The Great War was over, at least that's what everyone in both the magical and muggle world insisted on believing. Yet Azkaban was still working at full capacity under Prime Minister Kingsley's care and it was run so efficiently, that the muggles began modeling certain procedures in their prisons, minus the Dementors, to many a wardens' chagrin. Kingsley himself would rather have cast those foul creatures out with all the rest of Voldemort's rats that had abandoned ship upon his demise, but they still had a job to do. Out in the darkest places, the coldest of deep places, from subterranean caverns to the highest mountains' peak there lived enough obscene, unnatural things that would keep Harry, Ginny, and the other Aurorers busy for years. Making his obligatory rounds with the Warden, Kingsley shivered at the howls of fear, horror and abandonment. Each individual cell was now cursed with a spell that brought about total isolation, a never-ending darkness, that covered the space from the floor to the ceiling above that kept the prisoner with complete sensory deprivation as deep a blackness as Hades itself. The Dementors flew in and out of each cell, spreading nightmares, bleakness, and misery. The violence of memories, the hideousness of that which haunted the mind was not only brought to life but was also larger, more menacing, and more terrifying than anything imaginable.
Hermione Granger pushed up her sunglasses, again, all the while struggling to hold her cauldron, books and notes and trying to keep up with the completely exasperating man striding briskly ahead, his heels clicking furiously, robes billowing out as he called back with heavy sarcasm
"Do kindly keep up, Granger. Even Neville moved quicker than you."
Muttering about "a true gentleman would offer a lady help", she ground her teeth together so hard that she unintentionally made the persistent pounding in her head turn to a sharp stab.
Gasping for breath, she swayed for a moment until the pain passed into rhythm again. She'd woken with the intense migraine again, a fact she didn't want to think about right now for she was petrified that it meant what it did in the past.
"No…please no. I can't bear going through that again, this time all alone..."
She also didn't have time to brew a soother as, for the first time in her life, she'd slept through her alarm. She did not want to lose her apprenticeship with Snape. The fact of the matter was, she was fortunate that the grumpy, arrogant, stubborn, and thoroughly infuriating man ahead of her even allowed her to plead her case as to why she'd wanted to, not only return to her studies after Hogwarts was put to rights and classes resumed, but to become his apprentice upon graduation. She was exceptionally good at potions, even Snape was overheard saying it. Yet the man had looked positively dumbstruck at her request before demanding to know what she was up to and who else was behind this prank. It took her most persistent power of persuasion as well as a toe to toe shouting match, which caused her to break into giggles (and she thought she saw him genuinely smile) for him to accept that she was indeed in earnest.
As she hurried to try to keep up with the Professor- her bad leg gave way, and her papers dropped and spread all over the floor. "Bollocks…" she moaned, contemplating bending over and the agony in her skull that the action would bring.
"GRANGER!" his echoing bellow plowed through her thoughts and was the catalyst that finally knocked her to her knees. Swaying, she fought the sudden rise of nausea and excruciating pain stabbed behind her left eye as the world turned white, and she passed mercifully, briefly, into oblivion.
'Merlin be merciful, where was chit?' he thought.
Grumbling about females, whining, sniveling dolts the lot of them, he turned, retracing his route, footsteps ringing on the stone floor. Truthfully, he hadn't much experience with women, in fact he'd never had the patience for any female company…except Lily. And yet…he'd been flattered when Hermione had begged him incessantly about continuing her potions studies after the war, and insisted on being his apprentice of all things. The fact that her persistence had sent a warm tingle straight through his body had completely pissed him off. However, to be honest he couldn't help but begin to grudgingly admire the tenacious way she worked while trying to hold together a disastrous marriage with the lying, cheating, waste of a human being Weasley, and now a full two years after graduating from both school and the unhappy union, he found himself with an intelligent, lovely, incredible apprentice.
Truth be told, the more time they'd spent together alone the more holes she poked in the wall he'd put around himself and somehow, some way she had wriggled her way into his heart. While he genuinely liked her, he still refused to admit any deeper feelings, other than he did not find her company as annoying as that of most people, and that her keen, sharp mind was so incredibly refreshing compared to the imbeciles he was forced to daily teach.
Turning the corner where he'd last seen her and saw the tableau before him, he recognized true fear as it squeezed his heart. She lay sprawled on the cold stone floor, notes and other detritus surrounding her. She was unconscious, and so still, so very still. It was the motionlessness that brought his heart to his throat. In the early days of their partnership, she was always moving, and dancing to music, the volume set at appallingly loud levels, singing her heart out as she cataloged every new potion that was created, charming him completely against his will. At that time her marriage with Weasley was, at the time, very settled. They gave and took strength from one another. It wasn't long after, however, that little by little he was forced to bear witness as sadness and emptiness replaced the warm glow in Hermione's eyes, and she didn't dance anymore.
The first-time Snape noticed marks on her she had rolled up the sleeves of the baggy sweaters she wore. It was a glorious Indian Summer where the colors shown like fireworks and the temperatures were unseasonably warm, so she didn't wear the usual tee shirts underneath. He quietly walked to where she was sitting, cataloging his newest acquisitions, and bent over her left shoulder. What he saw took his breath away. She was thin to the point that he could visibly count the vertebra on her back. But most appalling were the bruises upon bruises all in different states of healing, and cigarette burns here and there on her arms.
That afternoon he caught Weasley in the corridor squeezing her arm and shouting so hard that spittle was hitting her tear-stricken face. The surrounding mob was chanting Ron's name rhythmically. Snape came down on the group like a bat out of hades. After grabbing the neck of Ron's robes and pulling him up onto his tiptoes, Snape told him what exactly what would happen to him should this happen again. Everyone, including Hermione, flinched at each threat that spewed from the Potions Master's mouth.
Reaching her, he quickly knelt and felt her limbs to see the extent of any injuries. The reason behind her collapse baffled him, there were no impediments to trip over, perhaps he was working her too hard. He remembered that several months back, there was that hideous domestic violence incident that landed Ron some time in Azkaban. Snape's blood still boiled whenever he remembered the practically pointless trial as compared to the many weeks Hermione spent in a wizard hospital in critical condition. As soon as he'd been summoned, he dropped everything to be by her side. He never once stopped to wonder why he cared so much for one small mud blood.
Softly he called her by name, gently tapping her cheek, trying to rouse her. She gave a faint moan, her head lolling toward the warm timbre of his voice and she tried to open her sleep swollen, hollow eyes but the light stabbed through making her cry out in pain and gingerly cup her head, moving her face away from the light. Snape cursed softly at the sight of the ugly bruises that ringed her neck. Merlin's beard! Why had she not told him Weasley had been coming around her again?
He removed the crooked sunglasses, and murmuring softly to calm her he effortlessly lifted her slight form into his arms. She was skin and bone, she must've lost at least a good ten to fifteen pounds over the last months' time, pounds she couldn't afford to lose. Damn it, where had his renowned observation skills been?
"Ronald Weasley", the name was a curse upon Snape's lips.
He had a few choice curses he'd like to employ on the young Master Weasel. Walking briskly, he carried his small burden with care, surprised at the way that her head fit perfectly between his chin and shoulder, a light brown curl tickling his cheek…and he caught himself enjoying the sensation entirely too much for his own good.
Hermione woke what felt like hours later, feeling much better. The migraine had disappeared, and she'd slept mercifully deep and nightmare free for the first time in years. Hesitantly, she opened her eyes and looked around, frowning at the unfamiliar décor. Where the hell was she? Sitting up, she cursed softly when the room spun. Damn, she couldn't remember the last time she'd eaten.
Ron had shown up at 5:00 am a few days prior to her collapse at Hogwarts. Drunker than usual, but no less dangerous, wearing a dirty sweater and jeans that might've fit him...ten years ago. Stinking of body odor and cheap sex his behavior and words were erratic, shouting first, then bursting into tears. He had a wild look about him, a strangeness that had followed him from the time he'd spent in Azkaban following his violent attack that had killed their son. what terrified Hermione the most, however, were the times he seemed to 'go away'. Slumping against a corner, a chair, any surface strong enough to hold his weight his eyes would glaze over and he would begin to mutter quietly as though talking with someone she couldn't see. It was during one of these spells that she took the opportunity to get closer to the door.
Hesitant to break his strange conduct, but needing desperately to be rid of him she said, "Um, Ron?" Realizing that her voice was shaking, she stood straighter and forced herself to remember the way she'd bossed him around in their youth.
She felt a sudden rush of emotion at the memory of their comradary when it was just the three of them; her, Harry and Ron against the evil that had defiled their world. She used the strength of those emotional memories now, as well as the Gryffindor courage to face her fears and defeat them now.
"Ronald Weasley, you need to leave right now! I will not tolerate this behavior! We are not getting back together, so save yourself this humiliation."
His head lowered and his long greasy hair covered most of his face, but with just the slightest turn of his head, his eyes looked up at her and they shone with the unholy light of pure madness.
The voice that came out of him was guttural and raw. "You're my wife, you stupid whore," he began to stalk her around her tiny kitchen, the words, stinging like hornets. Slapping her across the face, and nearly knocking her to her knees, he continued the verbal assault. "Slut. Who is he, who's the man you're fucking? Draco, or wait…is the little Mrs. involved to? A threesome sounds fun!"
Hermione, acting out of pure instinct, hauled off and punched him in the face. Blood and spittle flew onto her face causing her to briefly close her eyes, and that was a mistake. Ron back-handed her across the face, this time succeeding on knocking her to the floor.
Falling on his knees beside her, his big hands surrounded her neck he held her down with the weight of his big body,and she pulled, scratched, yanked ineffectually and she couldn't breathe...couldn't breath...couldn't...her last coherent thought was "I'm going to die today."
Then darkness descended and she knew no more. She woke hours later, sprawled on the kitchen floor, clothes torn and her panties were hanging on one foot, the sweet, sticky smell of sex in the air.
Curling into a fetal position, she wept.
Hermione wondered when she'd lost herself. The abuse produced the predictable shame. She was still called the "brightest witch of the age" and yet she'd endured a year and a half of physical, mental and emotional abuse from what was once the love of her life. She couldn't blame him, much. After the death of his brother in the War and all the savagery, Ron was never again the same. Muggle psychiatrists called it PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They had a good first year together before he took to drink, indiscriminate sex, and spousal abuse to fill the void left behind.
It was while they were on one of their infrequent girls shopping trip that Ginny first spotted the deep purple, green and sour yellow bruises. Hermione tried her best to explain it away as clumsiness, which no one believed for one second. Ron's family along with Harry and Ginny rallied around Hermione and attempted to get Ron help, but unfortunately, it only lasted a short time.
Eventually the siren song of his old habits called to him and he'd become sullen and secretive again staying out late, or not bothering to come home for weeks at a time. She put on a brave front, lying about what was keeping Ron from a family function, and making light of the fact he'd told her, in the presence of his work colleagues, that she needed to stop eating for a while because he worked for the Ministry, and it was unseemly to have a fat wife when ask to hob nob with the elite.
And she never told anyone that he'd asked her to meet him for a special Anniversary dinner, an expensive one too, as she found out. He'd reserved the finest table, a rare bottle of muggle wine and ordered their most costly dishes. She was to wait for him because he had to "stay late" at the ministry, but he'd join her shortly. She waited excitedly at this treat sipping the wine slowly to savor the privilege. She waited longer, picking at the food set before her, looking up every time the doors opened. She waited still, watching the other diners dwindle out and the wait staff cleaning. And she waited, all hope gone until the Maître de asked how the bill was to be paid. He did feel a pang of guilt at her stricken face as she counted out bills and desperately counted change, but…well it was payday, and he had some hot snatch to catch.
The night was still young for some of them.
Not knowing when she'd wake up, Severus decided to catch up on some of the newest ingredients and potions. He removed his cloak, shucked off his boots and tied his long, silky black hair into a low ponytail before settling with a sigh into his comfortable arm chair next to the fire to read the newest addition of Medicinal Potions and Concoctions. Hermione wanted to be a Mediwitch one day, so he was studying material along with her. He kept the door of his bedchamber open in case she needed him. Deeply engrossed in the material he was reading, he missed the slight moan and restless movements of Hermione, as she relived the same nightmare that cost her so much.
***This next part of the story contains references to marital rape and may not be suitable for all readers***
It was after one of Ron's benders, when he ended up in the Wizard hospital with several broken ribs from a fight with a couple of men who were 200 lbs. of sheer muscle, that he finally tottered home with kisses and promises to have changed for good.
"I'm through with it 'Mione, you have my word. I want you to realize how much you mean to me."
For a while all was at peace. Ron got a beginner job at the ministry, which was all his father could get him after all the shit he'd done. He was in a snit for a while, but soon settled in and it felt different, more like their first year. They had become intimate once again, and Hermione began watching her cycles carefully, things were so different now, she hoped for a special little miracle to make him see how much he stood to lose. Family was everything.
In the early days, just after the War ended, just after they'd wed, he'd told her that he didn't want children. "The world isn't a safe place 'Mione. Why bring an innocent baby knowing how it can be so, so evil?" It was a blow to Hermione, who craved a large family with many children and grandchildren. No amount of gentle hints from Mom Weasley would change his mind either.
"Leave it bloody well alone Ma. You have enough grandkids, what with Fleur and Ginny preggars all the time!'
The day she knew for sure, her excitement could scarcely be contained. She had some important news to tell him, news that would hopefully give him a reason and a desire to live again. He'd come home from his job at the Ministry of Magic in a jovial mood. He gave her a bouquet of roses and a kiss that reminded her of why she'd agreed to marry him in the first place. Her heart soared as she watched the young, handsome man she remembered give Crookshanks a pat and went whistling a merry tune to their room to change.
That night she fixed his favorite dinner and dessert, after the wonderful meal, when he was nice and relaxed she told him the news, waiting anxiously for his response and relief flooded through her when he kept smiling. That was her first mistake.
"What the 'ell did you just say?" His smile was still on his face, but the quiet, even tone of his voice wiped the look of glowing anticipation off her face and a heavy dread consumed her.
"I'm pregnant, and it's a boy." She smiled tremulously, hoping for a miracle…but it was dread that quickly overcame the excitement she felt upon coming home from the mediwitch.
She held out a photo of very small fetus moving around and a tiny small heart beating. She screamed when Ron exploded out of his chair, heaving the table over, shattering dirty dishes on the floor. Striking the picture from her hand, he viciously cracked the right side of her cheek with the back of his hand.
Crying out in pain, she fell to the floor, "Ron, stop! Please!".
He was out of control ranting and raving, blaming her for her disrespect of his wishes, calling her a stupid fucking whore, and shouting that he would get rid of the parasite in her belly. He hooked his foot behind her legs and she tumbled to the floor. He now had her where he wanted, he pulled off his belt and she knew what he had planned, but she never imagined the evil and hatred that lurked within him since the War, had finally been unleashed.
"Ron, no, no, no, no, NO!" The agony and indignity of the whipping was almost to much to bear, but it paled in comparison to the depravity within him.
Her pleading seemed to release the animal that he'd fought so hard to hold back, the bruises and blood sexually excite him. Straddling her, he tore her clothes apart and, looking at the wounds he'd already inflicted seemed to work him into an animalistic frenzy. Hermione pleaded with him to stop, tried to call her wand to her, but the scent of her fear only encouraged him. He yanked on her panties until they ripped, then drove the end of his wand into her, tearing delicate tissue until she bled. He laughed, a course sound without humor, then he mounted her bruised and beaten body and drove into her. Pain exploded everywhere. He grabbed at her breasts and leaned down to bite one nipple, then the other all the while savagely raping her.
Each mind has a threshold of what horror it can take before madness sets in. Hermione left herself and it felt as though she were watching this happening on the telly or in
a movie, not in reality. She felt a measure of pity looking at the girl, and thought she looked vaguely familiar, just as though if she concentrated long enough, a name would come to her, however the longer she focused the more pain she felt, so she floated away again.
When he was finished, he cleaned himself up, whistling a merry tune as though nothing happened, then left, shutting the door with a quiet finality. She was alone and in severe shock when the first flood of fluid and blood began to spill faster from between her legs. No one could hear her when she moaned in denial and grief. Her baby boy had been born…seven months too soon.
Call it fortune, or grace, Harry had the day off and decided to visit and have a chat. By the time he discovered her, she was nearly dead. Practically naked, clothes torn, crumpled on the floor, with a broken hip and arm with deep bruising on her belly, back and everywhere else and… a deep puddle of dark blood between her thighs. He disapparated her at once to Hogwarts and sent Hedwig at once to Hermione's OB Mediwitch. Her recovery was lengthy; the internal injuries were so extensive it took all of Madam Pomfrey's knowledge and magic to knit together blood vessels and to heal organs damaged during the rape.
A few months later she filed for divorce and it was granted. She used a small loan from Harry, ( She fully intended to repay him, but she knew he would refuse) and found a small, quaint cottage on the beach where she could continue to heal in the comfort of the waves and sea air. Her best friends Draco and his wife, Luna, stayed with her both for comfort, and care. For several days after she refused to eat, she merely rocked in the rocking chair near an open window, and would not speak. Out of increasing concern for their charge, Draco summoned Snape. He came by floo immediately. Shocked by her ashen skin and gaunt face, he did what he could to help tempt her appetite, and every evening he'd sit with her by her window and quietly read aloud. Poetry, the Classics, or the latest who-dun-it, gradually the deep, lovely timbre of his voice became her anchor to the real world.
Snape heard her stirring in his room and, pouring a cup of tea, he carried it in to her. She was sitting up, her knees drawn up and her face hidden, sobbing quietly. He put down the tea and sat on the edge of the bed, reaching out with a hesitant hand to touch her hair. Gently he pushed her curls back from her eyes and asked softly what was wrong and then was incredibly surprised when she fell into his arms.
Acting by sheer instinct he drew her onto his lap and held her tight as she cried her heart out surrounded by the arms of the man who'd once been public enemy number one.