If the choice were mine to make

The face of the enemy

At some point Hermione had stopped screaming but her mind was still lost in horror and panic. Only a very small voice at the back of her head was telling her to calm down, to get herself together, to think, for God's sake. The voice didn't stop and finally, slowly, over the panic muddling her mind Hermione was able to grasp a clear thought again.

I am Hermione Jean Granger, she thought fervently, I was born on September 19 1979, I went to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry from 1991 to 1998, I've been reading Mathematics in Cambridge since 1998 and I helped defeat the greatest Dark Wizard of the last decades. I am Hermione Jean Granger…

It was very hard but eventually she managed to push the terror and panic away, holding it just below the surface. After a while she had calmed down sufficiently to be able to think straight again. Yet Hermione knew that it was a precarious victory, that she was only a short step away from being overwhelmed by her fear again.

Concentrate! She told herself. I must concentrate on who I am, otherwise I'll lose myself. Hermione thought of everything that made her the person she was, every memory, good or bad, that defined her. When she felt reasonably sure of herself she tentatively reached out with her right hand again, her heart beating fast. She sobbed with relief when her hand touched her left arm.

Hermione hugged herself, her thoughts racing. Whatever this place was, she didn't believe that she was really bodily there. She had no idea how much time had passed, but she didn't feel any thirst, hunger nor tiredness. And while she could talk and cry out, she didn't have the impression that she really created any sound. No, it seemed that just her mind was trapped in this strange nothingness. And it was the power of her mind which created the illusion of a material body. But obviously only as long as she concentrated hard enough. Hermione had no idea what would happen if she didn't, but she had no intention of finding out.

If she could create a body with the power of her mind, perhaps she could manipulate her surroundings as well? Sudden hope filled Hermione and she concentrated very hard, thinking of some kind of exit, a door that would let her out. But nothing happened, the darkness around her remained impenetrable. Next Hermione tried to imagine some source of light, but still nothing happened. It seemed that the power of her mind only influenced her perception of her own body.

But why was she here? This could hardly be an accident. To put her into a state like this, some powerful magic must have been performed. But by whom? It was possible that some people held a grudge against her because of her role in bringing Voldemort down, but she hadn't gone into hiding and if someone would have wanted revenge, he could have taken it much earlier. Or was it because of Snape? Well, if anyone hoped to get to him via her, he was obviously not up-to-date. Snape wouldn't come for her.

Quickly Hermione pushed that thought away. Certainly someone would notice that something had happened to her. But probably only in a few days, after all she had gone to Rome and no one would miss her before Sunday evening. Hermione felt the panic rise inside her again. No, everything would be all right, her friends would come looking for her. Ginny, and the Weasleys, and Neville. They would help her.

But what if this had nothing to do with magic? Perhaps she had had some real accident and just couldn't remember? Perhaps she was in a coma…people could remain in a coma for years, some never woke up…

Hermione started to shiver violently. No! She thought. I won't panic, I won't! I've faced Voldemort, haven't I? I won't lose my mind, I simply won't. I'm Hermione Jean Granger and I haven't survived the war to get crazy now!

Very slowly Hermione calmed down again and the shivering subsided. She stared out into the impenetrable darkness, trying hard to concentrate on who she was so she didn't have time to think of what might become of her. She had never felt this lost and forlorn. There was a great lump in her throat and she fought hard not to start crying. "I will survive this!" she said into the darkness, her voice pitifully hushed in the great void around her. Quickly Hermione wrapped her arms around the illusion of her body, painfully aware of how precarious it was.

Back at his house, Snape went almost crazy with the insecurity of what had happened to Hermione and his inability to do anything about it. It was nearly three o'clock when Dumbledore finally reappeared in his portrait, panting heavily as if he had been on his feet a lot. "Simon found her hotel," he announced, beaming. "He really is clever with those computers."

Snape shot up from his chair. "What's its name?" he asked in a pressed voice.

"Hotel Lavinia, Via Giulia 128."

"I'll go there directly."

"Be careful," Dumbledore warned him. "Whoever did this doesn't simply want to kill you, he wants to take revenge in a much more devious manner."

"I'm aware of this. But I can't just sit here and wait for something to happen."

"I know. Good luck, Severus."

Snape quickly changed into muggle clothes and then disapparated straight to a secluded area of bushes on the Palatine he remembered from his own visit to Rome shortly after the fall of Voldemort. He hoped that at this time of the year there wouldn't be many tourists around. It was exhausting to apparate over such a long distance without any stopover, and when he had apparated he swayed and had to close his eyes for a while until the feeling of sickness passed. When he felt well again he broke through the bushes, startling some American tourists, and then he went straight down the hill to the nearest taxi stand.

Due to the infernal Roman traffic the taxi took nearly twenty minutes to the hotel. Snape could hardly sit still with impatience. When he arrived, he had to wait a few more minutes until a new guest had checked in before it was his turn to talk to the concierge.

"I'm looking for Miss Hermione Granger," he said in an urgent tone.

"Miss Granger," the concierge answered with a strong Italian accent. "Let me see." He started typing into one of these muggle computers. "I'm sorry, but she checked out this morning."

"Oh." Snape was thinking fast. "That is very strange. We were supposed to meet here. Do you know when she left?"

"Miss Granger is a young woman, about as tall as me, with brown eyes and brown curly hair?"

Snape nodded.

"She left shortly before noon. Said that her grandmother had died unexpectedly and she had to leave immediately."

"I see." Snape replied. This couldn't have been the real Hermione, after all his instruments had raised the alarm in the early hours of the morning. And if really something had happened to her grandmother her parents would have told Ginevra Weasley.

Meanwhile the concierge had been searching his desk and finally pulled out a piece of paper. "Are you Mr. Snape?"

Snape's heart started beating faster. "Yes I am."

"Your friend left a message for you." He held the paper towards Snape.

Snape took it and unfolded the small note. In a handwriting that was definitely not Hermione's it said I will see you later. Nothing else.

Snape's thoughts were racing. Whoever had abducted Hermione had obviously expected him to show up sooner or later. And had made a cruel joke leaving him this message. Like a paper chase. It was in tune with how the mysterious enemy had behaved until now. Starting with the Memorate Potion he had played with him, had shown his power and Snape's lack of it. And now he had Hermione…

But he mustn't get angry now, mustn't get his mind clouded by anger and fear. Only if he thought straight and planned carefully would he be able to get her out of this unharmed. At least Snape hoped that.

He needed to know where Hermione's room was but the concierge would hardly tell him. So Snape thanked him and made to leave, but when he had nearly reached the entrance door he slipped his hand into his right coat pocket where he was carrying his wand and performed a quick spell. Suddenly there was a loud bang as one of the pictures hanging in a nearby corridor suddenly fell off the wall.

After a second of shock the concierge headed towards the noise. And Snape swiftly turned and went around the counter, fervently hoping that the man hadn't done anything with the computer. For the first time he wished that he would have heeded Hermione's half-joking offers to show him how to work one of these machines.

He heaved a sigh of internal relief when he spotted her name on the screen. Room 118. Snape checked that the concierge was still out of sight in the corridor, then quickly walked towards the other end of the entrance hall where stairs led up to the upper floors. A few seconds later he stood outside of room 118.

Since his enemy had obviously expected his coming, he could have set a trap for him. But Snape couldn't help it, he had to check this room. And so he cast a spell which would give him some protection against magic and opened the door.

He stepped into the room tentatively, his wand raised. On first glance there was nothing unusual. It had been cleaned and looked just like any normal hotel room. Snape closed the door and looked around carefully. Nothing, and certainly no trace of a fight. He cast a spell which would tell him if magic had been performed here in the last hours. Suddenly there was a bright green halo around the bed. Snape's pulse quickened. This still didn't help him much, but at least now he knew that someone had hexed Hermione in her sleep. As he turned around to look if anything else showed signs of magic, his heart skipped a beat. There, over a low bureau on the wall beside him, bright green words had appeared on the wall.

If you want her back, take the vase. It will stay active for one minute. If you don't come, she'll die.

Below the words on the bureau Snape spotted a simple white vase with fake flowers in it. He cursed. This was a brilliant move by his adversary. He didn't have time to get any help, didn't even have time to send his Patronus to Dumbledore, but would have to act immediately, surrendering himself into the hands of his enemy, or would have to risk Hermione's death. If he'd comply, his attempts at making his enemy believe that she didn't mean anything to him would have been in vain. But hadn't they been ever since he arrived at this hotel? For a moment Snape debated with himself, trying to divine if his enemy would really harm Hermione. But there was no choice, really, he couldn't risk that she'd be hurt, and so Snape grabbed his wand hard, reached out and touched the vase.

He felt the characteristic sensation of traveling by portkey. When the world got into focus again he found himself in what looked like a rather bare, not very large muggle living room. There was only a small sofa, pushed to the wall opposite of him. On it lay Hermione.

Snape rushed towards her, but was pushed back after one step by an invisible barrier. Turning around, he found that it surrounded him completely. Cursing below his breath, he tried a succession of spells to disable the barrier, but failed. Whoever had erected it must be a very powerful wizard.

Snape stared at Hermione. Her face was deathly pale and she didn't move. There was no way to find out if she was breathing. But he refused to believe that she was dead. Next to the sofa was a low small table with several bottles on it and Snape narrowed his eyes, trying to discern what kind of potions they had given to her, but was unable to identify them.

Looking around the room told him nothing. There was a door next to the sofa, and a window right behind him, but darkness was already gathering outside and he could only discern a large apartment block on what was probably the other side of the road. Yes, there was a road, he heard a car drive by. Judging by the twilight and the look of the flat and the apartment block he guessed that he was back in the UK.

Suddenly the door opened and Snape jerked around, raising his wand. An elder woman in simple muggle clothes stood in the doorway and looked at him with hardly suppressed triumph on her face. He had never seen her before.

"Hello Severus," she said, her smooth voice hardly masking her excitement. "It has been a long time, hasn't it?"

When Snape heard her voice his heart skipped a beat. He stared at her. This was impossible, wasn't it? He himself had seen her corpse after that fight with Bellatrix. And yet, he'd never forget that voice… But if this was really Livia Chatswold he and Hermione were in trouble. In deathly trouble.

"Livia. I certainly wouldn't have expected to see you again," he said, trying to keep his voice level. It would be dangerous to betray any weakness to her.

She gave a short laugh and stepped closer. "But Severus," she replied in a teasing tone, "you pretended to be dead, didn't you? You should know that the dead are often not as dead as you think."

"So you faked your death?" Snape asked, observing her closely, trying to detect in this lined face traces of the beautiful woman he had known, but finding it very hard. Only the eyes were still the same. Eyes of a startling dark blue which could look warm and friendly one and heart-stoppingly cold the next moment. "If so it was very convincing. I saw your body and I thought you were dead. And I wouldn't have believed that Constantine was such a good actor to just play act his grief."

Livia's face got tense. "No, he thought I was dead all right. And I would have been, after all that bitch Bellatrix used the Avada Kedavra on me. It was a coincidence that I had been experimenting with a new shielding potion shortly before we started quarrelling. As it was, the curse didn't kill me. But my body was as good as dead, at least at first. That's why you didn't find any signs of life. My mind, however, was still alive, only at another place."

Snape stared at her, held by her eyes which were burning with a passion and satisfaction that made him feel rather uncomfortable. "What do you want from me?" he asked coldly.

Again Livia gave her small laugh, a laugh that send a shiver down Snape's spine. "What do you think, Severus?" Suddenly her gaze turned hard.

"Revenge for Voldemort's death."

"Don't say his name," she hissed. "You are a filthy traitor. I should have known right from the start that nothing good could come from such a low half-blood."

"If you want your revenge, take it," Snape said, his heart beating fast but his voice level. "You don't need the girl for it."

Livia looked down on Hermione. "Oh, I think I need her very much. After all she brought you here." She turned back to face Snape, giving him a calculating look. "You know, you nearly fooled me that day when you pushed her away. I was watching, of course, and it was very convincing. Hermione certainly believed it. And I was wondering, would you really hurt her so much if you cared for her? Or because you cared for her? As I said, you nearly fooled me. But then I thought he fooled the Death Eaters for so long. He fooled even the Dark Lord. And then I detected the spells you had put on her room. Well, I thought, there must be more to this. Perhaps our lonely, cold, snarling Severus has finally found someone to touch his timid heart…" She stared at him with a scrutinizing look but Snape met her gaze with a dispassionate expression. "Anyway," she went on, "I thought I'd give it a try, and here you are."

"You are mistaken," Snape said, trying very hard to keep his face and voice emotionless. "I just didn't want Hermione to get hurt because of me.

"Indeed." Livia gave him an appraising look. "Well, she certainly loves you."

Snape felt as if the floor had dropped from under him. Quickly he tried to compose his face, but Livia laughed out loud in surprised pleasure.

"And it seems you didn't even know! How brilliant. How tragic. Oh Severus, I would pity you if I didn't hate you so much."

Don't listen to her, a voice in Snape's mind told him. She's just trying to manipulate you, to throw you off guard, to use your feelings for Hermione. Snape stared at the triumphant face of the woman in front of him, trying to get his whirling mind under control again. There was no use wondering if she was right or not, he had to get out of here alive, and even more important, he had to get Hermione out. Then there would be time for wondering.

"What did you do to her?"

"Oh, nothing much. She's alive, if you mean that. As alive as I was after Bellatrix cursed me."

Snape's eyes bored into hers. "What does that mean?"

"You all thought I was dead. And so did my brother. Luckily he checked my vitals once more before burying me. And he found some signs of life, if very weak. He couldn't revive me, though. He should have gone to the Dark Lord and asked him for help. But he was angry about his…reaction." Suddenly there was a flicker of pain in her eyes, but it vanished immediately. "And he was afraid that Bellatrix would try to finish what she had begun. So he took me away from Britain, to South America. We have family there. And there he tried to bring me back. It took him 23 years…" Her voice trailed off but she caught herself again quickly. "Well, finally he managed it. As soon as I was back I tried to find out what had happened. And guess what I learned," she said, her voice suddenly cold and full of hatred. "That my lord had been dead, truly dead, for four years, brought down by Dumbledore and a little boy and his friends – and by you, Severus Snape, the greatest traitor of all."

"And so you went back to take your revenge."

"Yes. Unfortunately our monetary circumstances were rather reduced by then, and I also needed some time to gather the necessary information and to get in touch with people." Suddenly Livia chuckled. "You wouldn't believe it but Xeno Lovegood has been invaluable to me. 'Woman comes back from the dead after 23 years.' – He printed my story in his rag, gave me a bit of money and lots of information. On you, for example. On your supposed death and some alleged sightings of you. He knows a lot if you get past the rubbish he often talks. Of course he had no idea who I really was."

Snape made a mental note to tell Dumbledore to have a serious word with Xeno if he should ever get out of this. "And so you found me with his help?"

"Yes. He knew of two sightings of you in Stratford, in two successive years but always on the same weekend. So I went there the following year. And not only did I see you, but you were not alone. You were there with a little friend, famous Hermione Granger, of all people, the last surviving member of the Golden Trio."

"I see. And since you couldn't follow me, I suppose you followed Hermione from that day on." Suddenly a thought hit Snape. "Arminius Armitage – did you kill him? Because he had helped the ministry?"

Livia chuckled. "Oh yes. It was by coincidence that I bumped into Gerold Wilson. I killed him, brewed some Polyjuice Potion, and everyone thought that he had killed Arminius."

Snape stared at the woman in front of him whose face was lit by a triumphant smile. Suddenly there it was again, the beauty he remembered. He felt sick with worry but he had to keep her talking. She had always liked to be the centre of attention. As long as she talked, she wouldn't kill him. Or Hermione.

"So what did you do to Hermione?"

"She's were I was, all those years. It's a…very special place." For a few seconds her eyes had a far-away look. Then she blinked and focused on Snape again. "Even though I'm glad to be back I found it a rather handy place. Sometimes I still go there."

"Can you get her out of it?"

"Of course, but I think I won't just yet. But I could get you to her, if you want to."

There was a calculating look in her eyes and Snape didn't know what answer would be best. He threw one look at Hermione's still form, then said, "take me to her."

"Very well. Put your wand down."

Reluctantly Snape let go of his wand. Now he truly was in her power. Livia mumbled a spell and the wand swished into her hands, obviously able to cross the barrier in a way Snape couldn't. Then she performed another spell and suddenly everything around him went pitch-black.

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