounding her, whether it be the elderly couple directly above that startled her nearly every morning with their shouting matches or the eager, young lass next door whose headboard repeatedly pounded against Hermione's paper-thin bedroom wall.
Of course, there were no sounds to be heard tonight other than the occasional revving of an engine or a dog barking. Hermione took in a slow breath as she trekked to the sole window in the kitchen, the only source of light on that side of the flat, to crack it open halfway, her ears soaking up the sounds of the night, of other insomniacs like her. In this part of town, known as the Rossebuurt of Amsterdam, catcalls, a provocative whistle, or men tromping home from a "fun-filled" evening trickled up to her apartment. Rossebuurt was not only her current hideaway, but, so far, it was also proving to be her longest stay.
Hermione absentmindedly turned away from the window, finding nothing outside on the abandoned street below to occupy her thoughts, to turn on the kettle. Black tea would do. She already knew she would be fortunate to get three or so hours of rest at this point. She sighed and focused her eyes on the kettle, waiting for the whistle to sound to tell her that the tea was done.
How long had she been here exactly? Hard to remember at three o'clock in the morning. She had only made her way back to Europe—reluctantly—after spending six months in North America, trudging cross country and never staying in one area for more than a few weeks at a time. Those first weeks spent outside of England were terrifying. Sadly, there was to be no sightseeing on her first trip across the pond, an excursion she had always imagined taking with her late parents. It was something the Grangers had often lively jabbered on about when Hermione was home on summer hols, and experiencing it without them had been a painful reminder.
Hermione could barely keep track of all the cities she had stayed in. What was the point, really? She was running away—Always running away...—and they wouldn't stop hunting her. Never. She had managed to outsmart the few she had encountered, but only just, and even Hermione wasn't conceited enough to chalk her escapes up to skill, but rather to strokes of luck. She was reminded in that moment of how she had managed to financially cross oceans, and a grim thought came to her that made her shoulders go rigid.
Draco... I wonder how he's faring these days...
The kettle screeched, prompting Hermione's mind back to the mundane task of setting her tea the way she liked. Her stomach moaned a second time, reminding her of what she had really come into the kitchen for in the middle of the night. Rolling her eyes, Hermione opened the fridge in search of a late night snack. She had bought fresh fruit earlier that day and decided now was as good a time as any to peel an orange and be done with her nagging stomach's need for nourishment.
As her tired eyes closed in on her snack of choice, a soft meow greeted her bare feet. Hermione peered down to find the silhouette of a fluffy, white and black-spotted kitten pawing at her light pajama bottoms.
"Hi, Moo," she greeted softly, smiling down at the feline, who responded with another mewl that echoed of hunger. "In need of a snack, too?"
Hermione had discovered the kitten atop a series of trash bins outside of her apartment complex days before, scrounging for scraps under a pounding rain that would have surely drowned the poor thing if she hadn't come to its rescue. It was comforting having the kitten around for company. Hermione hadn't considered getting a cat again after the disappearance of her dear Crookshanks, and wouldn't have under such circumstances, only, catching sight of the fragile kitten on her way home reminded Hermione of her dear half-Keazle, whose whereabouts to this day remained unknown. In all likelihood, the cat was dead, but Hermione wasn't ready to concede to that agonizing probability just yet; or perhaps her already tenuous mind was shielding itself from the pain, from another death in her life, from another confirmation that she truly was all alone in the world.
"You hungry, Moo?" Hermione inquired, patting the kitten's head and scooping him up into her arms.
The kitten snuggled his whiskers against her cheek before catching sight of a few bouncy curls worth seizing. Hermione giggled as Moo pawed and gnawed on her unruly hair, taking what small comfort could be found in the feline's endearing antics. She picked up his bowl and filled it with milk, which she then heated in a microwave.
Not using magic for everyday practices was still difficult for the witch to master, even now, but she forced herself into living the Muggle lifestyle as much as possible. Using her magic could jeopardize everything, and the Dark Lord's minions were always watching, always on the lookout; to Hermione, it wasn't worth the ultimate price she might pay.
If it's even still in you anymore...
Heaving another sigh, and feeling her eyelids growing heavy, Hermione ensured that Moo was fed, sliced up an orange for herself, closed her window, and double checked that the bolts and locks around her flat were secure before calling it a night. With any luck, she might manage a good three or four hours of sleep, and enough energy to line up a job the following morning.
Hermione perused the jobs section of a Muggle newspaper as she sat in a corner of a cozy little café she often frequented just around the corner from her flat. Most of it was in Dutch, but she had managed to pick up on the language considerably since trekking to these parts. Not many tourists perused this particular café, especially when it was still daylight, considering its notorious location right in the heart of the Red Light District. Hermione preferred its darkened atmosphere, from its plum trimmings to the confined natural light by way of only two windows at the front. It was easy to overlook and go unseen, making it Hermione's blessed little haven in recent weeks.
After all, who would ever suspect the shrewd, yet innocent, Hermione Granger of living anywhere remotely near such a location? Then again, the Dark Lord and the Death Eaters, which had grown in number since the Fall of the Light, were cunning, not easily dissuaded, and would hunt her down anywhere, no matter the costs, so Hermione could never be too careful when venturing out into public.
Hermione gravitated to the dingy-looking café for another reason as well: the owner, an elderly gentleman with a bushy mustache and kind blue eyes. He knew all of his regulars, including Hermione, though she never offered any details up willingly about her life or why she kept frequenting his little establishment.
No contacts, Hermione, she would have to morbidly remind herself and merely crack a smile for him as she entered the place. No connections. None whatsoever.
After ordering her "usual," Hermione set to the task in front of her. Her job prospects so far were proving dismal. She had been rung for one or two interviews, but neither had worked out in her favor. Hermione was almost comforted by the fact that, much like her old self, a familiar professional-like panic was starting to settle in.
Did she not meet qualifications in the Muggle world anymore? Was she a failure? Would she and Moo be left to feed on scraps until she was eventually evicted from her flat?
Hermione, it's too early in the morning to go this mental. Save it for later.
Scanning the jobs sections some more, there wasn't much of anything that caught her eye, which led her mind to wandering again. She could research and find her way around a library with her eyes closed, but there was nothing of that sort available. Every so often, Hermione circled a position that seemed relatively doable but not without a disgruntled frown.
Was this all a farce and only prolonging the inevitable? Don't think like that, Hermione! Things could change! Things could...get better.
True, she hadn't run into any Snatchers or those frightening, hooded officials from the overthrown Law Enforcement in nearly two months, the longest on record to her recollection. That doesn't mean they still can't find you, her paranoid conscience reminded her.
Hermione scowled and rolled her eyes. Perhaps that was true, but she was quickly running out of money, even with being as frugal with expenses as she had been. If she managed to stay in the area without having to pick up and move again, but didn't secure a long-term job soon, she and her new furry companion would be out on the streets in no time.
Hermione threw down her pen and newspaper, taking a break from her job hunting to study the few other customers scattered throughout the café. Two gentlemen sat by one of the windows, laughing and conversing close together with lit fags in their hands. Hermione could see the faintest trace of lipstick on the white collar of the man facing her direction and didn't need to guess where the two had recently wandered in from. It didn't take someone as clever as the prized Gryffindor to decode the look and behavior of frequent customers to this part of town.
Hermione's curious eyes trickled away from the two gentlemen to an elderly woman with long, white hair seated alone at a nearby table, stirring her tea absentmindedly whilst staring into the cup with an unflattering scowl. Her makeup was too drastic and too dark, making her look rather Moulin Rouge-ish to the eyes. That was typical around here. Women of all ages wore too much make-up and left too little to the imagination.
Dressed in jeans, an oversized jacket that used to fit but now hung on her frailer form and no make-up, she probably looked a sight. Not that Hermione cared. She could never tame her hair the way she had been able to with a wand and, thus, kept it long and unruly over her shoulders.
Hermione couldn't help smirking over her own cup of coffee as she watched the old lady grumble and mutter under her breath, thinking she wasn't the study of anyone else's eye. Every so often, the grouchy woman glanced over at the two young men, who were getting rowdier by the minute, undoubtedly discussing last night's liaisons. The woman, growing ever more agitated, eventually threw down her cup, rattling the saucer loud enough to capture everyone's attention, and scooted her chair back with an obnoxious screech. With a couple more aggravated huffs, she left with her nose high in the air.
What did she expect? Hermione tried not to snicker. Where does she think she is?
Hermione settled back into her chair when the gentleman facing her direction suddenly threw her an unexpected glance. The other soon followed, surveying Hermione cautiously over his shoulder whilst slowly blowing out the smoke he had inhaled from his fag. Hermione froze and swallowed what little was left of her coffee, nearly choking in an effort to compose herself. Eye contact with strangers was rare and always rattled her. She suddenly felt uncomfortable and horribly exposed, especially when the gentlemen didn't turn away to continue their conversation but stared unreservedly at her for what seemed like ages.
Wrapping her heavy winter coat more securely around herself, Hermione decided quickly that she was done with her job search and hurried out of the café, not giving either of the curious men a second glance, though she could feel the weight of their gazes trailing after her as she exited.
Hermione had only gotten half way down the block when she stomped her foot. "Damn it, my newspaper!" she cursed and spun on her heel to hesitantly return to the café.
As Hermione strolled back inside to retrieve her newspaper, she found her empty coffee cup exactly where she had left it, only her pen and paper were missing. "What the..."
"Is this yours?" came a pretentious-sounding voice from behind.
Hermione startled and whipped her head around, only to find herself face to face with the unsettling gentleman who had locked eyes with her earlier. So, he's English. He was also rougher around the edges than she had initially perceived. Somewhere between his mid to late thirties, the man was clearly in need of a shave and reeked of whiskey, tobacco, and the lingering musk of a woman of the night's scent.
Hermione cringed and recoiled, narrowing her eyes challengingly, though the gentleman continued to hold her rolled up newspaper in one hand. "Yes, it is," she replied calmly and reached out to extract it from his grasp, but he suddenly moved it out of reach, causing Hermione's narrowed eyes to turn into slits. "That's mine, Sir. Please hand it over."
"Only if you'll have a cup of tea with me and my mate here," he offered, though his offer came across more like a demand than an option. "Unless you prefer coffee?"
"No, I don't think so."
Hermione attempted to reach for the newspaper a second time, but the man took a step back, his mouth cast into a frown of rejection. "Oh? And why is that?"
"Because I'm in a hurry, Sir. Please give me my newspaper—"
"No, have a sit-down with us and we'll consider it."
The other gentleman, still seated, at least had the decency to look mildly embarrassed by his friend's forwardness but said nothing to either of them. He merely turned in his chair and his eyes roamed over her figure without reply.
Frazzled and annoyed, Hermione dismissed the prat with a wave of her hand. "Oh, forget it, fine! Keep it for all I care!"
Hermione brushed past him with the intent to leave when she felt a sudden, severe yank on her arm that threw her back several feet. Without so much as a second to let out an involuntary gasp, Hermione's arm was abruptly twisted behind her back by the angry hustler she had refused. Her newspaper toppled to the floor and her mouth was cupped by one of his calloused hands to prevent her from crying out.
NO! No, no, no!
Shocked and unprepared, Hermione squirmed in a frantic attempt to get away, until she realized that the other man, who had been sitting quietly up until now, had risen to stand in front of her with the tip of a wand pointed directly at her face, his dark, sinister eyes glimmering in triumph. She didn't recognize his face, but it was evident that he and the man now cutting off her airway were one of them.
"Miss Granger, isn't it?" the man with the wand hissed ever so softly, which all but twisted Hermione's stomach into knots. He waved his wand towards the front windows, and the shades were suddenly drawn, the Dutch 'Closed' sign magically turned over to shut out the outside world, and the place became immersed in darkness. Only a fraction of natural morning light seeped through the cracks in the shades.
"Hey!" came the booming voice of the café owner from behind the counter.
Hermione jolted. The friendly, elderly gentleman came bustling towards them, his arms flailing wildly. "Let that young lady go!" he commanded in a thick Dutch accent. "Who the devil do you think you are?" The Ministry official swished his wand in the old man's direction, and his eyes widened like saucers. "What is that? Now look here, young ma—"
Hermione wiggled violently as soon as she heard the Killing Curse on the tip of the evil wizard's tongue, but it was too late. A flash of green light erupted, momentarily filling up the café with its brilliance, and the owner went spiraling backward like a limp doll. His hefty body hit the countertop at an awkward angle, severing his spine in half with a nauseating click, and then he slunk to the floor, dead. His eyes were still open, though robbed of life, and didn't move again.
Hermione froze where she stood, her heart ready to leap straight out of her chest. Her panic-stricken eyes were glued to the lifeless body of the elderly Muggle who had risen to her defense and now lay in a lifeless heap on the floor, murdered before he could so much as finish his sentence.
It was another blow that Hermione could barely stomach to look upon: proof of how destructive and demonic her former world had become. She looked away with disgust and fear, her ragged breathing coming through in spurts.
The two wizards didn't pay the act, nor the dead Muggle, any further attention, their eyes instead focused intently on the young witch they had snatched with success. "Now then, Miss Granger," said the wizard who had cast the Unforgivable Curse, "you'll be coming with us, if you please."
His voice was sickly polite but the meaning behind his words alerted her to the horrors that lay in store, if she allowed them to take her willingly. Swallowing hard, Hermione fought to speak behind the large hand still clamped down on her mouth.
After watching her struggle for several agonizing seconds, the man lowered his wand a fraction and nodded towards the other wizard holding her hostage. As soon as the man's rough hand released its grip, Hermione fought for air, desperate to speak.
"How - How did you find me?"
"With difficulty, Miss Granger."
"And why is that?" he baited through a malicious smile. "We've been looking for you for a long time."
"A very long time, love," whispered the wizard at her back, sending a shiver down her spine.
"Where is your wand?" the wizard before her demanded, interrupting her attempt to speak.
"I - I don't have it."
"Rubbish!" he snapped dangerously, forcing Hermione to easily shrink under his hostile gaze. With a simple casting of "Expelliarmus," Hermione's wand was whisked from her coat pocket straight into her enemy's hand, leaving her utterly defenseless.
"Not clever at all, Miss."
Hermione's eyes darted frantically about the café, knowing she surely wouldn't find any aid here. She had never spotted additional workers in all the time she had frequented the café. No one else was here except its now dead owner, and Muggles held no power against what a few dark spells could unleash. Even if she managed to run, she would never get far enough before being stunned, or worse. Her situation was hopeless.
"It would appear that your reputation doesn't precede you after all, Miss Granger. I'm surprised you didn't recognize us."
Not knowing what else to do, Hermione fumed, "I've been out of the Wizarding world for nearly a year!"
"Yes, you have. It's about time we remedied that. C'mon, Brams," he nodded towards the man named Brams, who was holding onto Hermione with such force that her arms were starting to ache. "Let's get a move on."
"Wait!" she gulped, her racing mind springing to the helpless kitten locked away in her flat. "My - My cat... He - He's still locked in my flat and—"
"Your cat?" the official scuffed, staring at her wide-eyed before bitter laughter rang out into the stifling silence. "Blimey, Brams, she's more of a nutter than I thought!"
"Please! Let me just—"
"NO!" he barked, baring his yellow-stained teeth quite close to her face—too close for comfort; she could smell the lingering tobacco and coffee on his breath. "You will come quietly, Miss Granger, unless you'd prefer us to use the Cruciatus Curse to silence your tongue?"
With his wand, he delicately whisked a few curls out of Hermione's eyes, and her blood went still. She swallowed her reservations quietly, her voice barely above a whisper. "That - That won't be necessary."
"Good." Keeping his wand still directed at Hermione's face, he turned to his compadre. "Now then, Brams?"
After giving her a forceful shove, Brams moved away from Hermione to magically put the café back to order. Levitating the Muggle owner's body somewhere out of sight, he returned less than a minute later, a smug look of satisfaction lining his rugged features.
"Ready, Fletcher," he stated matter-of-factly, as though he had simply taken out the garbage.
Hermione was sure she was going to be dizzy or sick soon and woefully closed her eyes as the Ministry official named Fletcher bound her wrists behind her back with a pair of magical handcuffs. "We'll Apparate to Paris and then go on to the Ministry from there," Fletcher explained to his partner, all but ignoring Hermione, now too stricken to speak.
Tears threatened to fall as the witch felt a pair of firm hands snatch her by both arms. Then her body whirled from side to side and her eyes shot open, knowing she would feel far worse if she kept them closed. It had been nearly a year since she had last Apparated—not wanting to risk her magic being traced by Death Eaters, who now had miraculous tracking methods of their own in place—and she instantly felt a horrible wave of nausea hit her stomach as they landed on solid ground.
As soon as her feet met gravity, Hermione lost her footing and went toppling forward, the contents of her breakfast following suit. "I think this one's gonna be—" With that, Hermione vomited all over Brams' dirt-covered boots. "Sick," he finished, cringing in disgust.
"No matter," Fletcher sighed, eying the darkened alleyway to make sure they were alone. "Let's get a move on."
Bram quickly unsoiled his boots with a Cleansing Charm, and the two forced Hermione upward by the shoulders, nearly sending her sideways in a dizzy haze. Her vision was a blur, her nausea still plaguing her in the pit of her stomach.
"Tough it up, love," Fletcher cackled into her ear. "The Dark Lord and the Head of Law Enforcement are going to be so pleased to see you again."
Severus Snape's black eyes glazed over his pile of paperwork. What he wouldn't give to be back in Hogwarts castle, amongst the familiar trappings of home; or as much of a home as he could call it. At least at the castle he had some privacy and was not constantly under the Dark Lord's overbearing scrutiny. He couldn't rush to the loo without a lingering abhorrence of suspicion following him to take a piss, and he wasn't the only one who felt it constantly at his back.
At Hogwarts, however, he would have had the castle's magic as an added protection shield, but, alas, he would never step foot into that sanctuary again, not even as a visitor. He had been forced to resign and never turn back, even if he still thought of the place often as though it called to him on the wind, wishing for his return.
His stint as Headmaster hadn't been an easy one—exceedingly stressful, to put it mildly—but he would gladly take it again over his current post. He had never felt more the Dark Lord's right-hand pawn than he did in the aftermath of the Fall of the Light.
Correspondences were flying in left and right over various Mudblood sightings he and his team were supposed to be tracking. The majority of said witches and wizards had been caught, but there were a handful that remained at large, yet to be accounted for. And the Dark Lord, though too busy to bother with the ins and outs of Severus's daily reports, wouldn't rest until all of them were captured.
Every bloody last one of them, Severus sneered heavily.
Now, with the Dark Lord abroad and seeing to his plans to overrun the Wizarding world as far east as Italy—he had already taken France and Germany with little resistance—Severus was left to oversee several matters in the dictator's absence, the capturing of all Mudbloods amongst the highest on his list of demands.
"I need you to be my eyes and ears, Severus," the Dark Lord had instructed him shortly after he awoke in St. Mungo's, still severely scarred and stricken by Nagini's attack to his neck. He watched the Dark Lord, struck and horrified—and still very much alive—twirl the Elder Wand around his bony fingers before Severus's bedside, his red slits for eyes staring down at the Slytherin's weakened state without a trace of sympathy for putting him there.
Perhaps I should simply request that he finish what he started, Severus considered for all but two seconds before the cowardly lion within him reconsidered the matter. Fucking whey-face! he wanted to scream at himself.
"I hope you shall rise to the task once you have sufficiently recovered?" the Dark Lord offered—nay, requested—in a soft, serious tone.
Severus had barely been able to reply. Not only were his vocal chords shattered by Nagini's fangs—they had ripped straight through the delicate, complicated mix of flesh and muscle, and gave the Healers a real nightmare in painstakingly putting him back together—but there was also another hard-hitting reality Severus never thought he would have to face: waking up to a dawn he didn't want to live through, which was Lord Voldemort's new reign of terror.
There he was, the Dark Lord himself, standing before his bedside and spouting a cold, rubbish apology—if it could even be called an apology—before requesting that the spy rejoin his ranks once more within the same breath. "I misjudged you about the Elder wand, Severus," he had offered without feeling. "I must ask that you forget what transpired in the Shrieking Shack and look to the future. I need you at my side."
Severus was too busy trying to catch his breath, taking in the form of the still very much alive Lord Voldemort, to answer straight away. Potter had failed. The Boy Who Lived had met his fate as Dumbledore had long ago informed Severus, and now the whole of the Wizarding world was at a mad man's mercy.
Not only had the past seventeen years of meticulous planning been utterly wasted, but now matters had taken a sharp turn for the absolute worst possible scenario: the Dark Lord had won and Severus Snape was still alive to witness all that he had worked so hard for lost.
What the fuck was I brought back for? Just to see my efforts thrown back in my face?
Severus raged internally, though all he could do was return the Dark Lord's request with a slight bow and a very delicate utterance that didn't resemble his former deep, smooth baritone. "Yes, my Lord," he croaked, his eyes blank and void of the emotion seething within.
"I'm delighted to hear it, Severus. I shall call on you soon."
With that, the Dark Lord glided out of the room, the unsettling image of a slithering Nagini at his side, which was enough to splinter Severus's nerve-endings, but he kept himself together, waiting for them both to disappear before he lost his composure. He heaved a shuddering breath once he was alone, his chest constricting and his mind frantic.
How could it come to this?
A faint knock on his office door brought Severus back to the bleak present. Lowering his wards with a wave of his wrist, Severus grumbled to whoever it was to "enter."
A new 'recruit,' as they were referred to nowadays, though to Severus there was nothing at all 'recruit'-worthy in forcing people to work for you, popped her head round, entering his office with trepidation. She was a former Hufflepuff student of his, and yet, Severus had never appeared more terrifying to her than he did in his new position.
"What is it, Miss Jenkins?" Severus sighed, putting a hand to his temple.
"Mr. Fletcher and Mr. Brams are here to see you, Sir."
Severus let out a low growl of annoyance. "And?"
"They - They have a Muggle," she paused to alter the term that was now regularly used for those of a certain kind, "a - a Mudblood with them."
Severus's ears perked up, his forehead moving away from his cradling hand. "Oh?" he inquired curiously. "Who is it?"
"It - It's Miss Hermione Granger, Sir," the young lady stammered to get out, swallowing her fears as best she could by the strange glint that emerged in Severus's cold, dark eyes. "She's been found."
A/N #2: Here we gooooo! Reviews are greatly appreciated to get the ball rolling...