A/N: Hello, here comes the next chapter, which is actually an explanatory part to the rest of the story. The next chapter is "Lust and Damnation", and I hope it will be ready the next week. I don't know when the queue will be closed, but I hope, I will manage to post it before that date.
Enjoy the story! For Snape-addicted fans: Snape will appear in the next chapter, but you might have already guessed that by the title. ;)
Special thanks, again, to dear SlytherinPrincess, my lovely beta, who helped to brush this story up.
Chapter 10 – Cold Dawn
Edelberth, the ugly gnome was on a mission again; one could tell by the murderous look on his face as he swept through the library in his glossy shoes and immaculate suit.
The nature of the mission stayed a mystery to Hermione, who in the meantime was making frantic efforts to find a certain page in the Potion’s book that lay on her knees.
“Damn it!” she growled, running her finger down the jagged scrap, all that remained of the torn page.
“The twins,” she stated.
Edelberth, who recently gained an eerie gait that reminded Hermione of a Muggle called Charlie Chaplin, was uneasily climbing up the shelves, puffing along like a little steam engine.
Smartly hexed shoes – Hermione realized.
“May I help you, Edel?” she smiled sweetly at him.
The gnome cast a nasty look at her; it must have been hard to overdo his already gloomy, malicious gaze, Hermione concluded.
The gnome shook his head, but his eyes narrowed with a sudden suspicion; his fists fastened their grasp on the oaken shelves.
“Oh, it’s a shame. You know, I just wanted to offer you a fair deal. You get me back this page on the Polyjuice Potion from Fred and George and I’ll get these shoes off you. Still not interested?”
The gnome stayed totally still, only his eyes bulged, turning first swiftly to Hermione just to switch to the door, then at his shoes, darting up at the book he was about to retrieve and finally at Hermione’s wand gently playing with a piece of cookie on the tea table.
“Want some?” she teasingly asked the terrified creature.
She stood up, extending a butter cookie to the gnome.
He waited two seconds before he grabbed the cookie with one hand and stuffed it avidly into his mouth.
“Perhaps, if you promise to behave, I’ll try to break the spell and you will be free. How’s that?”
Edelberth was not used to so much thinking; his features tensed as he tried to find out the trick behind Hermione’s words. He absent-mindedly released the shelf and plummeted down to the floor.
The spell caught him at the last second. He hung an inch above the moth-eaten carpet– upside down.
Hermione gently placed him on the floor, casting him a questioning look.
Edelberth stiffly nodded, but stayed in place, apparently awaiting something else.
Hermione took two more biscuits and handed them to him. One was swallowed immediately, leaving numberless crumbs on the shining black suit; the other disappeared into the back of the elegant trousers.
“I need the page about the ‘Polyjuice Potion’. Remember?”
The gnome nodded again and started for the door.
“Wait, Edelberth. You forgot this, I believe.”
A book emerged from one of the upper shelves and smoothly landed in the creature’s hands.
“’Odd Cures to Odd Illnesses’, isn’t it?” Hermione smiled.
The gnome stared at her for a second, frightened, then quickly pulled his self together and ran out of site, the book tucked under his arm.
Waiting for the little gnome, Hermione restlessly paced the library room. There was that never ending anxiety within her. That nagging feeling like she had lost something extremely important and forgot what it was. It was unnerving. Incredibly unnerving.
She sighed. She couldn’t stay there any longer. Even if there were a place for her in this world, she wouldn’t be able to stay. She was a ghost wandering through the places of her former life.
In the mirror on the opposite wall, she saw her own reflection. Holy wands!
She was thin, just as thin as when she returned a month ago. For some reason, even Molly’s finest dishes couldn’t wake her usual enthusiasm to eat. All tastes had become flavourless.
She slid her hands along her sides – ribs, ribs, ribs, a little flesh then a protruding hip-bone.
I don’t just feel ghastly, I look it, she thought.
Letting out a heavy sigh again, she closed her eyes and found herself standing in the murky forest.
She didn’t mind the cold or the water in her boots. She was waiting for him.
She would have been willing to wait there for him forever.
Nothing else mattered in this world.
Nothing else bothered her.
And there he was – a gloomy silhouette approaching between the dark trees.
Her heart skipped a beat.
It was him. Severus Snape.
In her mind she repeated his name again and again. It tasted thrilling – hot and cold at the same time, spicy and bitter.
She imagined him stepping close to her, and she leaned to the trunk of the tree behind her back.
She gazed mesmerized into those dark eyes, into the black flames that burnt within them…
She could feel that grave power emanating from him again, which she had felt in the dungeons of the Underworld.
He leant closer and her breath hitched.
She wanted to touch him, but she didn’t dare.
She tilted her head back giving him full access to her throat.
His breath tickled her skin…
The door to the library gently closed, cutting off the dream abruptly. Hermione spun on her heels and blushed.
Edelberth, mustering an enviable amount of self-importance, stepped in and handed her a battered piece of paper. With a dignified look on his face, he glanced down at his feet.
“Thank you, Edelberth,” Hermione said kneeling down next to him. She began to summon a complex binding-spell to deactivate the charm.
The shoes quivered and finally relaxed.
Echoing footsteps thundered along the corridor beneath them and the front door banged shut.
Fast footsteps followed the first and the door slammed again.
Hermione, having a nasty foreboding feeling, ran to the window to see who had made so much noise.
What she saw didn’t surprise her.
It was Ron, breaking his way through the muddy garden. He was gesticulating wildly, trying to get rid of Harry, who was trying his best to catch up with him.
“Just not that again,” she moaned. She quickly tucked the piece of paper into the pocket of her jeans, and left the library and a flabbergasted Edelberth behind. She ran downstairs.
“Ron! Ron, please!” Hermione begged. Her feet were slipping and sticking in the mud. She quickly understood why no foe thought of looking for them there in the swamp.
“Please, Ron, be rational! You can’t go on avoiding us for the rest of your life! Uhh,” She had tripped, and the aspect of falling face down into the dirt broke her voice.
“There’s nothing for us to talk about!” Ron barked murkily.
“Oh, Ron, don’t be ridiculous! You know there is!” She desperately grabbed his arm.
Ron stiffened and tore his arm away from her.
“Leave me alone, you two, will ya?” He towered over her like an injured lion that had its tail bitten by a flea.
“Ron, it was a mistake. It was my mistake. I’m sorry. I will never forgive myself for treating you like this. I should have realized what was going on earlier. It was my mistake, not Harry’s.”
“What do you mean, what was going on?” he snapped.
“It was puppy love, Ron! I hate to do this, breaking your illusions, but our relationship had been hanging by a hair for months. I tried to talk to you, but you wouldn’t listen. The passion had worn off, and we were left there with our wounds and quarrels.”
“I truly loved you,” he said suddenly, “and I still do.”
This hit Hermione like a thunderbolt. Dear Ron. She knew how terribly he suffered when she had got captured. Only then did he realize how much he missed her, how much he cared. But it was too late by then. She was no longer the same Hermione who could go on with that relationship.
“You no longer love me, you must have thought I was a fool and couldn’t recognize it. You avoided me, tried to stay as far as possible. I didn’t then but now I understand why; it’s all because of Harry. I’m not standing in your way. Be happy together.”
Meanwhile, Harry was miserably shifting his feet a few steps away from the couple. He had never felt so horrible. He didn’t know if the right words for situations like this even existed, but if they did he definitely did not have the slightest idea what they were.
Both Ron and Hermione turned towards him, and this made him only feel worse, if that was possible at all.
Hermione irritably turned back to Ron again.
“Ron, it has nothing to do with Harry. What happened between us over a year ago was a mistake. We both regret what happened.” She cast a quick look at Harry and could hardly suppress a smile; Harry was apparently at the point of regretting being born.
“I have changed, Ron, and Harry has nothing to do with that. I would be lying if I told you that everything was going to be just like it was. How could it possibly? I am no longer who I used to be. A part of my soul has been ripped away, I’m crippled. My former life now seems so alien, so unreal. I can’t get used to it again; days pass before my eyes like pages of a book. But I’m no longer reading them. Do you understand me? Please, don’t hate me for this. I’m just not able to go on with this relationship.” Hermione paused.
Now, that she had made her decisions it was painful to see the reactions of those who were involved. Their helplessness overwhelmed her.
“Oh, Ron!” she whispered and embraced the stiff and dumbfounded Ron.
“I wish I was the perfect woman for you, but I’m not.” Hermione breathed into Ron’s neck. He was standing awkwardly, fighting his desire to pull her into a strong hug.
Harry watched the scene with wide eyes for a few seconds, then he cautiously, so as not to tumble down and disturb his friends in that crucial moment, started dragging his feet through the mud and back to the house.
“”Wha…? Wait… No… NO! Definitely NO! No, Hermione! Do you want to tell me that you intend to go back to Hogwarts to… to… SNAPE!” Harry was mad. He was truly mad.
Hermione knew that it won’t be an easy ride, so she calmly waited till the storm blew over.
“Harry! We need his help. Please, don’t try to deny it. He’s on our side…”
“How do you now that? Did he say so? Even if he would have said so, which I highly doubt, I wouldn’t believe a word he said. Do you know who we are talking about? We are talking about SNAPE! The Snape who killed Dumbledore!” Harry hit the table with such fury that the mugs and spoons jumped into the air clinking.
“You’re totally insane, Hermione,” he growled, trying to regain his temper.
Hermione shifted closer to him and took his aching hand.
“Harry, look at me. You know that I’m not that easy to fool. I suspected him right to the very last moment, BUT…! But all the things he did to keep me alive… to lessen my pain… it was more than anyone would expect, even from a close friend. Harry, Snape is the bravest man I have ever seen.”
Harry glanced up at her and pouted with disgust.
“Besides,” Hermione continued, afraid to be interrupted, “he knew about the new hideout of the Order all along. And he didn’t betray it to Voldemort.”
“Perhaps he has his own purposes. What if Ron’s right and Snape wants me and Voldemort to finish each other off so he can become the new Dark Lord? The greatest Dark Wizard of the world.”
“You can’t be serious, Harry. That’s just silly,” Hermione winced at the idea as if it was physical pain.
Harry stared intently at her.
“What if he needs us to destroy his Master? What if he considers that to be his only way to be rid of him and finally be free?”
“If that’s the case, why would he risk his life for someone like me? I’m not the ‘Girl Who Lived’,” cocking up her eyes, she mocked Harry’s fans.
“Perhaps he thinks that you will play an important role in this fight.”
“Exactly,” Hermione agreed, “Dumbledore…”
“No. It has nothing to do with Dumbledore. It’s all about Snape. He hid Slytherin’s book so that we found it. He made you so important in this game. And he saved your skin and brought you back to us. What is it then, a mere coincidence, a gesture of kindness? No! It was all planned ahead! He knew that sooner or later he would have the chance to capture you. And then all he had to do was play according to his plan. He plays the hero and saves the princess from the dirty claws of the dragon; so that the princess could give him mercy after the dragon is slain.” Harry ranted.
“He doesn’t need our mercy, Harry!” she protested.
“He will, Hermione, believe me he will.”
“Why would he have killed Dumbledore if he wanted to get rid of Voldemort? Dumbledore was our strongest hope!” Hermione cried out desperately.
“Oh, it’s obvious. If Dumbledore had found out about his intentions, he would have been the first to kick him in the ass. But unfortunately, he was too busy hunting down Voldemort and his Horcruxes to realize what was going on behind his back. Without Dumbledore we are much less of a danger to Snape, especially if you are on his side,” he said through gritted teeth.
“Harry, you’re the one who was supposed to be able to open and read the book of the Dual-Wands, not me! It was all for you!”
“This is what he says, but we both know that you are far more skilled than I am. And he knows that, as well.” Harry angrily paced the kitchen.
He didn’t know why exactly Hermione’s suggestion to invite Snape back to the Order upset him so much, but the mere idea made him grit his teeth. He hated Hermione’s great, pleading eyes; he felt that she was withholding something and it made him feel confused and powerless.
The door to the kitchen opened and Remus’ curious face appeared in the gap.
“I would never have thought I would say it, but Harry, you’ve managed to outdo Molly, at least at shouting.”
“Come in, Remus! Perhaps you could talk to Hermione. Her ideas are starting to seriously frighten me!”
Remus Lupin stoked his non-existent beard with his thin fingers.
“Hermione, it’s dangerous. Hogwarts is no longer the safe place it used to be when Albus lived. It’s swarmed with Voldemort’s spies and foot-lickers. Severus might not be there to help you, given of course that he is willing to risk his life and reputation for the second time.”
“Remus, our time is running out and we still have no idea how to get to Nagini. Death Eaters could be anywhere; we can’t sit here and wait for them to find us. Professor Dumbledore knew exactly how important it was to have an insider. He trusted Snape and relied on him without a doubt.” Hermione slightly bit her lip, anxiously looking at Remus.
“Albus was the greatest wizard of his time, remember that, and yet he fell by the hand of his faithful ally, Severus Snape. We don’t know why he trusted Snape and whether he had foreseen his death. All we know now is that he died. He can’t come back to absolve the sin that lays on Severus’ soul. And we can’t do that for him.” Remus was closely examining his fingernails; Hermione hadn’t seen him like that since the death of Sirius.
Did Remus feel for Snape, if so, why? Hermione knew that her chance had come at last.
“Look, Remus, I have seen him disobey Voldemort just to spare me, I have seen him be cursed for me, I have heard him suffer but still not betray me, I have been saved from a creeping giant worm and I have seen him fight Slytherin’s damned creatures. I can’t tell you, Remus, what makes me feel so strongly, but I’ve never been surer – he’s on our side. He knows that we wouldn’t believe him and it makes it easier for him to keep his secrets. He’s bound by some promise or something not to tell the truth, and he’d rather be an outcast and an enemy than to break his vow.”
She was looking at Remus with her puppy-eyes. He shifted tensely in his seat. He didn’t know what to say; he knew what it meant to be an outcast, the hated enemy, the condemned. But he never chose it of his own will. There would have to be some horrible reason to make him do it.
“The Order won’t agree to this, even if I do,” he slowly measured his words.
“They don’t have to. I won’t bring him here. What I want is to make him help us. The Underground is perfectly unknown to Voldemort and his followers. That is how we could sneak into his hideout.”
In the background, Harry huffed and shook his head. He didn’t want to admit it, but the idea of sneaking into Voldemort’s hideout, wherever it was at the moment, and destroying Nagini was pretty tempting. His only problem was Professor-Damned-Severus-Snape.
“Understand me, Hermione; I can’t let you walk into your own death! Not even if it was Dumbledore’s bloody idea! Suppose that Severus won’t give you away, you still have to enter a building overrun by Death Eaters. You could walk straight into the Dark Lord’s arms! What if Harry’s right and Snape lures you into a trap? Saving you doesn’t inevitably mean that he would spare Harry. No, Hermione. There is too much at stake.”
Remus moodily pushed his chair back and started pacing, keeping his eyes locked on the ground.
“But what if Hermione’s right?”
Remus stopped dead in his tracks and with an astonished face turned to Harry.
“If he’s on our side then he will give Hermione the map he used there.”
Hermione’s eyes widened simultaneously with Remus’.
“Dobby could help us to make sure that the coast is clear in Hogwarts,” Harry speculated aloud.
“But what if Severus warns his Master?” Remus was caught between two millstones; the stout Hermione and the obsessed Harry.
“He won’t!” they said in chorus.
“Why do you think so?” Remus turned to Harry, who he believed must have had some reason left.
“I have a plan. We won’t ask for the map, we’ll steal it!” He winked to the open-mouthed Hermione.
“You’ll go there and ask for his help, tell him that the Order is highly appreciative for rescuing you blah, blah, blah. All you have to do is find out where he keeps that piece of parchment and steal it from him. You can do it, can’t you?” He encouragingly nodded to Hermione, whose face clearly expressed her opinion that: no, she can’t.
Remus wringed his own lips with his fingers, deeply lost in thought.
“No, Harry. You can’t do this to me! You can’t send me there to nick that wretched map! We need more than a scratched draft of the underground tunnels! What we need is information!” She glared at Harry and suddenly, struck by a dark idea, she gasped.
“No…,” she whispered, “tell me it’s not what you want me to do. I… I can’t” She was backing slowly away from Harry.
“We don’t trust Snape, and we won’t in the future, but we need to know what he knows. What can we do in this case? We will pretend. You will pretend, Hermione. You will make him believe that we trust him and we need his help. And then you can spy on him, find out what he’s really up to, and most importantly, you can bring us the map.”
Hermione went cold as an ice-cube.
“He’s not a fool, Harry. He’s bloody smart. He’ll find out!”
“So are you, Hermione,” Harry seriously replied, piercing her with his gaze.
“Please, Harry, don’t make me do it!” she begged, searching for support from Remus.
Harry stepped to her and pulled her into a gentle embrace. Remus silently gazed into the distance.
“Hermione, you know that I would never force you into it. You are free to choose. But you have to understand, we can’t risk the lives of all the Order members by trusting Snape unconditionally. I accept your opinion, but even if we are willing to risk our own lives, we can’t risk others’. You’re right. Snape’s help can be vital for us, yet, we can’t reveal our cards to him. Perhaps later, if he’s proved to be trustworthy and reliable, we will take him back, but not until then. Not until then.”
Hermione hopelessly hung her head, her stomach turned.
“Hermione, I think Harry’s right. We can’t reveal our plans to Severus, but we could use a little help. These are lies and machinations. It’s deceitful, and I would never support it if these weren’t desperate times. But we can’t risk innocent lives by trusting him, not yet anyway.”
“I have to think it over, Remus,” Hermione said quietly. She had no idea what there was to think over; the matter was clear. She couldn’t hazard with the fate of other Order members. She would willingly put her life into Severus’ hands, but she couldn’t do that to Harry.”
She silently cursed herself for bringing the idea up.
The door opened and Molly stepped in cheerfully carrying a full basket of goods.
Curtly greeting her, Hermione fled the room. Harry hurriedly followed.
“Let me help you, Mol,” Remus said, his eyes absent-mindedly wandering along the vegetables hanging over the rim of the basket.
Molly’s gaze stayed dreamily fixed on the door, where Hermione disappeared.
“That girl is seriously sick,” she stated finally.
“No, I don’t think so. To me she seems perfectly healthy, even if a bit skinny,” Remus contemplated over Hermione’s physical state.
“Oh, Remus, you think like a typical man. Haven’t you ever heard of love sickness?” Molly asked.
“I just wonder who it could be. So strange for her to feel like that after what she had been put through.” She made a quick move with her wand and the carrots flew across the kitchen, right into the sink basin full of water.
“To be so deeply in love…,” she muttered, “after being abused by a man, quite unusual.”
“It can’t be Ron,” she continued, while three onions were cut into cubes by a huge floating knife, “it can’t be Harry either, no matter how much Tonks sticks to her theory…” Fire lit under the enormous cauldron.
“It can be no one inside this house, that’s for sure. I would know it. It’s not Fred or George, it’s not Percy. Who on Earth can it be?” A huge cabbage got rid of its outer leaves and obediently landed on the table.
“What do you think, Remus?” she curiously turned to the man, who was having difficulties with peeling the potatoes with his wand, so he gave it up and took a knife in his hand.
“The name you are looking for is Severus Snape.”
Two knives, a nice fat cabbage and several chicken legs fell on the floor.
“You’re kidding, Remus,” Molly stuttered.
“Am I?” He smirked, resuming his clumsy moves, peeling potatoes.
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