Potter stalked away from Dumbledore in disgust. How could he have been so wrong about the old man? How could he have not seen, not known? Harry snorted and shook his head; he hadn't seen or known because he hadn't wanted to. He wanted to believe that Dumbledore had his best interests at heart, that Dumbledore was a father figure genuinely interested in his well-being. Stupid Gryffindor, indeed.
So much for that crock.
He wandered aimlessly and thought. He thought of everything he had done for Dumbledore, all the ways he had played into the old man's hand. Harry could now quite clearly see how Dumbledore had pitted Severus and Harry against themselves, hoping to create enough tension and anger for Harry to kill Severus and take the Elder Wand.
He had been so fucking blind! He had been a tool, a pawn; perhaps a well-loved pawn, but a pawn nonetheless. How could he undo what Dumbledore had done to them all?
"I have to help Snape," Harry muttered to himself.
"That's 'Professor Snape,' to you."
Harry jumped and whirled on the voice. "Fucking hell, 'Mione, you nearly scared me to life!" He laughed and embraced his friend. "What are you doing here?" His face fell. "Oh, no, no…don't tell me…you're not…"
Hermione grinned, her brown eyes shining. "Relax, Harry, I'm not dead." She bit her lip in confusion. "I think I am sort of in-between, though."
Conjuring a bench out of the surrounding whiteness, Harry invited Hermione to sit beside him. He cocked his head to the side and narrowed his eyes. "It's obvious you're not alive, Hermione, or you wouldn't be here."
She dusted off her seat before settling in. "I can still hear and feel the outside world, so I'm not dead, either." She crossed her legs primly. "I seem to have been 'set aside,' and someone else walking in my body."
Harry grinned. "Death Eater was that good, eh?"
"Don't be gross!" She folded her arms tightly around herself. "It wasn't like that, okay?" Her voice was soft and vulnerable.
Realizing immediately that he had put his foot in it, Harry offered an olive branch. "It was the effect of the spell, right? Right?"
Hermione shook her head. "I don't think so, Harry. My feelings for Professor Snape are respect, admiration, and loyalty. I don't love him." She looked down at her clasped hands. "At least, not yet."
Harry was stunned. "Hermione, don't you know that respect, admiration, and loyalty are all parts of love, not stepping stones to it?"
Darkness flashed behind Hermione's eyes, and the whiteness surrounding the two of them became dingy and gray. "There's no way I could ever measure up to your sainted mother, Harry, so just drop it." Her voice was bitter and cold. "Besides, I've only ever been the smart one, not the pretty one. I've no experience with you men things." She chuckled, a little of the gray fading back to white.
"But, Hermione, you're lovely."
She bit her lip and snorted. "Yes, the face only a brother could love."
Harry sat back, but just then an idea occurred to him, an idea so simple that he bet even Albus Dumbledore had overlooked it. "That's it!" He turned to the woman beside him on the bench. "Have you ever watched 'Dumbo'?"
The grayish tinge abruptly faded back to white. "Harry Potter, have you been snorting these clouds?"
"No, I'm serious! Have you ever seen it?"
"Well of course I've seen it, who hasn't?" She stuttered abruptly. "I-I mean, what Muggle child hasn't?" She narrowed her eyes. "If you're going to start insulting Professor Snape's ears now…"
Harry wrinkled his nose at her. "You can't see his ears for his greasy hair. All right, all right, don't punch me! Merlin you're sensitive about your boyfriend…ow!"
"What do you mean about flying elephants?"
"I wasn't referencing the flying part at all, though the connection is there…hey, now, stop that! What I meant was how they train elephants at the circus. I remember seeing elephants being tied with ropes around their feet, and I was curious as to why the elephant didn't just break free. I stole one of Dudley's animal books when I was little; the guy was crazy about elephants, and I found out something that I think can help Snape."
"Can help Professor Snape, Harry."
"Yeah, that's what I said." He looked down at his hands. "It's a bit disturbing that the mention of 'brother' made me think of Dudley and his elephants."
Hermione grinned. "Don't worry, Harry. I'm sure you have a longer trunk."
"Oi, if I can't be gross then neither can you!"
Follow me on this Professor, please?
"I appear to have little choice," Severus sighed. After a moment of silence he barked, "Well, go on!"
Um, OK. She cleared her throat and wondered a moment at the sensation of having a throat to clear. When circuses first begin training elephants, they have to make sure the elephants can't get away, so the trainers bind them in place with a heavy chain around one foot. The elephant will pull as hard as it can, but the chain is too heavy to break.
"This exchange regarding pachyderms is so randomly bizarre that either you're on to something or I've gone daft." Severus stretched out his long legs and popped his ankles. "Please, continue."
After a time, the elephant learns that the chain leash cannot be broken, so it stops trying. Even if you tied the elephant 'round the foot by a leash made of shoe string, which the elephant could snap in an instant, the creature would not try to escape because it's learned that escape is impossible.
Slamming a book on the table, Severus stood and began pacing the aisles again. "I haven't the time for one of your Herculean essays, Miss Granger. Either get to the point or get out of my head."
Just listen, please! You are the elephant, Professor. You were bound by such heavy chains in your youth that you can't see Dumbledore now has you by a shoestring!
Severus froze. Dear Merlin, was it possible? Had this heretofore unremarkable girl found a way to thwart Dumbledore's plan? "Miss Granger, you had best explain yourself."
Hermione sighed; he finally believed her. You are tied to Hogwarts by an ancient spell which Harry said Dumbledore cast, a magic affecting both the mind and the heart. You have your own mind, true, but the spell can no longer bind you because you no longer have your own heart! She grinned in triumph. The answer was there all along, but you couldn't see it, because you've simply learned that you were trapped.
"I've simply learned that I was trapped," Severus repeated quietly. His lips curled, and nearby books quivered in fear as his magic began rolling off of him in waves. "Dumbledore was surprised and unhappy about how the shaman spell manifested. How long has it been since I've tried to break free?"
Rising a few inches off the floor, Severus flew out of the library, through the castle, and out the main entrance. He soared high into the night, stretching his magic as far as he could. He sailed over the Quidditch pitch, through the hoops, and made a long graceful return to land at the main gate.
Just walk through, sir.
When the dark wizard stepped through the main gate and off of Hogwarts property, absolutely nothing happened.
"Where to now, Miss Granger?"
The Death Eater is holed up at Malfoy Manor, Professor.
"Call me Severus," he whispered, and spun away into the night.