Acts of Revenge - Part III
"All I can see is bloody leaves," he complained to Kingsley, Neville, Dean, Lee and the rest of the Weasley men who had all collected together again in the Hogwarts infirmary. "There is something beyond them, but I can't make it out."
"Stay with it, Ronny,” George advised.
But Ron's sense of urgency was as much fueled by his concern for the recovery of the survivors, as it was for Hermione. He looked around the infirmary, at the partitioned area of curtained screens that had been erected for privacy for Draco, Lucius, and Harry and Severus, to rest within magically silenced quadrants. Severus had clearly seemed to be more concerned with keeping watch over Harry than with getting any rest for himself. Narcissa was currently with Draco, where she'd been since having had a quiet reunion with her husband, after which he'd returned to the heavy sleep of oblivion, via the curse still inhabiting his leg. Of Narcissa's experience, they only knew that she and Hermione had landed side-by-side when their portkeys had taken them to the Munson Estate, but that Hermione had been taken away shortly afterward.
"The best thing about this scenario is that it's Hermione," Ron said after a moment to his audience. "She's wicked clever, and won't hesitate to act if she can find a way to escape."
There was a soft pop and three Hogwarts elves appeared with numerous trays of sandwiches, pumpkin juice and desserts. The wizards all pounced on the food, including Ron, who scarfed down a few sandwiches before heading over to where the Headmistress was looking in on Severus and Harry. "Luna didn't want to come to the infirmary," Ron told Minerva in a soft voice.
"What was her condition, Ronald?" Severus called quietly over Harry's head. Ron craned his head around the opening in the curtain, and though his face registered that he was touched by the scene before him, he made no mention of it. "She'd been roughed up. I have a bad feeling," he said, and his mouth quivered slightly. "I called mum, and she and Fleur are with Luna at Harry's."
Severus nodded with a sadness he could not address with any practicality at the moment. "Well done," he told the ginger-haired wizard. He realized he and Harry needed to eat, to compensate for the magical drain their heavy dueling had cost them, so he gently began to rub Harry's back to wake him. The teen had slept in place on Severus' lap, not having stirred for nearly an hour, and Severus had been loathe to wake him any sooner than necessary. Minerva and Ron moved away from the entrance to their little cordoned off area. Harry jerked violently, and came awake with a gasp. Severus held onto him.
"You are safe, Harry," he said softly, waiting.
Harry relaxed back against Severus' chest as he slowly came back to the realities of the moment. "I'm awake," he said finally, and started to sit up.
Severus scooped an arm under Harry's legs and helped him slide over to sit in the small space of open cushion to their right. Once settled, the boy turned and wrapped his arms around Severus' torso, keeping his head ducked down so that his face was hidden. Not sure what was behind the embrace, Severus returned it with a tight squeeze. He was operating completely on instinct, and had been, since a voice in his head had said comfort that boy, when he'd seen Harry curled up with Lucius. He was concerned about the extent of the setback that all of the day's chaos would yield for Harry's health. However, he couldn't help but replay what had transpired so far and be anything but convinced that Harry Potter was one hell of a powerful and talented young wizard. So, he squeezed the boy again with both arms, saying, "You've impressed me immensely today, Harry. I can't imagine a smoother outcome to the circumstances we faced, nor would I wish to have been paired with any other wizard on the scene." He stretched his own legs out to allow better circulation. "We make a formidable team, do we not?"
Harry's heart was in his throat. He'd just been given the greatest compliment he could imagine from Severus Snape. He wondered what his younger self would think of such a departure from all that he'd known from his horrid professor. He had a brief fantasy of using a time turner and telling fifth-year Harry that Snape was going to become such an important part of his life. That the man would grow to love him, and act like a caring father to him. He imagined the way fifth-year Harry would have responded. It would have been priceless. It would have been life-altering. He clenched his jaw against the confused emotion, and asked in a strained voice, "So, when we head out to fetch Hermione, you're going to want to stick with me?"
"Most certainly," Severus said. He didn't miss the signs of Harry's emotional struggle, but there was still a crisis at hand that had to be addressed first. "And with that in mind, you must eat as much as you can now. I myself am feeling quite a magical drain, and you, with your small stature, have to have depleted your reserves."
"I'm sure you're right," Harry said as he released his hold on Severus and turned to face forward.
As if on cue, Winky popped into their little quadrant with a tray that had legs, and settled it directly in front of them.
"Thanks, Winky," Harry said.
"And of course you know this elf, don't you?" Severus asked as the normally shy little creature beamed at the Boy Wonder.
After a short time, Narcissa came in to see Harry. She gave him a warm smile, moved close to kiss his cheek again, then stepped back to face him, giving him a look that insisted he continue to eat. "I'm so very grateful to you, Harry. What would I have done without you and Severus?"
Harry blinked. "There was no other option," he said adamantly. "We had to try to help. Are you feeling alright? You look wonderful, considering everything."
"I will be fine, darling," she said firmly, smiling in spite of the moisture that flooded her eyes. "You and Severus, and all of these wonderful people that have shown up to help, have all made my life, and Lucius' life, and Draco's life, more rich and fulfilling than we could have ever hoped to have done on our own. With friends such as these, I can only feel hopeful."
"The Ministry had no record of you using your wand. Nor Lucius. Why?" Harry asked earnestly. "You would have been excused for protecting yourselves."
Narcissa sighed, and her expression betrayed more torment than she probably wanted it to. "We Malfoys were given a very valuable gift when we were spared time in Azkaban. It would be hypocritical to expect our sentencing to have special conditions that may not be applied to someone else under the same restrictions." Her face registered the closest thing to a smirk that Harry'd ever seen from her. "Although, be assured that Lucius will want to tell the tale of his wandless battle. I'm sure he was quite impressive, but alas, not even he is powerful enough to last wandlessly against an equally powerful wizard with a wand and a vendetta."
"Were you able to do anything to defend yourself?" Harry asked anxiously.
"I was. When Hermione and I first arrived at the estate, our wands were taken, and we were left in that dark basement together for about twenty minutes before she was dragged off, and I lost track of her. But before that, we were frantic, realizing we could only hope to defend ourselves by using wandless magic. Hermione has a fantastically practical mind. She'd made a few comments about how simple household charms could save a life, and that was all I needed to help me gather my sensibilities. We had not verbalized our plans to each other, but she'd reminded me of what I know how to do without a wand. I'm not certain I would have employed such a creative use of my heating and cleaning charms otherwise."
She smiled a rather wicked smile at that, and Harry could feel heat rising into his face, even though he had no idea what she was referring to. Severus snorted somewhat uncomfortably beside him. Then, the former potions professor waved his wand and the tray before them disappeared.
They stood and Harry went to hug Narcissa. He waited while Severus embraced her as well, before asking, "And Draco?"
Narcissa sighed, stepping away from Severus. "Well, what's today? Early Saturday? Madam Pomfrey wants him in his current sleep stasis until Monday morning at least. I believe I'll be spending quite a lot of time in this infirmary, between my husband's and son's convalescence."
"I'll spell you, so will the others," Harry offered.
Narcissa sighed. "And perhaps between then and now, we can glean some information as to how my son came to fall for a Polyjuiced impostor. And how to counsel him as to why he should not feel tormented by such a revelation."
Harry gave her a pained look. "I'm really wishing Naomi had been the myth I kept teasing him about."
Severus had waived his wand again and their curtained partition vanished. The rest of the infirmary came into view and Harry saw all of his friends gathered in two's and three's, talking quietly. He headed over to Ron and Neville.
"Anything?" he asked Ron as he returned the clap on the shoulder he received from Neville.
"It's completely mad, Harry," Ron said in frustration. "I know I'm seeing something. Maybe it's the view Hermione has from where she's stuck just now. But it's bizarre. I just see huge leaves, like there's an enormous branch in front of me. I see the night sky, but the leaves are blocking any other landmarks, so I just can't figure this out."
"Bugger." Harry griped. It was easier to give into frustration than into terror for his best friend. He grabbed a few more sandwiches from a tray that kept replenishing itself as George, Lee and Dean came over to stand with them. "Did Madam Pomfrey get anything from Naomi's body?"
George shot a look at Ron, who shot a look at Neville, who answered Harry, "Turns out that Naomi was a bloke."
Harry felt his jaw drop open. Oh, no. "This is the last thing Draco needs," he said in a choked voice.
"Well, it's not like he's to be ashamed or anything, is it?" Neville said testily.
"'Course not!" Harry said, annoyed with the knowledge that this information could be used to torment his friend to no end. Harry knew Draco, and Draco would be terribly disturbed by this news, and would expect anyone else who knew to ridicule him. Harry looked at the group surrounding him. "No one will joke about it," he seethed.
George looked offended. "Not even I would be able to make a joke about that."
The others all just looked uncomfortable. It was sticky territory. Draco had certainly never done much to endear himself to any of these wizards, other than to be a good friend to Harry this past year. And the old Draco would have been the first to taunt anyone in this situation. An unfortunate instance of 'what goes around comes around,' Harry thought. But he was still worried.
At approximately half one Saturday morning, Kingsley, Percy, and all of the deputies were losing momentum, and many were feeling the heaviness of exhaustion. They'd assigned aurors to interrogate the prisoners to find out where Hermione might be, to no avail. Even those that seemed to be willing to cooperate claimed to have no idea where Rabastan had gone with the young witch.
Right when it appeared that the Minister would make a decision to return the search to the aurors, the floo roared with green flame and Hermione stepped through. She looked disheveled, but completely intact. Harry and Ron tore over to her and the three hugged each other hard. There was a resounding response from all present that raised the volume substantially throughout the infirmary.
So much had transpired in the twelve or so hours since the initial kidnapping, Harry had forgotten who knew what about whom, at this point. Hermione only knew who had been portkeyed away. Harry had to mentally step back within the sands of time to comprehend her relief at seeing him unharmed as she kissed his cheek and clung to him with her face pressed into his neck, while she struggled to hold onto her emotions. The rest of the group swarmed around the reunited Golden Trio.
"Are the others safe?" she asked fearfully. Tears sprang into her eyes, now that she would finally get the answer to the worry that had plagued her since she'd been whisked away. She did not resist the arm Minerva put around her.
"We've got everyone here now. You were the last," Kingsley hedged, to avoid the topic of impostor Naomi. "But there's still Rabastan to capture."
"That won't be too challenging," Hermione said with a disdainful tone. "He's rather caught up, at the moment."
Harry could feel a smile pulling at his mouth in spite of the sudden cease of adrenaline he was experiencing. "Tried something inappropriate, did he?"
Hermione scrunched her nose. "He had my wand. I had no real choice," she said, as if she needed to defend her actions.
Harry looked at Minerva for a second and saw an extremely impressed expression settle itself on the elderly witch's face. He suddenly recollected the only spell that he knew Hermione could do without a wand. He could feel his face grow red, but had to laugh in spite of it. "Hermione's wandless trouser shrinking charm is awfully powerful," he said.
"Awwhhhhh, uuurrggh," the younger men all groaned in unison.
Hermione managed a teary smirk. She held Harry's gaze, and he knew she feared for the other women. He gave a tiny shrug to say, I don't really know, and her face fell. He redirected her thoughts by asking, "We know you landed at first with Narcissa, and then you got separated. What happened to you after that?"
"That ex-auror, Smith, was incredibly smug with me. He… made some threats about me being passed around. But first, Rabastan was to have his fun with me," Hermione said. As if the words had caught up with her, she stopped and struggled to stay composed enough to finish. "I was in a completely dark place for what seemed like hours, and then Rabastan showed up and portkeyed us both to someplace he called the Anti-Severus room…?" she paused to flash Severus a look of inquiry. He shook his head, arms crossed, expression pinched. Hermione continued, "It was there that I used my wandless tailoring spell on him." Now she coughed and giggled at the same time. "I know I can get shrill at times, but he hit a high note that I could never match. I took his wand along with mine, and the portkey," she said, pulling both wands from her sleeve and holding Lestrange's out to Kingsley with another champagne glass. "I don't see how he can get himself out of there without it."
"How did you get out?" Severus asked, and it was impossible to tell what might be behind the strain in his voice.
Severus spun on his heal and strode purposefully back to Lucius' bed, where his friend lay with a very disturbed expression on his face. "That anomaly in Spinner's End," Severus started. "I think it was Rabastan's doing all along. How could he possibly have had Hermione at Spinner's End?"
"Severus, do not impose these conundrums upon me when I cannot sit up straight to consider them," Lucius snapped. "Poppy? Madam Pomfrey?"
"That son of a bitch has staked himself out on my property," Severus said disdainfully. His mind was reeling at the implications of this, and not just because his wards should have been impenetrable.
Madam Pomfrey appeared and raised the mattress behind Lucius' back upward, so that he was nearly sitting. "If you feel pressure in your ribcage, stop me immediately," she said testily, as if he had exasperated her beyond measure.
Lucius managed a charming smile of gratitude for the medi-witch, but his attention was still on the conundrum. "It's not possible that he's breached your wards, Severus," he said, considering. Hermione, Ron, Minerva, and Harry had moved closer to join the conversation. "I was very afraid for you, my dear," Lucius told Hermione with a relieved expression. "Your escape merits recognition. I'm profoundly relieved to hear you are unscathed."
Hermione gave him a warm, but sad smile. "I believe Rabastan wanted me to know I was on Severus' property," she told him.
Lucius nodded. "There is a section, within the magical blueprint for his home that registers oddly. I had thought it an unplottable security area, but Severus has never known one to exist."
"It's likely either quite far below the ground, or it's high above your roof." Minerva interjected. "Is there a large tree on your property, Severus?"
"There is," Severus said. "But it's been maintained by the muggle ordinance for the city. I can't imagine it being able to sustain a magical sanctuary…." His eyes came up to meet Minerva's and then Hermione's. "Unless it is a tiny space that has been magically enhanced in the interior."
Lucius shook his head slowly. "I've never heard of such a thing," he admitted.
"It's an old practice, from my parents generation," Minerva said. "It requires a fairly simple series of spells, and a treetop that is not in jeopardy of trimming."
Hermione's eyebrows shot up in amazement as the answer dawned on her, "The place was a room with one circular window that was actually a hole, with no glass. The walls were all unfinished wood. It was like a cube, but the roof was slanted. I couldn't see anything else in the room, ...except a perch. I was telling myself it was a decorative beam, but it was a perch! He's in a tiny birdhouse, Severus!"
"That's why I kept seeing leaves," Ron declared in disgust. "He's in a bloody tree!"
“Mystery solved," Lucius murmured as he slipped back into exhausted sleep. Harry and Ron chuckled and headed back over to the sandwiches. Minerva seemed to think of something she needed to do.
"You say he's incapacitated?" Severus asked Hermione when they were alone beside the sleeping Lucius.
"Quite," she told him smugly.
Severus gave into the urge to embrace her, squeezing her harder, and for a moment longer than just a friend should do, to convey his relief that she was alright. She returned the gesture, and he realized she was trembling, so he held on a bit longer. "Are you injured?" he asked her quietly. He released her and stood back as she smiled grimly at him and shook her head.
"But I want a long bath, and a long sleep," she told him.
"At Grimmauld Place," Severus finished for her.