When Hermione woke after those dreams she felt bewildered anew by the contrast between the man she had thought she knew and the way he had behaved towards her. And try as she might, she couldn't stop feeling a choking sadness and longing. Everything seemed bleak and uninteresting. She hadn't known how much Snape and their work together had come to mean to her until they were no longer part of her life.
The effect he still had on her was infuriating and Hermione scolded herself for her weakness. But being reasonable didn't help. And of course there was the problem of the kiss. Now that she knew that it had really happened, she was turning the incident over in her mind again and again, frustrated that she remembered so little of it. Snape had responded to her kiss, hadn't he? And, if her memory served her right, in a rather passionate way. So what did that mean? Or was she only deluding herself?
On a rainy Thursday morning in early December Hermione finally left Cambridge laden with guide books and went to Heathrow Airport where she boarded a plane to Rome. She had only been there once, as a child with her parents, and didn't remember much more than a general feeling of awe in the presence of so much history.
When the plane touched down, Hermione was greeted by blue sky and sunshine. It was still cold, of course, but not as cold and wet as in England, and that alone was enough to raise her spirits. After depositing her luggage in her hotel, she boarded a bus and went to the centre of town, eagerly sucking in all the new impressions around her.
After hours full of walking and sightseeing, and after having eaten a delicious dish of pasta at a small restaurant, Hermione finally returned to her hotel and went to bed. But although she was utterly exhausted she found it hard to go to sleep. What a city! There was so much to see, so much art and history that her mind was still busy processing it all. She had spent the day at the Forum Romanum, the Colosseum and on the Palatine and had been so impressed by the sights that she had hardly thought of Snape. It was only now, when she was lying in bed that the familiar thoughts stole back into her mind. But Hermione was determined not to let them ruin her holiday. After all it was now over two months since he had thrown her out. High time to get her life back together again. No, if he treated her like that he wasn't worth pining after. Definitely not. She was quite over him. Or very nearly. Yes, she had a life apart from Severus Snape, an exciting and fulfilling one, with friends who liked and esteemed her, and if he didn't want to be part of that, then good riddance! Concentrating fiercely on how much she didn't care about him, Hermione finally fell asleep.
She woke up with a start and the strange feeling that something was not right. Hermione groped for the light next to her bed, then remembered that she was in Rome, in a hotel room, and groped even more. But there was nothing, nothing at all, only utterly black darkness. It shouldn't be so dark, should it? There should be the glowing numbers of the radio, and light from the streetlights filtering through the drawn curtains. But although she stared into the darkness with all her might, she found no trace of light anywhere. Hermione felt her heart beat faster. Wide awake now, she cast around, even more frantic, yet nowhere did her hands meet any solid matter. It was as if the material world had disappeared. That couldn't be true, could it? Nevertheless, her shaking hands didn't find anything solid anywhere. Even the bed beneath her had disappeared and it was as if she was hanging in utterly dark limbo.
Panic rose up in Hermione and threatened to overwhelm her. Calm down, she thought fiercely. You won't help yourself if you panic. Calm down! After a few moments she had fought back the panic, but it was just below the surface and Hermione knew that it could overwhelm her any time. Think! She told herself. This is a very bad and very realistic nightmare. It must be. She lingered on this thought for a few moments, even pinched herself, but it didn't help. This didn't feel like a dream, it felt extremely real. Well, if this isn't a nightmare, than I am in trouble. In real trouble… There it was again, the panic rising inside her. "Hello?!" Hermione called out tentatively. Nothing. She called out once more, louder now. Her voice sounded strange and she wasn't sure at all if there had been a sound in the first place or if it had only been in her head. What was this place? She wrapped her arms around her to hug herself and her heart nearly stopped. Her left arm was gone. Where it should have been her right hand found nothing. Hermione screamed.
Snape woke up with a start and instinctively reached for his wand. Only then did he realize that what had woken him was a small instrument looking a bit like a thin vase filled with a strange liquid which was standing on a shelf a few metres away. Snape quickly got out of his bed and went to look at the instrument which glowed bright red and emitted a high pitched buzzing sound. Suddenly he felt very cold. He checked two similar instruments next to the first, but they were silent and the liquid in them was dark blue.
She's in danger. The thought was hammering in Snape's mind. He quickly got out a large atlas, Hermione's hairpin and the few hairs he had of her, and performed a highly complicated spell. Usually the atlas should open on the page that showed the location of the person that the caster was looking for. Then the wand was put on the page and it would revolve until its tip pointed to the exact place. But nothing happened, the book stayed shut. Snape stared at it, then cast the spell once more. No reaction. Something was very wrong. He had performed this spell several times over the last weeks and it had always worked perfectly. His heart started beating faster. Whoever had her was shielding her, shielding her really well. Did they know that he had placed a tracking spell on her or was it just general precaution? He couldn't say, and whatever was the case, it only meant that he wouldn't be able to find her.
Suddenly a terribly familiar feeling of panic and guilt threatened to overwhelm him. Get yourself together! He told himself angrily. Hermione is not Lily, and Voldemort is long dead. You won't help her if you panic. A look at his watch told Snape that it was half past four. Quickly he put on his clothes, then rushed to his study. But Dumbledore wasn't in his portrait. "Damn!" he cursed loudly. Once I need him and he isn't there. He couldn't wait for Dumbledore to come back. For a moment Snape hesitated, then he called his elf.
"Rose, Miss Granger is in danger. Are you able to locate her?"
The elf shut her eyes and furrowed her brow in concentration. But when she opened her eyes again she shook her head and looked deeply troubled. "Rose can't find her," she said in a miserable voice.
Snape felt even more worried. "Stay here until Professor Dumbledore comes back," he instructed her, "and tell him that Miss Granger has disappeared and that I'm gone in search of her."
The elf nodded, her large eyes wide with fear, and Snape disapparated.
He apparated to Hermione's room in Cambridge. The first instrument, which was connected to Hermione herself, had shown him that she was in some sort of danger. Or at least that she thought she was in danger since the instrument was tied to her mind. The other two instruments, which were connected to her room in Cambridge and her parents' house, had told him that the protective spells he had placed on them had not been violated. Still, he might find some clues to what had happened in her room. And moreover, he didn't know what else to do.
Snape switched on the lights and scrutinized the room, then checked the wards. They were all in place and the room was orderly. No fight had taken place here. With a pang he noticed that she had taken down the picture of them dancing. But there was no time for silly sentimentalities now. He looked around again. Actually everything was very orderly indeed. He quickly checked the bathroom. No toothbrush. It looked as if Hermione had gone away for a few days.
After a moment of deliberation Snape left the room and knocked at the door next to it. He had to knock for a while until it was finally opened by a blurry eyed blonde young woman who was looking at him with surprise and mistrust.
"Where is Hermione Granger?" Snape asked without any introduction.
She looked confused. "What's going on here? Who are you?"
"Where is Miss Granger?" he hissed.
She backed away a little and he saw fear in her face. "In Rome, I think."
"She went yesterday morning. Listen, who are you? What do you want from her? And what are you doing here at this hour?"
"Where is she staying?"
She looked at him, mistrust, confusion and fear in her eyes.
"Where is she staying?" he asked once again, his voice menacing now.
"I don't know."
He stared into her eyes which were still confused with sleep and the strangeness of the situation, and knew that she was telling the truth. Without saying anything else he shut the door in her face and went back into Hermione's room to check if he could find any hints to where she was staying in Rome. But there was nothing. Then he brought everything in order again and quickly disapparated before her neighbour would call someone to check on the mysterious stranger.
When Snape went to his study he found to his relief that Dumbledore had returned to his portrait. Quickly he told him all he knew, which was not much. "There are hardly any leads we can follow," he finally said, his voice tense with frustration. "I suppose she's disappeared somewhere in Rome, probably at her hotel at this time of night. But I don't know where she stayed."
Dumbledore looked deeply troubled by the news. "I will ask Miss Weasley in the morning, she might know something. And we can contact Hermione's parents, although I don't like to worry them."
Snape snorted. "They are used to it, aren't they?"
Dumbledore shook his head. "I'd prefer not to alarm them just now. But perhaps there is another way… Have you ever familiarized yourself with those ingenious muggle computers? Or the internet?"
"No, I have not," Snape said in an impatient and scornful tone.
The elder wizard sighed. "It's a shame that we are not more open for all those inventions. I really believe we could learn something from the muggles. If I were still alive… Anyway, knowing Hermione I am quite sure that some information as to her plans for Rome might be found on her computer. Perhaps she also used it to book the hotel. Do you remember Simon Taylor?"
Snape blinked, surprised at the question. "Ravenclaw, blond hair, one year above Hermione?"
Dumbledore beamed. "That's him. He's muggle-born and now works in the Ministry's Department of Muggle-relations. He's very good with computers, told me lots of astonishing things about them. I'll contact him as soon as he arrives at work."
Snape wasn't satisfied. "That is all very well but we can't wait that long," he said in a strained voice. "I'll go and ask Miss Weasley immediately if she knows something."
Dumbledore raised an eyebrow. "And how do you think you'll do that?"
"I'll ask Arthur to tell me where to find her," Snape replied, glowering at Dumbledore defiantly.
In spite of the seriousness of the situation Dumbledore's mouth twisted for a second. "I'd love to see his face. Very well, do what you think you have to. Nevertheless I'll ask Simon as soon as he comes to work."
"Do that. But if Miss Weasley doesn't know anything we have to contact Hermione's parents. For Merlin's sake, Dumbledore, we can't just sit here and wait."
"Yes." Dumbledore fixed Snape with his bright eyes and, after a little hesitation, added, "You know that it probably doesn't matter if we find her or not. If her disappearance is connected to your poisoning, then whoever did it will most likely contact you. And he won't harm her."
Snape had been telling himself the same thing over and over. "I know, and I hope you're right. I really hope it. If anything should happen to her…"
The elder man nodded. "I'll go and contact a few people, perhaps I can find out something. I'll tell you as soon as I get any news."
Dumbledore walked out of his picture and Snape was left alone. Alone with his dark thoughts and fears, his frustration and the choking feeling that he was helplessness and that whatever might happen to Hermione was his fault.