A/N: Hi Guys! My most faithful Readers and Reviewers and, of course, Newcomers!
Chapter 8 is finally ready. I won't waste your time. Go and read and have a LOT OF FUN! See you after the chapter!
Chapter 8 - Way home
“Not again…!” Snape moaned.
His highly efficient, well-oiled mechanism instantly came into work as he saw the senseless body on the floor; he checked the pulse on her neck, took her wand, which still held a faintly glowing whirl of memory, carried her over to a couch, and he even had time to dry Hermione’s dripping, wet clothes and hair.
Nevertheless, the cold that had clutched his insides the moment he saw the limp body on the ground didn’t cease; a part of him just numbly observed the events.
That girl was damned.
Whatever she did was a punishment to him; she secretly reminded him of Lily. Lily Evans.
He quickly broke off with fury.
There were more important things to concentrate on!
The damage was hard to estimate.
Though Hermione was still breathing, Snape could find no way to bring her back from unconsciousness.
“What on Earth, did you think, you were doing?” he muttered, dripping some greenish liquid from a vial between the pale, parted lips.
“Stupid girl,” he growled, as his palm closed her mouth and raised her chin a bit, massaging her throat, just like he would have done to a pup.
He waited a few seconds for the effect.
There was none, except, maybe, for a slight change in her colour.
The chances of bringing her back were diminishing with every attempt, and he hated to think of what he considered the last solution.
He turned his head involuntarily to the Pensieve.
Hermione’s memory, which had ruined her mind, still whirled in the glittering basin.
Just not that! - He thought.
He hated the mere idea of it.
Snape gently placed the tip of his wand on Hermione’s temple; what he was doing now was a dangerous combination of Legilimency and a Mental Intervention charm, usually used in cases of mental disorders in healing practice.
He had to know how serious her injuries were, and that was the firmest method to locate the problem although he tried to avoid entering her unstable mind as long as he could.
He concentrated and without uttering a word he cast the spells.
His spell softly imbued his senses, extending them, stretching them into the endless spaces of his mind until they felt feathery and translucent. Then what followed was the familiar dive into the thick substance of another human’s world. At first it was always a little frightening as if falling from a cliff, but soon, he knew, he would be overflowed by all kinds of sensations, whirling images and sounds.
No matter how well he thought he had prepared himself for the things he might experience, what he saw made him flinch.
Impenetrable blackness ruled the place, just like the one he saw in Hermione’s nightmare that wretched night in Slytherin’s chambers, but this time he didn’t see the Dark Lord.
He could only hear him.
And someone else, or something else.
Noises, eerie, menacing noises filled her head in total chaos.
Her mind was bare and unguarded, like that of a child with the Down syndrome; she was totally exposed to unbridled passions, most of all horror – raw, limitless horror.
Slimy creatures crept close; he could feel muscular and mellow, smooth and raw bodies brush by him – they were her fears, her demons.
He could hear heavy breathing and greedy moans.
It sounded like hell and it felt like hell.
He had to find her in that seething chaos…
He had to find her and her raving memories…
When Hermione opened her eyes, she found herself on a couch in the empty Headmaster’s office.
Her head felt dizzy and her limbs trembled as though she had run several miles before lying down.
She cautiously sat up and suddenly stiffened, because at the slightest move her head seemed to blow into numberless pieces.
“Oh, Merlin,” she moaned.
But Merlin was apparently not in the least interested in her torments and made nothing to ease her headache.
Hermione sat still for a while waiting for her head to adjust to her upright position. It went rather slowly, so she gave up her useless expectation and slowly, incredibly slowly she turned to see if she was really left all alone as she supposed.
Snape had disappeared after putting her on the couch; he couldn’t have been too much concerned about her state, leaving her there like that, she thought with a touch of bitterness.
The room was silent and dark, and Hermione painfully tried to figure out what had happened.
She remembered having a bath; she could still smell the faint cinnamon scent that imbued her hair.
Then she fell asleep, yes, and nearly drowned. She felt herself blush with shame.
She was lucky to have survived; it would have been a disaster if Snape had found her lifeless, naked body in the water, she thought, and this association instantly struck her with its absurdity. Yes, she was lucky to stay alive.
“Oh, Merlin, I’m just totally nuts,” she said to herself.
What was after the bath?
Oh, yes! She could remember those wet clothes just too well. She could remember the cold air of the office as she entered it after failing to dry her robe properly.
Her thoughts were getting clearer with every minute.
Yes, she remembered the Pensieve.
It gave her hope.
She was standing beside it, her wand in her hand, pointing straight at her own temple…
A sharp pang in that very place slit her thoughts.
So she did it. She did the Obliteration Charm.
And she was still alive.
She did not dare to check if she managed to erase her memories. She didn’t want to lose that tiny breeze of hope she had. She just wanted to stay that way for a little time, motionless and quiet.
Where did Snape go?
What were those urgent tasks he had to do in the middle of the night?
And what time was it, and what day?
Everything was hopelessly mixed up in her head.
She supposed it was two or three o’clock in the morning; the horizon was nothing but a black strip on the dark canvas of the sky.
Her thoughts involuntarily returned to Snape.
Where did he find her? She must have lost her consciousness before the Pensieve, but about the ‘how’ she had no idea.
So, he had found her there on the floor and brought here on the couch.
Very nice of him – she thought ironically, but what exactly it was that hurt about being left alone by a man, whom she disliked, she did not understand.
Her head gave a pang again, and she closed her eyes, pressing tears of pain from behind her lids.
She didn’t dare to move, she didn’t allow herself even a sigh, trying to reduce her suffering.
She gave a weak attempt finally to recall those haunting memories and find out whether she had succeeded in removing them. Heavy emotions welled up in her, pain, shame and self-hatred, but the haunting visions were impossible to bring back.
It might be I’m just too numb now to remember – Hermione thought, preparing herself for a possible disillusionment.
She had no idea about how much time she sat there that way, perhaps she had even dozed off a little; she only stirred when the door of the office gave a silent squeak.
In fact, she did not simply stir; she literally leapt up from the couch, and instantly realized what a stupid thing that was to do.
She could not see Snape stepping in and lighting some candles, for her eyes were firmly shut, while she was busy holding her head in her hands, afraid that this time it would surely explode.
Snape, after making sure that the blinds were all closed, and that he and the girl could not be seen from outside, looked at her wondering; his ashen, exhausted face told of relief as well as some distinct amusement.
Without uttering a word, he pressed a glass full of water into her unstable hand and added some dark liquid to it from a vial.
The water turned red, wildly started to foam and it smelled a bit like chilli pepper essence.
She cast a look at Snape, well, at least she took an effort to do so, but being too weak to protest, she drank the potion.
Soon, after a few minutes, her mind started to get clearer.
When she finally composed herself and opened her eyes again, she saw Snape looking at her expectantly, even somewhat impatiently.
“Thanks,” she whispered hoarsely.
Snape, replying nothing, handed her a heap of disgusting looking rugs.
Hermione stared at him uncomprehending.
“Clothes,” he said slowly, taking time to press the syllables in his favourite manner, “for you.”
“Thanks, but I already have clothes, and though I don’t really like them, I doubt I would change them for these.” She tried to make her voice sound defiant, but her efforts weren’t too convincing.
Snape meanwhile decided to put her to a brief examination; he lifted up her chin and scrutinized her pupils for some seconds, then he measured her pulse and the lymph nodes under her jawbone and ears.
He seemed to be satisfied with the results.
“Did the pain subside?” he asked.
Hermione felt definitely tense, being the subject of his attention.
“Er, yes, it did. Wait… why do you want me to wear these?” She raised the ugly looking and just as ugly smelling rugs.
Snape cast them a cold, abhorring look and said.
“We will have to use Polyjuice Potion. We have very little time left. They are coming to Hogwarts. What is your last memory of the previous night?”
“What previous night?” She stammered absent-mindedly, and immediately returned to the main point. “They are coming… How did they find out? Oh, Merlin! Not again…”
Snape looked undisturbed.
“Let me answer your first question first: one day has passed since you managed to knock yourself out. As for your second question: they didn’t find it out, they are simply checking out all the places you and your dear friends used to visit. Nonetheless, it’s highly unadvisable for you to be here in the meantime.”
He faintly smiled and it hit Hermione, how drained and lifeless his face looked, only his eyes glowed, like black coal.
“Who do these belong to?” she asked, eyeing the clothes suspiciously. “A troll?”
“Our beloved Mr. Filch,” he smirked at her.
Hermione incredulously turned her gaze at him.
“You can’t be serious.”
“You should know me by now, Miss Granger. I’m always serious.”
Hermione’s lips curved in a disgusted expression; it was written on her face that there was no way she would drink that Polyjuice Potion with Argus Filch’s hair in it. No way!
Snape did not waver; his firm look told that no matter what, she would take the Polyjuice Potion, and she had better drink it of her own free will, otherwise he would make her.
Hermione went paler than she already was.
“Please,” she asked with a definite tremble in her voice, “there must be some other way…”
“Miss Granger, we have lost crucial time with your reckless experiments regarding how to stew your own brain. I’m not willing to lose any more time.” He turned to his desk, where to Hermione’s surprise the Polyjuice Potion and some other things appeared that Snape must have had previously prepared for their trip.
There was also a weakly shining vial, containing some bright, whirling substance.
Snape swiftly put that into his pocket. An eerie feeling caught Hermione’s heart.
He put something into the Polyjuice Potion, and Hermione had to fight the goose-bumps appearing on the skin of her arms as she imagined Filch’s hair dissolve in the concoction.
Merlin, that’s DISGUSTING!
Soon she found herself with a goblet in her hand and was ushered to the adjoining room in the dubious company of Filch’s clothes.
“You have exactly two minutes. After that…”
“Please, can’t I be someone else?” Hermione interrupted her former teacher, but seeing his face she added. “You’re being cruel.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” he said and unceremoniously closed the door behind her.
When the door opened again, a sulky, ill-humoured Argus Filch appeared on the threshold.
“I will never forgive you for this,” he grunted in his nastiest voice, which made Snape allow himself a satisfied grin.
“You do it perfectly, Miss Granger.”
“Don’t forget, dear Professor, when you make these remarks that you are facing 150 pounds of vile fury.” Mr Filch bared his yellowish, uneven teeth.
Snape didn’t look scared; in fact he looked pretty much amused in spite of the hasty preparations he made.
A huge thing leapt from the table and rubbed its furry body to Hermione’s legs.
“Mrs. Norris is also coming,” Snape said, “just for the perfect effect.”
Hermione examined the beast with clear suspicion and finally said:
“It’s not her.”
“Of course, it’s not,” Snape replied without even looking.
“Who is it then?”
Snape made her wait a while before he answered.
“It’s Dobby, the house-elf. I ask you, Miss Granger, to keep your further questions to yourself. Am I clear?”
Filch nodded; his untidy hair swung lazily.
The next few minutes passed in dead silence until Snape gave a sign and the three of them started for the forest.
Well, it wasn’t exactly the romantic getaway one reads about in books. In reality, the forest was murky and wet; cold wind blew, sprinkling them with watery snow flakes and moist twigs.
It was winter already, and the grounds were blanketed by a thick layer of snow.
It was cold, but not cold enough. The snow was heavy and sticky.
It infiltrated Filch’s boots, which welcomed the moisture most eagerly, just to make sure Hermione’s socks had no dry spot left on them.
Snape dictated a pretty fast pace.
Dobby-Mrs. Norris was beside herself, and Snape had to throw a warning glace at the cat several times, just to keep it from making joyous leaps and running about, which was not in the least characteristic of the real Mrs. Norris.
Snape was following a path completely unknown to Hermione before, and soon she realized he was making complicated curves and turns, most probably to confuse anyone who might have tried to follow them.
All footprints were vanished with great proficiency, and for the first time, Hermione realized that Snape’s presence soothed her. She somehow felt safe and relaxed, even despite her continuous stumbles and slips, caused by those enormous boots on those enormous feet.
“Where…” Before Hermione could put her question Snape sharply turned his head and cast a stern look. Hermione decided to leave questions for later.
Dawn was approaching somewhere below the horizon; the sky was changing its gloomy black to just as gloomy grey.
Hermione suddenly felt a jerk in her stomach and at the same time she was tripped up by a protruding root.
She fell into the snow and felt as if her skin suddenly shrank several sizes.
She moaned, trying to wipe away her hair from her face, and realized that it was her own wavy hair, all wet and ruffled.
A forceful hand grabbed her by the elbow and pulled her up to her feet.
“The effect of the potion has worn off,” Hermione stuttered apologetically, and again she got ashamed of her ‘Ron-ish’ behaviour.
“We’ve got to hurry,” Snape hissed and jerked his head towards the dark mass of trees ahead of them.
“But…” Hermione gave up at the very first word; she looked at the receding back of the man and wished it was him soaking in the old caretaker’s stale-smelling clothes.
She tied the belt of Filch’s amorphous trousers with a knot – there were no more holes left to pull it tighter -, and fighting desperately with the enormous boots, she hastened after him.
They were very close to their destination, as Hermione later realized, yet this short distance was harder for her to cover than all the way in the Underground.
She got exhausted of halting every few minutes to adjust her hanging, oversized clothes.
She could hardly walk; she slipped and tripped every other step.
Mrs. Norris stayed very close by her side, having the illusion that by being under her feet she could help her strange owner.
Finally they reached a small clearing hidden from view by thorny, fierce bushes.
Snape impatiently watched as Hermione fought her way through the snow and sly roots, all wet and grim.
She was truly angry, but she hated to admit that it only served to hide her new-born fear, a petrifying anguish woken by the prospect of returning to her friends.
She would soon have to face them and their questions. It made her limbs go colder than they already were.
She will have no choice but to lie.
And they would know that.
They would know the truth.
And yet, they would pretend as if they believed her lies.
Merlin! If only she could just vanish forever, go and live in some far corner of the world without ever being found…
Snape’s cold eyes observed her with their usual persistence.
“We don’t have all day, Miss Granger,” he said in a firm, yet very quiet voice.
He cautiously peered over the bushes.
Nothing moved, not even a lost squirrel.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Norris had vanished, but soon returned with a satisfied purr. Hermione would have sworn she saw the cat give an enthusiastic smile.
Dobby swelled with pride after having made sure that the coast was clear.
Snape bowed hardly noticeable to their furry friend and he, understanding the sign, ran off for the bushes and soon disappeared on his hunting tracks.
“Now,” Snape started; Hermione hoped the time had finally come, and he would tell her something important.
“Miss Granger. You will Apparate to the old mill by the Blue Hills, then a few seconds afterwards…” he described a very complicated way with at least four Apparations to various places. Hermione, though being always at ease in memorizing things, tensed under the burden of not forgetting something vital.
“At the end, when you have waited for at least 15 minutes and made sure no one followed you, you Apparate to a place called Little Purbington, a deserted village by the Shallow Waters. Then walk along the river towards the swamp. Be careful, stay on the higher bank or you will get lost and drown. There they will find you.”
Hermione felt panic rise within her; she went as white as the snow around them.
“Go to the clearing and when I give you the sign – Apparate. Tell me the way you’re going to go!”
Stammering, yet precisely Hermione repeated everything Snape had told her. He simply nodded.
He put his hand in his pocked and pulled out the bright vial she had seen back in his office.
“Take it away, and never do open it!” he said in such a commanding tone that Hermione unwillingly tugged the vial immediately into one Filch’s bottomless pockets.
“What’s this?” she breathed fearing the answer.
“It’s exactly what it looks,” he growled unkindly, obviously keen to drop the matter.
“But… how…” Suddenly her eyes widened with the horror of recognition.
“It couldn’t have been you…” Now her face was just as ashen as Snape’s.
“No…” she moaned almost soundlessly.
The Earth around her suddenly swung and she had to seek support of an old oak tree next to her.
“So it wasn’t me who did it after all,” she hoarsely whispered.
So she failed to remove those memories.
Snape did it for her.
But in that case…
He couldn’t have done it without entering her mind, without seeing her memories!
He couldn’t have done it any other way!
He had to identify those recollections accurately if he didn’t want to cripple her.
That meant… that meant the worst she ever feared since her imprisonment!
Her horrid secrets were all revealed!
She felt so exposed, so humiliated, so cheap and dirty.
She was tainted… she was a bitch, a bitch of Voldemort!
Emotions flooded her, and she had no hope to cope her oncoming wrath.
“How dare you?” her exclamation came out as squeaking for her voice refused to work.
She advanced on him with all the rage of her stifled pains.
“You bastard!” Her voice failed her again, making her sound like and un-oiled hinge.
She roughly thrust him in the chest with force quite unexpected of a small creature like her.
Tears were flowing down her face in thick streams.
“You bastard! You damned bastard!” All thought escaped her; there was nothing but the burning, smouldering pain of humiliation.
She was hitting him hard on the chest, and Snape had to step back to preserve his balance. He clasped her wrists, but she kept twitching violently.
“How could you… just how could you do this to me?” Hermione’s face reddened, and she was sobbing uncontrollably.
Snape hated uncontrolled people and uncontrolled situations, and now, he had to face a most difficult one.
“Should I have left you to die?” he hissed furiously for being powerless at managing the girl.
“Yes, you should have!” she screamed, but luckily for both of them her voice broke.
“Do you know what you did to me? You dissected me! Dissected me alive! You dissected me like I was a bloody toad, a juicy little experiment for you!” She was mad. Snape had never seen her like that before; he had never assumed that such force and passion hid in that girl.
And why? Just because he bothered to save her life!
Did she think it was amusement for him to face the pains she had been put through?
Angry as he was, he wished he had spared himself the effort.
A blue aura started to form around her, and Snape knew at once that she was becoming dangerous. Her hysteria was more than enough; he didn’t need the magical power of Slytherin to accompany it.
Snape knew he had to risk, otherwise her wands will act on their own accord, and he will end his life like those unlucky Mesmetydes or if he survives, they will have a good chance to be discovered by Death Eaters.
He released her wrists to find her fists instantly resuming hitting him on the chest again.
Her rampage risked their lives. She was evidently under a post-traumatic shock. It was a wonder she held herself for so long.
And then he did it, the only thing he hoped to help.
He slapped her gently but firmly on the face.
Hermione looked blankly at him, like she had woken from a dream, and Snape using her momentary stillness, raised her chin to him.
“Hermione, look at me!” he spoke slowly, while his eyes kept her still.
“I won’t deny what I saw. You forcibly tried to tear those memories from your mind. But they are not simple memories, like names or spells. What you did was a stupid attempt to cut off a piece of your mind. Life is not like that; you can’t erase your past or burn it in the fire as if it was a collection of useless photographs. It becomes a part of you, whether you like it or not.”
Tears, gentler than before, ran down her face.
“You did serious damage to yourself; I had no other choice, but to try to put it right as much as I could. Yet, I could only remove the surface; the scars will stay there forever. Believe me, Hermione, there are very few people for whom I would be willing to suffer this pain for,” he said quietly.
Hermione stiffened with desperation.
“Why didn’t you let me die? I knew what I was risking, and I was ready to pay the price of my failure rather than to live a life with a crippled soul,” she said.
The silence seemed to become endless, when he finally spoke.
“Death is an easy choice – it doesn’t suit you.”
Hermione opened her mouth to speak, but was incredibly hard to find the right words.
At last she said:
“I don’t want others to see what I’ve become. I didn’t want you to see how tainted and damned I am. I’d prefer if you still took me for an ‘insufferable know-it-all’ and mocked me for being a busybody or whatever you used to take me for. I hate this tactful politeness; it’s a most evident proof of my misery.”
She closed her eyes and leaned her head softly in his palm.
Hermione felt his thumb soothingly wipe the tears from her cheek.
What happened next happened so suddenly and yet so naturally that neither of them really realized what was going on.
Hermione leaned against his chest, which she had been restlessly pounding just a few moments ago, and was met by a tight embrace. Her cold lips found his, and it was impossible to tell who kissed whom first, as she later recalled this moment for numberless times.
The warmth of his body relaxed her quivering and his closeness mesmerized her.
Their lips raced to ask and answer all the soundless questions of a buss.
Their breathing became fast and erratic as passion took them over.
Like a whirlwind it sucked them in until nothing else existed, but the heat of the kiss, gasping breaths, caressing hands digging into the other’s hair and bodies pressing to each other.
The cold and her dripping clothes no longer bothered Hermione; though her fingers were still numb and icy as they slid along Snape’s skin, inside she was burning. Her face gained a pretty, pink colour, and her lips glowed bright red.
She could not imagine a higher pleasure than touching the damp, raw wool of Snape’s cloak, feeling his soft, tangled hair under her fingertips, being pressed against his heaving chest and most of all tasting his demanding lips.
They were lost in time and space for some time, and Hermione later felt endless gratitude towards her dear old Dobby, for guarding the place so faithfully saving their reckless skins.
Every moment has to end, even those which we wish to last forever, and this time it was the tactless crack of a twig somewhere nearby that broke the dream.
Snape instantly became as alert as a hunting cat, and Hermione was disappointed to see how quickly he put on his usual Professor-Snape-mask on.
The dense darkness was very slowly attenuating – it was time to go.
He gave no sign of considering any further discussion necessary; he acted swiftly and precisely, as always.
He made sure for the last time that the coast was clear, and having checked Dobby, he said:
“Go now. You are getting late. And one more thing, don’t ever come back. You understand me?” He pierced her with his commanding gaze.
The confused Hermione didn’t dare to open her mouth, because now, after this short scene, so many questions and things had arisen in her mind that together with Snape’s dismissive behaviour they simply paralyzed her.
Snape on the other hand made everything to keep it that way; he quickly repeated the route she had to take and lead her to the clearing.
She obediently followed his orders, while somewhere deep inside she was numbly observing herself, not knowing what was happening at all.
Standing on the clearing, she saw those black eyes watching her, but they subserviently hid everything that was going on in their owner’s mind.
Hermione took a breath, and a bang filled the air.
She no longer saw her companion, standing with an empty expression on his face, looking for a while at the spot where she had disappeared.
She did not see him take a vial out of his pocket and soon turn into Mr. Argus Filch, make some adjustment to his clothes and return to the castle along with his inseparable Mrs. Norris.
In truth Hermione couldn’t recall later how she reached the Shallow Waters.
Fathomless emptiness swallowed her soul, and she became a distant observer of her own life.
Snape’s instructions were followed precisely, and Hermione soon was walking along the bank of a dark river, which snaked its way deep through the deceiving waters of the swamp.
Suddenly she fell roughly backwards, and before she could have realized what had happened she glided down the bank and splashed into the icy water.
It hurt like dozens of blades stabbing her body.
She hoarsely cried out.
Her hands were frantically fighting with the icy mud, and she had lost both of her shoes.
She heard voices, but her brain was mad with pain and terror; she had no idea to whom they belonged.
“Down here!” someone shouted.
Hermione felt hands grab her by Filch’s cloak and pull her up.
She lay on her back facing the fading blackness and tears welled up in her eyes. Pain, both physical and psychic took her over, and she was no longer able to fight it.
Her world shattered and endless void reigned all over; she felt ashamed that it was stronger than the joy over seeing her friends again.
“Hermione, darling!” Ron shouted kneeling into the jelly-like mud, taking her in his arms, crying and kissing her begrimed face all over.
“Hermione!” Harry was dumbfounded, unable to believe his eyes.
“Is it really you?”
Hermione couldn’t answer; she was sobbing and gasping in Ron’s vehement embraces, but she managed to nod to him.
Harry fell to his knees next to his friend.
He was later the one, who had still some reason left after the delirious reunion; he somehow ushered his friends towards the house, lifting that very charm, which Hermione had collided with on the bank.
The three of them – dirty and dripping with water and mud, still desperately clutching, embracing each other afraid this dream to end – started for the house, for HOME at last.
It was a shame that Hermione’s dream come true was no longer the same.
Hi, I hope you liked the story. I still have some brushing up lef.Special thanks to my beta Slytherinprincess. Sorry for keeping you wait for so long! Really, I feel so ashamed!
You, Guys, have been so nice waiting so patiently! I love you! wings