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Cobras and Canaries by ViperStripes
Chapter 4 : Unfortunate Fate
 
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                 The light beamed down on Hermione’s pale form as she jostled herself awake. Feeling dizzy and exhausted, she pushed herself up off the cold, stone floor with her weak arms. They shook as she attempted to steady herself and distribute the weight evenly amongst her only supports. Taking a deep breath, she pushed herself into an upright position—body resting on her knees.

                Behind squinted eyes, Hermione looked up at the light source. The walls spiraled upward endlessly on all sides. Had she not seen the daylight beaming down, she would have assumed that the tower stretched almost infinitely.

                Slowly easing her aching body onto the balls of her feet, she looked around the room from her placement. Resting at four opposing points stood four indistinguishable, stone statues. They seemed to loom over her as she took in her surroundings. Sucking in an uneasy breath, she stood up—fearing that she may tumble over. After standing erect, she pushed her drained body forward toward one of the statues that rested in the half-darkness.

Taking slow steps, she approached the first statue. Hermione looked up to see a stout woman in a large, ballroom style dress smiling down on her. In hand, she held what seemed to be a goblet or tea cup of some sort. The cup was coated with delicate designs and had handles on either side—making it look like almost a small trophy. The woman, therefore, appeared to treat it like one—holding it as though it were nothing less than a delicacy. Hermione’s eyes trailed down the woman’s fanciful dress. Resting at the hem—peeking out beneath the floor-length dress—was a cheeky, stone badger that seemed to be just as content as the lady above him.

Turning to her right, Hermione walked in the direction of the next statue down the circle. She came to a halt at the foot of the pedestal and gazed up. A bearded man with mane-like hair stood valiantly, wearing a set of matching robes, gloves, and a cape that seemed to flow out seamlessly behind him in an invisible, unending wind. His eyes were fixated toward the sky, which seemed to almost glow beneath the light.

The sun shone done—illuminating the whole being of the statue—save for the half light the statue of the smiling woman had been in. Hermione looked at the sword’s ruby covered hilt in which his hands rested upon. The sword in itself was magnificent—and although it was carved out of stone, the blade looked just a sharp and dangerous as the real artifact would have been.

As she moved around toward the right side of the statue, she saw that flanking the heroic figure was a lion. The animal’s mane blew in the silent wind as he put one paw forward—looking much like the character beside him. Hermione brushed her hand across the top of the lion’s resting paw before departing the statue.

That statue Hermione came to next was of another woman—but she was much different than her feminine predecessor. This woman stood erect in a long, elegant dress. Her sleeved arms rested down by her sides as she stood with a strong air.

The woman’s gaze was positioned forward with her head held high. Her face was quiet with indifference and her mouth was set in an indistinguishable line—Hermione could not tell whether she had been in the process of beginning to smile or frown. On top of the woman’s long head of hair was a banded tiara of some sort crafted in exquisite jewels on the center piece. When Hermione glanced to the right side of the figure, she saw that resting atop the shoulder of the powerful woman was a rather large bird preparing to spread its wings and soar to the sky. The familiar’s talons dug slightly into the stone-clothed arm of the woman—resting firmly in an assuring manner. Hermione turned, managing a last glance at the woman standing in between the glowing light and the looming darkness of the tower.

She made her way into the darker part of the tower to the last statue resting in the shadows. The man stood, his nose pointed up in the air looking down on Hermione with furtive, marble eyes. His face set in a lasting frown.  A stone chain hung around his neck, as the two ends met to hold a single pendent in the center of his robed chest. Before Hermione could commence to examining the locket more closely, she was startled as she met protruding fangs from the mouth of a snake.

Seeming to writhe in the dark figure’s ringed hands; the stone serpent’s body was coiled around his forearms, as its upper part was set upon haunches ready to strike. Its mouth opened wide appearing to grin behind the pointed daggers as its wild eyes bore into Hermione’s. She averted her gaze from the creature, and turned to face the center of the room where the light seemed to beginning to fade from its source.

With a jolt of fear, she quickly gathered her strength and ran toward the center of the tower. She continuously sprinted forward, but as her heart pounded harder and harder in her chest, she was struck with the realization that she had gotten nowhere—as though was stuck on a conveyor belt running opposite of the track. She then began to hear what sounded like the shattering and cracking of stone. The tower is collapsing.

Hermione reached out a hand into the darkening room.

No! Stop,” she shouted into the spacious tower, her voice, ringing like church bells, mixed with the continuous breaking of marble.

As soon as she had cried out, she felt whatever was holding her back release her and she was sent tumbling forward into the now dim lighting. Before landing, Hermione twisted her body so that she would at least land on her back as opposed to head first.

As she turned, Hermione’s eyes grew wide as she saw her pursuer. The stone snake that had once been coiled in the hands of a statue was now soaring through the air—as real as ever, with eyes wild and fangs elongated as it prepared to strike.

Hermione instinctively pulled her arms up to shield her upper chest and face. But before the serpent met its target, a large beast dived, grasping the snake between snarling jaws, bringing it down to the hard surface of the floor with a loud boom that shook the tower.

Hermione landed on her back, quickly sitting up wide eyed. The snake hissed menacingly as the ferocious, living lion above it tempted to wrestle it as to get a grip on its head. The body of the serpent seemed to grow in length as it twined its body around the lion like a constrictor. With the lion in its grasp, the snake set up on haunches preparing to strike as the lion released a thunderous roar. Beneath the earsplitting sound that rang throughout the tower, she heard a fury of scuttling.

The snake moved like lightning as to strike the lion’s jugular, but before the fangs reached their objective, a small, furry animal dove in time to take the brunt of the attack, sending its fang-induced body tumbling to the floor. The snake quickly acknowledged the fault and retracted its fangs from the badger who had aided its comrade.

While the badger had distracted the serpent, the lion had broken free from underneath the grip of the snake using sheer strength. Now having the upper hand, the lion reattempted to pin the snake down as the badger tried to continue its distractions on the writhing creature by feigning attack.

Hermione finally gained her composure and stood to her feet, fumbling around for her wand through her own robes in a flurry of panic. Between her desperate searching, she felt a waft of wind brush by her hair and the feeling of talons coming to rest on her shoulder firmly. Halting her rummaging, she looked to her left and saw a large, black raven resting on her shoulder, watching the battle ensue.

The bird’s dark eyes met Hermione’s for a moment. It gazed at her intently as though it was trying to see into her mind. Hermione gulped, still shaken in fear. The raven then tilted its head down solemnly, closing its eyes in an almost apologetic manner. A loud, desperate hiss reverberated through the room, pulling Hermione’s eyes back to the situation and the raven out of its still demeanor.

Hermione turned, her eyes grew wide in shock as the snake was lunging forward toward her now—the lion running after it and the badger trailing behind as quickly as it could with its injuries. The raven let out a deafening screech as it flew from its perch on Hermione’s shoulder and made a beeline for the snake’s head.

The raven swooped down in midair, striking its target fiercely. The snake recoiled with a hiss as the blood began to run down right side of its face. The bird hovered in air readying its next intentional strike.

The angry serpent let out a mixture of a shriek and hiss as the anger of the creature became almost tangible. In a last attempt, the snake lunged forward with all its might. Hermione cried out and quickly jumped back. The raven then attacked, aiming for the left eye as to blind the serpent completely.

The raven’s beak struck true to the serpent’s eye causing the snake to stop its pursue and cry out in agony. The lion then pounced on the snake’s body, allowing only the head to thrash slightly.

The badger then came up to flank the snarling lion as the raven flew silently—hovering in the air above the trio. The room then grew quiet save for silent hisses from the snake and the heavy breathing of the lion.

The serpent then began to raise its head ever so slightly, causing the lion to allow a growl to creep up its throat. The snake drunkenly began to sway—blood silently spattering the floor. The creature approached death as its attempts to slither were in vain. In knowing that their once old friend was meeting his demise, the lion, raven, and badger eased off of the snake so that it may die in the closest thing to peace that could be achieved: without restraint.

Hermione stood and watched the snake dance around sinuously. As its sways became closer, she took a step back—the clacking of her shoes echoed throughout the tower. The serpent then quickly retracted its body erect on its haunches as soon as her shoes had met stone floor. The creature seemed to grin before standing as tall as possible. In a blaze of guttural growls and screeching from the other animals, the snake opened its mouth wide, shooting venom from the opening in its fangs—striking true to its target.

Hermione cried out as the toxin hit her eyes—stinging and burning them with invisible fire. She quickly brought her hands to her damaged eyes, and fell back onto the stone floor rolling to and fro with pain.

The lion then roared maliciously and Hermione heard a spattering sound as claws met flesh. She halted her action of moving immediately when she felt a thud on the ground by her feet and hot liquid pooling around her lower half.

Shaking, she opened burning eyes only to come face to face with the severed head of the serpent—eyes still streaming with blood from the ravens assault. Hermione looked into the deadened gaze of the snake before the blazing of her eyes grew worse. Immediately she pressed her palms into her eyes in attempts to relieve the pain.

Feeling the hot, wet tears run down her face, Hermione pulled her hands away. Glancing through blurry eyes, she looked at her palms. Instead of seeing the glistening of salty water on her hands, she saw slight smears of crimson resting upon her pallid skin. The serpent and her mirrored each other in that aspect.

She began to cry—mixing salt with iron—as she felt the lion and badger rest on either side of her. She heard the raven’s talons clack on the stone-flagged floor as it swooped down to rest beside her head.

The raven began to lament—its singing cutting through the silence of the air in the cold, dark tower. Hermione’s silent, pained sobs lessened as she allowed her solemn lullaby to soothe her being into a cataleptic slumber.       


 




                Hermione lay lifeless in the hospital bed of the infirmary as the staff of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry stood over her. Once she was deemed stable, Madam Pomfrey began busying herself by brewing potions and referring to medical texts in order to find some reason behind the young witch’s sudden illness.

                Minerva McGonagall stood silently with her hand over her mouth, watching the young girl. She exchanged quiet conversation with Professor Sprout—who stood much like the Transfiguration teacher. Albus Dumbledore had removed himself from her bedside after some time to go ponder his thoughts next to the infirmary windows. Madam Pomfrey continued her workings; she had never seen this type of ailment before. The symptoms mimicked that of many viral diseases—mostly those of the muggle world in which she could have easily cured her of—but every remedy she had tried had not lessened the effects nor woken the girl from her deep comatose state.

                Severus Snape stood beyond the group of professors, eying her curiously. Having known of prior incidents from Draco, he began to ponder his own suspicions. It was beginning to seem that the prediction of the Dark Lord was correct in whom it was to effect. Hermione Granger... The proud muggleborn. He mused at the irony of the situation. She had always been the one to stand up for the equality of Muggleborns, taking pride in who she was and never doubting her abilities despite her differences. Yet, her she was now, the subject of her pride being taken away from her slowly: her own heritage.

                Suddenly the two large doors of the infirmary opened, as Harry and Ron ran inside. Snape and McGonagall made quick to block the boys from proceeding any further toward Hermione.

                “Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley, what do you think you are doing? This isn’t a quidditch locker room therefore there isn’t any need to barge in acting like a couple of rogue bludgers,” Professor Snape spoke coldly.

                “We heard what happened, where’s Hermione?” Harry demanded as Ron tried to crane his neck over the crowd of spectators.

                “Mr. Potter, it would be wise of you to—“

                “Severus,” Albus came up behind the potions master, resting his hand on his shoulder. “There will be no need,” the wizened man smiled reassuringly before turning to the young boys to greet them, “Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley.”

                “How long has she been like this Professor Dumbledore?” Ron asked clearly worried about the girl he had had a crush on for many years now. Madam Pomfrey bustled by the group carrying a vial of green liquid. The crowd of professors parted enough for Harry and Ron to catch sight of Hermione’s sallow form.

                “Not very long; she seemed to have fainted in History of Magic class. Mr. Malfoy said that she looked very sickly before she lost consciousness. He acted considerably quickly and took the initiative to rush her up to Madam Pomfrey.”

                “Malfoy?” Ron asked incredulously, as Harry looked on at the old man in confusion.

                Harry knew that Draco Malfoy never did things out of the kindness of his own heart. He made a promise to find out what Malfoy was up to before turning his attention back to the Headmaster. Dumbledore approached Hermione’s bedside, beckoning for Harry and Ron to join him.

                Cautiously, they approached her ashen body. Harry allowed his hand to rest atop hers. The coincidence that something like this had occurred once again was daunting. Ron and Harry stood over their silenced best friend, not knowing what was to come… It reminded them too much of when she was petrified by the baslisk in their second year.

                “Will she be alright, Professor?” Ron asked, tearing his gaze away from Hermione momentarily.

                “I do think that Miss Granger will make a full recovery. For now, Madam Pomfrey has given her a draught to help her rest so that she will not wake up late into the night with complications or side effects.”

                By now, many of the teachers had left the infirmary to return to their classes and relieve the prefects of their current duties of keeping watch over the other students. Snape and McGonagall stood off to the side talking and occasionally glancing in their direction.

                “What is wrong with her?” Harry asked as he set on the edge of the bed opposite of Hermione.

                “I wish I had an answer myself, but I know very little. The only thing we can do now is to wait for Miss Granger to wake up.” Dumbledore looked at the girl who lay in the bed who seemed to grow more and more lifeless by the minute. He wished not to tell the boys false information—for he did know much about the ordeal—but under these circumstances… he could not. “For now though, I think it would be wise of you to go back to class. You may come and visit Miss Granger once you have finished your classes for the day.”

                Harry and Ron were very reluctant to leave Hermione; they did not know how long it would be until she would wake up. After a few prolonged moments, Harry eventually nodded as he treaded out of the hospital wing, Ron followed in his wake, slightly fuming from unanswered questions.

                Professor Dumbledore moved closer to the bed, studying Hermione, as though he were waiting for her to wake miraculously. He stared at her intently, and then moved his hand to the inside of her icy wrist only to feel a series of shallow pulses.

                Turning away from her, Dumbledore reassumed his position near the infirmary window that looked down over the courtyard. He had not anticipated the prophecy to enact itself so quickly. What a fool he had been for thinking that he could bide time to perhaps figure out a solution as to stop the prophecy from happening.

                Hermione, a noble being with a bright future was now being succumbed to the inevitable, unfortunate fate that happened to be dealt to her. She was no longer a muggleborn Gryffindor with ambitions beyond what others deemed her capable of, but instead, she was now a bond to this wretched war plaguing every family, friend, and foe.

                Dumbledore knew that once Voldemort found out of the prophecy and what has happened, she would no longer be safe. Not even the stronghold that was Hogwarts could keep her protected forever. Voldemort would come looking for her—if not he, himself, then by means of double agents and other dastardly approaches.

                One week. He had one week at best before Voldemort would discover of the turn of events. The abilities Hermione would be granted upon waking up would be his first target to uncover. Voldemort may be the most reckless dark wizard of all time—but he was not a fool. Dumbledore knew he would approach this situation with nothing less than strategic planning and deep intention to gain what he required: Hermion Granger.

                The only way Dumbledore could protect her—and many others—from the wrath that was sure to come, would be to stop the problem at its source. He knew that if Voldemort managed to obtain Hermione, he could easily use the Imperius curse on her to do his bidding—as he has done many times before.

                Dumbledore looked down on the empty courtyard which was overcast by gray clouds. Though summer was now just coming to its end, the world never looked colder than it had now. He stroked his beard slightly, pondering his thoughts.

                The only way to stop the problem would be at its source. The only way to prevent the source would be at the beginning. The only way to reach the beginning… Dumbledore then stood erect. He knew what must be done. Though the odds and the potential danger stacked high, they stood no taller than that of what was to come if he took no action.

                Allowing one last glance at the bushy-haired Gryffindor, he made his decision. He had no doubt in her intelligence, he had faith in her abilities as a witch, and he had confidence in her as a being. He knew that if anyone would be fit best for this job, it would be her.

                He mourned silently to himself discerning that everything she has ever known was about to change. Long gone were her days of childlike innocence and evenings of trying to keep her two closest friends out of trouble. Long gone were the times of going home for the holidays and the nights of peaceful sleep. Hermione would know these things no more. For Albus Dumbledore had made his decision—the only decision.

The weary Headmaster then turned from the window and walked out of the infirmary silently leaving his two colleagues to furrow their brows and exchange glances of confusion. He had to prepare, there wasn’t any more time he could waste.



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