Severus stared down at the girl huddled into herself on the damp, cold stone floor, and barely managed to hide his dismay and disgust. Bruises marred her pale skin, and beneath her long, tangled hair he could make out scabbed over lash marks on her back. She was thin, much thinner than the last time he'd seen her, and the collar around her neck and the chain holding her to the wall seemed obscenely huge.
Getting an iron grip on his emotions, he glanced cooly at his companion. Lucius' lip was curled in disgust as he looked at his cowering captive.
"Can you fix her?"
One dark brow arched, and, in keeping with his role, Severus nudged the girl's hip with the toe of his boot. She only shuddered harder, but made no sound. Crouching down, he wrapped his fingers in her dirty hair and lifted her head.
Blank, empty eyes stared past him, and a thin sliver of drool slid down her chin.
"It appears that you broke her, Lucius."
"Yes, well, that was the point, but I prefer that my playthings have a little bit of reaction. She just lays there. No fun at all in that, and she hasn't told me anything important yet, not that I've spent much time asking her."
As she began to cough, a deep, fluid sound, Severus dropped her head and opened his satchel. "I may be able to restore her sanity and heal her injuries." Running his wand over the trembling body, he did a cursory physical examination, and somehow he managed to keep his voice calm when he spoke again. "She has a severe vaginal infection, an anal one as well, and several of these whip marks are infected. There's also a serious case of pneumonia in her lungs. Without treatment, she won't last much longer."
"Then treat her, Severus. She's too valuable to let die yet."
Nodding, Severus pulled a vial of purple liquid from his satchel and carefully measured out a dose. He lifted her head again and thumbed open her mouth, then poured the potion down her throat. He was pleased to see that she instinctively swallowed. His hand cupped around the back of her neck just below the iron collar, he supported her as he watched her eyes begin to clear. As sanity returned, tears filled her eyes and she pulled free of him, only to curl into a shaking ball.
"No...don't bring me back," Hermione cried pitifully.
Lucius snickered. "There's my toy."
Severus' heart thudded painfully in his chest as he listened to her pathetic cries. He'd brought her back to pain and suffering. She undoubtedly had been better off wherever her mind had been, but he'd had no choice but to do as Lucius asked.
"This may take considerable time..."
"Well, I have much better things to do with that time than stand around down here and watch you. Please, join me in the Library when you're finished." Lucius gave his companion an appraising look. "You may have her if you wish, although she's not very good. Still, there is some satisfaction in bringing down the high and mighty."
"Thank you, but no."
"Oh, yes...You have your own Gryffindor to bed, don't you."
Severus nodded in cool acknowledgment, ignoring Lucius' leering look, and after a moment, the dark wizard swept out of the dungeon, closing the door behind him. Turning back to the shivering girl, Severus performed a quick warming spell, then lightly touched her shoulder.
He wasn't surprised when she skittered away from him, pressing herself against the wall. The short chain prevented her from going anywhere, which suited his purposes. Moving closer to her, he magicked up a bowl of warm water and a soft sponge, then settled on his knees and removed another vial from his satchel. Unstoppering it, he offered it to the weeping girl. "This will begin the healing process. You need to drink it all, Miss Granger."
Wrapping shaking arms around herself in a vain attempt to hide her nudity, she looked up at him from watery eyes, and whispered, "Let me die."
"Don't be foolish." He caught her chin in his free hand and brushed his thumb over her stubbornly closed lips. "Open your mouth and drink this down." When she shook her head, he frowned deeper and made his voice sterner. "Do you wish me to force it down your throat?"
When she paled violently, fear flooding her eyes, he cursed and tried a more soothing approach. "Please, Miss Granger, Malfoy was right in one regard. You are too valuable to be allowed to die." Slowly her lips parted and he was able to pour the healing potion into her mouth. He watched as she swallowed, then watched as she curled back into herself. Picking up the sponge he dipped it in the water, then carefully lifted her hair from her back. Several dirty strands crusted with blood were caught in the healing wounds and he gently began to bathe her, freeing the hair.
The angry lines began to fade, the infection disappearing from her body. As he continued to clean her back, he felt her hot skin cool, and she began to shiver again. He enhanced the warming spell and heard her cough. The rattle was gone, and he breathed a sigh of relief. He'd been afraid he'd need to give her another dose to clear all the various infections in her body, and that was always dangerous, but the pneumonia was healing as well.
"You will be all right," Severus murmured.
"I'll never be all right again," Hermione sobbed softly, wrapping her arms around her knees and beginning to rock.
"Somehow we will get you out of here," he promised. Her head shot up and she looked wildy around. "Don't worry. As long as we stay within two feet of one another we can talk freely. He will hear only what I wish him to hear."
"How long have I been here?" was the first plaintive question out of her mouth.
"Four weeks, two days." He dipped the sponge in the ever-clean water and began to stroke it down her arms. The bruises were fading, but he knew that new ones would replace them.
"I...I thought it was longer. It...seemed longer."
"You need to bathe thoroughly or the potion will be unable to work fully. Do you wish me to continue...?"
Hermione blushed a fiery red and shook her head. Severus handed her the sponge and then discreetly looked away. Hearing her soft moans of pain was unavoidable, and he let his eyes close for a moment and tried to think of his wife waiting for him, their child growing beneath her heart.
"Is Ron..." Her voice broke on a sob and he opened his eyes, turning slightly to see her huddled again, the blood-streaked sponge sitting in the bowl. "Is Ron alive?"
"Yes. He is being held by the Dark Lord in his dungeons, which, at the moment, are unassailable. Malfoy Manor, though warded, is not unbreachable. I believe we can free you."
"But not Ron?"
Severus shook his head. "Not at the moment, though I have access to him daily. They believe my potions are breaking him, but I am doing everything in my power to strengthen his will and body."
"Thank you," she whispered, looking up at him again, though unable to meet his eyes. "Is Harry all right? Did Draco really rescue him?"
"Yes, and yes. Do not concern yourself with Potter. You need to focus on yourself. You must stay in control of your mind, for when the time comes, we will need your help to rescue you."
"I...I don't know if I can," her voice broke plaintively again and she buried her face in her raised knees. "It's so hard to stay here, to know what...what he's doing to me. It...hurts. He hurts me, but, I can survive that. He's not the one who broke me," she stumbled over the words, but finally got them all out. "Ginny. It's her betrayal that hurts so much. She was...she was my best girl friend and all along she was playing us all for fools. She's so...evil, professor. Rotten to the core. I can see it now that the thin veneer of good is gone." Hermione shuddered uncontrollably.
"The Dark Lord hid her corruption from us completely," Severus replied solemnly as he began to pack his satchel. "I'm afraid I must leave." He saw the moment of panic on her face, but there was nothing he could do about it, so he continued. "How are you feeling physically?"
"...Better. The pain's faded and I don't feel as hot."
"May I?" he asked, holding the back of his hand up to her forehead. At her nod, he placed it against her skin. "Definitely cooler. The fever is gone and the infections are fading. I...well, there is every chance they will return."
Tears sparked in her eyes, but she nodded in resignation. "I...I know." As he started to rise to his feet, she reached out and clutched at his arm. "I always knew I might be captured, tortured, but I never thought...it never crossed my mind..." Unable to say the words, she forced herself to ask, "Were we foolish to think they would not go to these extremes to destroy us?"
Severus gave her a compassionate look and shook his head. "Not foolish. Innocent."
Hermione sobbed and released him. With a last sorrowful glance at her bowed head and shaking shoulders, Severus left the cell, silently cursing his inability to help her. A Gryffindor would have thrown caution to the wind and gotten her out, destroying his cover, probably dying in the process.
But, he thought of his own hide first, albeit in service to the Order, and he knew most of his companions would blame him for saving himself and leaving Hermione to rot.
One wouldn't though. The only one, save Dumbledore, that truly mattered.
Thoughts again settling on his wife, Severus hurried from the dungeon, making his way with ready confidence to the library. He had been at the manor several times over the years and knew his way around the place.
Lucius was seated behind the massive mahogany desk sipping from a snifter of brandy and perusing an antiquarian volume of what appeared to be poems. "Did you save her?"
"Yes," Severus answered as he turned to the tray of spirits and poured himself a glass of whisky. "She will remain cognizant as well." He drank half the glass in one angry gulp.
"I wager she was shocked to realize your betrayal."
Narrowing his eyes, Severus took another sip, praying the whisky would warm him, and forced himself to nod in agreement.
"You serve our Master well." Lucius set aside his book and leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers beneath his chin. "His ever loyal potions master."
"We are only what he allows us to be, Lucius, as you well know. Our roles may differ, but each is important to achieving His goal."
"...Yes." Lucius dropped his hands and smiled a false smile. "I thank you, Severus."
"There is no need for thanks, Lucius. I do my duty. I trust that the information you gain from her will bring us closer to victory."
"Just the fact that they elevate a Mudblood to a position of power brings us closer to victory," Lucius crowed arrogantly as he rose to his feet. Severus set down his empty glass and both men bid each other farewell.
"Get out," Sirius hissed through clenched teeth when Severus strode into the musty library at Grimmauld Place.
Sneering at his surroundings, Severus ignored Black and turned to Remus and Arthur Weasley who sat at a table examining several old documents.
"Do you have news, Severus?" Arthur asked, looking up hopefully.
"I do. I have found Miss Granger."
Remus jumped to his feet. "She's alive? Well?"
"Alive. Not very well, I'm afraid, but I believe you can stage a rescue attempt. She's being held at Malfoy Manor. I can help you get through the wards."
Arthur breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank the gods."
"What has Malfoy done to her?" Sirius growled, joining the three at the table, hands clenched into fists as Severus gave him a cool look.
"I'm certain you can guess, Black."
"And you left her there? Typical." With a snort, he headed for the bar.
Severus rolled his eyes dramatically and turned his back on his nemesis. "She's being held in the dungeons. She's weak, but aware of her surroundings, and she should be able to aid in her own rescue if you go soon, within in the next week at least. Malfoy won't expect an attack on his own property and his arrogance is so great his defenses are minimal. The best time would be at the next meeting of the Dark Court. I can give you a couple of hours to prepare." Taking out his wand, he created a set of blueprints. "And these should get you through the manor. There will be several house elves to deal with, but with Narcissa here, you should face no real challenges."
Arthur looked up from examining the blueprints. "Has Hermione told him anything?"
"I don't think he's asked her anything of importance. He's too busy playing with her," Severus replied, scorn for the Death Eater evident in his voice.
"Gods," Remus whispered, horrified. "She's a child."
There was no response to that, and the men sat to formulate a viable plan. Sirius finally joined them, adding nothing but snide comments until Remus told him to go sober up, and he took a bottle and stormed from the room.
"He misses Lilith," the werewolf said smoothly, his eyes holding Severus'.
"He's a lout and a bore, Lupin, and quite likely a liability in his current state. I suggest he not go along on the rescue mission."
"How is Lilith?" Arthur asked calmly.
"She is well, content. I don't have her in chains, Weasley."
"I know. It's just, we miss her."
Severus softened slightly. "She misses all of you as well. I could perhaps convey messages to her from all of you if you have them ready at our next meeting."
Smiling, Arthur nodded his thanks, and they bent their heads back to the blueprints.
The smell of burning food met Severus on his return home, and he sighed and headed for the kitchen. Lilith stood at the stove banging a wooden spoon on a smoking pot and cursing a blue streak.
"Our child's first words are not going to be suitable for company, my love," he teased from behind her.
She twirled around and he chuckled at the soot on her nose and the scowl on her face. "I followed the recipe. I had the right ingredients in the right proportions. I hate cooking."
Peering over her shoulder, Severus shook his head in dismay at the burned chicken and rice dish. "I believe you let it cook too long."
"I repeat, I hate cooking." Pulling her wand out of the pocket of her loose overalls, she made the mess and smell disappear, then sighed. "Sandwiches? I don't seem to be able to screw those up."
"Anything is fine, but later. We must talk first," he replied softly, taking her hand and lifting it to his lips for a kiss. He led her to the table and made her sit before he joined her, his hand never leaving hers. "I found Hermione."
Lilith's eyes lit up with joy and relief. "Thank god. Where is she? Is she okay?"
"She's at Malfoy Manor. Lucius has her, as I suspected." He kept his voice neutral and squeezed her hand gently when she paled. "Lilith, she's alive. I wasn't certain if that was true any longer."
"You saw her?" she choked out.
He nodded, and quickly spoke before she could ask more questions, demanding to know every detail. "I have spoken with the Order and a plan is in the works to rescue her, hopefully within the next week. Lucius' defenses of the manor are ludicrously weak in places. The plan is to rescue her during the next Dark Court, which should throw any suspicion off me, as I shall be in attendance with Lucius."
"He raped her, didn't he." Tears flooded Lilith's eyes and her heart thumped painfully in her chest.
"Lilith, she's alive," Severus responded, trying to convey his strength to her. "She's a strong girl. She will survive this."
"That bastard," she yelled, anger replacing sorrow. "I want him dead."
"He will pay," he swore softly. "For so very much." As she sniffled, he patted her hand, then rose to his feet and released her. "Now, come, be calm. Hermione wouldn't want you fearing for her. I'll make those sandwiches and we can talk about happier things, like, have you come up with any more names for the baby?"
Lilith shook her head and watched her husband cross the kitchen floor, rolling up his sleeves, and knew that her fate could have been a hell just like Hermione's and knew that she was very lucky.
And something unfolded inside her, making her heart beat faster and her eyes light up.
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