What I Know You've Done
Warning: major Half-Blood Prince spoilers and author delusions
The night was freezing cold as Hermione Granger Apparated into a dimly-lit street, taking a moment to make sure she'd arrived in one piece. Apparition was still a relatively new skill to her, and it was made only more difficult by the hazy directions given to her by nothing more than a portrait, even if that portrait was of the greatest wizard of modern times, Albus Dumbledore.
Gathering her bearings and pulling her best friend's Invisibility Cloak more tightly around her, she walked cautiously up the narrow, cobblestone street, lit only by a few grimy lamps and a sliver of fickle moon.
Her heart beat in nervous anticipation of what she would find at her destination. Could the words of the deceased Headmaster, spoken through the portrait which had appeared in his office shortly after his death, be true?
The portrait slumbered until, following the Headmaster's funeral, Minerva McGonagall returned to the circular office to find him awake, waiting to bear an urgent message to anyone who would listen.
Red-eyed and pensive, the acting Headmistress came to Gryffindor Tower and bid Harry, Ron and Hermione follow her to the stone gargoyle. The former Headmaster asked to speak to Harry first, in private; even Professor McGonagall waited nervously outside. There was silence for many minutes, but then a shout of rage and defiance came from within. After some minutes more, the distraught young man stormed out, swearing the portrait to be hexed, cursed, Confunded, and inflicted with any number of other maladies.
McGonagall returned up to the office for a moment, bidding Hermione to wait behind, while Ron went after Harry to calm him down. Confused, Hermione sat on the cold, stone bench in the corridor a while longer, until the voice of the older woman called her up the stairs to the familiar office.
She wanted to believe what the Headmaster's portrait told her, she really did. McGonagall, sitting in an armchair by the fire while the student and former Headmaster conversed, said nothing, only sniffling occasionally and dabbing at her eyes as they filled with tears upon hearing the Headmaster's tale for the second time that night.
"I would not entrust this task to you if I believed it would place you in danger. You are the only one who can do this, Miss Granger," the old wizard said at the conclusion of his dark narrative. "You do understand that, do you not?"
"I..." she faltered. It felt like she was betraying Harry in even contemplating what the Headmaster was asking of her. Yet she wants to believe it was true, and if that were the case, and still she refused, she would be betraying them all. "Why me? Why not Professor McGonagall? She understands, doesn't she? She believes you."
"And you do not?" the old man asked her from his place on the wall.
"I want to," she whispered finally. "I never thought he could-"
"Which is why it must be you, dear," McGonagall said, coming up behind her and placing her cold, bony hands on Hermione's shoulders. "I didn't want to believe it myself, but until Albus showed up, I had no choice but to trust young Mr Potter."
"It's not that I don't trust Harry," she argued. "He was there… I just… maybe he only saw what he wanted to see… and you were there, too, and..." She trailed off uncertainly.
"I was, indeed, Miss Granger," the portrait confirmed, the smallest of twinkles returning to his eyes, though they remained sad and worried. "This has to be done quickly – tonight, if you can. We must resolve this matter, lest he believes the plan to have failed."
"Potter is too angry to listen right now," McGonagall added. "And after his recollections to the others of what took place four nights ago, no one will hear a word proclaiming the events occurred any other way. Even with Albus' explanation, they won't trust him again; a portrait can be cursed, and they will believe whatever Potter tells them."
"You must bring him back with you, Miss Granger," the Headmaster said gravely from within his frame.
She looked up, alarmed.
"Bring him back? Are you mad, sir? The whole wizarding world is out for his blood! He'll never make it past the gates alive-"
She stopped her tirade when McGonagall handed her a small, leather pouch.
"A Portkey," the Headmistress explained. "It will bring you directly to this office. I shall not leave, nor let any others enter, until you return."
Hermione stared at the brown pouch, her mind pouring over the details she'd been given, searching for any possible reason the plan wouldn't work, any way to relieve her of the duty to which she already felt bound.
"Even if I can convince him to return," she said quietly, "what chance will he have to justify his actions? Harry will kill him on sight."
"Not in this office, he won't," said McGonagall firmly, her jaw set in a hard line. "By my life, Mr Potter will listen and, Albus," she said, turning from Hermione to the portrait in the gold frame, "you will tell him everything this time."
"I will," said the Headmaster sadly. "Keeping Harry in the dark was my gravest mistake, and, alas, I did not have time to rectify it before the end. If only he could have found Severus before young Mr Malfoy found us..."
How different things might have been, Hermione thought in conclusion to the Headmaster's unfinished lament.
Here was a chance to change things, though. Her chance to try to make things right. Hesitating only a moment more, Hermione took a deep breath and said, "I'll do it."
The Headmaster's face broke into a sad yet hopeful smile.
"Thank you, Miss Granger," he whispered. "You have the potential to save everything."
Dumbledore then directed her to the location where she now stood, shivering in the mist that was rolling in from the unseen river behind her.
Many twists and turns of cobbled streets later, she came to a dead-end, the huge monolith of the chimney of an old, disused mill towering overhead in a shadowy bulk, just as the Headmaster had described.
She withdrew her wand from her sleeve, counting on the Headmaster's reassurance there would be no wards about the place, as she cautiously approached the last, run-down building on the street called Spinner's End.
Concentrating hard, she pointed her wand at the pitiful excuse for a house and cast the detection spell Professor McGonagall had taught her only minutes before, "Just in case he's not alone," the elderly witch had said.
The spell revealed the presence of only one person in the house, and Hermione fervently hoped it was the right one.
There was a dim light shining from the crack under the door and she approached it with caution, senses alert at the slightest movement, even the rustling of the leaves in the overgrown bed of weeds that may have once been a flower garden.
Ensuring the Invisibility Cloak was still properly in place, she stood to one side of the door and cracked it open just a fraction, holding her breath. When no reaction ensued from within, she pushed it further, and then further still, until she was able to slip inside.
Closing the door silently behind her, she thought she was alone in the room until a cough reached her ears. Casting her eyes about, she could just make out the form of a man occupying one of the two battered armchairs in the room, facing away from her.
The light from the single lantern suspended from the ceiling was too dim to make out the man's features and so, wary of a trap, Hermione raised her wand again and cast, "Expelliarmus," silently in her head.
The wand came flying into her grip from somewhere on the floor near the chair and, looking down at it, there was no mistaking to whom it belonged.
As she stared at the long, dark shaft in a mixture of relief and fear, a low voice said, "Get it over with, then."
She stowed the newly-acquired wand into her back pocket and, keeping a firm grip on her own, moved across the room to stand in front of him, though just out of his reach. Only then did she lower her hood, and pull the Invisibility Cloak from her shoulders.
He didn't acknowledge her immediately, merely stared straight ahead, unseeing, at the far wall of the room. His eyes, underlined by dark circles, were dull and bloodshot, and she glanced at the nearby table and the floor around his chair for an empty bottle of alcohol, but found none. His clothing seemed odd, too... dishevelled.
"I knew they'd send someone," he said. His voice was hoarse, though clear, and she dismissed the notion that he'd been drinking as he added, "I didn't think it would be you."
"I came of my own choice," she said quietly, unsure how to handle the man in front of her, so unlike the formidable wizard she'd been preparing herself to face. "I was told where to find you, but I'm not here to hurt you."
"Why, then?" he spat, and coughed harshly, grimacing as though the effort hurt him. "Why are you here? Didn't Potter tell you what I've done? Has he sent you to exact his revenge for him?"
"Harry told me what he saw," she said evenly, "and Professor Dumbledore told me what he knew."
For the first time since her arrival, his black eyes turned in her direction, narrow with disbelief.
"You lie," he said hoarsely.
She shook her head mutely.
The tiny action seemed to spark something in her former teacher, because he leapt to his feet, grabbing her and staying her wand hand with a bruising grip before she could make a move. He looked feral and terrifying in that moment, and Hermione wondered if she hadn't been mistaken after all, duped by the Confunded echo of a dead man.
"Don't lie to me!" he yelled. He was so near to her face she could feel his hot, angry breath on her skin, yet his body, pressed close against her own, seemed cold. "He didn't tell you anything! He's dead! Albus Dumbledore is dead!"
She stared at him, wide-eyed and frightened. As she stared, some strange emotion seemed to flicker across his face; something so completely foreign on his sharp, pale features that she couldn't even describe what it was.
He released her, half pushing her from him as he took two steps back and all but collapsed into the armchair.
"Dead," he said again, in a hollow voice.
It was as if speaking the truth aloud had reinforced it for him; reminded him of the terrible events of the past year or more, and the devastating conclusion four days ago that Hermione was only just beginning to understand.
"A portrait," she said quietly, terror leaving her to be replaced only with a deep sense of despair. "It appeared in his office right after-" she paused, drawing in a shaky breath, "-after he died, but it didn't speak until after his... after his funeral."
Again, he was silent, though Hermione thought she saw a tremor run through his thin body. It was strange, how frail he seemed when he wasn't towering over her. Dumbledore's words came back to her, how the former Head of Slytherin had begged to be freed from his task, begged Dumbledore to take his life before he was forced to take his mentor's.
He hadn't been freed, though. He'd been forced to do something so terrible, so reprehensible, so utterly repulsive... was it any wonder he looked so terrible now?
"How much did he tell you?" He coughed again, harshly, as Hermione sat gingerly on the edge of the couch.
"Everything," she whispered.
"Everything?" he echoed vacantly.
She took a deep breath and elaborated, "Why you joined... him, why you left, your friendship with Lily-" Snape made a strangled sound and leaned forwards, burying his head in his hands. "-your vow to protect Draco and what he was ordered to do, and his – Dumbledore's – plan for you to go through with it before Draco had a chance to succeed."
For the longest time, there was silence in the room. Hermione watched his hands clench into fists, tighter and tighter they gripped his hair, until she thought he would tear the dark strands out by the roots.
It was then she realised his shoulders were shaking and, against all reason, she rose from the couch to move towards him.
The single word, spoken thickly through the curtain of lank hair, stopped her short. "Don't what?"
"Don't come any closer."
She hesitated for only a moment before doing just that, stepping around the low coffee table and kneeling in front of him.
She sighed then, unsure of what to do.
"What do you want from me?" he said, the words muffled in his hands, which had released their death grip on his hair and moved again to cover his down-turned face.
"We want you to come back."
The words hung in the air and he finally raised his head again, his eyes more bloodshot than ever, though Hermione now understood why.
"Come back?" he repeated, and she thought she saw a spark of fear in his eyes.
"To Hogwarts," she said.
He snorted, startling her.
"Do you think I'm a fool?" he asked, a trace of his well-known sneer returning. "That I'd let you lure me back to the gates of Hogwarts, where Aurors have been given leave to cast the Killing Curse on sight?"
She shook her head and pulled the leather pouch from her pocket, placing it on the coffee table where Snape stared at it for a moment before realising its use.
"It will take us directly to the Headmaster's-" she faltered, reminding herself of reality, "-the Headmistress' office. Professor McGonagall gave her word she'd be the only one present."
"You lie," he said again, though a trace of uncertainty had worked its way into his voice.
"No," she said, staring directly into his eyes, willing him to see the truth. "You know I'm not lying."
She waited for the telltale prickling along her forehead, what Harry had described the previous year as the first sign of someone entering the mind. She felt nothing, though, and looked at him in confusion.
"I cannot do it without a wand," he said.
She bit her lip. Was it a trap? A ploy to regain his wand and, in doing so, hurt her, or Disapparate before she could convince him to leave via the Portkey...
There was only one way to find out. Dumbledore trusts him, ran through her mind as she reached behind her and withdrew his wand from her back pocket, holding it out to him, handle first.
He stared at it, then at her again.
"Put it away," he muttered, sitting back and closing his eyes.
"But, I..." she started to say, before she realised why he'd not taken it. Her gesture, her willingness to return it to him, had been a display of trust in itself; one that didn't justify him then delving into her mind, seeking further proof she was telling the truth. Who, but someone aware of the full story between he and Dumbledore, would trust him now?
She knew, and she did.
Hermione put the wand back in her pocket and stowed her own, too. Then she waited, deciding to let Snape make the next move. He knew she knew the truth; he knew she trusted him. The ball was in his court now; the decision to return to Hogwarts was his alone. She clasped her hands in her lap and stared down at them.
Strange, she thought, staring at the red streak in her left palm. She didn't recall cutting herself. She rubbed at it and it came off, slightly sticky. There was nothing beneath it on her hand.
She pulled Snape's wand from her pocket again, and brought the handle up close to her eyes in the low light. There was a smear along the length of the handle; almost dry, it was undoubtedly blood.
Her gaze moved to his wand hand, lying listlessly on the armrest. She couldn't see any evidence of an injury, though she couldn't see much at all. She raised her wand, murmured a charm to brighten the lantern hanging from the ceiling, and gasped at what it revealed.
No wonder his clothing had seemed dishevelled. The open frock coat was ripped, shreds of the material hanging loosely down his front. The shirt beneath, as black as the coat, was also torn, revealing the bloodied skin beneath.
"What happened?" she whispered, staring at the bloody mess in horror.
He opened his eyes and followed her gaze, almost as though he'd forgotten the wounds, painful as they undoubtedly must have been.
The single word came out as barely a whisper, and Hermione remembered Harry telling her how Buckbeak had turned on their former teacher. Hippogriff attacks, she knew, were fast, furious, and often deadly.
"That was four days ago," she countered in disbelief, as a horrible thought occurred to her. Had he returned here, to his childhood home, directly after fleeing Hogwarts on that terrible night? Had he been sitting here, alone, numb with shock and grief, for four days?
"Was it?" he said lifelessly, reaffirming her fears. The deadened look had returned to his eyes, the dark circles accentuated by the brightened overhead light.
It frightened her.
In all the times she had locked eyes with Severus Snape in the six years she'd known him, there had always been a fire burning in the deep, black depths. A spark of anger, hatred or derision she'd seen often; fear, once before; admiration or passion, never, but she didn't doubt he was capable of both, given the chance.
Now, though, they were unresponsive. Empty, black holes; faded and weary. He stared straight ahead, oblivious to her worry, and seemingly unaware of his danger.
Hermione reached out her hand to touch his own, finding it clammy, even in the coldness of the room. He didn't pull away, or even respond, and that unnerved her more, perhaps, than the sickly pallor of his skin.
"Let me help you," she said softly.
"Help?" he rasped, coughing again, the expression on his face painful as he did so. "I don't want help; I want to forget! I want to take it back, I want to change it, I want..." his voice broke and he whispered, "I just want to die."
"Don't say that," she whispered, her hand taking a tighter grip on his.
"Why? Is it any less true if I don't speak it aloud?"
She watched him helplessly. Coming here tonight, she'd expected anything from him; anger, outrage, defiance, violence, even stoic silence. She'd never expected to find such a broken replica of a seemingly unshakeable man.
He laughed suddenly; a harsh, maniacal sound that seemed to startle him as much as it did her.
"How ironic that the feared former Potions master of Hogwarts hasn't so much as a simple brew left to end his pathetic existence."
"Stop it!" she cried, releasing his hand and grabbing his shoulders instead, trying to shake some sense back into him. "Just stop it!"
He hissed as her fingers dug sharply into still-open wounds, and she drew back quickly, hating herself for causing him more pain.
"I'm sorry," she murmured. "I'm sorry... please, let me do something for them."
"Do what you will," he said, slumping down in his chair. "It will make no difference in the end."
Ignoring his despondent words, she steeled herself and reached forwards, pushing the tattered shreds of his frock coat aside. He seemed to have slipped back into his distant stupor again, and she worried at the fresh blood she could see, shining just a little in the gloomy room.
She pushed the coat down slightly off his shoulders, as well as she could with him slumped down in the chair as he was.
The shirt beneath was just as ruined; one, large gaping hole just below his collarbone displayed a wound that was still oozing blood, even so long after it had been inflicted.
"You should have had these seen to earlier," she murmured.
"By who?" he responded dully. "The Dark Lord praised me for my... my success... and sent me on my way. Who was I to stop myself bleeding to a welcome death?"
"Well, that's not going to happen now," she said firmly, reaching for the buttons of the shirt that were surprisingly still intact.
He endured her ministrations until she made to draw the ruined garment aside, at which he hissed in pain and knocked her hands away. The blood from the lesser wounds had dried, effectively attaching the garment to his chest. In pulling it away, she would only renew the bleeding.
"I'm sorry," she apologised. "I don't know any pain-killing charms."
"Potions are better," he murmured, "but as I have none of those, I think I'll have to do this myself."
She watched as he sat up a little and grasped each edge of the shirt. Gritting his teeth a little, he pulled them away, unable to contain the gasp of pain as the wounds beneath reopened.
Hermione cursed silently. She was no mediwitch, and she wasn't prepared for this.
"Where's the kitchen, or the bathroom?" she asked quickly. "I need something to stop the bleeding."
"Charm," he said hoarsely, leaning back in the chair with a pained look on his face. "Vulnus sanare."
"I don't know the wand movement," she said, unable to tear her eyes from the blood oozing slowly from the wounds. Some of them looked very deep, and she winced, recalling the hippogriffs razor-sharp claws.
"Just point it," he said weakly.
She hesitated a moment, but then, realising there was no other option, withdrew her wand and pointed it at one of the smaller cuts on his shoulder.
Taking a deep breath, she intoned, "Vulnus sanare."
A brief, white light shot out of her wandtip and seemed to be absorbed into the wound. The cut closed up, though a raised scab still remained. Still, it was better than before.
Heartened, she set about trying to heal the deeper wounds, the ones that were still bleeding. None of them healed completely, obviously owing to her lack of experience with both the charm and the wand movement, but it would suffice until they could return to Hogwarts, and the care of a proper mediwitch... if he consented to return.
Pushing that thought aside, she cast a more familiar charm, a cleansing charm, to rid his chest of the dried blood. The skin revealed was pale... too pale, and it was no wonder, she realised; four days with open wounds... the shirt he'd pulled aside had been caked with blood. It was a wonder he hadn't bled to death.
She looked up at his face.
His head was back and his eyes were closed, his thin lips almost translucent in their pallor. She could hear him breathing in the stillness of the room, but it sounded laboured, forced.
"Sir?" she said urgently. "Pr- Sir?"
It felt strange calling him 'sir' in such a situation, as did the thought of saying 'Snape' to his face, and 'Professor' wasn't exactly accurate any longer. Maybe he would react if she said...
"Severus?" she said hesitantly. "Are you still with me?"
There was a pause and a series of breaths, then, "I didn't want this," he said hollowly, his eyes open again and staring blankly at the ceiling.
He seemed to be in shock. It wasn't surprising with the trauma he'd been through, both physical and emotional. She had to convince him to return to Hogwarts, and the sooner, the better.
"I would have done anything he asked of me..." he went on bleakly, "but this..."
"But you did it," she urged, trying to keep him talking, "even though you could hardly bring yourself to contemplate it. When there was no other way, you did the bravest, most courageous thing possible in going through with it."
"Courageous," he snorted softly, disgust twisting his features. "Potter called me a coward."
She grasped his hand again, wringing it between her own in a desperate attempt to get through to him.
"He doesn't understand," she said, "which is why you need to go back. He needs to know the truth; they all do... and they don't just need to hear it from Professor Dumbledore's portrait. You need to be there, too."
"You think it's going to make it better, going back and explaining myself to people who don't want to listen?" he countered, lowering his head to meet her eyes. "You think it's going to justify what I've done?"
"What you've done?" Hermione returned. "You had no choice in the matter."
"Is that how it appears to you?" he asked. "There is always a choice. I had the choice to die. Instead, I murdered my mentor, my friend, the only person the Dark Lord ever feared, the only person who was ever willing to give me a second chance at life..." His eyes were strangely bright all of a sudden, and he turned his face from her, his gaze fixed on the book-filled wall across the room.
"Well, here's what I know you've done," she said softly. "You've made a sacrifice greater than any of us can even comprehend. You've done what was asked of you – the most terrible thing imaginable – to save Draco from a terrible fate, cement your own position as a spy, and give the rest of us a chance to win this war."
His looked briefly in her direction and she continued. "If they all knew; if they all understood the whole story, they'd agree with what you've done, too."
His eyes met hers again, and this time he held her gaze. She looked back at him, willing him to see the sincerity and compassion she felt. She knew it would be hard for him to return to Hogwarts, and knowing the hatred that existed there for him only made it harder still. Then there was the prospect of having to confront Albus Dumbledore again, who, even in portrait form, would only serve to remind him of what he'd done, dredging up the same insecurities he'd already voiced to her tonight.
"You honestly believe what the Headmaster's portrait told you?" he asked at length, uncertainty foreign in his eyes.
"I do," she said firmly. "Would I be here otherwise?"
His lips turned up just slightly, though it could have been another grimace of pain.
"It occurs to me to wonder why he sent you, of all people."
"He tried talking to Harry," she said honestly, "but he wouldn't listen yet. He accused the portrait of being hexed, somehow. I was more willing to listen."
"It is possible, you know, that the portrait had been tampered with," he replied, and she shook her head.
"It did cross my mind that I could be walking into a trap," she admitted. "But I knew he was right the moment I entered the house."
The statement earned her a quizzical look, and she elaborated, "You'd never let your guard down unless you truly wanted to die... if I was anyone else, tonight I could have just walked in and killed you."
He was silent, and it occurred to her that maybe it was what he had been hoping for.
"They will understand," she said. "It may take some time, but they will... I did."
"That's a start, I suppose," he replied, the ghost of a sad smile flitting across his face.
"You'll come back, then?" she asked hopefully.
He eyed the leather pouch still sitting on the coffee table and looked around the room once before his gaze came back to rest on her.
She gave him a smile then, a true smile, and although he didn't return it, there was a spark in his eyes again; a spark of hope.
She stood up and offered him her hand.
He looked at it almost in disbelief for a moment, before shaking himself slightly and grasping it, allowing her to help him up from the low armchair.
She withdrew his wand from her pocket again, and offered it to him. He took it this time, wiping the drying blood from the handle on the hanging corner of his shirt.
He looked down at the remains of his once immaculate garments and frowned, muttering a complicated charm Hermione didn't recognise.
It was obviously a useful one, though, because although it didn't return the coat and shirt to their original condition, they were repaired and buttoned to a respectable level.
He handed his wand back to her, then, and she stared at him, confused. He pressed it into her hand, though, forcing her to take it.
"Just in case," he murmured, picking up the leather pouch.
She reached out to touch it, too, but he held it back for a moment.
"Thank you, Hermione," he said gravely. "I... you have..." He sighed. "Just, thank you."
"And thank you," she replied honestly. "For so much."
He held out the Portkey and, placing her own hand on it, too, she touched it with her wand, saying, "Portus."
Together, they returned to Hogwarts.
A/N: This is just an implausible little one-shot, written shortly after finishing Half-Blood Prince. I refuse to believe Snape is truly evil, and will happily bounce around my padded cell until the day Book 7 proves me wrong. Also, if the SS Prudence and Potions is a-sinking, I'm a-going down with the ship.
Mostly inappropriate lyrics from which the title sprung:
Help! You know I've got to tell someone
Tell them what I know you've doneI fear you, but spoken fears can come true
It's not what it seems, not what you thinkNo, I must be dreaming
- "I Must Be Dreaming" Evanescence