|The Tattered Man
Author: Aurette PM
I was once asked to write a Marriage Law Challenge fic by someone who loves a sad tale. This short story is it. Angst, Character Death. Tissues recommended. COMPLETERated: Fiction T - English - Hurt/Comfort/Tragedy - Severus S. & Hermione G. - Chapters: 2 - Words: 12,832 - Reviews: 196 - Favs: 227 - Follows: 13 - Published: 04-10-10 - Status: Complete - id: 5886102
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Severus Snape dressed for his wedding with care. The brief ceremony was to be at the Ministry and only McGonagall was to witness. Granger had informed him that her horrified parents had agreed that this was no wedding to celebrate and honored her wishes that they not attend. They did send their profuse thanks for his timely intervention and invited them to dinner. Snape had declined the invitation with an overlong scowl and a raised eyebrow. Taking a last, long look at himself in the mirror, he limped out of his rooms.
He made his way slowly up the stairs to the Entrance Hall where he met his bride and her bridesmaid. He took a moment to study her. The bloodshot eyes and swollen nose, together with the unkempt hair, even her school robes created the perfect simulacrum of the horrified virgin going to her doom. He couldn't help the resentful thought that it wasn't all show. She gave him a brave smile, trembling lip and all.
"Severus, you look remarkably unappealing. And I must say the stink of fire-whiskey is a nice touch," Minerva said. "You look every inch a young girl's worst nightmare. Well done. Shall we go?"
He nodded and signed to Granger. Wait until the last moment. The toad will expect a show.
"I will," she replied. "If I didn't think the symbolism would be lost on the toad, I'd rub ashes in my hair."
I thought you already had, he signed. Granger burst out into a sharp, angry laugh.
"You're in mourning, Miss Granger," said Minerva with a tsk. "Don't ruin all our work with inappropriate giggling on your wedding day, that would just be bad form."
Snape gave her a courteous nod as he walked past her towards the door. The Headmistress followed.
They walked down the lane in silence. She didn't speak until they were almost to the gate.
"I think this is a wonderful thing you're doing Severus. And what you did for Harry. He and Miss Weasley will be very happy. And now Miss Granger will be safe until she can be with the one she really loves. I'm dying to know how Malfoy convinced Umbridge that ruining Potter's life would be political suicide and that giving Miss Granger to you would be revenge enough." She gave him a proud smile. "One of these days I will have to learn this sign language you use. I will try over the summer."
As they stopped at the Apparition marker, he turned to her and mouthed: "Don't bother."
She blinked at him, trying to understand what he was saying but he just looked away. She grabbed his elbow and they disappeared with a crack.
Severus Snape hunched down on the floor of his shower and let the scalding water beat at him. The nerve damage reduced sensation, so it was only the bright pink of his skin that showed he should have been uncomfortable. He sat with his arms wrapped around his knees and watched the water swirl into the drain around his feet. The one was still slightly twisted from the damage caused by the snake venom, but the other was now straight and narrow. There was no denying the improvement. Perhaps, over time, they would both be straight. Perhaps not. What did it matter? No one was ever going to see his feet anyway. He had stopped submitting himself to Pomfrey's intrusive examinations.
He closed his eyes and dropped his head onto his knees as his mind replayed images of the day. The look of horror on the bride's face as she entered the Ministry office, the look of malicious glee on the face of Umbridge as she granted him permission to kiss his bride. Mostly, he replayed his own feigned brutality as he claimed her lips with his own, the look of disgust on her face and the way she shuddered as she wiped her mouth on her sleeve. He couldn't help the twisted grimace every time his mind wondered if she was sure it was an act.
Severus Snape packed up his belongings. The school year had ended. The students were gone. Granger had won accolades for her improvement on the potion for nerve damage and had started her work at St. Mungo's this morning. He hadn't seen her in over a week. She had decided to spend a week with her parents before starting her new job. He assumed she needed a break to adjust to her new life as a working member of society. He didn't know for sure, she hadn't spoken to him in two weeks, not since she had screeched her frustration for anyone in the dungeons to hear and tore her hands through her hair before stomping off to her bedroom and slamming the door.
"Did you want me to shrink the wardrobe as is? Or will you be leaving that as well?"
Snape pulled his mind out of his thoughts and turned to Flitwick, who had graciously offered to help. He shook his head and gestured to a box before pulling his clothes off the hangers and piling them on the bed to fold. Filius had been tactful in allowing him to do what he could without insisting charms would be faster. The act of packing his things by hand was not only meditative but dragged out the time until he would finally walk out that gate and move to Spinner's End.
"I do hope that you will come and visit often, Severus. I have enjoyed our chess matches very much these last few months and will be sorely tested to find a more pleasant way to spend a Friday evening."
Snape smiled and made an ambiguous gesture that could be taken for agreement but didn't tie him in to any definite plans. He had no intention of ever returning.
"I'll just send these through the floo and come back for the last, shall I?"
Snape nodded. He emptied his drawers and closed up the boxes in quiet solitude that would have looked peaceful to an observer. But behind his eyes her heard Granger yelling at him in frustration.
"But why? Don't just stand there and stare like a git, sign, write, use the blackboard, it took me enough effort to drag it into our rooms, damn it!"
"Snape, you have to take it! I made it for you! It works! I don't understand! Is it because I didn't try to fix your voice first? Is that it? I will! I'll work on that next!"
"It's for your own good! You need it! I've watched you, Snape. I've seen you injure yourself because you couldn't tell something was hot or cold! If we can improve the nerves you will get some dexterity back, you will be able to use more of your magic!"
"Alright, you're a grown man. Surely you have your reasons. Explain them to me. Why on earth would you refuse to take my potion? Please. I want to understand. I need to understand. Don't just walk away from me, Snape! It's because I made it, isn't it. All this time I thought you were proud of my work, but you don't trust it do you? Come back here! Damn you! Talk to me!"
As he made one last turn through his quarters, leaning heavily on his cane, as he peeked into Granger's rooms, seeing nothing more than the stripped mattress and emptiness, as he looked at the bare walls that had been both the bars of his prison and the protective membrane of his cocoon, he heard the frustrated screech and the slamming of a door in an endlessly repeating cycle. If he was capable of making a sound, the emptiness would have been filled with the sound of his sadness. As it was, his breath hissed out through his teeth.
Severus Snape jumped in surprise when his floo activated. He was standing in the middle of his sitting room wondering how he was going to move all these boxes and crates when behind him the flames grew with a sudden whoosh and turned green. He watched in apprehension, pulling his wand and hoping he could at least make a decent showing of himself if it were an enemy coming through. When he saw the bushy hair in the flames he cried out. Not that anyone could tell. He stood straighter as she came through and stopped before him, nervously brushing off her robes with her lip caught in her teeth.
He slid his wand up his sleeve and rested his cane against a box, managing to keep his balance without leaning against anything. His head was jangling with all the questions he had. Why was she here? Will she stay? Does she understand? Has she forgiven me? Has she eaten well? She looks thin…
How was work? Tea? In the end, he decided to just go on as they had been. They were not a real couple that needed to work out their issues.
She smiled at him. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath and when she opened them, she smiled at him.
"I would love some tea, Severus. Mum sends her regards and I have a lemon cake she made for you. Let me grab my things." She flitted back through the floo with a shout and he dug through the box of food from the Hogwarts larder that had been a gift from Minerva--"So you have something to eat while you unpack."--and grabbed up a tin of tea and some sugar. After stuffing them in his pockets, he grabbed some milk as well. He picked up his cane and hurried to see what state his kitchen was in after all this time.
Severus Snape had learned he could dust things. His silent Evanesco was so pathetic that all it removed was dust. He limped through his house dusting everything and anything he could reach in every room but one. He wouldn't go in there. He couldn't go in there. He had slept in that room as a boy, but it hadn't been his in more years than he could count. Now it was hers. He wanted to go in there very much, and so he refused.
He heard the sound of the floo and turned and hurried down the stairs. She hadn't said anything about coming home for lunch when she had left this morning, and he was worried he had made an error. Part of him was sickened at his craven desire to keep track of her and the way he had been reduced to little more than a house keeper, but the chit was all he had and it was only natural that he would obsess a little over his only source of interaction.
He found her in the sitting room crying on the couch. He stopped and stared, utterly out of his element. Finally, he limped over and sat down heavily next to her on the faded couch and handed her his handkerchief. She took it with a muttered thank you but couldn't get a hold of herself.
He looked over at the blackboard she had wrangled from Hogwarts with Minerva's blessing. It dominated the small room, even though it was the smallest one in the school. He flicked his wand and then tapped her and pointed to it.
Tell me what's wrong.
She burst into a fresh round of sobbing and he ground his teeth together.
Did you lose your job?
Gods, he hoped not. His tiny little pension and savings wouldn't keep them both for very long. He'd have to sell his book collection. That was his real fortune.
"No. No, I didn't lose my job. The job's fine. Great, even." She mopped her face and sniffled. "I saw Ron. We met for lunch in a Muggle place a few blocks from St. Mungo's."
"His…wife, she drugged him. She was a little tired of his disability and took matters into her own hands. She drugged his food. He--" She broke down again and twisted, planting her face against his shoulder. "He woke up naked in bed with her. He didn't remember anything. He's sick and scared he might have got her pregnant."
No. The potion you provide would have protected him from that if he's taken it within two weeks. It can be overcome with anything containing Ashwinder eggs soaked in fermented Foy Bean, but potency takes longer to come back. He's safe from that at least.
When she twisted her head and read his words, Granger sagged against him in relief and started a fresh wave of tears. He sat back against the couch and pulled her into his arms and patted her shoulder. It was a singular experience. He'd had to console the occasional Slytherin in his care before, but he couldn't remember a time he held a grown witch and tried to soothe her misery.
We could brew him something to counter what she gave him, but she will try something else and we risk poisoning the boy.
She sniffed and nodded. "You should have seen him, Severus. He looked like he would have rather been poisoned. It was so awful." He rocked her gently.
He was violated. It's to be expected he will be upset. Be there for him. It will make a difference.
She pushed out of his arms. "I'm so sorry to have dumped this on you. I just couldn't go back to work."
He nodded his understanding and then signed: Tea?
"Yes, tea would be lovely. I'll make it. It will give me something to do."
He nodded and watched her push herself off the couch and as she walked away he thought: but what does that leave me to do?
Severus Snape had dinner ready when she came home from work and hated that fact. He read and he puttered and he tidied and he stared at the clock, waiting for hours until it was time to perform the only useful task he could do. Make dinner. There were days when she'd had a late lunch and wasn't hungry and he thought he would take his cane and smash everything within reach. He never did. She never knew. She would usually come back later and heat it up with a wave of her wand and then come find him to tell him how much she appreciated it.
He wanted to not give a damn about her. He couldn't.
There were times when he hated her. When Weasley would show up, sneaking in the door or dashing through the floo, and he gushed his appreciation for the care Snape took with 'his girl'. Snape would nod and turn away, nose buried in a journal, and pretend he didn't care as they slipped off to that room he never went in. Mercifully, he didn't show up often, just once a month when he needed more potion. On those nights when it was too quiet, signaling the presence of a silencing charm, when Snape would shut out the lights in his room and strip out of his clothes in the dark, when he would lie down in his cold and lonely bed, those nights he hated her with such a passion it would have scorched the world had he been able to physically show it.
But he still gave a damn.
Severus Snape ate alone in his room. He had made dinner; a precise six minutes early, and then had filled a plate and taken it upstairs to his room to eat alone. He had taken to doing this several nights a week in an effort to show he had some dignity. He wasn't sure whom he wanted to show it to, her or himself. After all, he always made sure he took his plate up to his room before she came home. She always looked at him with a question when he returned to the kitchen with his plate later to find her loitering over her meal. It was as if she couldn't remember how to eat if he wasn't there.
But tonight was different. Tonight he had set his plate on his little, round table and had sat and placed his cane just so, and had just placed his napkin across his lap when he was disturbed by a knock on the door. He sat and blinked. The sound echoed strangely through the room and it occurred to him that no one had ever knocked on that door. Ever. Not in his lifetime at least. He had never heard that particular noise before. He was completely confused. He hated to be confused. He stood up and in reaching to catch the falling napkin, he knocked his cane to the floor. He hissed, a noise he could make easily, but indulged in rarely, and simply shuffled to the door with a hand out to grab the knob. He turned it and opened the door, leaning heavily on the knob.
"Snape, I know you were looking for privacy, but I have something I wish to discuss with you, if it's not too bad a time. I need to make a decision by tomorrow and I want to give you as much time to think it over as you can have since it concerns you."
He blinked again and then felt the cold hand claw at his gut. He stepped back, hanging onto the door for support and gestured to his chair. He hadn't realized he had closed his eyes until he felt something brush at his hand and opened them to see her offering him his cane. He snatched it and then limped away from her when she was seated, he sat on the corner of his bed and gave her the short sharp upward jerk of his chin that had meant "Start talking" for over a year now.
"I need a lab partner at work. I've had two so far and I can't find the rhythm of working with them, they either try to dominate the work or are so timid in their approach they make me want to scream. The Head Brewer told me to go ahead and bring in my own, rather than have them go about trying to find a suitable candidate and, well, I want you."
He stared at her and damned himself for the flush he could feel crawling across his face. He tilted his head down and let his hair hide it.
"You and I work well together. You don't need to do the actual brewing, I can do that, it's the millions of other little things that I know you can do. If there's anything you have difficulty with, I know you can just tell me. Don't think I haven't noticed the perfectly diced cucumber or the Garlic cloves pressed with the side of a knife, Snape. I know you've been honing your skills and I know we would be a perfect team. We flow together, and your mind and experience are wasted in this house. Even if we are a team less efficient than we could be, you and I together would be a hell of a lot better than the people they have there. You won't believe the inefficiency. It's mind boggling." She stood up and smoothed her hands against her sides. "Well, I've stated my case. I will leave you to think about it. But they want me to present them with a few candidates tomorrow and I wanted to give you the option to think about it."
He stopped her with a gesture and then signed: When did they tell you to find your own?
"Late this afternoon. About an hour ago."
And they want your candidates tomorrow morning?
Why are they setting you up to fail?
She looked down at her shoes. "Because I make them look bad." He hissed through his teeth and after she saw he was laughing she smiled her brilliant smile.
I told you I over-trained you.
"So you did," she said with a laugh. "Now enjoy your dinner, Snape. I'm going to go stuff myself, it smells delicious. Let me know your decision in the morning."
The next morning found him standing impatiently by the floo, tapping his cane against the flagstones.
Severus Snape and Hermione Granger worked together with the ease that comes with practice and familiarity as well as that intuition that comes with knowing the other's strengths and weaknesses like their own. Snape gathered the needed ingredients from the storeroom and while he needed to make more trips, he still managed to save time by getting the correct items the first time.
Granger left him all of the paperwork and half of the prep. He lined up what she needed, just before she needed it, and they managed to brew at least three potions at a time on the average and a tap on her back with his cane warned her if she was about to make a mistake.
Their immediate supervisors, maliciously inclined to find amusement in the odd married couple at first, eventually accepted and even praised the team. The Hospital Apothecary was full of praise for the stream of potions coming in. The efficiency was almost as welcome as the efficacy.
It was the other brewers that were resentful. They produced capable potions, but in twice the time and with twice the waste. They watched covertly while they sweated and snapped at their own ever-changing stream of assistants. When Granger left the room, they seemed to forget that Snape was only mute and not deaf as well, and he was treated to all of their petty resentments and salacious speculation on what the two of them must be like in bed.
Granger always pestered him in sign when she would return to find him grinding his teeth. He just looked away.
Severus Snape entered the sitting room quietly. He found his young wife on her knees with her head stuck in the green flames, conversing with someone he couldn't see, because of the wild mass of curls she called hair.
"I know, Gin. But he's cut himself off from everyone. I'm all he has," she said with a heavy sigh. He couldn't help himself. He backed into a shadow near the door and continued to listen. "No. He's strong. He's unbelievably strong despite what he's been through and what has been done to him." She paused to listen to whatever Potter's wife was saying. "I do. But I'm not just saying that. My feelings for him aren't confused. I'm as sure about them as I've ever been about anything in my life. I love him." Snape couldn't help the nearly painful banging of his heart as it slipped free and raced. "I will be there for him. I will see him through. I will never abandon him. Snape said he would need support, but it has to come in his own time. Until then, I will just be there for him, in whatever way he needs me. This can't go on forever. Eventually we will both be free and then I can spend the rest of my life putting him back together. I think quitting is fine. Working for George is a positive sign to me. It means he's doing something for himself and that is miles ahead of where he was at two months ago."
Snape staggered back out of the room. 'Fool!' he shouted in his head, still hearing his former baritone. He stumbled up the stairs to his room and closed the door silently before sinking to the floor and screaming like an injured child. No one heard his wails, no one ever had.
Severus Snape was the first to understand the pattern. Orders for various antidotes and blood replenisher had tripled over the last two weeks and the brewers were speculating on what the cause of the sudden spike was. Even Granger seemed confused.
"Any theories, Snape?" she asked as she took the bowl of mashed toad livers from his hand.
He turned to her and signed.
Check the papers. The obituaries report most of the deceased were recently married. They are killing themselves. The recent brides, the reluctant grooms. They are starting to despair that the Ministry won't save them. We are treating the ones that were unsuccessful.
Granger's eyes flew wide and she grabbed at his arm in panic and pain and he tried to soothe her.
He has you to live for, girl. Don't be afraid.
Snape turned away from her and began chopping daisy roots with a vengeance. She placed her hand on his arm. "Thank you," she whispered. "I'm so glad I had you to save me. I will forever be grateful and in your debt. Her eyes were brimming with tears and her face full of emotion. "The Ministry will save us. Don't despair. I know you will be free of me soon."
As you say, he replied. He turned away and would look at her no more for the rest of the day.
Severus Snape read the letters to the editor with a grim heart. The scandal had broken and the people were in an outrage at the fate of those swept up in the Marriage Law. Occasionally, some romantic story of a reluctant couple finding true love was slipped in, but the tide of opinion had turned and the readers were having no part of any attempt to paint it in even a neutral light. Umbridge had fled the Ministry in disgrace as her manifold petty revenges had come to light.
The Minister's repeal of the law was on the fast track and gaining momentum with each day. Granger bounced around, not even aware that her happiness was seeping from every pore. Snape listened to her quiet, gentle humming as she cleaned up the dishes from breakfast. He wanted to rail at her to stop but found himself hanging on every note. He folded the paper and left the room, grabbing up a bottle on the way.
Sunday, he never left his room at all. She never knocked.
Monday morning he was standing straight and tall at the floo, waiting. She came into the room with a worried frown and an inquiry about his health, but he just turned away from her and waited for the floo to be activated so he could go through.
Severus Snape was at his bench chopping when the news came. Brought by the brewers who had watched them so intently for the last nine months trying to understand the strange dynamic between the two. He knew bets had been made on whether or not they would split or stay together and so as the news spread, work stopped to see their reaction. Severus bunched his shoulders as the storm broke over them and Granger let out a strangled sob of relief and then flung herself at her husband. They all wandered away confused, as he held her, shaking and sobbing and occasionally laughing, in his arms with his face frozen into stone and his hands patting uselessly at her shoulders.
Severus Snape dressed for his divorce with care. He wore his best robes and had shined his boots to a high gloss. He combed his hair and brushed his teeth and fixed his cuffs and donned his best cloak. After all, there was to be a wedding immediately following.
He waited by the floo and blinked as the bride entered the sitting room. She was dressed simply, in a white dress under her cloak of blood red. Her hair was carefully arranged into glossy ringlets that cascaded down her narrow back. She stopped and stared sadly, tears in her eyes, as she looked around her temporary home for the last time. She took a deep breath and came and stood at his side.
"Thank you, Severus. For everything. I can't tell you how much you have meant to me. It seems there's no way to express it. Our situation has been so strange. But thank you for taking me under your wing, into your life and into your home. Without you, I could have been one of those names in the paper. You are a great friend, and I will always love you for what you have done for me and Ron, and for Harry and Ginny." She swiped at her tears and gave a small, self-deprecating laugh. "It's not like I won't see you tomorrow. I'll be right back here in the morning to bring you to work, after all. And you're probably looking forward to not having me underfoot all the time. It's just that…I'm going to miss being underfoot all the time, you know?" She looked up at him with her beautiful, honey-colored eyes and he nodded. Then, with slow, cautious movements, as if his hands were ready to flee at any moment, he touched his fingers to her face and bent down and gave her a chaste kiss in reply. Her eyes flew open and then she blinked rapidly, before gracing him with a warm smile and giving him a second, quick kiss.
As she turned toward the floo and tossed in the powder, just after she called out their destination, he saw her touch her lips and a small look of wonder slipped across her features.
Severus Snape followed his ex-wife out the door of one room and over to the knot of people gathered before the doors of another. The happy chatter and exuberant smiles accompanied many hearty slaps on the back and the enthusiastic and rather emotional hugs from, Minerva, Molly Weasley and Helen Granger. Ronald Weasley had handed his bride a fistful of daisies and after kissing her passionately, to the applause and catcalls of the assembled, he had turned toward Snape and with tears in his eyes, signed his gratitude with his hands. Granger broke into a beatific smile and Snape extended a hand and accepted his gratitude with austere graciousness.
When the short ceremony was over, the boisterous crowd moved swiftly out into the hall and set off for the floos ready for the party at the Burrow. Severus Snape looked down and saw a single daisy, crushed underfoot and lost. He bent down and plucked it from the floor and took a moment to try and straighten its bent and crippled petals. Two of them came off in his hand and he frowned. When he looked up again, everyone was gone and the floos were silent. He stood there, staring around him, unable to leave on his own.
Eventually, he found a custodian and handed him a scrap of parchment he had found and scrawled on; the gentleman was only too happy to assist and Snape bowed courteously as he stepped into the flames. His job was done. The blushing bride had stepped lightly towards her future with nary a glance back. He could rest now.
Hermione Weasley looked around again and worried at her bottom lip as the party shifted into full swing and everyone was shouting and laughing. She smiled at the guests and laughed at their jokes, and repeatedly gave in to the demands of the guests for another kiss for the bride and groom, but through it all she searched and waited and searched again until finally the worry became too much. Her new husband came over to her side and, after a few quick questions, he made their excuses and pulled her over to the floo.
The floo in the sitting room activated and she stumbled into the room in frantic haste, her husband followed in her wake with an equal concern. Her eyes caught the letter on the table first and she cried out when she read the name on the envelope.
"Who's Esmeralda?" Ron asked in confusion. She tore the envelope open and when Ron saw the Last Will and Testament it contained he took off running through the house. Hermione's hands shook as she looked for more, a letter, an explanation that he had gone on vacation, emigrated to Canada. Anything. Anything at all. Ron gave a horrified shout and she flew across the room and raced up the stairs. Ron came running out of her former bedroom and grabbed her and pushed her back. "Don't! You don't want to see--" She slapped him aside with a strength she didn't know she possessed, but when she ran into the room he grabbed her from behind and held her tight.
Severus Snape lay sprawled across her bed, dressed in his finest robes; his limp hair fanned out around him. In one hand he clutched a tattered daisy. The other was open, and on the floor beneath it an empty vial and his cane.
She screamed. She screamed for hours. And even years later, deep inside, where no one could hear, she still screamed.
Thank you to my friend, beta and partner in crime, Hebe GB.