The first thing Hermione saw was the glint of a tear on Severus' cheekbone.
"Wh-" She cleared her throat, eyes jumping to meet his. Dark and glistening, brows raised in an expression she couldn't interpret. "What's wrong?"
His face collapsed in a sigh and a small quirk of a smile at the same time, and his hands gripped her shoulders tightly, too tightly, as he pulled her to his chest.
She remained silent for a moment, inhaling the thick stench of sweat and booze and iron that seemed to be knit along with the fabric of his shirt. He gripped her tighter, fingers splayed along her skin, and digging, as if he could somehow meld them together if he squeezed hard enough. Her breath wheezed out and she tried to slip a hand up to his chest to give herself room to breathe, but he burrowed his nose against her neck and slipped his hands into her hair, arms completely enclosing her.
"Severus." She finally managed, a weak plea, and he seemed to snap out of whatever had sent him into the possessive frenzy. He released her, though hesitantly, leaving his fingertips to hover over her skin.
"Sorry. I… Are you hurt?" He started looking over her frantically, so that she had to grab his wrists and shake them to gain his attention.
"No, of course not, Severus. What's going on?"
"Oh, Hermione. I'm so sorry."
"Sorry for what? What's happened?"
"You don't remember?"
Hermione panicked. "Was I Obliviated? Oh my god!"
"No! You were..." He paused, searching her face for a moment before saying, "You were stuck as a lioness."
She stilled, except for her eyes which grew wide. "I don't remember. How long? How did I lose myself?" Her voice drifted to a whisper and then she was off again, thoughts coming rapid fire through her mind and spitting out at Severus. "Did I hurt anyone? Oh Merlin, was I violent? Because remember I almost ate Madam Hooch - You have to tell me everything, if I hurt anyone I swear-"
"You didn't hurt anyone, Hermione, you weren't you."
"Oh, thank god." She quieted again, but the way Severus had spoken made it sound like, "I hurt someone." The horror flashed over her face in an instant and Severus mirrored the response for a split second before gaining control over himself, softening his features into an attempt at reassurance.
"You didn't hurt anyone. Listen to me. You did not hurt anyone."
"But you said "I wasn't me." So… Nyota? Me, as a lioness… We hurt someone?"
Severus did not immediately reply and that told her all she needed to know.
"It wasn't you, Hermione."
Severus was drifting closer, but she bolted away from him, nearly falling off the edge of the bed. She managed to catch herself, pulling the sheets off the corner of the mattress as she stumbled. The momentum of the frantic movement rammed her into the wall.
Severus jolted to attention and Hermione flinched involuntarily, not at him, but the idea of him, as if he were the deed she had done, the very evidence of the suffering she'd caused.
She could see the pain through the shift in his posture and she collapsed against the wall behind her, one choking breath away from sobbing.
He came to her then, only when she asked, and she found herself clinging to him as he had done just moments before.
"It's not you, Severus… I just… I need to know… And you… You know…"
"It's… It's… It's bad."
"Yes." She could feel the restraint in his touch, the desperate need to keep her there with him, but the self-disgust she'd brought back not allowing him to do it. She gripped him tighter, trying to tell him how much she needed him, wanted him, no matter what he told her.
He froze, and she waited, unsure what was causing the withdrawal. She pulled back to look at his face, and he still didn't move for a long moment. He looked at her then, as if he was seeing her for the first time.
"You… You did it for me."
"What did I do?" Barely a whisper for fear she would disrupt the glassy look in his eyes that seemed to mean he had disappeared into the depths of whatever he was about to tell her.
"The Dark Lord intended for Draco to kill Albus. Albus manipulated, as he always did, driving me to do it instead. How did you know? You must have known. To mark me as your mate so that she… She wouldn't stand by and let it happen, I don't understand why not, I don't, Hermione, but… She took over, and she protected you when she did it, this alter-ego of you, the raw Gryffindor lioness just overwhelmed you and she locked you away to spare you from ever knowing." It seemed as if this was just as much a revelation to him as it was to her, his expression shifting with every observation. "I thought that you'd truly lost control. But she forced you away. She kept you from seeing, from knowing. In case it broke you." He blinked and stared straight at her.
"I can't be the one to break you, Hermione."
"It wasn't you."
"I know. I know. Just tell me. Tell me what I- What she did."
"She killed him."
"He wanted it, Hermione. He was dying. He wanted to have the easy way out, the painless way, whatever the cost. It was so fucking convenient for him; that the Dark Lord wanted him dead anyway. Draco could have killed him, I would have killed him. You, never. But she's an animal. She sensed something, everything, and she acted on it. To protect you, and… me…. And his plan was fulfilled. That's all he ever cared about. And he was always in the center of it, even in the end."
"He drove you to kill him. Everything he's ever done to you, these pasts months… God, brutal manipulation."
"Hermione." The idea that she cared more about him then herself in a situation such as this was not lost on him, but he refused to acknowledge it other then to redirect her attention.
"I… So I killed Professor Dumbledore?"
"She killed a perverse and maniacal firebrand."
She continued looking at his face but wasn't seeing him; she had tethered her eyes to him so that she could think, holding onto the curve of his nose with the absent thought that it might keep her from disappearing too far within herself again.
So Professor Dumbledore was dead. She had known what he'd asked of Severus, or rather manipulated out of him, and she remembered how desperate she'd been to preserve him, to keep his soul pure. Summoning the will to kill Dumbledore in cold blood was not something he could just do without permanent, crippling damage, and he had had enough of that already. And she'd had the idea, hadn't she? The thought that maybe, just maybe, some part of her could prevent it. And that part of her had been Nyota.
"What's happened now?"
"His plan was fulfilled. He got his controlled end, his free pass and his last masterful move, and now I'm Headmaster of Hogwarts."
Severus finally saw the expression he had been expecting to see upon the realization that her animagus had been responsible for her Headmaster's death; pure abhorrence.
He had not anticipated it to be in regards to his new position.
She pulled away from him, running a hand through her tangled hair before halting and grabbing him again.
"Severus!" Hands ran over his shirt, frantically looking, searching, and Severus gripped her wrists far too roughly, wrenching them off his person. A fistful of fabric remained between clenched fingers, pulling his shirt taut.
"What are -"
"I've just remembered I thought you smelled like blood."
His grip went slack and Hermione continued slowly, fingertips grazing over his every plane, until her hand slipped down to his thigh. She stopped, pulling back just enough to see the cold red blood that had wiped off on her skin.
He didn't move. He stood, stock still, the sound of water lapping in the background of the events unfolding. His breathing was rapid, the same rushing desperation for as many little breaths as he could fit in the space of a second as when he was wringing under the Cruciatus. Complete lack of control; nothing but each hitch of breath connecting him to the living.
He was silent, though. She could not even sense his distress except for the rise and fall of his chest and the locking of his joints.
He stopped breathing entirely when she unbuttoned his pants and slid them down.
His boxers were white silk stained with the blood of tortured children. He wanted to throw her on the bed and run, he was a fucking monster and she was on her knees in front of him, desperate to help him, moving as if he were a startled fawn; ever so slowly, gently.
She peeled the fabric from his thigh, and he waited.
He wasn't sure if she could really read them. Maybe all she needed to read was that one name and it would be enough.
"We've got to get you cleaned up."
Severus still didn't move.
"Severus, please. I've got to wash this off and put something on it so it doesn't scar."
He looked at her then, breath coming back to him in an angry burst. "No."
Before she could respond, he gripped her by the shoulder and hauled her to her feet. "No. No! I carved those names into my skin because I tortured them, Hermione. I tortured them! I want them to scar, I want their names to scar all over my fucking body because I don't deserve for them not to. I will never… never… suffer the way they've suffered, Hermione. But I'm damn well going to try."
"Severus! Stop! Just. Stop. This is not your fault. Don't you know that by now? You're doing everything, you're doing more then anyone else to stop this freaking war, and just look at you! It's obvious to me that you're suffering more then enough. You don't have to bear the weight of this, Severus. Please, please don't. We'll help them. We'll find a way to deceive him and keep everyone here safe. I won't let them suffer, and I won't let you suffer. We'll all just share the hurt enough to survive and then this will be over and we'll live. And we'll have enough scars just from that, Severus. You don't need to be giving yourself any more."
"I can't help them. I have to do this," he gestured to his thigh, "because if I don't, someone much worse will. The Carrows are already here. I'm doing everything I can to control them, but they're carnivorous. They will stop at nothing to devour every child here."
"We'll find a way, Severus." He didn't believe her, but he believed her resolve and her passion and the way he could see her mind whirring behind her eyes.
"I missed you." Severus traced the edge of her jaw with his fingertip, remembering how he'd memorized that face once before and set it like a marble goddess in his mind. It was nothing, nothing compared to her.
He leaned forward, catching her breath between parted lips, inhaling the scent of her as he burrowed his nose into hers. Their lips barely touched - that infuriating tickle of unfulfilled proximity. He surged into her, engulfing her mouth with a desperate gasp, grabbing fistfuls of her hair in both hands to pull her closer. Their foreheads met and he kissed her again, hooded eyes and heaving chests, but he kissed her like a gentle reminder and she kissed him like sealing a promise.
They pulled back, Hermione reaching up and rubbing the back of Severus' hand, threading her fingers through his and bringing it down from her hair to kiss it.
"Can we get cleaned up?"
He stepped back and pulled her off the wall, reaching one arm around to rub her shoulder. He inclined his head towards the bathroom, not taking his eyes off her.
As she walked ahead of him, Severus doffed his shirt, tossing it as he followed, hopping to take off each sock without losing momentum. He enveloped her from behind, nuzzling the hollow of her neck. He crossed his arms around her body to grab the hem of her shirt at each side, lifting it in a fluid motion over her head. He flicked it to the floor and Hermione turned towards him, balancing herself on his bicep as she removed her pants. They hit the floor with the beautiful jangle and rumple of belt buckles and abandoned fabric and Severus grabbed her by the thigh, picking her up so she could rest on his hips. Her heels dug into him and he held her with one arm while the other unfastened the clasp on her bra. "Lean back." His voice was a husky whisper, that of a man who had either just woken up or just fucked, and for Severus it felt like both.
He cradled her and discarded the bra, then pulled Hermione back to his chest. She clung to him as he stepped into the shower, squealing against his skin as the water started spraying.
They were both still in their underwear so Severus let her down, taking off his as she took off hers, tossing them ceremoniously over the curtain to the bathroom floor with a splat. Hermione giggled and Severus smiled at the brightness of her face and the pure giddiness in the sounds she made, and he wanted to absorb all of it, absorb every part of her into him forever.
Naked and lovely; so fucking pure. Severus thought he touched her and she stayed that way, and she touched him and he lost a little bit more of his sin every time.
The water had plastered hair to her face, so Severus tilted her chin back to brush it away from her eyes. His thumbs ran over her brows and down to her ears. He pressed a kiss to her cheekbone. His hands continued, five fingers on each side of her body, everything that he wanted to feel and remember and love.
His own skin was plastered with goosebumps from the contrast between the warmth of the water that cascaded in beads upon beads along her skin and the sharp cold chill of the air surrounding him. Hermione wrapped her hands around his hips and pulled him into the warmth with her.
She kissed his shoulder, hands running up and down his back. Over the scars and over the ribs and the bumps of his spine. He felt the curve of her hips and the soft skin under her arms and he traced a finger along her stomach up to the center of her chest and back down again.
Hermione's hand was on the back of his thigh, running up the side of his body until she had hooked her arm beneath his and grabbed a fistful of skin on his shoulder, pulling him down to her.
Severus responded, buckling down and enshrouding her with the entire length of every limb. Water cascaded down his jaw and fed to the precious hollow of her spine.
"Won't you stay and never leave me again?" Severus asked, imprinting the notion against her skin.
"Invariably." She responded, and he whispered it to her again and again like it was the greatest word he'd ever heard.
"Will you?" She gripped his chin and brought him to look at her, kissing the bumpy hook of his nose and the space between his brows, then sliding her hand to the back of his head to lower him down so that she could kiss the peak of his hairline. Severus had closed his eyes at her ministrations, feeling his sense of touch heighten as he closed off his sight. He let himself feel her lips, losing himself in the way her hands threaded through his hair. He opened his eyes like yanking the cord on a shutter and captured her attention with the immediate intensity.
"Invariably." He could feel his larynx strain with the weight of the word, spoken so low and powerfully that for a second it almost seemed like the water falling around them slowed in it's descent.
"Will you let me tend to you now?" She smirked at him, ready for a lighter mood.
He wrinkled his forehead and pouted. "There's no good synonym for 'never.'"
Her smirk broadened into a smile and he kissed it, tongue trailing over the shape of her happiness.
"I kid. Yes, you may 'tend to me' now." He backed to the edge of the tub, sliding down until he was seated with one leg bent and the other outstretched. He motioned for the water to turn off, and with a flick of his wrist opened the shower curtain. "For I am utterly helpless and require constant care."
"You're an insufferable bastard." She kicked his foot but couldn't control her smile, so she ducked out of the shower to rumble around in the medicine cabinet for supplies.
"Invariably." He propped his elbow up on the side of the tub so he could hid his own grin behind his hand.