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Tainted by purewings
Chapter 15 : Deep Down
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 1

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A/N: Hi there! An other new chappie. Hasn't been betaed, yet, but will be soon!
There were some of you who have guessed what will happen and why those thing had happened in the earlier chapters, well, some of your guesses were right (not all of them, luckily)! So go on to find out if your guess was right!
The story will have three more chapters, I think. I just can't write them short, so I always have to divide them lol! Okay, go on and read, and then tell me what you think! Love you all, wings

Chapter 14 – Deep Down

The steep staircase that led into dense darkness was sweaty with foul, slimy water; no wonder that from time to time the echoing noises of footsteps were interrupted by the sound of slipping feet.

The group was led by Lord Voldemort, who didn’t bother igniting his wand for a little source of light; his eyes were able to penetrate the immense darkness without outer help.

Bellatrix Lestrange on the other hand, who advanced from the rear to the front of the line right behind her master, held her wand high, lighting the way with a sharp, bright-green light.

The stairs were so narrow that they had to ascend it one by one; Hermione was stuck between Severus Snape, whose frame managed to blot out the filtered gleam of Bella’s wand, making Hermione slip and stumble every too often, and Lucius Malfoy, who kept clutching her shoulder as if afraid to lose her.

The place reminded Hermione of the Underworld; she dreaded that the secret of the ancient passages created by different magical creatures had somehow leaked out, and it became the hideaway place for the last Horcrux, Nagini.
Nevertheless Hermione was mistaken – the never ending stairs led to the underground chambers of Hogwarts.

As they reached the end of the stairs, they found themselves before a massive, round, iron gate with surprisingly elaborated carvings and decorations on it.

Hermione heard Lord Voldemort hiss the way Harry had done in his second year, when he fought a cobra snake that was conjured and thrown at him by Draco Malfoy.
There was a heavy clunk, and rustled creaking – the sound of metal sliding on metal – and finally the stone floor shook slightly beneath their feet.
The door opened.

An awful smell, a stink of rotten flesh mixed with cabbages, hit the air out of their lungs. Their eyes began to water; even Bella neglected her dignified posture, crinkling her silk handkerchief before her nose. As soon as the escort of Lord Voldemort entered, the iron gates shut firmly behind their backs.

The way led to a place, which most of all reminded Hermione of an enormous pipeline system, which was quite the truth as later she learned.

Wait, she thought, as they stepped into a long chamber with a very high ceiling supported by huge stone pillars that wore the carvings of snakes. The rotten stink was getting worse.

Isn’t it the place where Harry found Ginny and fought the basilisk? Isn’t that the Chamber of Secrets?

The wizened, rotten carcass of an immense serpent, frozen in the state of horrid pain told her that it was. Its white ribs pierced the once so bright green skin, and Hermione was astonished to find that she felt a completely illogical loss, looking at the dead body of the majestic beast. Slight nausea took hold of her.

At the end of the chamber the group reached the gigantic statue of a man, who had a strange, demonic face and wore long, straight beard. It was no other than Salazar Slytherin.

Indeed, it is the Chamber of Secrets, and Tom Riddle is back at last, Hermione thought wryly. But there is no Harry around this time – she bit her lip.

Lord Voldemort stopped before the statue of his ancestor, and looked at it mesmerized with a strange, admiring, and at the same time challenging expression on his face. The group slowly gathered behind him, shifting uneasily under the threatening presence of the statue and the deadly creature that used to inhabit it, the basilisk.

Funny, Hermione wondered, why would Voldemort leave Nagini in the same chamber where Harry had once killed the basilisk. Harry knew this place, and he also spoke Parseltongue, what made him able to access the Chamber of Secrets without any difficulties. That was just too risky for Nagini. It was nonsense.

“Take your places!” the Dark Lord commanded his escort in a shrill, excited voice.

 “Severus! Come! And take the girl with you!” He added without a backward glance.

Hermione jumped with fright. Now that they were so close to their destination, she didn’t have the slightest desire to get there. She couldn’t cope with Nagini and the Dark Lord at the same time.
Severus Snape must have been thinking along the same lines, because for the first time he showed reluctance.

“My Lord! I’m not sure…,” he started.

With a smouldering stare, Lord Voldemort slowly turned around to face Snape, who suddenly went silent.

Having no other choice left, they went.

As they reached the feet of the sculpture, Voldemort stopped, pulling Hermione closer to him, and pointed his wand at the stone beneath their feet. The stone gave a shudder, and to Hermione’s great distress, it lifted, elevating the three of them into the air.

Pulling away from the Dark Lord, she unwillingly drew closer to Snape and closed her eyes. The huge stone soared across the air like a feather, drifting in the breeze.
As they levelled with the head of Slytherin, a horrible epiphany dawned on Hermione; she remembered Harry telling that the basilisk had appeared through a hole in the mouth of the statue. She watched apprehensively the closed lips of stone, wondering, where the hole could be hidden.

She didn’t have to wait for long. The stone lips suddenly parted, revealing a huge tunnel, through which a slight breeze of fresh air reached them.

The stone delivered them to the very edge of the tunnel, where it stopped smoothly. First it was Lord Voldemort to enter, and then the turn was on Hermione, who suddenly felt a hand on her shoulder. She needed all her self-control to suppress her trembling and withstand the urge to look back at Snape. After pausing for a fraction of a second, she stepped off their stone vehicle and followed after the Lord.

Proving Hermione’s expectations about a long and tiresome walk in the narrow, round tunnel wrong, Voldemort reached his wand out again and hissed a spell. The walls around them moved, shuddered and rearranged, until they found themselves in a round, semi-spherical chamber. There were round openings of a size of a grown man along the smooth wall and the ceiling, about twenty in all, as Hermione inwardly stated.

Lord Voldemort stepped into the very centre of the chamber, and raising his arms into the air, he hissed. Hermione instinctively turned with her back to Snape, keeping her eyes on as many holes, as she possibly could, not noticing that Snape did something very similar.

Nagini appeared all of a sudden from an opening above their heads. The huge serpent softly descended onto the floor and started writhing, coiling and squirming with great enthusiasm around her master; Hermione could tell she was over-excited to see him.

“Here Nagini. Look what I have brought you.” Voldemort said in English. Hermione understood that the real addressee of this sentence was she and not Nagini. The snake meanwhile turned its head towards Hermione and measured her with its cold, bulging eyes. It drew nearer, raising its head as high as Hermione’s was, sniffing her eagerly.
Apparently contented with what it smelt, it started winding its heavy, scaly body around Hermione, hissing along the way.

“Now, Severus. I want this sight to be seen by Harry Potter,” Lord Voldemort spat, “Make sure he won’t miss it!” he ordered, reaching a round, little pocket-mirror to Snape.

The latter stared at it for a moment, then slowly took the mirror and turned it towards Hermione and the snake.

“Refléte!” He pointed his wand at it. With a skilful move he levitated the mirror so that it focused straight at them, and fixed it in mid air.

“That’s fine, Severus, leave,” Lord Voldemort stared at his servant, who obeyed without glancing at them.

“You see, my dear,” Lord Voldemort turned amusedly to the struggling Hermione, “it is a very useful little device. It will send this lovely picture of you and Nagini up to its big twin, which Severus will put before the entrance to the dungeons, where your little friends can see it.”

He stepped closer to his pet snake, striking its scaly body with pretended affection. Then he looked up at the mirror and released a wide grin.

“A bit pathetic, I admit, but couldn’t resist the temptation to make a little show for them. Originally, I brought Nagini here to set them a trap, but then suddenly you appeared. That was really kind of you. Together with Nagini you will become a much better - well, let’s say – motivation for your friends. Potter will have to show up face to face – it’s just the way he works, you see – he’s a real hero type.” The satiric smile on Voldemort’s face widened; his red eyes glistened, watching the weakening Hermione cope with Nagini.

“He will come soon. I know he will,” he purred sweetly.

“B-but… he… doesn’t know… where… we are…” Hermione forced out of her squeezed lungs.

“Oh, don’t worry! I will make sure that he remembered the Chamber of Secrets. Of course, he won’t find you here, but he doesn’t have to, does he? I would not want to risk dear Nagini’s safety; she will stay here to look after you, while I go and deal with Potter and his miserable gang in the place where he and I had left something unfinished.” His gentle, honey-sweet tone dripped with sarcasm.

He turned to leave, though he chose a different way to the one they had arrived from.

“And don’t forget to wave goodbye to your friends,” he called back over his shoulder with a theatrical gesture.

With these words he disappeared.

Eerie silence engulfed the chamber, only the noise of Nagini’s skin gliding slowly on the floor could be heard.

Hermione fought frantically to be able to reach the folds of her skirt, where her wands were hidden, but the muscular body that whipped about her wouldn’t let her move. Nagini turned its head to look her straight in the eyes, and Hermione would have sworn, there was an ill-willed amusement in the serpents stare.

It was a great mistake though, Hermione thought, not to try to curse the Dark Lord on their way here; there might have been a slight chance she succeeded. Originally it was Snape’s presence, which held her back from doing it – her suspicion towards him and his obscure plans involving her death told her to wait till he disappeared. She did so, but then this stupid situation arose – the snake managed to deprive her of her wands before the real fight could have begun.

“Get… off… you… fat… worm!” she huffed powerlessly.

If Voldemort spoke the truth, and it wasn’t a fake intrusion cooked up by Snape, Harry and the Order were in real danger, she thought with a stab of fear.

They must have been lured here by Nagini, and now they would think that Hermione was held captive in the Chamber of Secrets with the snake.
But they would never find her there; nothing, but a dozen of Death Eaters and Lord Voldemort waited beside the rotten carcass for them. Hermione bit her lip to drown the despair that had etched into her heart.

“STUPEFY!” shouted a familiar voice.

Nagini’s body slackened a little, which gave Hermione a chance to grab her wands. The snake’s incredible resistance to magic became obvious within seconds, as Hermione made the first move to slime out of the tight rings of the enormous body.

Nagini, realizing that a new foe appeared on the scene, gave a forceful squeeze to her victim - making Hermione’s lungs wheeze – while her long, smooth tail swished towards the source of the sound.

Nevertheless, to her bitter surprise, Nagini found a white wand stuck into the thick, yet sensitive skin of her throat. The pain ran down the serpent’s spine in a spasmodic convulsion.

“DIFFINDO!” Hermione yelled and slid out of the loosened rings of Nagini.

Nagini thrust its head high into the air, and with a hawk-like dive it made a strike at Hermione.

“AVADA KEDAVRA!” Severus Snape appeared from behind the snake’s back.

The huge body was blown away by the force of the spell, but it didn’t take it two seconds to recover. Its cold, yellow eyes now fixed on Snape, who snatched Hermione and thrust her to the wall behind him.

“Where are the black wands?” he shouted at her without a trace of friendliness.

Nagini curled into a ball, which made her huge frame appear unbelievably small. She measured her opponents with cold distaste.

“I have thrown them away, didn’t Dobby tell you?” Hermione decided to give him the bitter pill in one piece, without any unnecessary explanations.

Snape, who kept his eyes locked on Nagini, trying to get prepared for the next strike, suddenly straightened up and turned his head to the girl, looking abashed.   

“What did you do?” His voice was hoarse.

Fear clutched Hermione’s throat so that she forgot to breathe. Nagini with its poisonous fangs was one thing, but that stare – Merlin – that made the air freeze. Where did he learn that?

“I… I have thrown it off the cliff,” she repeated, very quietly.

Snape turned his head back towards the snake, but he couldn’t help closing his eyes for a moment and inhaling deeply as the meaning of Hermione’s words sank in.

“You idiot,” that was all he managed to press out.

Never in her entire life did Hermione feel so very humiliated. An idiot? Her? Why exactly? Just because she refused to take part in the 1great Plan'? Was that all? Well, she had a plan of her own now, no matter whether he liked it or not. She was about to put these thoughts into words, when Nagini uncurled her long body, and reluctant to continue the tiresome fight, she slid towards an opening on the wall.

“Petrificus Totalus!” Hermione cried, but nothing special happened, if we don’t count the scoffing look she received from the snake.

“She’s a Horcrux, does it ring a bell?” Snape snarled at the girl and turned to the serpent, casting all the nasty spells that occurred to him – and there happened to be quite a few – at the most vulnerable parts of the animal, trying to stop it from disappearing.

“We can’t let her get away!” he shouted, and started running towards it.

“…does it ring a bell?” Hermione huffed, feeling fury rise up within her. She pulled her wands behind her back and jostled hard the handles.

What an arrogant fool! As if she had no idea what a Horcrux was! 

The snake irritably lashed its muscular tail at Snape, sending small pieces of stone and a considerable amount of dust into the air, and fled through the hole. Snape followed.

“Hey! Wait for me!” Hermione cried after him and ran across the room at full speed.

Pitch black darkness and foul smells ruled the forlorn pipeline, and Hermione could do nothing but to follow the weak sounds, wringing her nose with disgust. As she made a sharp turn to the left, where she believed to have heard the slithering of a scaly body, she smashed straight into something solid.
She heard suppressed cursing, and then she suddenly saw Snape’s face in the faint light of her dropped wand.

She snatched her wand and looked at him with inquiring eyes.

“Where is Nagini? I think I've heard her here.”

Snape’s gaze slowly travelled along the black walls, as he slightly shook his head, concentrating on the silence, which encroached on the place again.

He took a small pebble and dropped it down. The noise it made echoed from wall to wall and then it was engulfed by silence.

“It’s just the echo,” he mouthed, boring his black eyes into the depths of the pipe.

“She’s waiting, waiting for us,” he continued, “because snakes hate open fights. She will wait in silence, and then, when the moment comes, she will strike.”

Hermione leaned with her back to the wall, fighting her panting, which disturbed the humid stillness of the air.

Nevertheless, as she succeeded to even her breathing, she realized that the silence became more menacing than Nagini’s slinking presence. Snape was standing next to her, sending shivers to her skin; she could even feel the rough fabric of his cloak, and she had no idea whether she liked it or not. To tell the truth, she liked, oh, just how much she liked it – but she shouldn't have!
There were too many questions she had to ask, yet, could she be as stupid as to believe the man, who had been using her for his secret purposes from the very beginning?

Her heart, which pounced at the mere, accidental touch of his clothes, suddenly sank. This story wasn’t about them; it was about everyone else she had to save, her friends, her family.

If only Harry and the others weren’t there in Hogwarts; if only they had stayed at the Burrow; their lives hung by a hair and she was powerless, stuck in that rotting pipeline with a vile snake and an even viler man, who… oh, Merlin! Just why did she have to love him still? Oh, how much she hated him for that!

She heaved a soundless sigh, gathering determination.

“Where is Harry? Is he really here?” she asked.

Snape didn’t look her way, but peering into the darkness, he cautiously started walking into an utterly illogical direction in Hermione's view.

“Yes, he’s here in Hogwarts. Don’t stay behind, unless you want to be eaten by an overgrown reptile,” he said coldly; his wand scanning the darkness ahead of them.

“And where is Dobby?” she continued.

Snape threw her an incredulous and irritated look.

“Drowned himself, I hope, otherwise he will regret he hasn’t done so. I haven’t seen him.” With that he turned back.

“Dobby has nothing to do with this. It was I who had thrown those bloody wands off the cliff. You should have known me better than to order me around like that without any explanation,” she said defiantly, not bothering to keep her voice down.

Now, it seemed, it was Snape’s turn to get nasty. He suddenly turned around, and grabbing her arms he flung her hard at the wall. She felt the air escape her lungs with a groan. Snape’s long fingers clutched her wrists with such fury that they went numb within seconds; her wands trembled in her hands, and moments later they fell down to the ground.

Hermione closed her eyes, feeling his heavy breathing on her face, as he fiercely pressed her further into the wall. When he finally spoke through his gritted teeth, she could hardly recognize his voice.

“It’s you who should have known me better than to disobey me; if I say you to do something – you do it! Understand me?” He didn’t shout, in fact he hardly spoke louder than a whisper, but he leaned so close to her ear that Hermione felt a hundred trumpets ring in her head, or was it simply her raw fear?

“Understand me?” He shook her, making the meaning of his words sink in at last. Hermione gave a hardly recognizable nod.

“I did not risk my life and reputation for the last several years, just to see everything being ruined by a self-righteous, stupid, little know-it-all!” He thrust her wrists into the wall one last time and let her go with a low growl.

That did it.

Hermione slowly took her wands and set her shoulders back. Snape turned his back on her and continued his way through the narrow tunnel.

“Self-righteous, stupid, little know-it-all…” the familiar sound of jostled handles echoed three times across the walls.

“Is that what you think of me?” She called after him. “A nice little tool for your great ‘Plan’, am I? Perhaps I am self-righteous, if you like to put it that way, right, but I am far not stupid. You used me. You manipulated me. All your heroic deeds, your selfless help were nothing but a lie. Don’t you think I did not notice! You needed me for your plan - to kill the snake and to kill Voldemort. I know it. I know it very well.
Don’t you look at me that way! You can frighten me no more. Neither you, nor your master!
Nevertheless, I will do it or I will try at least; you knew I would, even if it cost my life.
But don’t get under the delusion that it’s because of you, your lies or empty threats. No. I will do it for others – my friends, for those who fought and for those who died.
So bridle your horses; I’m no longer your student, and you’re no longer my professor!
You either shut your mouth and help me, or just vanish! You chose.” The hissed words bounced from wall to wall like splinters of ice.

Hermione could hardly believe it was her own voice. It seemed Snape felt the same.  He faced her and for a moment Hermione thought he will thrust her at the wall for the second time, perhaps this time once and for all, but Snape didn’t move.

“I won’t deny it – you are part of the plan,” he said in a quiet, restrained voice, “But you are badly mistaken if you think you have slightest chance to conquer the Dark Lord without my help. I wish you could, but you have wisely thrown the wands of Slytherin into the abyss, and thus made the outcome of the combat, well… rather dubious.” He measured her with his usual acidic leer. Hermione did her best to return it, weighting his words.

“Slytherin’s wands? Nice try, but if you, unlike Harry and Ron, have read the ‘Hogwarts: A History’ you would know that the wands of Slytherin have…”

…perished together with Slytherin in the Great War against the Druids, where he had been betrayed by a black-haired maiden.” Snape finished Hermione’s sentence with a slight smirk. “Unlike Potter and Weasley, I have read it.” With a quick glance he made sure that Nagini was nowhere to be seen, and continued.

“I have had them restored,” he said plainly. Hermione’s lips curled in disbelief.

“You couldn’t have…” Hermione started, but as she remembered the wands Dobby handed her, she wavered.

“I could,” Snape repeated. “Remember the closet, where I found the skeleton of Slytherin’s house-elf? Under the shield with Slytherin’s crest on it? Why do you think that elf chose to die there of all the places, a small, dusty closet full of old rubbish? That was what intrigued me and the answer came pretty simply, in fact. Those were what remained of its old master after the war. A shield, encrusted with gems, silver gloves, and two broken, ashen wand-handles. The faithful house-elves have retrieved the remains of their master and worshipped them for centuries after his death. Having found the handles I only had to find the best wand-maker, who could restore them to their original state. It took me a while, but I found a master. It lasted several months to do the work. Unfortunately you came too early. The wands were not ready till early morning that day.  I left you and went to take the wands. I chose to send them after you with Dobby. You have already stayed longer than it was advisable in Hogwarts.”

Hermione felt the air go stuffy at the mention of that disturbing night. She couldn’t tell why, but she was sure that Snape was telling the truth, and it sent goose-bumps all along her neck.

“But why are those wands so important, anyway? I have Slytherin’s magic, and I have mastered it pretty well. That must be sufficient to finish this wretched snake and its master off!” she exclaimed in whisper, trying to sound assured.

“You think you have mastered it, don’t you? Let me tell you something. It took Slytherin centuries to develop it. And it took Voldemort 50 years to become what he has become - a true Heir of his ancestor. Do you really think you could equal yourself to these wizards after a year of practising?” His question hissed malevolently across the pipes, and shivers of embarrassment ran down Hermione’s spine. To Snape’s satisfaction, she did not answer.

“Now, I believe, you understand why I had to have those wands remade.” His black eyes bore into hers, and to Hermione’s utter disbelief there was no anger flashing in them this time; only some peculiar melancholy hid in their depths.

“We have wasted enough time; now we’ve got to find Nagini. Your magic might be enough to kill her, if you find the right place to aim your spell at. Preferably right under her jaw.”

“Why our spells don’t affect her properly?” Hermione asked and regretted instantly. What a dull question to ask; not even Crabbe would have put it, especially to Snape! Must love necessarily mean the losing of wits?? She violently blushed.

Snape scowled, raising his brow.

“As I have said it before, Nagini is a Horcrux; she possesses the vital and magical powers of her creator, and her creator is an outstandingly powerful wizard, who is – bear in mind – an heir of Slytherin. Thus, I believe that it is quite obvious why it cannot be killed but by an ancient force, which is stronger than the Horcrux.” He resumed his way into the depths of the pipeline.

Did he just say that she, Hermione Granger, the ‘little know-it-all”, possessed a power that exceeded his own? It was both flattering and frightening at once. He seemed to speak honestly, but still, with Severus Snape one could never tell; Dobby’s warning about his intention to kill her restlessly haunted her mind.

“Wait! What if… what if I kill the snake?” She caught up with him, slightly panting. Snape paused.

“Then we will go down into the Chamber of Secrets, and face the Dark Lord,” he spoke as if quoting the recipe of the Veritaserum in a particularly tiresome class.

“And then?” Her voice turned quieter; her eyes scrutinized his face.

Snape didn’t speak. The tension between them reached its peak again, though not a word was said. They continued their way, checking every corner, every new tunnel, listening hard for the slightest trace of Nagini. Hermione chose a new approach.

“I want to know all about the plan. I have the right to know!” This time it was her hand that grabbed Snape’s sleeve. He cast a stiff look down, and gently pulled back, but Hermione’s grip was firm and resolute.

“Now. We might not have a second chance for explanations,” she hissed stubbornly.

Snape’s moody gaze lingered on her face, before he resigned himself to answering.

“Your obstinacy requires an amount of patience that I do no longer possess. So I kindly ask you, please, not to press the matter any more. All I can say to you is that our task is to terminate the last Horcrux, and to do our best to break the power of its creator.”  The tense curve on his lips revealed his irony.

Hermione didn’t release him, obviously not contended with the provided information. Snape, who tried to free his sleeve from her grasp for the second time, furrowed his brows.

“I suffer interrogation quite badly,” he warned her, making a menacing step closer.

“You’re hiding something.” She raised her head, trying to stretch to her full height.

“Quite right.” He pulled the corner of his mouth. “And it will stay this way.”

“No, it won’t!” She frowned. “I have the right to know.”

Snape’s eyes turned darker and flashed in the wand-light; his irritation started to etch into his neatly arranged features. Hermione could tell he was considering applying a silencing spell or perhaps something much ruder.

“Hermione,” he said finally, exercising great self-control and Hermione drowned a slight smile, seeing him using her first name as a last resort, keen to win her emotions. Well, she could play that game, too.

“Yes, Severus,” she purred sweetly, drawing closer. Snape jerked up like a racing horse that was hit on its sensitive nose; he unwillingly backed up a step. As soon as he realized what he did, he stiffened and forced a smirk onto his face.

“We are not in the position to play stupid little games,” he said firmly, yet, there was a strange glint in his eyes. The air felt suddenly too hot for Hermione, though the pipes dripped with cold, condensed water; she released his sleeve as if it burnt.

They stared at each other as if for the very first time.

How could he affect her like this? Her knees went weak as she looked him in the eye. Damn! She was supposed to be a grown woman, and not a giggling, blushing chick; why did she have to feel like one though? She pursed her lips.

All of a sudden she felt herself pressed against the wall again, but this time there was no brutality in the move.
Before she could have made an attempt to free herself – to maintain the illusion at least – he captured her lips. The sudden warmth and pressure of his body startled her, but not well enough to make her give up her last lines of defence.
Just what did he think? After all he’d done…

His lips moved slowly, but with firm decision; he wasn’t going to give up until she surrendered.

No, Hermione thought, drawing away lightly, but the wall behind her head didn’t give her much space to do so.
No, he’s just manipulating… Merlin… - her breath hitched - …wants to confuse me… oh, please… just not that…

Snape continued his kisses along her jaw bone to her ear. Hermione’s eyelids closed on their own accord, and her head hardly noticeably tilted back.

The man returned to her mouth and gently nipped her lower lip, while his hands that were holding her arms against the wall demandingly strengthened their grip.

She couldn’t help but to let her lips part slightly under the force of his kiss, gathering all her self-control she could muster to prevent herself from moaning.

It was an open invitation to Snape, who didn’t hesitate to accept it; his kiss deepened, entraining Hermione into a burning current of passion. She gasped for air, but there was no air that could’ve satisfied her hunger. She couldn’t remember craving for a touch so much ever before; even the rough fabric of Snape’s clothes brushing against her felt like silk.

She hated herself for not being strong enough to resist, and even so for being so incredibly, disgustingly, obnoxiously – she ran out of adjectives – egoistic; her friends would soon be in trouble, and she hadn’t done anything useful yet. What was she doing meanwhile?
Snogging a man, who used to be her teacher… oh, those lips… while a snake was lurking in the dark... Damn it… She must have gone crazy!

Snape ended the kiss just as suddenly as he had started it. Drawing a deep, slow breath he backed away, releasing her wrists.

Hermione stayed leaning to the wall for a few moments, panting; she was reluctant to lose her support.

“What was that for?” she asked darkly, now that her dark thoughts had returned and doubled.

He didn’t answer, instead he showed himself busy searching the blackness. Time seemed to thicken and dense into a smothery mass as it languidly passed, before Snape spoke.

“You say you want to hear the truth. And, indeed, you have the right to know it. But are you sure you will be able to bear it?” He held her gaze, and Hermione felt a strong urge to flee, to get away, away from this man, whom she was not sure she could resist in any way. But those dark, fathomless eyes wouldn’t let her go.

“We are sentenced to death, Hermione. Whether we win or lose.” He paused.

“Now you know it. Are you contented?” The curved line of his mouth told that he was angry, most probably with himself for being forced to tell things he didn’t want to.

“Why?” Hermione mouthed. She thought she was prepared for the news, yet all colour left her face.

“Because of Slytherin’s power,” he said simply.

Hermione’s mind raced to understand the impalpable – wasn’t Slytherin’s power the key to destroying Voldemort?

“You have Slytherin’s power, and whom you will face is Slytherin’s Heir,” Snape continued, “This means you two have the same kind of power, which imbues you both to the very core. As you know, he had inherited his power from Slytherin, whom he worshipped as well as hated; it hid suspended in the blood of his family until a worthy succesor was born. You have received it from Slytherin's book. Neverteless, as I have said it before, he’s still considerably stronger. He had been practicing his powers for decades, while you… well, your only advantage lies in the Duality of your magic, you have two wands to attack with at the same time.”

Hermione waited pale and frozen for Snape to go on. Observing her for a second, he continued.

“If this power is used against itself, the outcome will be disastrous – the power will extinguish itself and with it its masters. Do you understand me?” he added.

Hermione stood dumbfounded. Now that was something she did not expect.

She gaped at him; her frantic thoughts came to a numb halt now. No, she did not understand, at least she didn’t want to, because that would have deprived her of any hope she used to have; nevertheless she forced her features into a calm expression.

“Do you mean that if I kill Voldemort – supposing the most preferable version – then I will die? Just because I was chosen as an apprentice by a stupid book written by his ancestor?”

“Because you share Slytherin's power, that's why. But to answer your question: practically, yes.” Snape nodded.

“Practically… what do you mean?”

“I mean that since your power is considerably less than the Dark Lord’s, in case you killed him, you would definitely die. In the opposite situation, if the Lord killed you, he might survive.”

“Why’s that?” Hermione snorted.

“Because the power he extinguishes within you and within himself will be less than he possesses – thus he might stay alive. The damage will be serious; it will make him most vulnerable, just like he had become after his curse on Harry backfired, but he will stay alive.”

Hermione’s trembling, which she didn’t pay attention to so far, took the best of her; she clung to the mossy wall.

“This means that even if I try to sacrifice myself, for let’s be honest, I don’t have the slightest chance against Voldemort… so, even if he kills me, I can’t save the others?”

She hated tears. All her life she hated nothing more – okay, apart from Draco Malfoy perhaps – than stupid tears; and now she heard her own voice waver under the pressure of their welling. So pitiful, so damn pathetic!

Taking a deep, long breath, with inhuman effort she steadied herself.

“So, I am fighting my own reflection, am I not? And if I win – I lose. If I kill the reflection of my power – I will kill myself, huh? Cunning, really cunning plan,” she smirked bitterly, fighting back her tears.

“What I like about it most, though,” she mimicked to be telling the joke of her life, “is that in fact it’s me who the reflection is, and Voldemort is the real one. He will break the mirror and go on with his life, while I lie shattered in the shadows. Yeah, funny, isn’t it? I’m totally useless.” The corner of her lips turned downwards and her eyes got red with tears.

Snape remained silent, but the nervous darting of his look betrayed the still demeanor he mustered.

“Is this your brilliant plan? Is it? Are you seriously as daft as to think I have the slightest chance to kill him? Or are you just having fun experimenting on me? Is that what you want?” Hermione’s desperation howled within her head so that she didn’t realize that her voice rose to screaming. A light blue aura formed around her body; it radiated with an unsettling vibration.

Snape wanted to interrupt, but she was deaf to his words. She shook her head and continued; tears racing free down on her face.

“Your plan is a mass of rubbish, if you ask me! No, don’t speak, I beg. You will say that had I obeyed you, I would have Slytherin’s wands, and with them I’d be able to kill Voldemort. But I DON’T HAVE THEM! You DIDN’T TELL ME that I needed them! You, you just disappeared, – her voice was breaking after every other word – leaving nothing but an order… to fly north… and instead of telling me the truth… you sent poor Dobby with two lofty wands! No, you didn’t lie to me; in fact, you simply forgot to tell me the truth! You manipulated me, thinking I was too cowardly to face it! Admit it; you didn’t assume I could cope with the fate of certain death! That was your most stupid and also most terrible mistake ever! I just can’t imagine how you could be so damn blind! How could you think I was afraid of death after what I’ve been through? I thought you knew me after all those years, being your student… but no, you apparently haven’t got the slightest idea who I am. Let me tell you; I am Hermione Granger, that insufferable, little know-it-all, who was ready to die for her friends, way before you had learnt her name!” she paused, panting.

Snape pressed his lips together, unwilling to speak.

“You see, Severus, the trouble with you is that you never learned to trust people. I pity you. All you should have done was to tell me the truth about Slytherin’s magic, and the fate it had brought on me. Had you had faith in me, Lord Voldemort would have most probably been dead by this time. But now, I don’t know what to do. I’m powerless. My sacrifice won't help anyone. Though I will do all I can to kill Voldemort, I doubt it will be of any use. Perhaps he will get weaker again, but it will be just the matter of time, when his powers rise again.” She regained her self-control; her voice went back to normal.

“Allow me one last question, though,” she said, looking at him intently. Snape’s face darkened.

“Who is it you involved in your plan?”

Snape stared slightly shocked.

“You know me, I would never have trusted this secret to anyone,” he replied.

“No, there is someone else, someone else, whom you ordered or whom you obeyed. Who is it?”

Snape’s eyes narrowed – he understood. Reluctantly though, he answered.

“It was Dumbledore. I’m slightly surprised you didn’t find this out. It was pretty obvious.”

Hermione’s jaw fell open. Of course, Dumbledore! Snape was right; it was obvious and simple as morning sunlight. The man in the Headmaster's office, in Dumbledore's office - was an ordinary painting, the painting of Dumbledore.
“It was all his idea, wasn’t it? He gave you Slytherin’s book. He told you about the Underworld and he sent you there to fetch the burnt handles of those wands. It was all his idea, to make Harry capable of killing Voldemort even if he failed, wasn’t it? He didn’t know that the book would choose me instead of Harry, who had already been the chosen one. The only thing I don’t understand why you killed him; you obeyed him to the very last word, yet, you killed him. It only makes sense if that murder was also on his orders, am I right? Why did Dumbledore want you to murder him right before all this?”

Before she could have had the answer a long, scaly body and a black cloak flashed before her eyes. Something hit her in the head as she lost her balance and pain flooded her mind. Nagini was back. 

A/N: I hope you liked it! There will be more, I think I will have to divide the next chappie for it has grown too long for one. So, if you liked it, please let me know. If you didn't, well, I want to know it as well.
Thanks for all the encouragement I received from all of you so far! Thaaanks!

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