Chapter Notes: Sorry for the delay in uploading. It won’t happen again. Thanks for sticking with the story. I apprecaite everyone who reads. I love reviews.
Snape had been right; the Death Eater meetings kept getting more dreadful. Tonight he had been tortured worse than ever before. The Dark Lord was furious; the Order was growing stronger and his plans for eliminating his opposition were not going as arranged. Tonight, Snape had personally felt the Dark Lord’s wrath. At least I survived, he thought as he struggled for his breath outside of Hogwarts.
Snape knew neither where the energy to Apparate back to the entrance of the grounds to Hogwarts had come from, nor how he did it without splinching himself. It was amazing he had successfully travelled to where he was now, outside the castle, crawling toward a secret passage that led to the dungeons on his hands and knees. Each breath he drew caused searing pain to race through his body, but he continued to drag himself. He was only yards away from the towering stone wall of the castle and the entrance to the hidden tunnel. If I can just make it into the tunnel, then everything will be all right, thought Snape.
With every ounce of strength in his being, he crawled the final distance to the entryway. He pushed aside the ivy and creeping vines covering the opening and wrenched the door open, falling inside the tunnel. Once he was safely concealed within the tunnel’s walls, he collapsed on his stomach from pain and exhaustion.
Snape’s belief that his agony would be tolerable once he reached the tunnel was an illusion. He was no better; the only difference was he was now hidden by rock and dirt instead of being out in the open. Snape lay in the tunnel for a few minutes, breathing hard. He tried to work out a plan in his head. Granger, he thought. As much as he didn’t want to accept her friendship, he needed a friend, and it now appeared that necessity mandated it be her. There could be worse people to rely on.
Maybe, just maybe, she’ll be doing rounds and could hide me on the way to my chambers, he thought, deciding Granger was his only option. Now, all he needed to do was to get to the end of the tunnel, and then his timing would need to be right. It was a long shot, but it was the only shot he had.
He pushed himself up onto his hands and knees. The searing pain in his chest flared to almost unbearable levels, but he had to make it to the end of the tunnel. He took a deep, pain-laced breath and crawled. He placed one hand in front of the other, dragging legs that felt like jelly. The sharp rocks on the floor of the passage dug into his hands. It didn’t matter, though; the pain in his hands was nothing compared to the pain throughout the rest of his body.
The Dark Lord had taken it up a notch tonight; not only had he physically tortured Snape, but he had mentally tortured him, as well. The pretext for the torture had been Snape’s loyalty, but everyone knew it was only an excuse. The Dark Lord was angry, and Snape was pretty sure he had been singled out as the Dark Lord’s punching bag because the Dark Lord, like everyone else, was unsure about him. He had been trying to figure out where Snape’s loyalties lie. Tonight, his anger with the war bubbled over and mixed with his frustration in not being able to read Snape, resulting in an excruciating night.
In the past, the Dark Lord had tried to invade Snape’s mind, but Snape had been able to protect himself with his skills in Occlumency. However, tonight his ability, instead of protecting him, had caused the evening to go downhill. In the past, the Dark Lord accepted Snape dodging his intrusions, but tonight he would not stand for Snape blocking his attempted invasions. Despite the Dark Lord’s backlash, blocking the encroachment had been necessary to protect the Order and to keep his true loyalties hidden. Nevertheless, Snape had been forced to partially capitulate to the Dark Lord’s attacks, in order to prevent suspicion from destroying his cover.
Inside the tunnel, Snape inched his way along the sixty-five meters to the end, which would drop him off in the dungeons, about twenty meters from his chambers; he did the math for the distance in his head.
It was slow going, but after what seemed like an endless crawl, a flat, stone wall emerged in front of him. He had reached the end of the tunnel. Snape slumped against the sloped wall of the tunnel and rested. He had made it to the end; now he just needed to get to his room.
Snape waved his wand at the stone egress, and it turned it transparent. He needed to make sure no one was in the dungeon corridor before he ventured out of the tunnel. Through the clear door, he could see the corridor appeared to be deserted. He hadn’t really expected Granger to be waiting, but part of him had hoped she would be.
He reached his hand above his head and grasped a handhold embedded in the wall. He pulled, and with a pop and a rush of air, the stone door released. Snape peered around the three-inch crack in the door, making sure no one was farther down the hall where he had been unable to see through the transparency. It was empty; he leaned back in the tunnel and breathed a sign of relief. I think it might be safe to try to make it to my room, he thought. He decided to have a go at getting to his chambers. He looked to his left once more before initiating his move down the hallway to the right. When he looked left, he saw her. Granger.
After leaving Professor McGonagall, Hermione had headed back to the dungeons for one more pass. When she arrived, the corridor appeared to be empty, and she began to traverse the passage before deciding to head back to her room for the night. There is nothing I can do for him, she thought with a pang of disappointment. She had hoped she would be able to see him when he got back.
Hermione, slowly and alertly, walked through the dungeons. She had never been in the dungeons at such a late hour, and she found the area creepier than normal. She was tense and strained her eyes to see in every dark corner: she had an overwhelming sensation of being watched.
She was three quarters of the way down the passage when she swore she felt a gust of air on her back. Her heart rate skyrocketed, and adrenaline coursed through her body. She was scared, but fought her flight response; instead, she stopped walking, and when she felt nothing decided the breeze was her imagination playing tricks on her.
Hermione didn’t know why she was so jumpy. She had hoped to meet Snape, and now she just wanted to get out of the dungeons as quickly as she could. After dismissing the breeze, she began walking toward the staircase leading up to the main entrance hall. She had gone by the passage in which Snape was hidden, and her back was to him.
“Granger,” Snape breathed, sticking his head outside the tunnel, trying to get her attention. His efforts were useless; she didn’t hear him. “Granger,” he strained to speak louder, but it hadn’t been loud enough.
She moved away from him. He didn’t have the energy to call out any louder; instead, he flicked his wand, sending red sparks flying from the end. The sparks hit the partially closed, stone door of the tunnel and made a whizzing sound.
The sound startled Hermione: she gasped, jumped, and spun around all in one motion. Her wand was drawn, ready to fight whatever had disturbed the peace of the quiet passage.
“Granger,” Snape whispered a third time. Hermione did not register the voice was Snape’s.
After regaining her composure, Hermione looked around, not knowing where the voice had come from. As she looked closer, she saw the stone wall protruding slightly. It was a door. Hermione approached, realizing it was a passage. She never knew there was a passage there and was fairly certain it was not on the Marauders’ Map. Damn, the boys will be disappointed there is a passage they don’t know about, she thought, her nerves calming and her bravery returning.
She arrived at the opening to the passage and peered into the darkness. The door was only open about three inches, and she was reluctant to open it further. Therefore, she peered into the crack and saw black eyes staring back at her. She gave a slight gasp.
“Professor, is that you?” she asked, lowering her wand.
“Granger,” he breathed.
She pulled the door open the rest of the way and was shocked at his mangled appearance. The first thing she noticed was his broken nose. His hooked nose was now crooked, with a small trace of blood on the bridge where the bone had pushed through the skin. His right eye had begun to turn black and blue, and he had an open cut above his left eye. His entire face was smeared with sweat and dirt, and it was contorted with pain. Hermione had never seen her professor look so defeated. His normal expressions of anger and aggression were gone and were replaced with agony.
Hermione’s eyes drifted downward toward his chest; she could tell his breathing was laboured. His robes were ripped opened, and she could see the black shirt he was wearing underneath. He was caked with mud and sweat. Is that a footprint? Hermione thought as her eyes surveyed his chest. His hands rested on his stomach, and she scanned his arms, but they looked relatively unscathed.
Her gaze then drifted down to his legs. The lower half of his robes were torn, and Hermione could see the beginnings of holes on the knees of his black pants. But, it wasn’t his clothes that drew the majority of her attention. It was his foot, dangling uselessly from his leg that captivated her gaze. His left ankle seemed to be shattered.
“Oh, God!” Hermione breathed when she saw his ankle. “Hang tight, Professor. I’ll get Madam Pomfrey.”
“No,” Snape whispered urgently. “No, she’s not an Order member. Only Order…”
“But Professor, you’re hurt,” Hermione protested cutting him off. “You need help.”
“Then you do it, Miss Granger.”
“I… I can’t.”
“Of course you can, but if you don’t want to, please leave so I can rest a while before heading toward my chambers.”
“Professor, you’ll never make it to your room. Please, let me get Madam…”
“That may be Granger, but I do not trust anyone outside the Order to keep my double agent status a secret.” At that moment, Hermione realized Snape’s true loyalties lay with the Order. No matter what had happened the previous year on top of the Astronomy tower, Hermione understood Snape was not responsible for Dumbledore’s death.
“I’ll get Professor McGonagall, then. She is a member of the Order, and I know she can be trusted to…”
“No.” Snape didn’t want more people than necessary to see him in his current state. “Either you will help me, or you won’t. But, you will not go waking up half the castle, because I don’t believe you can’t help,” Snape told her.
Snape’s confidence in Hermione made her sense of intellectual achievement surge. She never would have guessed that Snape somewhat respected her abilities. But, her skills as a Healer were not great, and she had never mended a broken bone before.
“Professor, I want to help you, but your nose and ankle are broken. I’ve never healed a broken bone before.”
“Nose, ankle, and a few ribs,” Snape corrected, “don’t forget the ribs.” His mouth turned up slightly in an unsuccessful attempt at a smile. “You know the incantation, don’t you?”
“Yes,” Hermione responded tentatively.
“Then you can mend bones. But if it makes you feel better, I will talk you through it.”
“Okay,” whispered Hermione.
“Start with my nose, as it will be the easiest. There is no need for wand waving. Place your wand tip on the broken bone, the closer to the actual break the better. Speak the incantation and concentrate on a smooth, continuous bone. No need to think of the specific bone being mended, although if you know what the bone looks like, it will heal better. When you speak the incantation, concentrate on an unbroken bone, smooth, hard, and strong.”
“That’s it. Ready?”
Hermione swallowed hard. “As ready as I’ll ever be, I guess.”
“Place you wand on the bridge of my nose.”
Hermione gently brushed the hair lying across Snape’s forehead out of his face. She wanted to have nothing in her way that could cause her to hurt him even more. The tips of her fingers tingled where she had touched Snape’s skin. She placed her wand as instructed.
Hermione’s cool touch on his forehead sent a calming chill through Snape. He felt an unusual, although not unwelcome, dropping in his stomach. He closed his eyes and breathed in, his battered body relaxing slightly. “Now speak the incantation. Do it with a little force, if you are nervous,” Snape told her, opening his eyes.
“Episkey,” Hermione said forcefully. Her wand glowed for a moment, and when she removed it, Snape’s nose was back to its straight, hooked self.
Snape reached up and touched his newly healed nose. “Nicely done, Miss Granger. The rest will be harder. You will need to use the incantation Brackium Emendo. Episkey is only useful for simple breaks.”
He must be really out of it, thought Hermione. He would never normally compliment anything I’ve done. She responded, “That’s a real spell? I always thought Lockhart had made it up.”
The corner of Snape’s mouth turned up slightly. “It’s a real spell, only more powerful than Episkey. You will use it on my ribs and ankle. The principal is the same- concentrate on a healed bone. But first, you will need to find the ribs that are broken so you can accurately place your wand.”
“How do I tell which ones are broken?”
“Pain, Miss Granger, pain. Run your hand across my ribs. When it hurts, you will know which one is broken and where it is broken.”
Hermione gulped. “Is that really the best…”
“Just do it,” barked Snape. Hermione jumped at how quickly his tone changed from civil to callous, the demeanour she was use to from her professor. Snape, sensing her duress, continued more calmly. “The time finding the broken ribs will be shorter doing it this way, and the quicker they are found, the quicker you can fix them and end my pain.”
Hermione took a deep breath and placed her hand on Snape’s chest. He was a lot more muscular than she thought he would be, and he was warm, despite the cold of the tunnel. Slowly, she began to slide her hand down the left side of his chest, applying gentle pressure with her fingertips. When she reached the bottom of his rib cage, she moved her hand around to his side and began sliding it up.
Snape closed his eyes when Hermione laid her hand on his chest. Her touch felt so soothing, and not just to the physical wounds, but also to the chaos swirling around his mind. Her touch seemed to calm the madness caused by the Cruciatus Curse and the Legilimency that had been performed on him. He hadn’t known the feeling of a compassionate human touch in over a year, since Dumbledore’s death, and hadn’t felt a woman’s touch in even longer. But, he didn’t know if he was enjoying Granger’s touch because of the torture he had undergone or if it was the girl herself. He respected her and her abilities, she was attractive for sure, but he wasn’t one to have tender feelings… the curse was making him question his own thoughts.
Hermione’s fingers hit a broken rib, halfway up his side. Snape gave a little gasp of pain. “There, it’s broken there,” he told her. “Now, place the tip of your wand as close to the broken section as you can.”
Hermione did as she was told, and Snape flinched when her wand touched the exact spot the bone had cracked. With her right hand holding her wand and her left pressed gently below Snape’s broken rib, Hermione spoke the incantation. “Brackium Emendo.” The same yellow glow that came from her wand when she fixed his nose came again, only brighter. It glowed for a moment and then faded.
Snape lay still, his head resting back against the stone wall. “Did it work?” she asked.
“Yes, but there are more broken ribs.”
Hermione put her wand away and returned to feeling Snape’s chest. She gently slid her hand over the rib she had just healed. There was no pain. She continued up his left side but found no broken bones. She slipped her hand around his back and began sliding it down. Since he was still resting against the tunnel wall, she had to lean in close in order to be able to reach behind him. She was acutely aware of their proximity, as was Snape. Their eyes locked for a brief second as her body moved into his, but she broke the contact and continued examining his ribs.
She moved her hand down his back and made it to the bottom of his ribcage without incident. Hermione moved onto the right side of his chest. It didn’t take long for her to find a broken rib there.
She healed it the way she had the previous one and continued sliding her hands over his chest and sides. In total she found four broken ribs.
She found herself rather enjoying the feel of his chest under her hands and longed to curl up against it. Upon having this thought, her mind gave a jolt. Whatever prompted that, she thought. Now is not the time or place. The mental image of being curled up on Snape’s chest didn’t repulse her as much as it shocked her, but she was determined not to have it again. She couldn’t allow schoolgirl nonsense to cause her to lose her composure around him.
With each mended rib, she heard Snape’s breathing ease, until the last rib, when his breathing returned to normal. It no longer felt like he had a dragon sitting on his chest, and he was no longer struggling for breath. Thank God, my laboured breath was caused by the broken ribs and not my messed up mind, he thought.
Hermione could see his breathing ease and she relaxed a bit; for the first time since entering the tunnel, she looked around. It was large enough for an adult to stand upright comfortably, yet it was not well maintained. The walls were made of jagged rock; it looked like someone had blasted through the stone to create it. Whoever had hollowed the tunnel out hadn’t bothered to smooth the sides; the rock walls were coarse and not groomed. The ground was made of packed dirt and was littered with sharp pebbles that appeared to have fallen from the ceiling. A cold, damp mist hung in the air. Hermione suspected they were very close to the great lake, if not under it.
“Professor, what is this place? What happened to you? Who did this to you? Was it Voldemort? Was your cover blown? Is the castle going to be attacked?” Hermione blurted like a frantic child all the questions that had been building but she had suppressed since entering the tunnel.
“Granger, control yourself. Hold that Gryffindor curiosity for one minute so I can rest,” Snape replied calmly. He took a deep breath and re-closed his eyes - he had closed them while Hermione had run her hands over his torso - that he had opened during Hermione’s outburst. “Rest assured the school is not under attack, Miss Granger. Now, can we please continue this conversation after you heal my ankle?”
“Oh, sorry,” replied Hermione. She knelt down next to Snape’s ankle, placed her wand against it, and spoke the incantation. Her wand glowed yellow, and Snape winced in pain. “Oh God! Did I do it wrong?” Hermione asked, looking up into Snape’s eyes.
“No, it was damaged so severely that only an exceptionally skilled Healer could completely mend it. You did fine. It’s patched well enough for me to walk on. The rest of it will heal on its own,” he replied, holding her gaze. “Don’t worry, it didn’t really hurt, but when a bone isn’t completely healed by the spell it twinges for a moment,” Snape continued after seeing the look of dismay on Hermione’s face when she learned she hadn’t done the spell perfectly.
“Oh,” replied Hermione. She turned back to his injured ankle and pointed her wand at it a second time.
“No! The spell can only be used once per broken bone,” Snape told her quickly before she could perform another spell.
Hermione didn’t look up. “Ferula,” she said. A splint and bandage wound itself around Snape’s ankle. “I know it can only be used once,” said Hermione, looking back up to his face. “I just thought this might help give it some support.”
“Thank you,” mumbled Snape, smiling inwardly at being put in his place by a student.
“Now, will you tell me what this place is?” asked Hermione, holding her gaze on his face.
“A tunnel. A private entrance for the professors to use so we may come and go as we please without student interference. None of the students know about it, not even the infamous Weasley twins,” Snape told her as he began to get to his feet.
He winced in pain, and Hermione stood and grabbed his bicep to help him to his feet. He looked down at her, and their eyes met. Hermione’s stomach did a somersault. His arm was much stronger than she imagined, and his eyes shone with feeling. She liked being close to him.
Snape knew he would never be able to make it to his chambers on his own. “Will you help me back to my room, please?” Snape asked in a hushed, rough voice, despite hating having to rely on another person for help. Hermione thought his tone had a slight begging quality to it, but then again, it could just have been her imagination.
“Of course,” she replied. Hermione moved her hand from his bicep to around his waist. He wrapped his arm around her and rested his forearm and body weight on her far shoulder. With her free hand, she pushed open the stone door, and they began to walk out of the tunnel.
Snape’s ankle was weaker than Hermione thought it would be, and he had to lean heavily upon her. She didn’t mind; in some way she felt responsible because she had not been able to successfully perform the spell. Plus, she wanted to be helpful and feeling his weight pressing down on her made her feel like she was making a difference.
They took about two steps when Hermione heard the echo of footsteps and voices drifting down the dungeon corridor. “Someone’s coming,” she gasped.
Chapter Endnotes: Please leave me reviews, they keep me going. :>P