Midday, like all other days, the timepiece atop her fireplace pealed.
Resurfacing from her book, Hermione tugged on its pendulum with all the patience of a person batting a fly away and quelled the infernal noise. She retrieved a flacon of Bartholomew’s Blood Thinner and, now used to the foul flavours, bolted its contents. She replaced it in another drawer teeming within similar emptied flacons.
One hundred and fifth.
Or, ninety-five more before she is reduced to an exanimate body.
Dylan Thomas might’ve cautioned her about not going silently into the afternoon—
The wretched clock clearly wouldn’t let her.
She laughed at her droll humour before drifting into an uneasy drowse.
She was back in one of the fusty cells of the Ministry basement. The air was suffused with billows of fog and the unmistakeable scent of putrefaction. She felt the weight of anti-Apparation and anti-Magic wards on her sternum.
Extraneous, she concluded, because she had no wand—didn’t they know she had been wandless for sometime now?
She rose and observed her surroundings: threadbare covers on a grotty mattress, a tarnished steel sink for her ablutions and a grimy toilet seat. The black iron gates barricading the narrow egress stood in stark contrast to the vast expanse of grey.
She did not need to try to know that she cannot escape.
Where was Severus?
She was seized, suddenly, by a despairing breathlessness.
Dark shadows loomed at the edge of those gates. The air was a glacial cold.
Gnarled fingers were poised on the frame of the iron gates. All hopes of reaching Severus were promptly extinguished.
She retreated to the farthest end of the room and sobbed in earnest.
“Let me out,” she beseeched, pounding helplessly at the wall against her back.
The first dementor slid in; it cocked its head at her appraisingly as its companions, too, crossed the threshold.
“Please!” she screamed, and her pounding grew more frantic and she felt her knuckles crack and bleed—
“Sienna.” Its lips wrapped around her name in perverse delight, protracting the sibilant sound as it raised a finger to stroke her cheek with horrifying gentleness—
Except the piping voice she heard did not belong to the dementor.
She froze, but the pounding did not stop.
Three pairs of lifeless eyes were on her as they covered her in a horrifying embrace; she plummeted into obsidian darkness—
She woke with a violent start.
“HERMIONE, WILL YOU PLEASE OPEN THE DOOR!”
She scrambled up from her divan, flung the door open, and was greeted with a mass of bubble-gum pink hair.
“Tonks! What a surprise.”
Tonks surveyed her appearance critically.
“Merlin, I thought I was going to need a Sonorous Charm. You look like hell. Did I interrupt something?”
“In a manner of speaking, but I’m grateful,” Hermione replied, running a hand self-consciously through her tresses. “Can I help?”
“We need you at the Headmaster’s office.”
She tried to mask her consternation.
“An unexpected visitation, but nothing alarming,” Tonks appended hastily.
“Right.” She steeled herself. “Shall we?”
Tonks dissented. “Do something about the hair. We’ll wait for you at the Headmaster’s office.”
“Minerva, Filius, the Headmaster—”
“Is there anyone in the faculty who won’t be present, Tonks?”
Tonks hesitated. “I don’t think so.”
“Is this about the letters?” She ventured quietly. “Those objecting to my continued employment?”
“Merlin, no! Surely you’d not think that Severus—that we—will evict you, not least for some unsubstantiated tripe!”
She opened her mouth to explain that those letters hadn’t been entirely baseless and that she had been seriously contemplating her departure from Hogwarts, but stopped short when Tonks held up her hand.
“Twenty minutes. Don’t fret.”
She found herself enveloped in a consolatory hug.
“We’ll see you upstairs.”