Severus lowered his head down to the amber liquid held in his palm. He'd never been one to seek comfort in spirits but today had been unlike any other. Her writhing body had cemented itself in his inner eye, despite having turned away when he'd understood what had happened. Too many thoughts clouded his mind, forcing him to seek refuge in the liquid he held now.
He needed answers, solutions, to problems he had no idea where to begin solving. The shackles would be an easy fix—if she made it through the night. He had no idea on where to begin on the dragon's head nor what other things the magical stone would do. It would be dangerous now to attempt anything further, he would have to wait until he was able to locate a book on the cursed object.
Her eyes would be another problem. He was sure he'd seen that spell before, a sort of cross between a slicing hex and a fire conjuring curse. It had been a favorite of Voldemort during the first war; which meant one of the rogue snatchers was a veteran. There was no counter-curse but the effects could be dealt with. He was sure he had his notes in his personal library somewhere, though he wasn't sure it would do anything to see to the restoration of her sight.
Her hearing was another problem, his diagnostic spell showed damage to the inner ear, only made worse by her prolonged absence of treatment. That too would need to be researched.
The last piece of the puzzle was her throat. The small bones surrounding her voice box had been crushed, damaging the fragile muscle. He wasn't even sure she could swallow let alone eat anything of substinence. He could reset the bones, mend them but he'd need a muscle restoration draught to repair the muscles behind. Problem was, he'd have to get her to swallow it. He wasn't sure what they had been using to keep her alive thus far, though he could carefully assume that whatever it had been had lacked in any true nutrients.
There was so much to do. So little time. What was the proper course for any of this? Would he be able to get her to one of the Order members? Or would he be left alone to shoulder the burden?
His inner thoughts ground to a halt when his arm seared to life. A snarl covered his face as he came to his feet. Thankfully, he'd only taken three drinks of fire whiskey. His mind always needing to be sharp should his 'master' call. His wand came into his hand and he was gone.
Screams echoed through the cave the Dark Lord had summoned him to. A favorite of his, overlooking the magical town. The large spires of Hogwarts castle just barely seen in the distance. He schooled his face into a mask of indifference stepping around the dismembered body of one of the snatchers they caught at the camp. Severus hid his pleasure at the horrific look of pain permanently etched into the severed man's head before he raised his eyes up to the man standing tall against the bright firelight.
Wormtail writhed in pain as another curse struck his bloated frame, his cries echoing through the cave. Severus waited patiently for the curse to lift before stepping out of the shadows to reveal his presence.
"Severus...How good of you to join us...Do come closer."
Voldemort's voice dripped heavily with barely contained rage, and Severus could almost taste the danger in the air.
"You wished to see me, My Lord?" Severus respectfully inclined his head keeping his hands still at his sides. His occumency walls hard and strong.
"Yes...I have acquired a small bit of interesting information... something to which I seek your counsel..." Voldemort stepped slowly around the simpering man, coming to stand at his full height before the man in black. His red snake-like eyes piercing none to gently into the man's mind, without warning or permission.
Severus instantly felt the intrusion and pushed forward all his memories of the camp, waiting for the other boot to fall. When Voldemort rounded on the memory of Wormtail's capture he stopped and pressed his wand to his temple; forcibly removing the image. Severus ground his teeth but did not resist, he knew what awaited him should he do so.
"So it is true..." Voldemort slipped the memory into his own temple, a skill which only he was believed to possess.
"My Lord?" Severus' brow ticked with confusion as just to what Wormtail had revealed to obviously spare his life. The Dark Lord was not a kind man, and any act of betrayal was always met with death.
"Potter's mudblood." Voldemort hissed the epicure with an almost child-like sneer, "She was among those taken. I saw the recognition in your mind yet you dare to stand there so confidently before me!"
The spell that struck sent Severus hard down to one knee, his muscles spasming from the restraint keeping him from falling face down upon the cave floor. His head rose as he tried to quickly think of a reason as to why he had supposedly withheld this information.
"Sh-she is...only a-mud-blood my lord...I did-not see her... significance..." Severus panted heavily, bracing himself on his hands to take in air. His mind spinning carefully behind his shields.
"True...but of all those who would speak these words to me, your track record in this department leaves doubt."
Severus closed his eyes tight for a moment, quickly swallowing down the pain of the memory threatening to come to the surface, "A youthful misstep My Lord...I know their true place now..." The words tasted bitter on his tongue but he didn't dare to let it show.
"Wormtail claims that she lives. Proposed using her to get to Potter. A whimsical plan, yet I am curious of your thoughts..." Voldemort circled around him slowly, his voice low; almost soothing like a parent consoling a child who'd scraped their knee.
"She does not." Severus lifted his head slowly but did not dare to rise, "She died...while I was clearing the camp..." Severus called forth the image of him burying the first girl that he'd laid to rest. The cloth he'd wrapped her in had obscured her face but he was sure it would suffice.
"Why did you bury her?" Voldemort rounded on him then, pressing his wand beneath his chin, a small spark burning the man's throat.
"I didn't...want Potter to know...if he...if he believes she still lives...he will search for her...and, not you My Lord..." Severus swallowed thickly keeping his eyes submissive. He could only thank his silver tongue when the wand that had pressed into his throat pulled away.
"This is why I seek your counsel, Severus..." Voldemort turned slowly looking down at Wormtail, "Leave me, prepare for your new honor."
Severus lowered his head, turning to take his leave. A large stone was forming in his stomach at what he'd just done.
A new day was just beginning to rise when the nightmare that had encased Severus' sleeping mind released its hold. His body bolting straight up from his bed. His eyes wide, his face pale with a light sheen of sweat glistening on his brow. It wasn't the first, and surely wasn't the last. A deep groan brought his hands up to his face, pushing back his dark lank locks.
Turning his heavy head, his eyes took focus on the girl whom he had brought to rest inside his room. A small bed, something he'd been able to make from the remains of his own childhood frame, rested beneath the window. He'd raised the legs so he wouldn't have to stoop to care for her needs. He'd added dreamless sleep to her regime in the middle of the night when he'd woken to find her struggling against the light blanket he'd placed over her.
He'd dressed her in a long deep blue robe, the sort that folded over itself. It would allow him free access to re-administer the salves and lotions he planned to use to heal her skin without the arduous process of having to dress her. He wasn't sure why he'd planned for the long term, only that he had. A part of him prayed that the fates would have taken her peacefully in her sleep. Removing her from the world that sought to her destruction.
Her head was turned away from him now, the heavy steel around her neck, shielding most of her face from view. One hand rested in the valley of her waist while the other laid flat beside her, a small cushioned band holding it in place so that the IV he'd placed in her arm wouldn't be entangled. From his view on his bed it was impossible to decern whether or not she was still with him.
Severus glanced at the clock beside his bed, 5:04. It was ungodly early but his nightmare left him too tense to return to rest. So, as was his wont, he pushed himself from the bed. He pulled himself up heavily to his feet, forgoing his shirt in his early morning induced haze and brought himself slowly towards the window. Was this it? Was all his worry about the future for naught? Or had the fates once more been unkind?
The back of his fingers hesitantly came down, brushing a bit of stray hair from her forehead. Her skin was cool to the touch but not worryingly so. His other hand rose resting over her chest, feeling for the breath he secretly prayed would not be there. His brow turned to concentration when he felt the tell-tale rise of a slow deep breath. She had survived the night.
His hands retreated, following his body as he turned away towards the dresser he had laden with the various potions and salves he had used the day before. There was still a long way to go. If nothing else, he could make her last days as comfortable as possible.
Hermione found herself roused to the feeling of her head being lifted. A vertigo enducing experience that left her completely out of sorts for the first precious seconds of consciousness. The next thing to register was a heavy weight that had almost become so much a part of her that a small panic welled in her chest at it being taken away. The heavy steel around her neck was gingerly removed and the cloth that had protected her from its sharp unrefined edges came away next.
As her head was placed back down on the soft surface beneath, a strong smell wafted beneath her nose. The fabric brushed very lightly over her chin as the arm, presumably over her head, adjusted a soft pillow beneath her neck to keep it supported. She recognized the scent instantly from before and knew that it was the owner of the hands that had cleansed her.
The hands moved away then but she could feel the aura of the man beside her. She made to raise her hand to reach out, to do what she had been trained to do but jolted when she found her wrist restrained. Thoughts swirled by in her mind, trying in vain to understand what had happened, why they had restrained her. Had she made a mistake? Did they want to watch her suffer the effects of the stone inside her? Had she stepped out of bounds when she found her own release? They had never given her reward either. They had merely vanished.
All the thoughts and more elevated her heart rate and subsequently her breathing. Her mouth opened, her jaw tilting up to show that she wasn't resisting. She could feel the small vibration of her voice attempting to pass her throat though she had no idea what it sounded like. It was merely an action she'd used before to get attention.
A hand came to her chest then, gentle yet firm before its mate came to rest on her cheek. Their thumb pressing lightly against her healed lip. She immediately took it into her mouth moving her tongue over it the way so many others had liked. However, this hand was not like the others. Rather it pulled back from her lips leaving her mouth dry.
She tried to adjust but the feeling of cold wood against the pulsing vein of her neck stilled her instantly. Her brow curled tight with desperation. What did they want from her? What could she possibly do?
The hand lifted from her chest to adjust her head straight, it was in the next few moments that she felt a sharp dull pain shoot down her throat. Her breathing hitched and her chest arched in the panic-inducing feeling of being unable to breathe, even for a millisecond. Her free hand rose instinctually to her throat only to be caught in the air. Her mouth opened gapping like a fish as she struggled to set her breathing back on rhythm.
It was only when her body registered that her throat was more open did her mind slowly start to relax. Her gulping breaths slowed and her back lowered down to the bed beneath. Her heart pulsed in her ears, a dull thump that brought no sound merely the pressure of its existence.
The hand that had taken her wrist lowered down to rest her own hand upon her chest and she felt the man move away again. She didn't dare to move, didn't dare to think. Her throat pulsed but no pain registered. What had they done?
A new smell came into the air furrowing her brow. She was sure she knew what it was but her scrambled mind was unable to give it a name. Her body slowly began to rise, not from hands but from the bed she'd been placed onto. Lifting her up into a partially seated position making her body grow tight. A palm rested on her cheek but she didn't react until something cool pressed against her bottom lip. The smell was stronger now, warm and moist. Softly sweet.
The liquid that brushed against her chapped lips immediately caused her to open her jaw further. When the liquid spilled onto her tongue she couldn't help her body's reaction. More. She wanted more. Her hand that had been rested on her chest blindly reached up pushing the hand that held the cup to her lips. She swallowed desperately as her mouth filled with tea. Her throat, however, was not so kind.
Severus jerked the cup back when her body lurched forward. Dropping the cup to the side as he made to catch her lurching form. Unprepared for her reaction he'd been left with nothing more to do than to keep her from choking. The tea he'd tried to give her had held no magical properties. Merely a kindness to help sate her dry mouth. He hadn't expected the girl to react in such a way and internally cursed himself for being so careless.
He held her over his arm, bringing his hand to heavily pat against her back to aid her body's natural response to inhaling liquid. It was a dry grating sound that tore at his senses. When the last of the liquid spilled out over his white shirt he felt her body start to relax, still to weak to manage any more than basic bodily functions. He could feel her anxiety tripling, winding her weakened body up like a coiled spring.
Hermione could have cried if she'd had any tears left to shed. So sure that she'd lost all chance she had at parching her thirst. Her throat pulsed stronger now and her chest was starting to ache. After the hands lowered her back down they disappeared, leaving her lost in her own world. The bed beneath her lowered down next and she was sure she'd lost all privilege. A shuddered sob soundlessly shook her chest before she turned her face into her traitorous hand.
The world around her grew still and the little hope that she had held in her chest went out. She tried to focus on anything else. Her body felt stronger than it had the day before, lighter somehow as though whatever they had put into her arm was meant to aid her. She didn't dare to think of what purpose that would achieve but her imagination had already started to provide her with past experiences, raising her anxiety higher.
She didn't know how long she let her mind run away from her, only that it had. It wasn't until the hands returned, turning her face the other way did she even register the other's presence. They took her hand gently pressing a cloth into her curled fingers before lowering it down to her lips. Hermione's brow furrowed when the smell of tea wafted under her nose followed by the gradual drops of liquid on her lips. With their guidance she gradually accepted the cloth into her mouth, keeping hold on the end, before suckling slowly.
It tasted like heaven, pure unadulterated grace. The tea soaked cloth eased the dryness of her mouth and soothed her throat. The hands pulled back, going further down her body, pulling away the fabric that covered her but she couldn't care. She had gotten her reward. It wasn't like the others, no, but it was definitely a reward. The rules hadn't changed only the player. It eased her mind, relaxing her body.
Hermione idly turned her head, tracking the hands that touched her. They brought with them a salve or lotion, easing her weather torn skin. They started at her stomach, slowly moving along her sides and over her chest. It was calming, hypnotic even. They massaged over all the little patches that had bothered her during her time in the forest. Times where scratching seemed like the only way to pass the time.
Her suckling slowed when they pushed open the rest of her robe, leaving her cocooned in the fabric. She did what was expected then, raising her free leg up, opening herself for their inspection. It was only then that she realized that both of her legs had been freed. An observation that brought a fluttering feeling to her stomach when she stretched her other leg.
The hands worked their way down, massaging the lotion into the bones of her hips before taking the leg she had bent, running along the thin expanse. The touch was so calming, so cathartic. She didn't know how to process what was happening.