Disclaimer: I own none of the Harry Potter characters – they and their world belong to JK Rowlings. This is purely for my own enjoyment, and hopefully for the enjoyment of others.
This fic is loosely based on the Marriage Law challenge on WIKTT (see my author's page for a link to WIKTT). I don't know that I will hit all of the challenge requirements, but I will do what I can with this rabid plot bunny that's been nipping at my ankles. It will be a bit darker than my previous multi-chaptered fictions – includes character death and descriptions of abuse. Additional warnings may be required in subsequent chapters.Cloak of Courage
Jagged bolts of lightning flashed across the sky in the distance. A storm was coming.
Black robes fluttered as a figure ran. Another figure, smaller, sensed the hunter and sped its pace slightly. As the pursuer came closer, the smaller figure suddenly stopped, head held high, and turned to face the other.
"You can't stop me. My decision is made," the smaller figure said in a calm, steady voice. Young. Feminine. In pain.
The black-robed man stopped, and said one word. "Come." Seeing her hesitation, he sneered. "You think you can escape me? Don't worry," he said, looking away for a moment into the dark trees. "If this is the path you feel you must take… I will not keep you from it. But first, you will hear me."
The small figure threw back her hood and stared at the man in front of her, her unruly curls blowing in the rising wind. "Why… why would you care?"
He also threw back his hood and looked at her through black eyes, his own limp, greasy hair blowing only faintly in the wind. "Come, child."
"I'm not a child," she said, tears forming in her eyes. "That's the problem."
He nodded slowly, acceding the point. "How perceptive of you. Come." He held out his hand. "Please." The novelty of his plea worked as intended – surprised into obedience, she took a step closer to him and held out her hand tentatively.
"You will not stop me, when you've said what you wish to say?"
"That is correct. Now – follow me," he said, grasping her cold hand and leading her from the gates of Hogwarts.
"You will have your chance for questions, but not now. Kindly refrain from speaking until we reach our destination," he said, turning his black eyes to stare at her as they made their way across the grounds. He was relieved when she simply nodded silently. Pleased with her restraint, he offered, "We are simply going to where we can speak undisturbed. Where listening ears cannot pry."
After a few minutes of walking, they reached the wall of the castle. She looked at it, frowning, and he allowed a small smile to touch his lips as he waved his hand in front of the unbroken stone, murmuring an incantation under his breath. The wall melted into an archway, and they stepped through it. Minutes later, they sat in his office, staring silently at each other. He waited for her to break the silence first.
"Well, Professor," she said, voice still steady. "What did you wish to tell me?"
"A story, Miss Granger," he said, gazing at her over steepled fingers. "Simply… a story. But first… I have some questions of my own."
"You truly think you can exact your revenge. Against fully-trained Death Eaters?" He continued to look at her over his steepled fingers, and she returned his gaze levelly. "That was a question, Miss Granger."
"No. Not right now… no, I don't," she answered.
"Then, may I ask, where were you heading?"
She didn't answer, but was unable to continue holding his gaze. He lowered his hands to the desk and leaned forward. "Miss Granger. Hermione. I will ask one more time before administering Veritaserum." She looked at him in shock and opened her mouth. "I am well aware of what you are about to say. Save your breath. The Headmaster knows, and has given me complete freedom to do what I must." She stared at him, eyes widening, and he smirked. "Yes. It's a bit… disconcerting, no?"
"Why do you think, Miss Granger?" he said condescendingly, keeping his eyes on hers until she fidgeted. "Now, I believe you were about to tell me your destination this evening." He watched with approval as she got herself under control and met his gaze boldly.
"Ah," he said, and then sighed. "And where did you plan to find this… knowledge… that you seek?" Again, she fidgeted in the silence. He slammed a hand down on his desk, startling her. "I am awaiting an answer, Miss Granger!" Her mouth opened silently and then closed again and he sat back, drawing in a deep breath. "I am quite comfortable here, Miss Granger. I assure you I will not be pleased if you force me to leave my chair and retrieve the vial of serum." He smirked slightly. "It may prompt me to ask more… personal… questions than you'd like." Ah, that mark hit home, he thought with satisfaction as a panicked, feral look came into her eyes.
"I- all right. A… friend… offered to teach me some… things… that I could use-"
"A friend," he echoed dispassionately. She nodded. Picking up a quill from his desk, he idly twirled it in his long fingers. In a conversational tone, he said, "You are aware, Miss Granger, that Viktor Krum is a Death Eater?" She didn't answer, her eyes fixed on the quill dancing between his fingers. He stopped the movement, and her eyes flicked up to his. "Again, I am awaiting an answer."
"Yes," she said, averting her eyes from his gaze.
"And you are aware that he, without a doubt, is only hoping to use you as a weapon to remove members of Voldemort's circle who stand above him? Thus bringing his own position higher?" He paused for a moment to allow his statements to sink in. "Miss Granger!" he bellowed, again making the young woman seated before him jump.
"Y-yes," she stammered, and then continued in a steadier voice as she straightened her back, "I was aware of that... or I suspected it, at least. But as he intends to use me, so I can use him." Her eyes glinted coldly, and he felt a chill run through him at the sight. So young, so much pain, so… so like him, at that age. She had seen too much already. He barely heard her next words, muttered under her breath, "The only way to fight fire is with fire."
"That is perhaps the most asinine thing you've said here this evening, Miss Granger," he stated scathingly. She looked up at him in surprise. "Yes, even more asinine than seeking out a Death Eater to teach you the knowledge you feel you need to avenge your loved ones' deaths."
"It's… it's the best way. To fight the Dark Arts, I need to learn the Dark Arts," Hermione said, her voice not quite as solid as it once was.
"It will not do what you intend it to do. There is a reason these things are forbidden. A reason why they are not taught at Hogwarts," he said harshly. "I learned that…" He gave her a humorless smile before continuing, "…as they say, the difficult way, Miss Granger." He gazed at the desk, lost in thought.
"Um… Professor?" her small voice dragged him from his reverie, and he blinked. When the silence became deafening, she spoke – as he knew she would. "What… what happened? Why-" she stopped, swallowing hard, and then visibly gathered her courage around her like a cloak and asked, "Why did you turn to the Death Eaters? Why did you become one of them?"
He stared at her in silence before standing and turning his back to her. "For much the same reason you are about to, Miss Granger."
"But… I'm not-"
"Aren't you?" he said savagely, turning back around to face her. Her eyes went wide, and she trembled in the face of his fury. He breathed deeply for a moment, calming himself. "Miss Granger. There is no such thing as dabbling in the Dark Arts. They are… more seductive than you realize. You - yes, Miss Granger, even you," he said with a small smile, "will be… pulled in." He returned to his seat and gazed down at his hands. Almost to himself, he said, "Each step seems but a small one, until you have descended so far that that you can no longer see the light for the depth of the pit you are in. And then… only then… do you realize what you have done.
"And what it will cost you to try to climb back out." He closed his eyes. "Not many are willing to risk… not many are able to climb back out, Miss Granger."
She was silent, staring at him as she attempted to stop the trembling in her hands by folding them in her lap. "Is that why Viktor… why he became a Death Eater?" she asked, her voice hoarse. "He was always curious about the Dark Arts… maybe he became too involved…"
He opened his eyes and looked at her. "Perhaps. I cannot speak for Mr. Krum. There was most likely a large amount of family pressure as well."
"His father." It was statement, not question. Realizing this, he simply nodded in response. "Oh, Gods," she said, closing her eyes. He waited as she formed her next question. "Did… did you have family pressure, Professor?"
He let out a bark of humorless laughter. "Yes… not in the way you think, though. My reasons… were very similar to your own, Miss Granger. I wanted… needed... revenge. Revenge against someone whose knowledge of the Dark Arts far outreached my own. At the time."
"And so you sought out knowledge. To learn, so you could get your revenge," she said.
He nodded. "Correct." He flicked his gaze to his fingers as he ran the feathers of the quill across them. "You are not the only one to lose someone close to you, Miss Granger." Raising his eyes, he watched her reaction closely.
Tears sprang into her eyes, and she looked away. "I- my parents… and then.. then Ron, too… all because of this stupid law…" He watched as, with a great effort, she once again pulled her cloak of courage around her, the tears receding. He gave a small nod in silent approval. Her voice only wavered slightly as she asked, "You… you said it was family pressure, but not in the way I think. Sir… what was it?" Her voice continued in a whisper, "What drove you to the Dark Arts? To… to Voldemort?"
"What drove me to seek knowledge from a person I held as a friend?" he asked pointedly. She looked away, and he sighed. "I will tell you, Miss Granger. But I will have your oath – your wand-oath-" he nodded as she looked up in surprise, and continued, "that what I am about to say… you will not discuss it with anyone other than myself or Professor Dumbledore, in any fashion." She nodded and he gestured impatiently for her to withdraw her wand. Hand trembling faintly, she spoke the incantation and oath. They both watched as her wand glowed blue for a moment before fading.
"My home life was not… ideal. As I'm sure you heard from Potter." At this, he paused and gave her a pointed look, recalling the memories that had streamed from his mind during one particular Occlumency lesson with Potter two years ago. She kept her eyes on his, the innocent mask slipping only slightly. He nodded grimly. "As I thought. My father was… an evil man. My mother was weak. He preyed on that, and I… I was caught in the crossfire." He paused again, and she waited patiently. "My mother was… a good person. I said she was weak, but the truth is, she had no other option but to stay with him. She had no money of her own – my father married her for her name, which was respected among pureblooded wizards. The small amount of money she did bring into the marriage he drank away. As he did his own," he said bitterly, throwing down the quill. "We did not mind. When he was drinking… he was pleasant to be around. A true father, a good husband." He smiled slightly at her surprised look. "Indeed. My father was rather the exception to the rule. He was what is referred to as a good drunk. When he went without it… that is when the rages occurred."
He fixed her with a stare, and she didn't blink as he held her gaze. "I spent years, watching my mother go through the most appalling trials imaginable. Beatings, cursings, rapes… yes, Miss Granger… watching. My father thought it… educational. He would put me in a body bind and force me to watch as my mother was ravaged by the monster that was her husband. The monster that was my father.
"He taught me the beginning curses of the Dark Arts, encouraging me to… practice… on animals, insects, whatever I could find. I discovered early on that I did not quite have the taste for it, but as I gained in years I recognized it as a useful tool. A powerful tool. I studied as much as I could on my own, and my father encouraged it. He didn't realize I was studying it so that I could one day stand up to him, so that I could protect my mother and seek revenge on her behalf. Then…" He paused, and the young woman sitting in front of him did not move, her expression one of horror. "When I was home for the summer after my sixth year at Hogwarts, he performed one of his educational sessions in front of me. I objected, like a fool. I thought I was powerful enough, that I had finally learned enough. He taught me otherwise. The resulting… reprimand… caused me to black out for some time. When I awakened, the Dark Arts volumes were under lock and key, warded with spells from the very books they protected. I was young, foolish, overconfident… I had played my hand too early.
"When I returned to Hogwarts the following year, I sought out those who could help me. My friends, as I thought them… most of them had already graduated but remained in contact. I intended to use them for their knowledge… without realizing that, bit by bit, they were pulling me in. They told me of a group that would grant me my every desire, that would teach me those things that were forbidden, that would make me powerful enough to stand against the man I hated most in the world.
"Oh, they were a group of crackpots, I had no doubt. A cult, blindly following a singleminded fool. I realized that it would be folly to join them, to take the strong oaths that their leader required… but they had the knowledge I sought. I was… tempted, even then, to take what they offered.
"I didn't, however. I resisted my… friends'… advice. I continued to teach myself, reading whatever Dark texts I could get my hands on… biding my time. And then-" he bowed his head for a moment before continuing in a hollow voice "-I received word that my mother had died."
Complete silence reigned in the room for long moments. Finally, a tentative voice said, "Sir?"
He continued on as if there had been no pause. "I had my suspicions… it was listed as an accidental fall, but I didn't believe for a moment… I attended the funeral. It was winter, snowing… and when I was there I decided to practice some of what I had learned. After liberally dosing my father with alcohol so he was relaxed, I… probed his mind. For those who possess the gift, Legilimency does not require the use of a wand. Flashes of… hideous things came through the link. In the barrage of memories from his twisted consciousness, I saw my mother killed. By his hand.
"More cautious after my… education… the previous summer, I made a vow. I would learn everything I could, and avenge my mother's death. I would join the group, use them, wring all knowledge of the Dark Arts from them… and then return to my ancestral home and enact my revenge. My mother's murderer would pay.
"My father would pay."
He caught her eyes again, noting with satisfaction that her brown eyes were wavering, though he still saw the resolve in them. With an inward sigh, he continued.
"I returned to Hogwarts, giving no hint of my plans. I was warned… by Dumbledore himself… he suspected my intentions, I believe. He is dangerously perceptive. I put on a polite face, uttered the appropriate words, and completely ignored the warnings. I was certain I would not fall into the darkness that so many others did when practicing the Dark Arts, I was certain that I could use these fanatics for their knowledge and then extricate myself without much trouble. I was intelligent, more intelligent than almost any who had walked these halls in decades before me. I wasn't doing it for personal gain, I was doing it for love – I loved my mother, dearly, and her death had to be avenged." He gave her a wry smile, then. "I was a good person, and good people do not fall under the lure of the Dark Arts. Do they, Miss Granger?"
She didn't answer, just shook her head mutely.
"No? You are as much a fool as I was," he said reflectively. "Your parents are dead. Your… lover… is dead. You are so young, to have been through so much… as I was."
She looked down then, hiding her face. In a muffled voice, she said, "My friend. Not my lover." He raised an eyebrow, slightly surprised. As the silence grew too thick for her to bear, she raised her head and said, "One time does not a lover make, Professor. He was my friend, he was trying to…" a sob tore from her before she could continue "… to protect me. It… it happened the night before we sent in the marriage contract. And then…"
"The next night, he was dead," he finished gently. She looked up, perhaps surprised that he could speak gently to anyone, let alone her. He nodded slowly. "I am sorry, child… no, young woman, for what you have been through. But-" he leaned forward urgently "-this path you wish to follow… it will not bring you what you seek."
"How… how did it feel, Professor?" she met his eyes boldly and he sat back, cautious. "How did it feel to get your revenge?" Her eyes were once again full of resolve.
"For one glorious moment, like I had gained the world," he said hoarsely. Her eyes shone and she stood. "And then… hollowness. The Dark Arts… the spells, the cursings… they take more than you can understand. And they give nothing in return."
"Nothing? You got your revenge. You felt as if... as if you had gained the world," she said, confused. "I… I want that feeling. I need something… to fill this… this nothingness…" Her eyes swam with tears and she turned to leave the office.
Standing swiftly, he moved behind her and placed a hand on her shoulder. In a whisper, he said, "It didn't do what I really wanted, Miss Granger."
She looked back at him, tears spilling from her brown eyes. He looked into them openly, intensely. They stood, locked in each other's gaze, for long moments before he forced his dry throat to say, "I thought I wanted revenge. But that wasn't what I was really seeking. After my sacrifice, my fall into darkness… I realized, as I stood over his body, as the Unforgivable I had cast completed Voldemort's linking spell, causing the Dark Mark to burn brightly in my arm… I realized then.
"You can not bring back the dead."
Her wand fell from nerveless fingers as she collapsed, silent tears streaming down her cheeks. He caught her as she crumpled, sitting on the floor against the desk and pulling her into his lap. Her body began to shake with sobs and, as her tears stained the black robes covering his heart, he tightened his arms around her. Whispered quiet words to her. Comforted her.
As only someone who had been faced with the same decision could.
Pride mixed with relief prompted an uncharacteristic tenderness from him as he stroked her hair. It was a narrow miss… she had pulled back, forsaking the deceptively easy path. She had pulled her courage around her like a cloak, and taken the first step along the more arduous course.
"What will happen to me now, Professor?" she asked shakily through her tears, the words muffled against his chest.
"It will be well, Miss Granger. Hermione. It will be well," he murmured silkily, comfortingly. Long moments passed and she quieted against him, leaning bonelessly into his strength. He leaned his head back against the wood of the desk with a sigh. More long moments passed, and she slipped into sleep.
Cautiously, he stood with her in his arms, careful not to wake the exhausted young woman. Carrying her through his office to a hidden door, he whispered the password and the wall dissolved. He passed through it into his chambers, gently laying the young woman on his bed. He pulled the covers over her and, still sleeping, she snuggled into them as he watched silently.
Closing his eyes, he turned and walked to the fireplace in the adjoining room. A pinch of floo powder. "The Headmaster's Office," he commanded, kneeling in front of the fire and putting his head into the green flames.
Albus was waiting for him. "Severus?" he asked, his casual tone at odds with the tension in his features.
"She is asleep," he answered.
"Keep her under your eye, Severus," the Headmaster asked, his face still grave. Severus nodded. "And… have you decided-"
"Yes," Severus answered simply. "I will do it."
A/N: I hope you enjoyed the chapter, and that you are interested enough to read the next chapter posting. I will be working on Some Scars Never Fade at the same time as this fic, so the most I will promise is weekly updates. Some may occur more often than that, as the mood strikes me (or as the reviewers beg me ;) ). That said, please review and let me know what you think.