Author: Aurette PM
Chaos reigns after the entire world seems to be coming to an end, but hope arrives disguised as despair. AU, M for reasons, HEA.Rated: Fiction M - English - Angst/Drama - Severus S. & Hermione G. - Chapters: 2 - Words: 17,650 - Reviews: 252 - Favs: 282 - Follows: 33 - Published: 09-16-11 - Status: Complete - id: 7388069
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
AN: I don't know if anyone outside the U.S. knows, but the world was supposed to end last spring. You see, according to the leader of some obscure religious sect here in the States, May 21st was supposed to be the Rapture. We all knew this because this leader had his peeps donate their entire family savings so he could post billboards across the country telling us all to get ready. One of these handy hints was posted around the corner from my kid's school. Helpful, in so many, varied ways. This was it. The End Times. Yup. T'was. 6pm exactly. Well, not exactly, turns out when 6pm rolled around there was a bit of confusion about which Time Zone the Almighty was on.
Anyhoo, on the 21st, as I was sitting sipping my cocktails and waiting for my divine taxi ride to warmer climes—it was far too late for me to repent without it looking like the last ditch effort not to roast that it would have been—it occurred to me that this would totally suck for the Wizarding World. I mean, imagine it. You defeat Voldypants, only to have it all go tits up anyway.
This got me to thinking… and you know what happens when I do that.
I skipped the Rapture, since the Almighty gave it a pass as well, this time around, and went with something more scientific. This one is weird. I ain't gonna lie. It's out there.
Not mine, no money. Praise Hebe GB for the Britpick and an awesome existential transcontinental debate. Comma wrangling was brought to you by Astopperindeath, but I noodled, so don't give her static.
The whispers reached the back of the cave long before the hunters had entered the clearing.
"Others! They've brought back others!"
Hermione was almost too hungry to care. She just wanted to start cooking. She stirred the fire, feeding it bits of dried gorse until it was hot enough to add peat. Hopefully, McLaggen had been successful. They hadn't been the last two times they'd gone out, and the community had been eating boiled potatoes and porridge for days.
"Maybe they're wizards," a voice said from near the entrance.
She heard a flurry of raised voices and turned, gathering her tattered robes about her. "Maire, watch the fire."
"Granger, you know you'll just get in trouble again."
Hermione looked back down at the older witch. "Just breathing gets me in trouble," she muttered.
Maire shook her head. "Breathing is a luxury with that one. If you keep refusing McLaggen, you might just stop one of these nights."
"He needs me."
"Nah, girl. He wants you; he doesn't need you. Don't get the two confused. He's already exploited your useful knowledge, and couldn't be arsed about the rest. Your mind isn't what he still keeps you around for."
"I still have a head full of things that he needs to know. He's just too stupid to use it."
"We all have a head full of useless knowledge now, lassie. None of it's worth a tinker's dam anymore."
The older woman's eyes glazed over as she turned and looked into the past. It was a common malady.
Hermione patted her, before hunching her shoulders and heading toward the mouth of the cave. She tripped over a pile of bedding, but caught herself. After that, carefully stepped around people's living areas, keeping her face away from the light of the torches that had been roughly hammered into the stonewalls.
Around her, her fellow survivors were tossing questions like confetti.
"Who are they? Muggles or proper folk?" called Jonah Twillings.
"Does it matter anymore?" snapped Mathew Malkin.
"It could one day. It can't stay like this forever."
"Keep dreaming. I just want food. And maybe some of those Muggle guns."
Hermione shook her head and stepped into the shadows beside the mouth of the cave.
From her vantage point, she could see McLaggen, strutting about as if he was the cock o' the walk.
If he had found a peaceable group of people, he would need to assert himself right away. His two cronies, Jackman and Damien, stood off to the side with their thumbs hooked on their knife belts, smirking at the newcomers. They were even nastier than Cormac. She thought they'd shed their humanity long before the world had ended.
Arabus and Merna Tailor were walking Cormac's ponies off to the paddock. Hermione didn't see any game. Another useless hunt then.
Her eyes slid to the newcomers. A typical raggedy bunch, there appeared to be about twenty of them in ages raging from late twenties, to late sixties—if they were Muggle. They could be far older if they were wizards.
An older man with a ginger beard streaked with grey shuffled forward. "Please," he said. "We have skills! We're just tired of walking." His eyes took on the ubiquitous thousand-yard stare, as he stroked the mane of the shaggy pony he leaned against. "We've been walking forever."
His voice sounded worn and faded and familiar. Hermione peered at the tattered clothes he wore but couldn't tell a difference between the motley worn by Muggles these days, and the typical Wizarding garb that had seen better times.
She slipped out of the cave and crept closer, careful not to attract Cormac's attention.
Aside from their apparent headman, the newcomers had all collapsed to the ground. On closer inspection, she saw a high percentage of them appeared to exceed the normal levels of disassociation that affected so many in the years after the Cataclysm. Two of them were mumbling constantly, and three of them seemed to be asleep with their eyes open. One sat on a rock and stared at his feet, his body eerily still.
"Your people are worthless!" snapped Cormac. "I'm having a hard enough time feeding mine! I've no room for useless mouths. I already told you, you could stay the night in exchange for news, but come morning, you have to shove off."
"They're not worthless!" the man snapped with a bit more bite in his voice. "They're human beings!"
The vehemence in his voice sparked the final recognition, and Hermione found herself creeping forward despite herself. "Arthur?"
The man turned and looked at her, and then his face exploded with happiness. "Hermione!" He ran forward and enveloped her in a hug. "Oh, my dear girl! It's wonderful to see you! Are you alright? Is Ron with you? Harry? Who else is with you? Is Molly here? Have you seen Molly?"
His questions came too fast for her to do more than just cry and shake her head. "No. I had gone to Hogsmeade just before it happened," she said when he finally fell silent. "Who's with you?"
He sighed and hugged her hard before turning toward his group. "I was at St. Mungo's with George when it happened. He was getting a new ear. We took who we could, but most didn't survive that first year." He sighed. "Most didn't survive the escape from London." He waved to a couple sitting on the ground staring at everyone with no expression. "That's Alice and Frank Longbottom, Neville's parents. Over there is Daisy Goldstein, she's a nurse. You went to school with her brother. And we have Miriam Strout, she's a Healer." He gestured to the man sitting on the rock, now inspecting the sole of his boot. "And Severus, of course. He was there as well. I'm not sure you'd know the others."
Hermione hadn't recognized her old professor, although now that she knew who it was, it was obvious. His hair reached his elbows, still black and stringy, and still covering his features except for his large, hooked nose. He was dressed in a brown tweed waistcoat over a pale, long-sleeved, knitted cotton top. Despite the late summer warmth, he wore fingerless gloves and heavy woolen trousers of an indeterminate grey. The thick, Muggle-style lace up boots looked oddest of all.
She started forward but Mr. Weasley pulled her back. "Don't expect him to chat. He's not… well. None of us are, really."
She was about to reply when McLaggen interrupted. "Did you say Longbottom?" He squinted at the group. "What the hell did you bring me, Weasley? The entire Janus Thickey Ward?"
Arthur pushed Hermione to the side. "I brought you people, man. I've brought you people!"
"I have people!" shouted Cormac. "I don't need more! Especially not halfwits and old folk!"
Arthur tried to stare him down, but wasn't alpha enough—nor violent enough—to win. "We need everyone," he said. "We've lost so many."
"Why?" spat Cormac. "We're all done for anyway!"
Arthur recoiled. "What are you saying?"
"Haven't you noticed? Or are you still too honorable?" He turned and gave an order to Jackman, his second-in-command. "Bring 'em all out!"
Soon enough, the entire tribe emptied out of the cave. The sixty-odd members of McLaggen's group arrayed themselves before the entrance.
Cormac turned back to Arthur. "Notice something odd? See anything missing?"
Arthur stared at them in confusion, before he turned his head toward Hermione in question.
"There aren't any babies," she whispered. "No one's become pregnant since it happened."
Understanding lit Arthur's face, and she hadn't thought it possible for him to look more broken. They both turned as Cormac came storming up and belted her across the face. She collapsed to the ground. She'd learned long ago that falling fast was the quickest way to end it. Cormac was only a true sadist with a stomach full of whisky.
"I wanted him to figure it out!" he shouted at her. "The stupid bastard thought there was still hope!" He sneered down at her in disgust. "Get out of my sight."
He turned away and ordered his men to take the food Arthur's group had brought them before stalking back toward the cave. "Get out of my way!" he bellowed at his own people.
Arthur bent down and helped Hermione to her feet. "This doesn't mean there's no hope," he said quietly. "Just that there's a lot less."
She grimaced, working her jaw. "I don't know, Arthur. I don't really think there's much hope for any of us."
He sighed and headed off to help unpack his supplies from his ponies.
Hermione looked over at Snape. He'd pulled his boot off and was picking at the sole with a small knife. She peeked over her shoulder, but no one was looking at her anymore, so she headed off towards her old teacher.
He didn't look up when she approached.
"Hello, Professor." He didn't reply. In fact, he didn't seem to notice her at all. She squatted down on her haunches and looked at the boot in his hand. "What have you got there? A stone?"
He flipped the boot over and offered it to her without raising his face. She took it, and saw the long crack across the sole.
"I have some leather and a hot pot of glue. I might be able to fix it, if you like. Do you have another pair to wear?"
He reached down, deftly untied the other one, and handed it to her as well, before standing up and striding away in his socks. She watched, bemused, as he untied three rabbits from a tattered saddle and headed toward Arthur.
She shook her head. "Right, then. I'll just get right on that, shall I? And it's been a pleasure to see you again as well."
She gathered the pair of boots close and headed back to the cave.
Hermione, Maire, and Oona served up the thin, rabbit stew to eighty-two people. She filled two more bowls and headed over to where Arthur was sitting by the entrance of the crowded cave. She gave the first to Arthur and held the other one out to Snape, who sat on a large rock facing the wall. When he didn't respond, she bumped his shoulder with her elbow. He still didn't react, so she stepped in front of him and hunched down. Taking his hand, she wrapped it around the bowl. He looked up and blinked at her, before looking down to see what he held. He nodded and picked up the spoon.
"This is delicious," Arthur said, when she sat down next to him. She knew it for a lie—the stew tasted dreadful. "Are you not having any?"
"I've already had some," she replied, "thank you."
"Interesting dinnerware," he said, holding up the plain bowl.
She laughed. "I'm smart enough to figure out how to fire clay, but I'm pants at figuring out how to glaze the stuff."
"You did this?"
"In a manner of speaking. I knew what to do with the clay deposit we found a few miles from here. A little trial and error and we figured out who could work it best. It wasn't me."
"An excellent solution," he said. "Most people just loot the abandoned Muggle shopping areas."
"We did our fair share of that as well in the beginning. However, we eventually found it safer to move farther away from them and ended up having to do for ourselves. We send out parties every so often to nab things we need. Salt for instance—and pepper. We're out. That's why it tastes so bad."
Arthur smiled and shoveled a large spoonful into his mouth.
She let the conversation lapse so Arthur could eat. Snape had turned so he was half facing them, but seemed totally focused on his food.
"What's wrong with him?" she asked quietly.
"Snape? Nothing that isn't wrong with the rest of us," Arthur replied in a soft voice. "Just more so, if you get my meaning. "
"Does he speak?"
"He can. He's just run out of things to say. I haven't heard him say anything in a year."
Hermione blinked. "I see. For some reason, I had gathered that he was a bit simple now."
Arthur nodded. "He is and he isn't. His mind isn't broken, just battered. He's not like Frank and Alice. He's still aware most of the time. He hears us and knows what we're saying. It's just… He doesn't care, you see? He doesn't care about anything anymore. I think he just shuts his mind off intentionally somehow." Arthur shook his head. "Surely you can understand. You and the boys spent seven years trying to save the world, only to have it all end anyway. Severus spent twenty. The first year on the road with us, all he did was swear like a sailor. I think he just ran out of words."
Hermione nodded. "Now you make him sound far more rational than me. I still waste my breath on useless words."
Arthur scooped up the last bit of stew. "I never heard you utter a useless word, dear."
She smiled. "Snape has. Haven't you, Professor?" If Snape heard her, he didn't show it. She turned back to Arthur. "I used to drive him barking with my useless words. Now I just use them to make Cormac angry."
She looked across the cave to see her worthless leader lounging against a pile of cushions with Polly Valefar, his latest bed-warmer.
She shook away her homicidal thoughts. "I assume you came up through Hogsmeade, if you found us," she said.
"We did. It was…" his eyes went distant, "unpleasant."
She nodded. "Most of that happened in the days after." She shook her head. "That's where I was when the magic died. The local Muggles went spare when they suddenly had an entire village full of strange-looking people appear, complete with castle. They were already overwrought, so it didn't take much more before they started to burn the witches." She shook the images out of her eyes. "It was horrible. It's all horrible." She sighed and settled on the ground, resting her back against the shelf of rock.
There was an informal etiquette that had sprung up amongst the survivors. No one ever went into detail about what they had faced. Everyone's personal horror was already too much to bear, and it was considered rude to add to it.
"What's it like out there?" she asked. "I haven't ventured beyond our territory in a year."
Arthur's eyes grew hooded. "Bleak. Anarchy, mostly. The Muggles ran out of their precious petrol. They have as little fuel as we do now. Some places have erected windmills for power, but most of them have been destroyed by rivals. It's pure lunacy. And then there were all the guns! Who knew they had so many? Where did they all come from? It was like those stories of the American Wild West," he said with disgust.
"The army," Hermione answered. "Once their army fell apart, it seemed like everyone suddenly had a gun."
"Mercifully, most have run out of bullets."
"Only for certain types of guns," Hermione said, shaking her head. "It's all hunting rifles, black powder pistols and shotguns around here. They can't figure out how to purify their water, but they're clever enough to make ammunition."
Arthur sighed. "They've thrown away society completely. Anyone that tries to form some semblance of order just becomes a target for others with ambition or an axe to grind. They're far more likely to kill each other. They went on a rampage and killed all the foreigners they could catch. Especially Americans." He closed his eyes. "We have two that we hid. They'd got their hands on a set of pistols and were crack shots, the pair of them—until we ran out of bullets. Beau Raintree is our blacksmith now, and Heather Tippit is deadly with a bow. I don't let on that they're Muggles, and they changed their accents quickly." He grimaced. "Muggles. It seems silly to keep using that term. We're all squibs now."
He waved his spoon vaguely south. "There are boats running the channel now, but not many. Raiders, mostly. Apparently, France is worse off than we are."
Hermione twisted to look at him. "So it's true?"
"That it's the whole world? It is. However, no one I've run across has a clue what caused it. The most common explanation the Muggles have has to do with magnets of some sort. Electrical ones."
"Electromagnetic pulse," she corrected. "I'd assumed as much the first time I tried to use a compass. Then there were all the beached whales and the strange migratory patterns of the birds. The poles are gone. There's no north anymore. An EM pulse is the only thing I could think of to explain how the Muggles would have lost their technology at the same time we all lost our magic. I wish I knew why though. I assume some sort of weapon or perhaps an experiment that went wrong. I really have no idea."
"No one does. It's all speculation." Arthur set his bowl down on a rock and looked at her with sad eyes. "Is it true about the babies?"
She grimaced. "We've haven't got any younger than three now. Those women that were pregnant when it happened gave birth, but no one else has conceived. I guess we're all sterile. I don't know about Muggles, maybe they can have children. Cormac won't allow anyone to trade with the few that live in the area, and everyone hides their children when strangers approach."
"You do have some very unpleasant neighbors. We ran afoul of the village between here and Hogsmeade. They've formed a militia and have become very paranoid. They killed Arianna Livingston just to show us they meant business. Didn't even let us take her body." Arthur shook his head.
He looked over his shoulder at McLaggen's noisy group across the cavern. "Do you really think he'll make us leave in the morning?"
"He will, that or kill you. Would you really want to stay? You've seen what he's like. Living here is a form of hell."
Arthur frowned and looked across the cavern. "Can't you overthrow him? He's only one man."
She barked a bitter laugh. "You mean have a coup? Overthrow the power structure? Create a better way that will make people happier? Give them more control over their survival?"
"Exactly," he said.
She looked down at her feet. "They already had their revolution. He is what they want."
"Oh," he said. "Who did they get rid of?"
Hermione raised her head and looked at him. "Me."
Snape snorted. Hermione turned her head to him. "I'm glad you are amused, Professor. It's probably easy for you to imagine what I was like. Demanding, insufferable, unyielding. I held them to certain tasks, gave them certain responsibilities, and meted out food demerits if they didn't comply. I was a tyrant."
She turned back to Arthur. "A tyrant was exactly what they needed in those first days. The tyrant stopped the riots in Hogsmeade and allowed people to withdraw with their possessions. The tyrant found a near bottomless supply of fresh water in an extensive cave system. The tyrant made them save some potatoes to plant in the spring because she knew that before the blight and famine, whole nations had survived on nearly nothing but. The tyrant forced them to observe proper sanitation, so we didn't make ourselves sick. The tyrant forced them to read books on survival that she'd managed to find in Muggle bookshops before they went completely insane and started to burn them. The tyrant made them learn how to tan hide, preserve fruits and vegetables, make rope…" She stared down at the floor of the cave. "The tyrant saved them. Even the ones that hated her and left still knew enough to make a go of it on their own. The tyrant was a creature of necessity.
"When we were over the bad days, they rebelled." She picked up a small stone and scratched at the floor with it. "Cormac came with more Wizarding folk after that first year. He'd also gone back to the school, thinking to find magic there. He picked up a few others that had gone there as well.
"He's managed to create quite the little cult of personality. He's all alpha male. The mighty hunter who scorns farming. I think he takes the caveman thing a little too much to heart. The people loved him and when he decided to take over, no one stepped forward to defend me. He graciously allowed me to choose between being banished with nothing but the clothes on my back, or to become one of his whores. I chose the former option and went and found an abandoned house a day's walk east."
She closed her eyes and shuddered, remembering how close she had come to starving to death.
"They paid a price for their stupidity." She tossed the stone down. "They ate all the chickens and too many of the sheep I had gathered. Sickness took the rest. They grew sloppy with their canning and several died from food poisoning. There were other disasters as well. They had to come and find me and beg me to come back. In a lesser role, mind. I was still persona non grata, but too valuable to get rid of. I've been little more than a scullery maid since."
She closed her eyes. "Not for much longer, though. I've taught them everything I can about basic survival. Cormac isn't interested in anything else I have to offer. Each day his hubris angers them a little more, and each day they mumble about how perhaps I wasn't so bad. My days are numbered. When Cormac decides I'm more trouble than I'm worth, he'll kill me. He kills everyone who's a threat. I've been trying to get him suspicious about his bodyguards, but he always was a bit thick."
She looked back up at Arthur. "You need to leave come morning. And you need to take me with you."
Arthur closed his eyes, and his face crumpled in misery. He shook his head. "Alright. If that is what you wish."
Hermione placed her hand on his knee. "Why would you want to stay? Your people won't be safe. Without the potatoes, we'd be dead. Blight will kill us. Cormac spends all his time trying to find food. He won't allow more mouths to feed with little return."
Arthur opened his eyes and the expression in them cut her to the quick. "I'm dying, Hermione. Strout says it's cancer. Whatever happened made many of us sick. I wanted to find my people a home before I grew too weak. I had hoped to find them some place where they could be useful. Severus here has never failed to return with game, and Alice and Frank are good with mundane repetitive tasks. They enjoy harvesting the wild grain we've been finding. They can do it for hours. All my people are useful in some way. Is there no way to make him see sense? Can't we appeal to his humanity? We've walked the length and breadth of this whole damnable island looking for our loved ones. When we didn't find any of them, we walked more, looking for a place we could call home. It's hell out there, and we're all tired. We're so… tired."
Defeated, Hermione squeezed his knee and turned her head to see Snape looking at her with an intense stare. She patted Arthur. "Alright. I have one card I can play. It will buy you some time. You'll need to show him how useful your people are before the novelty ends though. When it does, I won't be able to help you anymore."
Arthur's expression brightened. Her heart gave a sad thump to see how much like Ron he was. So willing to be happy. "Do you think there's a way?" He grabbed her shoulder and squeezed. "If there is, I beg you to find it. Just tell me what I have to do."
She sighed. "All you have to do is keep a level head and stay out if his way."
He nodded enthusiastically.
"And you need to not be seen talking to me anymore." She ignored his confused expression and turned to Snape, who was still staring at her. She reached out and took the bowl from his hand. "I mended your boots, Professor. The glue will be set by morning. Sleep well. Both of you."
Hermione took the bowls back over to the cookpot, now filled with the rest of the dirty bowls, and helped Maire and Oona carry it outside and down to the river to scrub.
After they had banked the fire for the night, she made her way over to the rear wall, where she kept her personal things. With all the extra people, she had to step carefully over the bodies settling down to sleep on the floor. She had long ago grown used to the various grunting noises that went on in the night. Privacy was only ever an illusion when your neighbor could elbow you in the ribs in your sleep.
In the cold months, they all migrated together and slept in an enormous pile with the youngest in the middle, like penguins. On hot nights, they spread as far out as possible. The weather was starting to turn already, and there was a chill in the air at night.
Her things sat in an oddly large pool of clear space against the back curve of wall. The near-privacy was a symbol of her diminished status. No one wanted to be too close to her, for fear of earning Cormac's suspicion. Therefore, she was surprised when she heard a heavy thump nearby. She looked up to see Snape plucking apart the knots on his bedroll four feet away. She looked around until she found Arthur, tucking his people in for the night near the entrance to the cave.
She gave Snape a long look before she unrolled her own bedding and pulled off her shoes and socks. She stripped off her robes and shimmied out of her knickers, tossing the soiled clothes into a basket. She crawled into her pallet in her slip and rolled onto her side to watch him. He undressed down to his vest-top and pants, carefully folding everything into a pile. He was pale as a ghost, making the fine, black hair that grew in sparse patches more noticeable. His legs were long, thin, and well muscled from walking.
He rolled into his bedding and folded the small, flat pillow in half before settling his head down on it. Once he was comfortable, he lifted his eyes and met her stare.
He was still staring when she closed her eyes and went to sleep.
"Cormac, can I have a moment?"
"What do you want, Granger?"
She gritted her teeth at the snide tone in his voice. "I want you to consider letting Arthur Weasley's group join ours."
He barked a laugh and turned to Jackman and Damien, still lolling in their bedding, to catch their reaction. "Did you hear that? Granger wants me to do her a favor!" He turned back, fists on hips and chest puffed out, looking her up and down. "How much is the favor worth to you? You're talking about another twenty useless mouths to feed. That would have to be a hell of a payment on your part, now wouldn't it?"
"Only if you disregard their potential usefulness. Several of them have skills the community could use. Snape alone is a walking encyclopedia of healing plants, and laugh if you will, but even the Longbottoms have their purpose. They can perform repetitive tasks for hours without tiring or getting distracted."
He snorted. "You'd have to have a mind to get distracted, now wouldn't you?"
"Look, they have a Healer and a Nurse, who've both amassed an extensive knowledge of Muggle trauma care techniques. They even have a man that has taken up smithing. Their ponies have shoes, Cormac. You must see the advantage here. With proper forethought, they could be just the thing to turn your little tribe from a group of survivors, into a community that could mean something."
She saw the spark of lust in his eye. Cormac fancied himself a king. Unfortunately, the spark died too soon. "What good will that do any of us? We're all doomed, Granger. What's the point in rebuilding a civilization if we're the last people left?"
She sighed. "Do you want to die, now? Or later? Those Muggles in the west are growing in number and becoming more violent. What happens if they come this way? There's safety in numbers!" Seeing her words bounce off, she dropped her voice and tried another tack. "The people grew tired of me, Cormac. They'll grow tired of you if you don't give them what they need. I see Jackman staring at your back already. To stay in power, you have to give them what they want as well as what they need. What they need is the lie that life might return to something familiar some day. Give them the trappings, and you can live out the last of all our days in relative comfort."
He stared about the cavern, slowly nodding his head. His eyes cut to hers, and she saw a spark of a different type of lust. "You'll have to earn their reprieve. Not all of them will be useful. I'll be carrying a lot of dead weight."
She scowled at him. "Fine. Just don't expect me to come to you, and don't expect me to enjoy it." She spun on her heels and stormed away. She made it exactly half the distance between him and Arthur before she was wrenched around by a hand on her arm.
"I didn't give you permission to walk away, Granger," he snarled. "You will learn your place. You have twenty lives on your head. You might want to start making nice."
She lifted her head and stared back at him. "You haven't chased after me all this time because I'm nice, Cormac. Don't ask for what you don't really want. I agreed. More is beyond me, no matter who you kill."
She snatched her arm back and turned away.
"You all can stay," she said to Arthur, loud enough for the whole cave to hear. "Cormac has given his word."
She looked back over her shoulder at McLaggen's mottling face. "And I've given mine," she said quietly. She turned on her heel and headed toward the back to oversee the morning porridge.
A few minutes later, Maire elbowed her in the side and she looked up. Snape was approaching her with a small, wooden chest in his hands. She stood up and waited until he reached her and held the chest out.
He didn't answer, he just shoved it at her with a scowl. She slipped the catch and opened it. Inside, the chest had been separated into two compartments. One was filled with salt, the other held peppercorns.
She looked up at him, closing the lid and taking the chest carefully. "This is a commentary on my cooking, isn't it?" she said with a smile.
He smirked at her and walked away.
"He looks funny without the billow," Oona said.
"He does, doesn't he?" Hermione agreed.
"The whole world lost its billow," Maire sighed.
Hermione kept to her cookpot for the rest of the day, staying out of trouble as much as possible. She even left it when the community began to line up to eat, so as not to draw attention to herself. She avoided Arthur and his people to give them a chance to settle in without her shadow tainting them.
The day went about as well as expected. There were some mutterings and a few pointed comments about the newcomers from Cormac's sycophants, but Cormac himself kept quiet.
She rolled out her bedding, quickly threw off her robes, and settled into the blankets early. Snape came a little while after, and she rolled away from him to give him a bit of privacy. The night before, she'd been inexcusably rude.
She was just drifting off when her first payment came due. Her eyes flew open when she felt Cormac pawing at her.
"You're mine, now, Granger," he said through a cloud of whisky fumes. "You better be worth the wait."
She sighed and rolled onto her back. "I'm not, I assure you," she replied, as he climbed under her blankets and started pulling at the hem of her slip.
He fumbled between her legs. "Bloody hell, you're dry as toast."
"You'd give your left nut for a nice piece of toast, and you know it," she snapped back.
Cormac laughed loud enough to attract the attention of the whole cave, as Hermione burned with shame.
"You're right, you know. That's what I like about you, Granger. You're always right."
"Even when I tell you you're a Neanderthal fuckwit?"
He climbed on top of her and pinned her down. "Give it up, Granger. You brainy types always did wish the handsome ones would notice them. Admit it. I've been making your knickers wet for two years now."
She wanted to spit on him—punch him in the face and storm off, like she had the first time he'd tried to climb into bed with her—but she couldn't. Lives were depending on her ability to lie back and think of England.
"Let's just get this over with, shall we? You're a little heavy."
He lightly slapped her on the cheek. "I can get a whole lot heavier, woman."
She rolled her eyes. "Cormac, you have ten willing women at your beck and call. What the hell do you want me for?"
He stroked the cheek he'd slapped. "I've always wanted you, Granger. You have a fire inside you. We could be good, you know. Together, we could rule the world. That's never been more true than in these times." He leaned down and kissed her neck. "You'll like me once you give me a chance." He squeezed her breast. "You never give me a chance."
"Did it never occur to you that perhaps you're simply not my type?"
He wriggled between her legs and began rubbing himself against her. "What is your type? I can be your type."
She shook her head. "I like a man who can think with something besides his prick, Cormac. That makes it rather hopeless for you, doesn't it?"
He started fumbling with his trousers. "Nah. I just need to get you to stop thinking so much."
Good luck with that, she thought to herself. She closed her eyes and let him have his way. Three minutes later she muttered, "Oh, for fuck's sake," and spat on her hand before slapping it between her legs to keep him from giving her a friction burn.
Cormac was a mystery to her. He'd been capable of simply taking what he'd wanted all along, and yet had persisted in his irrational prediction that she would eventually come to care for him. Even when he had taken her people away from her, he'd been arrogant enough to think she would see him as having rescued her from too much responsibility. He'd been utterly shocked when she'd walked out of the cave.
She could never understand why he didn't give up. She was perfectly aware that his posturing and strutting when he'd first shown up with his raggedy band of survivors had been to show off for her. In the two years since, she'd done nothing to encourage him—had actively scorned him, in fact—and yet, he'd still thought it was only a matter of time.
And it had been, hadn't it? Here he was, grunting away on top of her. Perhaps all things did come to he who waits.
"You're so tight," he rasped.
"That's not tight, you idiot, that's dry."
He chuckled and brought his mouth down to kiss her, and she twisted her head to the side. He started licking her ear instead.
He let out a girlish squeal, and she opened her eyes to roll them to the heavens.
That's when she saw Snape.
He was staring at her in fury, and she quailed under the weight of his angry gaze. He slowly lifted his hand up from his covers, holding his ebony wand.
Her eyes flew wide, and she quickly shook her head from side to side.
"Oh, you like that don't you?" McLaggen crooned, sticking his tongue in her ear.
She wanted to bang her head against the floor. Instead, she looked at Snape lying four feet away and mouthed, 'No!'
The hand slipped back under the covers, but he continued to stare at her in anger.
Cormac squealed again, and collapsed on top of her. Was he done? Had he finished? She couldn't tell. Hopefully, he'd had a heart attack and died. That would be convenient.
"Was it good?" he whispered in her ear.
"What do you think?" she snapped back, pushing at him. "Get off me. Don't even think about sleeping here, that wasn't part of the bargain."
"Come on, Granger. Just a little cuddle."
"Go cuddle Polly," she hissed, digging her fingers into his stomach.
He kissed her cheek tenderly. "You're so beautiful, Hermione."
"Yes, thank you, and you're heavy. Move it."
He rolled off of her and pulled up his trousers. "The first time is always awkward," he said with confidence. "You'll like it next time." He scrubbed her hair with his hand, earning another glare and pushed up to his feet. "Until tomorrow night then," he said with a leer, before walking off.
She grabbed at a scrap of towel in her basket and furiously scrubbed at herself. She shoved her slip back down and then rolled onto her side and pointed her finger at Snape.
"Don't you dare do anything like that again!" she hissed. "Why the hell do you think he allowed you all to stay? Just prove you're useful before I start to bore him. I give it about two weeks before I have to start pretending I'm enjoying it, and you only get a week at the most after that." She didn't add that she was unlikely to live to see a fourth week.
Snape looked like he was chewing glass.
"It's too high a price," he hissed back in a ragged, hoarse voice before rolling away.
She was so shocked to hear his voice that she didn't have anything to say.
Snape was nowhere to be found when she woke up the next morning.
Arthur was, but he couldn't bring himself to look at her, now knowing what the price had been. He busied himself showing Alice and Frank how to twist reed fibers into twine.
She left him to his shame; she had no patience for it.
She didn't see Snape until she went to scrub out the morning dishes. She let the other women carry the clean bowls back into the cave and went over to where he was sitting on a rock downstream. His hair was still dripping, and his clothes from the day before were laid out on the grass, drying in the sun.
"I appreciated your anger last night," she said.
He didn't look up from the boot he held. He was inspecting her work. His pale feet practically gleamed in the sun where they stuck out from under his trousers.
She hunkered down, trying to see his face beyond the wall of dark hair. "I'm sorry I snapped at you, but you looked ridiculous. There isn't any magic anymore, Professor. You can't just wave a stick at someone and make them disappear."
She sighed at his lack of response. "Look, you can't go waving your wand around like a lunatic. Cormac likes to collect them. It's his little game of symbolic castration. He thrives on killing hope wherever he finds it."
Nothing. It was like she didn't exist.
She dragged her ragged silk kerchief off her head and scraped her hand through her curls.
"Arthur says you understand what I'm saying, so I'm going to just hope this gets through. Cormac never liked you, Professor. He would love to shame you. If you call attention to yourself, he will do just that. He's cruel and nasty when he feels threatened. Keep your foolish wand-waving to a minimum, all right? It's going to be hard enough keeping you alive without the lot of you running around acting daft."
She snapped out the bit of cloth and refolded it before tying it back over her hair. "Arthur also says you're good at tracking game. We always need more meat."
He raised his head and looked at her for the first time since he'd nearly stared holes into her the night before with his black eyes. She felt like a bug under glass. "What would you prefer?" he said in his distinctive voice.
She couldn't tell if he was being sarcastic. "Anything you find will do. I only draw the line at cannibalism."
She stood up and brushed off her skirt, realizing she needed a bath as well. "Can I get you anything, Professor?"
"I have what I need." He pulled a clean pair of socks out of his pocket. "Lily, what happened to Potter?"
She went still and stared at him. "I'm not Lily."
He looked at her, befuddled.
"Which Potter are you talking about?" she asked. "James? Or Harry?"
His face mottled with an old rage. "The boy!" he snapped. "What happened to the boy?"
"I left him and Ron at Grimmauld Place that morning and Apparated to Hogsmeade. I never saw them again. I don't know what happened to them. I can only hope they escaped London before it burned." She watched his face flicker with several expressions, bewilderment still foremost. "If it helps, he wasn't a boy anymore. You completed your task, sir."
Her words left him looking lost and desolate. He grimaced, shaking his head. "I get confused…" he whispered.
She reached down and squeezed his shoulder. "We all do," she said quietly. He looked so sad that she added, "I can be Lily if you want. It doesn't matter to me."
He lifted his head and stared hard at her, making her wonder if she'd just made things worse.
She gave up and walked away.
Snape never came in for the evening meal. No one saw him until the next afternoon, when he walked into the cave with a red deer across his shoulders. He walked straight to the back of the cave and dropped the small doe at Hermione's feet. He turned and walked away without a word.
Hermione smiled at his retreating back as Maire and Oona trilled over it. They grabbed it by the hooves and began dragging it outside to dress. Hermione pushed another brick of peat into the fire and stood up to follow after them.
Outside, Maire was hauling the carcass up off the ground by a rope thrown over a tree branch. Oona was wide-eyed and reached for Hermione when she saw her.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"There's no wound," the younger girl said in a hushed voice.
Maire whipped out her knife and slit the doe's throat, spilling blood into the bucket she'd kicked under it. "There is now," the older woman snapped.
Hermione blinked several times before she unsheathed her own knife. "I don't have time for nonsense. Let's get to work."
Snape went out three more times, always bringing back meat. One time a deer so large he'd had to tie it between two ponies, another time, a sheep. The rumors didn't gain energy until he brought down a boar. It hadn't been wild, just a feral pig, but a feral pig wasn't to be taken lightly.
Each time, there had been no wounds on the carcass.
The cavern had filled with the delicious aroma of roast pork and the whispers that Snape could still do magic. Hermione refused to allow herself to believe them.
Cormac hadn't been pleased at all. He was starting to see that he'd never had loyalty, only fear, and the favor of the people was shifting slowly on its unseen axis. He grew more needy as he pawed at her in the night.
Looking back, she realized that the length of Cormac's remaining life could have been measured by the distance between her bedding and Snape's. Each night, he would unroll his blankets a few inches closer, and each night, he would glare at her as Cormac rutted away.
She knew Cormac was growing tired of trying to tame the shrew but she couldn't seem to bring herself to start acting quite yet.
As the days spooled out, she grew increasingly waspish.
One morning she spied Snape on her way back from the river. She waved the other women back to the cave and stomped over to where he was sharpening his long knife on a stone.
"You're really not helping, you know. I mean, you are, obviously—the mighty hunter bit is pretty effective—but your glaring at me at night is getting more than a little annoying. You could at least glare at him and not make me feel worse than I already do. If you recall, I wasn't exactly the school slag. This isn't easy for me, you know. I don't need your judgment."
He didn't respond, just kept scraping the blade across her nerves.
"And you can stop pretending that you actually use that. I know you're poisoning the animals somehow. Try not to poison any of us while you're at it."
He looked up at her and said, "She was afraid of the dark, you know. To survive, you must embrace it."
Hermione frowned at him. "What? What are you, an oracle now? Well, Sybil, thank you, very much! "
She turned on her heel and stormed away.
That night, he didn't glare at her with his usual furious scowl…
…he stared at her with sadness instead.
Told you it was weird… On to the next chap!