Chapter 7 – Hogwarts
Pitch black darkness everywhere.
Hermione lit her wand.
The leaden blackness was hard to fight – the light of the wand shakily struggled with the heavy mass.
Walls, she saw murky, moist walls around her. Nowhere a window or a door. Nothing but stones.
Hermione’s heart beat franticly.
Her breathing sounded like loud panting against the dead silence.
She nervously turned around her axis, piercing her leer into the dark void.
She knew he was there, but she could not see him.
Her blood felt like cold mercury thumping in her ears. It heavily flowed down to her limbs, to her hands and fingers paralyzing them, making them rigid like over chilled metal.
Fear seemed to materialize within her; as cold blades of steel penetrated her heart and lungs.
Her breathing broke off.
She could hear him now, his languid snuffle of a decaying beast.
She madly spun around trying to figure out the source of the sound.
He was nowhere to be seen.
Hermione’s breathing turned into ragged panting.
Every now and then she fought to hold back the air in her lungs to listen to the darkness, but within seconds she felt she was suffocating.
The soft, hardly audible noise of his respiration slowly drew nearer.
Her strained nerves multiplied every sensation of her body two thousand times and the soft breeze that suddenly touched her neck turned into a flaming blow in her mind.
She tried to scream and dashed into the gloom which surrounded her, anywhere just farther from him.
Her feet were slipping and stumbling, like on thick wool, she was running away, away from that demon.
Cold hands reached for her and the skin turned icy on the spot of the touch, every hair stood on edge.
She fell on her back stiffening with horror.
Bony fingers were creeping greedily up her legs.
Her breathing failed her, only the scream of her mute lungs rang unbearably in her head.
The touch of a moist mouth.
Hermione wailed with powerless dread but the vicious black air drowned her voice.
Lying on her back she could see him now.
His malicious sneer…
His bare teeth…
His snake tongue…
“We meet again…and again… and again… you’re mine for the rest of your life. And you know it.” The white face leaned closer and the narrow slits bore deep through her glassy eyes into her mind.
He smiled again.
Looking down at her body he wetted his lower lip and with a skillful move he ripped her robe.
He watched her white skin appear from beneath her garments with cold tension.
Hermione could see his passion as he drank in the sight. There was a nauseating taste of blood in her mouth.
She closed her eyes and felt her lids fill with tears.
She could feel his skinny but surprisingly powerful body press her to the cold ground and she felt his tongue slide along her jaw, down her neck to her collar bone.
She knew what would happen. It happened so many times, but she was never able to get used to it.
His claws roughly dug into her flesh and his sharp teeth gently closed on the thin skin of her neck. Her insides turned when she felt his sweaty skin rub against her with force.
Hermione’s catatonically fixed eyes flung open, she screamed. The air seemed to solidify and burst into countless splinters filling her ears and lungs.
Suddenly she saw a pair of eyes.
Not the red ones split by those hideous passionate slits, but two cold black orbs peering at her from the distant darkness with abomination.
Her body turned icy and she stared mesmerized into the unsympathetic gaze.
Her torturer grabbed her stronger obviously unaware of the presence of the observer as his hot breath flowed in her ear.
A tiny brass string tore somewhere in her head with an ear splitting clink making her nerves spasmodically jerk and she screamed again. The world burst into white-hot fume exploding with terrible boom.
Hermione was sitting on a dusty, but once obviously scrupulously polished marble floor.
Her back ached and something hot was running down her lip. The metal taste of blood still lingered on her tongue.
By the prancing flames of the fireplace she saw Snape leaning oddly to the opposite wall with his face white as chalk even in the warm light.
Hermione stared at him with utter confusion and somewhere deep in her guts she felt embarrassment creep up her spine though she didn’t know why.
For some time - none of them knew for how long - they both stayed that way, until suddenly, within a flash the truth gained its form through a numbing idea in Hermione’s mind.
She desperately wanted to hope that it wasn’t so, but her slowly recovering memories were telling her the other way.
Snape was still standing there unmoving. His features regained their usual stiffness, but Hermione couldn’t forget the flash of stunned fright she knew she saw in his eyes in the moment of her waking.
Heat rose from her insides surging her face which changed its previous white colour to crimson. Uncertainly she reached for the gentle tickling sensation on her chin, which was already accompanied with two new fresh streams breaking their way down from her eyes. Her fingers touched something wet and looking down with a mortified gaze she saw red blood shine on her fingertips.
She knew that the look on her face defied all beliefs concerning her outstanding intellect, but she had no means to control her visage; she turned her wide eyes back to Snape and felt with a burning wave of shame the streams of tears thicken.
She hastily stood up, fumbling for her wands which scattered and hid beneath the armchair and the folds of a moth eaten rag of carpet.
“Did I hurt you?” she squeezed through the knot in her throat which resulted in a husky whisper.
“If we disregard being thrown across the room and smashed into the wall, my answer is no.”
Snape’s voice was quiet and despite his reply it was free of his usual cynicism. He looked at her with some tranquil interest now.
“Sorry,” she screeched and finally retrieving both her wands she fled the room, but she couldn’t escape the burning feeling of Snape’s leer on her back.
She kept damning herself, the chamber, her wands which she couldn’t understand how were able to work without her holding them, and most of all Snape, who she was sure was disturbed by her nightmare screams and came to check her.
She had never felt more embarrassed in her entire life. She felt naked, completely defenceless, humiliated and bare to the very core of her soul.
Not even to her best friends would she have shown those nightmares that never ceased haunting her, ripping the vulnerable tissue of her soul open again and again every night.
The door was closed behind her, Snape didn’t follow.
Hermione heard the jolly gurgle of a miniature gargoyle protruding from the wall. Its cool water splashed into a small marble basin above which sparkling drops bounced like fleas.
She slowly started for it.
Her knees trembled wildly and after two steps she dropped down unable to hold her quaking.
She never cried. Maybe she shed some tears sometimes, but she never sobbed the way she remembered she could do so easily just a few years ago for much less reasons.
And now it returned.
Her ability to cry in earnest.
Just when she wanted it the least.
She struggled back to her feet and with draining efforts she reached the basin.
Watching her palm which had just touched her chin she saw blood on its surface. She must have bit her tongue while trashing.
Washing her face she regained some of her self-control together with a new surge of shame.
How will she be able to look in his face again?
No matter how much she wanted to deny it, she couldn’t.
She knew that Snape saw it. She knew he saw her and him in the dream.
How she just loathed him for that! The sneaking arrogant prat.
Tears threatened to return thwarting all her attempts to keep them back.
No, she wanted to put the blame on him just to ease her helpless fury. Most probably Snape had nothing to do with it, who would invade someone’s nightmare on his own will? Well, not Snape that’s for sure. He had the ability, he was a superb Legilimens, but she firmly believed he didn’t have the wish to know what she dreamed about. He must have known it without witnessing.
She didn’t know how it happened. She must have been screaming. He entered the room. Perhaps he even tried to wake her. And suddenly both of them found themselves in the same nightmare, the nightmare about the Dark Lord.
The suite was large and spacious with several rooms and bathrooms, which gave them an excellent opportunity to keep away from each other as long as they wished.
When finally Hermione gathered the miserable remains of her self-control understanding that their task was more important than some capricious breakdowns of a psychically crippled girl – as she liked to refer to her recent state - she entered the room where she found Snape absorbed in the pleasures of a generous glass of cognac and his apparently gripping thoughts.
She felt her face flush again but the Potion’s teacher’s relaxed posture and his airily lack of concern for her eased her mind.
“You will find hot water and tea on the table” he said and sipped from his glass.
The drink moved his lips into a satisfied curve – the drink must have passed his exam.
“How is that we have tea and drinks but there is no food left here?” Hermione tried to sound casual as if she was speaking with Fred and George at the breakfast table in the great hall. She made all her best to look as busy making her tea as she could.
“The elf died,” came the short reply.
“Elf?...” She unwillingly turned and meeting those eyes again she instantly regretted it. Hermione turned back to the pot and spilled hot water over the table.
“The elf, yes. He’s dead. For at least 200 years.”
Hermione kept herself from turning back again.
“What are you talking about?”
“Don’t you wonder how this place remained in such a good condition over the thousand years, since Slytherin died?” he asked.
“I was too tired to wonder,” She mumbled and again reminded herself of Ron.
“It was generations of loyal house elves who kept this place always ready for their master or maybe his descendants. The last one died about two or three hundred years ago, judging by the layers of dust, the condition of tee leaves and this really outstanding rarity of a cognac,” Snape said.
Hermione looked with suspicion at her tea, which she had just sipped and burnt her tongue with it.
“Poor things,” she said sadly.
“Smart little creature he was, his magic still runs the fires and lays the table. You can see him in that small closet behind your back. He’s under that shield with Slytherin’s crest.”
Hermione couldn’t help turning to Snape showing him her wide eyed expression again.
She couldn’t tell if he was joking or not and that question clearly was written on her face, but she received no answer.
Snape was leaning back on the sofa which was lavishly covered with battered leopard skins. His face wasn’t as stiff and sour as she usually saw him, so hesitating a bit she decided it was a joke.
“Is he?” she murmured.
“He is. His skeleton at least.” A light touch of merriness crossed his face and Hermione couldn’t tell whether it was her face which entertained him or the fate of the abandoned little elf.
She stepped to the door of the closet and uncertain if she really wanted to do it she opened it.
She gasped and shut the door with a thud.
This time blushing with anger she turned to him.
“I could never imagine you being amused. So this is how you look then. But I have to say the morbidity of your humour I find a bit alarming.”
“I simply answered to your inquiry.” He said with a voice still lighter than usually and stood up.
“If you’re ready, we should go,” he added.
“I’m ready,” She replied and drank the rest of her two hundred year old tea with gusto.
When they reached the entrance door, Snape caught her arm and Hermione jerked, cursing herself again for her lack of self-esteem.
“Before we leave I want to put it straight,” he said and she felt all her cells tensing wanting to simply run away. She didn’t want to hear the rest, but Snape’s force of will kept her in place though with set jaws and lost voice.
“I didn’t do that on purpose. It just happened. I’m sorry,” he said and released her as if nothing important happened.
Not even hearing Snape making an excuse which was something as extraordinary and rare as seeing Ron patting a tarantula could bring her back to her former self.
Hermione gazed angrily at the floor wishing she had never met this man. Why on earth do men have to screw everything up?
Hermione put her palm on the serpent’s head.
The door through which they had just left the suite from closed just to open once more.
Hermione blinked at it nonplussed.
Snape on the other hand seemed quite satisfied with the result for his theory about the serpent always showing the most needed way seemed to be confirmed.
With firm steps he approached the corridor which Hermione thought they had just left and turned back to the girl.
“What did you think about when you touched the head?” he asked in the same dangerous tone he liked to use in his classes.
“Well, Hogwarts, of course,” Hermione answered flustering.
Snape nodded to himself approvingly and said.
“Then this is our way to the castle. Come.”
“But… isn’t that the same door that leads to the suite?” Hermione asked him, getting more confused.
“No, it is not. That is exactly the point. The serpent only gives you one possibility, the one you need most. Yesterday what you seemed to need most was sleep. Today hopefully we will be able to continue our way. We’re getting short on time.”
Hermione couldn’t miss his reproachful hint and she replied with an ironic pouting.
“Why would Slytherin make such a stupid system? Why would he want the snake to decide where he wanted to go? That’s just silly,” she said.
Snape looked at her abashed.
“You sound like your friend, Potter, who prefers asking before thinking, supposing that he takes the effort to think at all,” he said and entered the corridor leaving Hermione no other choice but to hurriedly follow after him.
“I’m sure Slytherin was able to control every way which lead to his chamber, he was free to choose. The serpent was put there to guard his realm, so that no creature could find its way to Hogwarts or other places which Slytherin connected to this world,” he explained exactly like he would have done it to Harry.
“Oh, I see. This way the chamber could not be manipulated, even if someone was recognized as an authorized person to enter Slytherin’s underground passages, he or she couldn’t chose any way but which the serpent regarded as the most needed right way for him or her. It sounds like Slytherin was the only wizard, who connected the most important wizarding places to this underworld, am I right?” She asked.
“Not necessarily, it could have also been the house elves. They know much about these places, though they keep it even more secret than the dirty businesses of their masters. Slytherin just connected the random ways to his chamber and made it sure no one could enter or leave the world of the wizarding community without his control,” Snape replied.
Hermione strongly disliked good old Slytherin, in her mind he usually took the form of an old Lucius Malfoy with a long beard, but every time she faced his clever creations, his unmatched magic she felt more and more respect, even some true admiration towards one of the greatest wizards in this world.
“And Dumbledore knew this. He must have known how important this chamber was,” Hermione continued. ” Especially if it was found somehow by the Dark Lord… if he managed to break Slytherin’s magic, he would gain incredible power possessing that chamber and the passages of the underworld… Knowing this would Dumbledore have entrusted you with this secret? No, he definitely wouldn’t have,” Hermione said casting a suspicious look at Snape.
He must have sensed her malicious leer because he turned his head, but he didn’t respond.
That confused Hermione though she had no idea why.
“Just one more question. You didn’t tell me how you managed to put the gravestone, which leads to the underground passage into the Dark Lord’s room? That should have raised his suspicion.”
Snape didn’t slow his brisk walk.
“It was simple in fact. I knew that he has a strong attraction to ancient magic objects, so I offered him one, a tombstone.”
Before he could have continued Hermione butted in.
“So you have told him! You said he didn’t know about the underworld!”
“You interrupted me,” he retorted coldly and his commanding voice made Hermione swallow the insults she was about to pour on Snape.
“The tombstone is a magical object and its creators were wise enough to know exactly what dangers it bore, so they decided to disguise it. If they had made it look like an ordinary tombstone possessing no magic at all that could have meant the stone being destroyed or built into the walls of some wealthy castle. They knew better than that, so they have given it an added magical ability, it shows the beloved ones of those who stand before it. So, the Lord knew this was a magical stone, but he didn’t know its real function.” He said.
“But why would the Dark Lord want to see his beloved ones? He has none.” Hermione asked hesitantly.
Snape turned to look at her again and Hermione understood that the question she posed disappointed him. She quickly corrected herself.
“You gave him a weapon he could use against his victims, very witty.”
“You’re being cynical again,” he remarked.
“Look who’s talking,” she murmured to herself.
As soon as they arrived to the Hogwarts underground cellars, where the house elves stored all kind of food, from pumpkins piled up in huge mounds to different vegetables and apples held in wooden barrels, Snape disappeared.
Hermione knew that he couldn’t just walk through the castle with her by his side for there were just too many spies of the Lord all around the place, nevertheless she didn’t like the idea of staying alone in the passage just before the door to the cellars at all.
By the time the night came Hermione was totally numb and frozen, but at least satiated at last – well, who could have withstood the temptation of sweet autumn apples and authentic home made goat cheese.
She was on the verge of falling asleep again no matter how hard she tried to stay awake, when the door to the passage, which in this case took the form of a stone pillar, opened and she heard Snape’s familiar voice.
“Come, we only have a few minutes.”
Half blinded by dreams and fatigue she stumbled after him.
She was given a long black cloak, which she put over Bella’s torn and worn silk one. It made her look as Professor McGonagall and she suspected that it wasn’t a simple coincidence.
Snape glided along the corridors and stairs like a ghost choosing ways which would have made Fred and George proud; he must have learned from the Marauders more than they liked to admit, Hermione thought.
Suddenly she found herself before the Headmaster’s office.
“You must be kidding,” slipped her mouth.
Snape looked back at her coldly. From this close distance she could see that his face was weary and pale, not even his dignified expression could veil it.
He opened the door and they disappeared behind it. After Snape put several charms on it he said:
“Do you know a better hiding place for now?”
Hermione ignored his question and quietly asked.
“When can I go?”
“Whenever you wish, yet I would advise you to wait a few hours till I get back,” he looked ready to leave again.
“What? Why? Where are you going?” She hated nothing more than the idea of being left alone again and waiting.
“I have to arrange a few things.”
“Now. You’ll find food and a bed in the adjoining chamber,” he said dryly and turned to leave the room.
“When will you be back?” Hermione called after him. She blushed when she realized that her question sounded ambiguous though Snape’s face didn’t tell whether he noticed it.
“I… I mean I really want to get home soon,” she hurriedly corrected it.
“I should be back an hour before dawn,” saying that, he turned away and left the room.
Hermione couldn’t bring herself to occupying the soft bed that was offered her. She felt incredibly tense and embarrassed, she was coping with panic.
The office which once belonged to Dumbledore was quiet and still. The portraits on the walls were mostly empty and all those curious objects, which once occupied the Headmaster’s office, were missing. Snape, the present headmaster obviously preferred a much more puritan environment.
After getting tired of pacing up and down in the room Hermione finally gave in to the stubborn prodding of her reason and made for the bathroom to have a warm bath and wash her torn and dirty garments.
She secured the bathroom door with great care; she combined all the charms and hexes she knew to assure that her privacy was undisturbed, not even a pack of Goblins would have done it better. Only this could ease a bit of her immense discomfort for being in that place; she couldn’t avoid the impression that she was an intruder, a sneaky little thief, who with her presence there begrimed Dumbledore’s memory.
The hot, lightly perfumed water did the impossible, it slowly loosened her distress and she gently drifted into sleep.
A small house was standing on a cliff, which towered over the ocean.
Its white walls, red roof and windowsills crammed with flowerpots were so inviting that Hermione couldn’t resist stepping cautiously closer.
The wind kept whispering a silent sad song along the roof.
She knocked gently on the door and felt butterflies in her gut as she did so. She is home at last. Home at last.
There was no answer so she repeated her knock anxious to get an answer.
The wind tore at her hood, sneaked under her cloak and chilled her skin.
They’ve got to be here.
But the door stayed shut.
Hermione drew her wand and gently tapped the lock with it.
The wind turned more violent as it pulled at her clothes.
She softly pushed the door and it obediently opened.
“Is anybody home?” she asked, nevertheless to her great surprise nothing but odd hissing left her throat.
Tears welled up in her eyes.
Nobody was waiting for her; she found nothing but grey darkness.
Suddenly light flooded the room as someone opened the kitchen door and she recognized them even in spite that harsh background light, it was Ron and Ginny, behind them she saw Molly Weasley and Tonks – but their faces… they were frightened… they were stiff with dread.
She wanted to say hello, to tell them that it was her, Hermione, she finally got home but when she opened her mouth her heart stopped terrified.
Green lights flashed and Ron, Ginny, Molly and Tonks fell to the ground one by one.
She saw Harry run down the stairs with a wand in his hand.
He looked mad and shot at her.
Hermione ducked down to avoid the curse and at the same moment she saw her wand fling in Harry’s direction… a green flash and his body lifelessly rolled down to her feet.
She wanted to scream.
She reached out her hand to turn Harry’s face to her, but it froze still in midair.
It wasn’t her hand. It was bony and white.
She slowly turned around.
On the opposite wall she saw him, his thin skull and the red serpent’s eyes in that black frame on the wall.
It was her reflection.
Cinnamon scented water flowed into her lungs and Hermione gripping the rim of the basin struggled herself to the surface.
Coughing and gasping painfully for air she jumped out and fell to her knees.
Damn – she moaned and breathed deeply to steady her heart.
She hastily fished her clothes out of the washing basin and pulled them on the way they were, dripping and wet.
She made a few drying moves with her wands, but she almost burnt the rim of her robe, so she gave it up.
Blanketing herself in a fluffy fat towel and fidgeting for a while with the protection charms she put on the door, she hurriedly left the bathroom.
Shaking violently she flopped down before Dumbledore’s fireplace in a comfortable armchair not caring about wetting its expensive fabric.
She couldn’t go back.
Not after what happened.
She wasn’t the same Hermione Granger she used to be, she was crippled, she was ill and she was tainted.
How could she tell them what she had been through? Yet, she couldn’t deny it either.
They would find it out by her late night screams, by the self-hatred in her eyes, by her wish for solitude… it was written on her face and she could do nothing about it.
She didn’t want their pity, she didn’t want their understanding, and she didn’t want to see the guilt in their eyes.
She had no idea how she could move on with her life, how she could continue it from there where she left it. Her plans she used to have about working as a healer, living with a loving husband and having children turned into ashes, she had nothing to live for anymore. How could the sick heal the sick? How could the self-hater let herself to be loved? How could the hopeless give future?
Hermione buried her face in her palms and shook her wet locks.
Hermione Granger has died and she was left there without knowing who she was anymore.
A long shadow danced in the corner and Hermione unthinking followed its smooth outlines. They hid under a strange object, which held a small basin and a long mirror.
A Pensieve – she thought mesmerized.
She sat straight and looked intently into the tarnished mirror, her face was a bit puffy and red but otherwise it still looked like her. Well almost. She had no idea that she had lost so much weight, her cheeks which used to be round now became shallow, revealing her cheekbones, her eyes were sitting in dark holes and her lips were pale. She reminded herself of the Grey Lady somehow, her skin turned translucent and white, she really looked like a ghost.
No wonder even Snape pitied her.
Why this latter occurred to her she didn’t know and didn’t care.
She stood up and stepped to the pensieve.
An idea was starting to form in her mind, but she didn’t know how she would be able to make it.
Harry had several opportunities to use that thing and Hermione being a born theoretician didn’t miss the chance to learn as much about these objects as she could.
The first and most important rule was that thoughts which were put into it weren’t removed from their owner’s mind they could simply be used by others.
On the other hand there existed ways of removing these memories, well, it couldn’t be said that common therapy acknowledged such methods, in fact it seriously denied them saying that the risk factor for them was way beyond acceptable. It was stigmatized as dark magic.
Its point was that something like an obliviating charm was combined with a magic which people used to preserve their memories for the future.
Anyway, it was dangerous.
If anyone, Hermione knew it.
But what other choices did she have?
Her life was broken; those memories imbued her and ruled every single thought and every single feeling she had.
Every shadow was his shadow, every breeze was his breath, every touch was his touch and every time she closed her eyes she saw him sneering back at her.
She didn’t want to live her life with that phantom; it was eternal imprisonment and no matter how she used to value her life she didn’t wish to go on with it like that.
She felt she had no other choice really.
She could go on struggling with her miserable life till one day her mind no longer could bear the haunting memories and emotions and collapsed.
Why should she wait for that?
She cautiously dragged the Pensieve back into the adjoining room, where a table laid with late dinner stood and drew her wands.
She had to stand there for some time and wait for her limbs to stop quivering, but soon she got tired of waiting in vain and moved the tip of the wand to her temple.
Drawing a deep breath she concentrated.
Behind her firmly shut eyes she saw her cell again. She could smell the damp air and her skin recalled the chilly air which drew from the hole on the ceiling.
In her memory she stepped out from the cell and escorted by two Death Eaters she headed for the Lord’s chamber.
The tip of her wand pressed stronger against her skull and she flinched.
She attached in her imagination the tip of the wand to her memory and started gently to pull towards the Pensieve.
“Obliviarum.” She had never tried the spell before and she hoped she didn’t say it wrong.
The weight of the memory slowly eased and the vivid images blurred in her mind.
She sighed with relief.
Into the sudden blankness fear burst out of nowhere. Hatred, despair and humiliation followed in total disorder, dozens of different emotions flooded her heart and whirled ever faster. Noises, blasts, screams and cries filled her ears and she threw away her wands to close her ears with her palms, but the whirl and the clamour was getting more violent.
She lost her balance and fell onto the floor, but the physical pain was drowned by the surge of cacophonic sensations. A shrill whistle blew inside her head which split her soul with terror and all of a sudden everything went black.
Like a heap of wet robes Hermione laid beside Dumbledore’s dining table on the floor the tip of her birch wand still holding a trembling silver string.
Hello Everyone, tell me how you liked this chapter? Which was your favourite part? (Mine is actually when Hermione learns about the dead little houseelf. lol) was there anything you didn't understand? did I over explain things? Thanks !
Love you all, wings