Midnight Swimmer, Midnight Sea

Summary: When hate is all that is left for one to feel, why should one not choose emptiness? As the forces of good and evil continue to clash, Hermione joins Severus' journey in his search for reconciliation as he becomes caught in the heart of the storm.

Disclaimer: All familiar characters and settings that take place in the Harry Potter universe belong to J.K. Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc.

Author's Note:

After writing three SS/HG stories, 'Midnight Swimmer, Midnight Sea' is a departure from them. It is a WIP slated to be novel-length. I don't know what direction the story will be, (Severus and Hermione are too unpredictable) and I don't know if I have a lot of time to write this, but the idea wriggles in my mind, refusing to be ignored. Also, please understand and tolerate any mistakes I may have that contradict details in the canon, especially those of Book 5. I've only read OoTP once so far.

That said, ten points to the one who knows where the title comes from, with a chocolate frog and Severus thrown in. Oh, wait, he claims no one owns him. He's just created by a lady, is all.

Dang.

~***~

"Is it true what the old man had said, that everything evil begins with a forgotten longing?"

"No, it begins even earlier, with a disappointed hope." ~ contributed by Jochen Staerk

Chapter 1

"What sir?" Severus asked, with not a single trace of emotion betraying him. Inwardly, he screamed at the wizard opposite him.

Dumbledore answered, as cautious as the young student was. "I have decided not to expel any one of them Severus. Remus is not at fault. He was not aware of Sirius' intention of luring you to him. It was very unwise and reckless on Sirius' part. I can assure you we gave Sirius a sound lecture and he is filled with moroseness for what he's done."

"Was Black the only one who knew what was happening?" The incredulity slipped out of Severus' tongue acidly.

"He swears that the idea was his. James was not informed until it was too late. He strongly advised Sirius to tell him everything when Sirius realised the seriousness of the situation and the possible dire consequences. James has acted admirably throughout and does not deserve to be punished, much less expelled."

"I see." Severus wondered why he still clung to the expectation that anyone would be on his side, when his parents had never been. He wanted to yell at all of them, at the merciless peers, at the blinded teachers, at the ignorant stranger, at the lofty gods and fight them all. However, this required considerable strength, and Severus was tired, drained of what determination he possessed when he saw that the Headmaster would not budge in his decision of protecting his students, his Gryffindor students. It was easier to obey. "Very well, they will not be expelled."

"I'm glad you understand." Dumbledore said.

Sometimes, Severus thought, Dumbledore knew diplomacy better than a Slytherin did. Then again, he had lived for more than a century. Only, diplomacy never impressed a true Slytherin, which he believed himself to be one. Granted, Slytherins were comfortable with manipulation in general. They prided in their skill even, but they certainly did not use it when the lie was so blatant for both sides to see. Severus considered Dumbledore's words as the worst kind of insult.

Something in him died. He could feel it, though he had no name for it.

"I have told James and Sirius to apologise to you in private."

"Not in the Hall for everyone to watch?" The disappointment in Severus' voice was palpable.

"The students will ask why they have been punished. That will lead to the exposure of Remus and his misfortune."

"That I know."

Dumbledore gave him a calculating look.

"A werewolf is dangerous creature to keep in school professor. Remus Lupin might not be expelled, but he should not stay here either."

"You must know, it is bad enough for one to be inflicted with a curse that is not his fault. Turning one away is nothing but an act of discrimination and ruins that person's future. Remus will not harm anyone."

"The werewolf in him will, happily in fact, if my experience with it counts."

The silence that followed was heavy to the extent that the all-powerful wizard soon looked strained under it.

"Severus, I understand that the ordeal you went through must have been traumatising…"

"Don't patronise me." Severus whispered in a tone of finality. It was done; he had renounced all faith that he had in Albus Dumbledore. The man whom he had always admired in secret had failed him.

For the first time in their discussion, Dumbledore went rigid and fear and sorrow flooded his eyes helplessly.

Severus noted this. So he was at least capable of hurting the Headmaster. Good.

"Severus…"

He stood up. "If that is all Headmaster… I trust you are a busy man."

"Yes, the matter is closed, but…"

"Then I shall not take more of your precious time. Good night professor."

Severus was absurdly glad that he was in control at the end of the conversation. He walked out of the office without turning back. What use would that melodramatic gesture produce?

He walked along the quiet corridors, uncaring of his lack of sleep or the cloaking darkness. He reached the Slytherin Tower and crept into the bedroom without disturbing his roommates who were lost in their dreamland. He did not wish to deal with inquisitive questions to which he was forbidden answer. He did not want the Slytherins to gloat over his horror and scorn at his foiled attempt of expelling Potter and his gang.

Severus sat on his bed, still dressed. Night, treacherous and deceiving, curled about him, giving the illusion that he was the only one in the whole world. All was silent. He sank into introspection.

Under the present circumstances, anyone would fall on the soft covers and bawl, thereby unleashing his or her anguish so that he or she would feel if not joyous, better the next day. Severus knew this, and he waited patiently for the shock to reside and the hysteria to overwhelm him. When his eyes remained obstinately dry, Severus found he was denied the right to wallow in self-pity as well. The hate in him built up steadily, and hardened, as the soil on his robes had dried to become dust.

A few hours ago, he had been tricked by Black whom he considered inferior in intelligence, been lured to the Whomping Willow, been coaxed like a toddler to follow Black's instructions, and been near-death or near-cursed by the werewolf syndrome in a single evening. He remembered the horror that had frozen his brain when he had seen a glimpse of the monster and how he had pissed himself. He remembered the humiliation of having had James Potter see him at his most vulnerable. Since his second year, he vowed not to cry again, after the cruel attachment the Gryffindors gave him, a bastardisation of his name.

Snivellus… the thought hissed in his mind. He had almost succumbed to weeping after the incident. Only his near-apoplexy overrode the impulse.

And then? Under such circumstances, a student who had just undergone a similar terror would have been soothed and fussed over by a guardian or adult. His Head of House had not extended that hand for him to hold, being one who promoted independence, and he had refused that of Dumbledore's. His parents were not to be informed, although it would not make a difference. He was not to say a word of the incident to anyone.

Severus was alone, left to lick his own wounds.

And the blackness of the Night continued to enclose him.

~***~

"Oh, Snivellus!"

Bastardisation…

Under the usual circumstances, Severus would have instinctively draw out his wand. As it was, they were in the Great Hall with the faculty within sights. He was relatively safe from physical abuse, if not verbal.

He sat tensely on the bench, waiting for the next blow. He was not totally defenceless. He was not going to accept their gleeful taunts and casual bullying. The events that occurred the night before still rankled. He was fully prepared to attack them back.

Potter, who had been the one to call him loud enough for him to hear but soft enough for it not to reach the professors' ears, leant forward and hissed, imitating the Slytherin's symbol and denouncing it. Severus knew his gaze was icy. He felt his eyes burning cold white.

Potter straightened his body, leaving Severus to see who were with him. Ah, the foursome. Potter, Black, Pettigrew and him. Lupin. What did it matter that that thing was now in human form, thin, frail, shaking and ashen in complexion? He was a werewolf that almost got him killed.

Potter sneered, "I never thought I would save your ass one day. Believe me, the experience was not my pleasure."

"May I say Potter, that for once, our feelings are mutual?" After years in school, Severus had a lot of practice and upon learning his gift of irony and sarcasm, used them to his advantage. They warded people off him. That, and his near sanguine attitude in the face of threats and mean hand in hexes.

All these did not work with Potter, who was equally deft with his wand. His Gryffindor countenance also prevented him from stepping down from any challenge. Points set aside, Potter had never liked him. Since the first day of school, he had seen Severus and condemned him, as Severus had observed him and concluded he was a snob.

Potter smirked, apparently taking the higher moral ground he felt he was entitled to, "But as much as one hates his enemy, he should save him when he can, right? Sirius was stupid to stoop to your level in this case. I mean, we all want each other expelled, but I don't want you dead."

Black snorted, "Yeah, I thought a little fright's sufficient for you to stop interfering with us. Forgot about," his gaze flew to where Dumbledore sat, "consequences." He turned back to Severus. "Sorry."

Severus realised this was about as much as he could get from Black without pushing matters too far. Besides, guilty as Potter and Black might be feeling, they remained unrepentant to the way they treated him.

"So kind. Apology accepted Black." Severus looked away, wanting to return to his breakfast and avoiding the Slytherins' surreptitious glances.

"Severus, I'm so sorry. I didn't know what Sirius wanted to do…"

Lupin. He had stepped forward and was standing so close to Severus that he could smell the werewolf reek on him. He could have felt sympathy for Lupin's plight. Lupin was also not as arrogant and pompous as the average Gryffindor. And he was at least competent in his studies. However, he committed the unforgivable sin of befriending Potter and Black. He did not include Pettigrew, who was like a non-entity when he chose to mingle with those two.

Lupin continued pleading with him. It would have been an unparalleled delight to see a Gryffindor cower in front of him but for the smell that brought forth memories of his encounter at the Whomping Willow in full detail.

"I'll have none to do with you, Lupin," he said in disdain.

"Please Severus, I'm terribly…"

"Out of my sight you freak."

At this, Lupin paled and Potter and Black shouted. Black sprung forward and drew out his wand, "What did you say you nasty little git?" His cry attracted everyone's attention.

Potter was simmering with impotent rage as well but he was the more levelheaded of the two. He pulled Black to him and whispered into his ear. Black cast another glance at the staff table and nodded. Putting his wand back, he glared at Severus before joining the rest at the Gryffindor table. Pettigrew was trying pitiably to comfort Lupin.

Severus understood. He would not be let off so easily for the insult he hurled at Lupin.

His hand unconsciously reached into his pocket and grasped his wand reassuringly.

He would be ready.

~***~

Hogsmeade outing was not Severus' favourite weekend. It usually meant trouble for him. Today was the same. Conversely, it was not as he expected.

[Your mother needs you. Come home at once.]

It was like jumping from the mud into the pit for Severus when he read the curt message written in the familiar scrawl of his father's handwriting. He would very much wish to refuse his father's missive and thought of all kinds of wild excuses not to obey.

Hence, he wondered bitterly what in all sanity had brought him walking to the edge of the Hogwarts ground with his Head of House after obtaining permission from the staff.

"I will meet you here at six in the evening. No later, is that understood Mr. Snape?"

Severus nodded and took the Portkey in the guise of a door-key. He felt a tug in his navel and closed his eyes, begging that he would be brought to somewhere else in mistake.

Anywhere…

He landed in the living room of the Snapes' household.

Not that it could be recognised as one. The Snapes were not a rich family like the Malfoys, nor were they influential in status in the wizarding world. At best, they could be called a respectable academic family, at worst, a humble family barely scrapping with what money they had.

Not dragged down by poverty, however, the Snapes were a particularly proud household, fiercely independent and determined. They took scrupulous care of their finances and hygiene. Although Severus was frequently jeered at for possessing the drabbest clothes and appearing as though he were suffering from acute malnutrition, he had been trained as a child to keep clean and learnt how best to use what scarce supplies they had in the kitchen.

The house itself, while small compared to mansions and palaces pure wizarding families inherited from their ancestors, was tidy. The reason why the living room was unrecognisable as one was not because it was messy, but because it was turned by the present head of the family into a laboratory.

Severus was assaulted from all sides by touches of his father's latest experiments. Bottles and vials of various shapes and translucent colours lined along the tables and shelves. Books stacked on one table showed signs of wear and tear. At a corner stood a cauldron bubbling ominously away.

The Casso potion, Severus thought.

Even in his childhood, his father had imparted knowledge and disciplined him extensively in the practical art of Potions. Though a keen passion for Potions ran in Severus' blood, he loathed it for the fact that he seemed to be following in his father's footsteps.

Severus sighed. So his mother was in one of her relapses again.

He stared at the cauldron when a man in his late thirties walked into the room. Tall and swathed in grey robes, his face was austere, belying the violent temper he had beneath him.

"Severus." Although the man was known not to smoke, his voice was that of a heavy smoker, rasp and grating to the ear.

"Yes sir," he said quickly, facing his father.

Acerus Snape was a brilliant Potions Master famed for his intelligence and creativity. His experiments often yielded results, unlike many of his counterparts. Breakthroughs in potions-making garnered him prestigious awards and recognitions for the welfare of the community. He was renowned too for having an aptitude for administration and policy and would have made a fine orator or member of the Ministry of Magic, if not for his sheer inclinations toward research and invention that drove him to keep to his house. As a result, one of the most notable profiles in the wizarding circles was also one of the poorest individuals. There were no such things as patents and copyrights in the wizarding world like in the Muggle one.

Towering over his son, Acerus was the figure of authority and commanded attention to whomever saw him. Severus tensed whenever he was in his presence.

"Your mother's in her room. Go." With that, he returned to his table, and began compiling his notes.

Brilliant as Acerus Snape was, he did not understand that a son might require more than orders and strictness. Sometimes, Severus wondered acrimoniously why he even bothered to marry, if Potions was all he cared about.

He had long ceased to expect anything else from the man sitting before him. It seemed that whoever he tried to get approval from inevitably failed him, one way or another.

Severus went to look for his mother.

Deliah Snape was once a great beauty, so Severus was told. Unfortunately, she had no dowry and marriage prospects were few. She agreed to marry his father and things… deteriorated for her since.

She was highly strung and her husband cold. It was an unsuitable union that lasted simply because separation was unheard of in the wizarding world. It was not that Acerus was unkind, but he was insensitive and scorned what he perceived as weakness in her.

For as far back as Severus' memory reached, they had quarrelled more frequently than they had engaged in a substantial conversation. How many times did he awake from his sleep, disturbed by muffled sounds of fights? How many times did he try to placate his father, hoping the latter would stop shouting at his wife for every mistake she did, however minute? How many times did he end up crouching in a corner sobbing, with no one to listen to him, his father too furious and his mother too scared?

As Severus crept toward the bed she was lying in, he was at least thankful that whatever row they had was over and he was confronted only with the task of accompanying his mother and not the upheaval he feared.

"Mother?" he whispered softly.

"Severus? Oh it's good of you to come. Your voice is so lovely. Come, speak. You will soothe me." His mother struggled from under the covers and stretched her arm out. Severus took her frail hand.

"Shall I read?" he asked dutifully.

"Yes, there's a book of Muggle poetry there. I stopped at page thirty, but please start at the beginning." His mother had discovered Muggle literature just before he was born and had fallen in love with it. It acted as a source of comfort and outlet for her anguish.

He took it and read from what was entitled Illiad by Homer. It was essentially an epic poem, a tale spanning through Greek mythology. There were battles, love, betrayals and intrigues throughout. Severus was caught up in it despite himself.

Soon, the potion her husband fed to the woman took effect. Together with Severus' steady reading, her tattered nerves calmed and she went to sleep, with a speckle of tears on her cheeks. And because he could not bear it, Severus kissed her forehead.

He continued reading until it was time for him to leave.

~***~

"Oy! Snape!"

Severus gritted his teeth and faced Potter, "Yes?"

The students had returned from Hogsmeade just as Severus was walking to the Hogwarts castle.

"We've been looking for you everywhere! Found a good hiding place eh? Thought you could escape us now that dinner's about to start?" Potter strode to him in unbelievable self-confidence, with his cronies behind him.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Severus said. He went on walking.

"Yeah? How about your insulting Remus here? Have you forgotten about that?"

Lupin spoke, "James, I don't really…"

"Nonsense, you have to stand up for yourself. You don't have to take that kind of cheek from this kind of git." It was clear Potter was in an unpleasant mood and was itching for a fight. Perhaps Lily Evans had rejected him again.

The thought caused Severus to smile. Now there was a girl who was not blind. Pity she was in Gryffindor, or he might have considered befriending her.

"What are you smiling at?" Potter demanded. By now, students were packing around in vulgar curiousity, speculating if Potter and he would duel.

Severus himself was in no mood to entertain. He was almost at the castle.

He heard Potter curse and then he found himself sprawled on the grass.

It was the first time he was involved in a Muggle fight. Obviously he did not handle it well. Potter, who was broader in built, punched and kicked him. He felt blood trickle down his lips and nose. He tasted it, and it was thick and sickening.

The students were laughing and hooting. Instead of calling for the professors, most were egging Potter on.

"This is for Remus! This is for Gryffindors! This is for me! This is for…" Potter yelled with each strike.

Why did everyone have friends to support him, including that skum Lupin and whimpering Pettigrew? Why did everyone dislike him? What of his problems? He had hidden wounds too. Why did no one see? Why did no one help?

Enough.

Bewilderment, resentment, hurt, disappointment boiled until all that was left was growing hatred and with it came unholy strength.

No one explained to him what happened after that. When he was conscious again, Severus found himself in the Hospital Wing. He only had superficial cuts and bruises. Rather, he was informed that Potter suffered internal injuries. Some bones were broken and he was under concussion. Potter had to stay for two weeks while Severus was discharged as soon as he woke.

Rumours circulated and by the end of the week, everyone avoided incurring "that slinky Slytherin's" wrath.

Severus was surprised he was capable of inflicting such damage. Snatches of memory of how he had roared and how Potter had flinched danced across his head. It thrilled him to think that for those brief moments, he was in control and he had been triumphant. Even the Slytherins viewed him with more than disinterest. Lucius Malfoy, a year his senior, upon hearing his exploits, roped him into his group of select members.

Still, with these significant changes, Severus was not at ease. He hated the students for their cowardice and he hated himself for being used.

After all that was said and done, he was still alone.

~***~

Time rolled on.

It rolled on for months.

Summer approached.

All the students were ready to go home with varying degrees of reluctance and anticipation. For Severus, it was with shades of anxiety and wistfulness, for reasons too complex and intertwined they gave him a headache.

He was among the last students to leave the school premises. The train was not leaving in two hours and he wanted to have some quiet moments before he went to a home where peace was wound tight and anger dormant. The prevailing sense of watchfulness.

Someone called him. He turned his head to see a blond youth leaning against the wall, emitting languid aristocracy and confidence.

"Come Severus," Lucius smiled indulgently.

"Where to?"

"You're going to join me for the holidays."

"What? But Lucius, don't be ridiculous. I…"

"Have you ever seen me ridiculous Severus, as you succinctly put it?"

"What of your family? Your father?"

"You will address him as Mr. Malfoy. Really, don't you learn social etiquette at home?"

"I'm trying." Severus grounded out.

Lucius waved his hand, "It doesn't matter. Anyway, my father knows of your coming. He was the one who asked me to bring you. Your parents have given their consent."

"You go too fast." Severus said hastily, "I had no idea of all these arrangements."

"Surprise then."

"I have no say in this? I can't back out?"

"Do you want to?"

"That's not the point."

"Coming to the Malfoy grounds is a rare honour, staying in it as a guest rarer. If you do not wish it…" Lucius shrugged, "It is your loss. You will miss a great opportunity."

"What would that be?"

"Will you come?"

"This sounds like a transaction, to which I'm at the disadvantageous end of not knowing anything."

"We're Slytherins."

Severus gave up. When Lucius wanted something done, chances were that he would have it. Besides, he was interested. He frowned, "My things…"

"They've been taken to my home. I must tell you, I never realised how scarce your belongings were."

"Not everyone's house is a palace with fifty rooms and twenty House-Elves Lucius."

The older boy considered this. "True." He said happily and smirked when Severus grimaced.

Severus wondered why the Malfoys would extend such hospitality to the son of a lowly academic researcher.

He found out on the day he arrived at the palace.

What a palace it was! On that very first day, he was left to his devices and explored the area.

Marble statues, oil paintings and portraits, golden floors, high walls, soft carpets, lush gardens, and the library! Oh, the library! The riches of the world.

Severus stared in rapture at the shelf-covered walls that reached to the top of the ceilings. The smell of books and solid wood was making him dazed.

Where to start? After pondering, he started climbing a nearby ladder.

"You will find the shelf on the opposite wall more to your taste I believe."

Severus paused and looked down.

A wizard cloaked in fine velvet stood four feet away from him. Severus surmised that he was his own father's age. Tall, his excessive leanness accentuated his height. His face was thin and his eyes piercing. His hair was short and black, neatly trimmed at the edges. He exuded vanity, but did not preen. There was class that reminded Severus of the Malfoys.

"Are you Lucius' relative?"

The man smiled, 'Merely a guest, like yourself. Come down, so that I may talk to you more easily.'

Severus cast a glance at the books before manners overtook him.

The wizard continued to smile when Severus walked to him and greeted him with a "Sir".

"Ah, you don't know who I am. You may call me Lord Voldemort." He studied Severus. What he saw evidently pleased him.

"I've been meaning to meet you Severus."

Severus was stunned, "You have?"

"I've been seeking the best witches and wizards to join my little organisation," Lord Voldemort went on, "You see, I think you understand what it's like to be treated less worthy than you actually are. These fools who do not appreciate the mind. Your father has been pushed to the sidelines and you, from what I hear from Malfoy Jr., are not getting the respect you deserve. What I'm planning to do, is to overturn the tide to a different direction. A New Order, if you like, one that is ruled by competent men."

"What does it mean?"

"A new world, whereby the constrictions we live in are abolished. We will raise the old magic the common fear to use. We will purify the wizarding community of all who are inferior. Those who stand in this process will fall under our joint efforts. We will rid the old system. There is no need to feel indebted to the present one. After all, why be grateful to a world when it has done nothing for you?"

Severus' heart began beating rapidly. It was what he always thought.

"And you want me to help?" he wondered at it. Where was this leading?

"I am perfectly keen on having you to join us. We need intelligence like yours for our goal to be achieved. Remember, this is the only time I offer a place for you. Regret if you refuse Lord Voldemort."

Although Severus harboured doubts as to the man's ambition, he was nonetheless sure of his unspoken decision. What else was there? He hated, hated everything he lived with. Severus was a naturally suspicious person. He had been used before and knew he was being used and would be used by Lord Voldemort. Yet he hungered for a change and the man facing him promised fulfillment.

"Very well."

Lord Voldemort's eyes glowed with narcissistic pride, confirming in Severus' mind that the older wizard did not care for him. "I knew you would. There is a meeting tonight. Be there."

The conversation thus ended, they walked together to the drawing room where the head of household was.

Mr. Malfoy shook Severus' hand, "I see you have met our other guest. I presume you could find your way around?"

Lord Voldemort said, "Severus was particularly taken to the library. I feared for my safety."

"I did not touch the books!" Severus protested, although he would have if Lord Voldemort had not entered the library.

"There was an unholy gleam in his eyes when he was there." The man winked at Severus.

This was he whom Severus pledged alliance with and who made him a full-fledged Death-Eater after his final year in Hogwarts. During the beginning, Severus submitted himself wholly to the Dark Lord's will. He tortured, he conducted experiments, he raped, and he participated in raids and bloodbaths… The victims did not affect him. He felt no remorse and did not mourn for their deaths. He hated them for existing. They deserved every pain he had felt in his entire life.

The years whirled past with him not completely aware of time, as though he had sunk into a bottomless hole whereby there was no escape if he so chose.

And then?

~***~

Twenty years later, Professor Severus Snape stood in his private chambers situated in Hogwarts, staring out his windows as the sun set with unseeing eyes. He recalled the events that led to his becoming a Death-Eater and his first step into Hell. He remembered the boy so full of hate he wanted all to suffer with him, or to be trampled beneath him, until the demons he had sought to exorcise in him came back to haunt him.

And Severus the man questioned himself, Where is that boy now?

~***~

Notes:

Casso: Latin for 'to bring to naught, destroy, annul, make void'.

Acerus: derivation from the Latin word acerbus for 'shrill, rigorous'.

Author's Note:

Thank you for reading.

For those who have read my other Severus Snape fanfic 'Turning Points in the Road', you may notice that it has some similarities with this chapter but that's all the two fics have in common. This chapter was longer than what I had expected though.

Hermione will be featured in the next chapter! So not to worry. Lots of SS/HG moments about.

It'll be supercalifragilisticexpialidocious if you review too!