A/N: First of all, Chapter One has gone through a few (a very few) changes. It's not really necessary to re-read it, but it flows a bit smoother and a few bits have been added in. Not many bits, but still. Just…yeah. Anyway, here's the next installment of the story…and I have no clue where the hell it's going.
Second of all…there is no second of all. I'm just a buttmunch who can't think right now, or converse properly with a blank screen.
There was no noble cause for the beginning of actions that would spark yet another whole chain of events. It was simply that Severus Snape was very young, and very afraid, and had loved Lily Evans like a sister. So perhaps it was really only about vengeance. For isn't that actually how all tales of grandeur and high adventure and nobility (of blood or of heart is the only question) start? With a thirst for revenge; a search for something beyond the mundane 'We're sorry's'.
So it wasn't truly about love, or about honor; not really. It wasn't about the angels and devils on your shoulder and wondering how many could dance on the head of a pin. It was about one man's need for someone to say that he still had a chance, and that would be his retribution.
And one man, a great wizard with kind eyes and a fondness for things not so great, had understood this better than anyone else.
He'll kill me.
Three little words. They didn't produce quite as earth-shattering a revelation as when the three little words 'I love you' were spoken, but they were earth-shattering nonetheless. Those words marked the moment Draco Malfoy had realized that the Dark Lord was not, in fact, simply a very old man with red eyes and white skin and insane laughter and a magic stick which could be the source of much pain, but a Very Bad Man indeed.
Draco Malfoy didn't want to die. He didn't want his mother to die. He didn't want his father to die. He didn't want Snape to die. He didn't want Pansy to die. He didn't want Crabbe or Goyle Jr. to die. He didn't want anybody to die, really.
…Actually, he wouldn't really mind if Granger or Weasley (any of them) died, but not at his hands.
But…maybe not Potter.
And he was torn. If the Dark Lord won, Draco would certainly not complain. As a Death Eater, he'd most probably be treated to a nice life as a very favored lapdog, pampered and taken care of for the rest of his days—providing he was alive and whole and hadn't gotten on the Dark Lord's nerves by that time.
On the other hand…Draco wouldn't trivialize the Dark Lord with black humor. It was just that Draco didn't like pain. He didn't like the way he was forced to watch the other, seasoned Death Eaters torture and kill and laugh while they did it. He didn't like the way the Dark Lord punished those who made the slightest mistake.
Draco had made mistakes. One of them was not killing Dumbledore with his own hands.
It could have been mine! He wanted to scream, to wail like a little boy throwing a tantrum. That was my kill! But Snape had stepped in the second Draco had shown the slightest waver. (A gust of wind startled me, he had pleaded. It wasn't my fault.) (Men of the Service aren't startled. Crucio.)
And if Potter won, maybe Draco could…somehow…free himself from the Dark Lord's grip (because it was scary, these phantom claws digging into Draco's flesh, knowing that he had no choice, knowing that if the Dark Lord told him to kill himself he had to do it).
And where was Snape now? Where was the bastard? He had disappeared after dropping Draco off at the Malfoy Mansion, muttering something mysterious about 'Death Eater business'. Well, bullshit.
Narcissa had believed him.
Draco looked down at the quivering body in front of him as the small Muggle cottage burned in the background. "Crucio"
The Muggle's screams were cruelly accompanied by various shrieks of laughter from Draco's aunt, and as the man raised teary gray eyes to Draco's own, he saw his own reflection in the orbs and involuntarily took a step back.
Draco had gray eyes, too.
The man collapsed.
You aren't a killer, Draco.
Well, guess what, old man? You were wrong.
"No! Zese are not ze right flowers…I asked for ze roses, not ze, how do you say, chrysanthemums!"
Bill and Fleur had decided to marry each other on the campus of Hogwarts, although Fleur had at first pouted and protested until she saw exactly how beautiful the area was—far more so than the huge, drafty, pompous church she had originally decided on.
"Eet is an all-natural wedding," she had exclaimed happily. "We will 'ave beautiful flowers and simplicity, and I seenk Bill will be more com-for-table out here zen in zat church." She spat, conveniently forgetting that it had been she who had chosen that church as their wedding place. "Don't you seenk so, Bill?" She complacently asked her fiancée, who shrugged, still a little self-conscious about his appearance and wondering that Fleur still wanted to marry him.
"Anywhere is fine, as long as we are married."
"Ah, he is so sweet." Fleur had turned, beaming, to her audience of Ginny and Hermione, before demanding a confirmation. "Isn't he sweet?"
"He is my brother." Ginny had replied far too demurely to be earnest.
For now, though, Hermione was concentrating on stopping Fleur's infamous temper from unleashing itself upon the poor delivery-boy who, hypnotized by Fleur's eerie beauty, hadn't quite heard her orders properly.
"S-sorry, ma'am, so sorry…" the boy stuttered.
"Oh, don't be ridiculous, Fleur." Hermione stepped in, carefully pulling Fleur back and whispering into her ear until the woman's hair stopped flying about like rather scary imitations of Medusa's snakes and the unearthly glow in her eyes dissipated. "He's only a boy…and probably half in love with you, if the glazed look is any indication of his rather foggy mind."
"Yes." Fleur finally sighed after an inner struggle, running a hand down her dress with a faintly smug look in her eye. "Zese Veela powers are such a burden sometimes."
"Burden my freckled arse." Ginny muttered in Hermione's ear once Fleur had happily skipped away. "Look at her. She's positively thrilled that she can bring so many males to her feet at a single glance. Sometimes I wonder if Bill's making the right choice…"
Hermione said as calmly as possible, "She's going to marry your brother, Gin. He loves her, and you know that she loves him. She's just a bit…flirtatious."
"Even Ron is following his soon-to-be sister-in-law with ga-ga eyes." Ginny said in disgust. "It's absolutely revolting."
Hermione gave an involuntary wince, remembering one of the many reasons why she so disliked Fleur. "She can't help it, Ginny. It's the Veela blood in her—why, I read somewhere that Veelas have no more control over their allure than males have over their momentary attraction when—"
Ginny gave her a wry glance. "Try applying that theory to Ron and then come tell me what you think about Fleur's so called helplessness in the face of all her magical appeal." She motioned to the mentioned male, and both girls caught sight of the gangly boy carrying a mountain of decorations and positively swooning after Fleur in the process.
He's like a bleeding girl.
Fuming, Hermione followed Ginny all the way back outside.
It was a mere two days until the wedding, and Hermione fervently hoped that the fateful day would arrive soon. Two more days until Fleur and Bill left for their honeymoon and she didn't have to hear any more melodious laughter or see any more swishing silver hair or smell any more of Fleur's not-so-awful perfume. Two more days until Ron would realize that Fleur was off limits unless he cared to indulge in some sort of traitorous, soap opera style affair that Fleur probably wasn't even interested in participating in.
Ginny patted Hermione's shoulder in sympathy. "I know how you feel."
"Speak for yourself." She retorted gloomily. "Harry isn't near as affected by the glamour as Ron is."
"Well," bracingly, "maybe if we flung some sort of sheet over Fleur whenever she comes near, her Veela powers will be severely diminished? You're also the smartest witch in the entire school, Hermione. Surely you can invent some sort of anti-Fleur charm? Fleur-be-gone? You could win galleons and galleons and enough prizes to fill an entire vault!"
Hermione snickered, before saying mock-ominously, "It might take all the power of a potion to do that, Ginny. A measly charm might not be enough…"
Their laughter echoed all the way down the hall, and Fleur stopped in annoyance when she heard it. "Zese girls will not learn when to be serious," she sniffed haughtily, before a small smile surfaced and she murmured softly to herself, "But eet is better that for now they are not, yes?"
Ten minutes later, in another secure room in the large castle, a conversation on a much more serious note was taking place.
So to speak.
"Potter." Snape muttered at Harry, inclining his head at a slight angle.
Harry tilted his head back and grinned cheekily up at the former professor. "Snape. I thought that the greasy hair was only mandatory when keeping up with your sour reputation, Professor—surely you have no need to leave your luscious locks unkempt and unwashed when in the company of us…we're all friends here, aren't we, Professor?"
"You mock me with that title, boy."
"Well, seeing as how we're on a much friendlier tone, let's say we talk about hair products and how exactly you manage to perfect that Greasy Bastard look. I happen to use—"
"Harry." Hermione decided that now was the opportune moment to step in before both of the egotistic males did something really drastic. "That's enough."
"Ah. Miss Granger." Snape's mouth curved up in an unpleasant sneer of disgust. "Shall I expect the company of the third member of your ménage a trois soon?"
"Right here, Snape." Ron replied cheerfully, slinking through the doorway with a grace unusual with his impressive height. "And never knew you had such a dirty little mind. Setting a very bad example for the children, ain't you?"
Snape's lip curled even more unpleasantly as he said silkily, "I doubt that all of you are here simply to gift me with your holy presence. May I ask what it is that you require?"
Harry abruptly sobered. "We are here to discuss your current position." He said, dangerously calm, and Hermione quickly sent a concerned look his way. "Do you have anything of use—information, artifacts…? I know that McGonagall is convinced that your state of mind is entirely too fragile to undergo an interrogation, but believe me, I have no qualms about interrogating you or using this." He held up a small vial of Veritaserum without ceremony, and Hermione let out a gasp. Snape simply raised an eyebrow, looking mildly impressed in spite of himself.
"I see you made a small trip through my private cabinets. Do you know how to properly administer that potion to someone without permanently destroying them? "
"You didn't seem too concerned about the results when you handed over a bottle to Umbridge."
"Harry, that's illegal!" Hermione whispered, weakly trying to take the flask out of Harry's grip. "Do you want to be arrested? Expelled?"
"Well, now there isn't anywhere to be expelled from, thanks to him, is there?" Harry retorted nastily, never moving his gaze from Snape's.
"Harry!" Hermione barked sharply again, steering her friend away as Ron carefully watched Snape's suddenly pained expression. "That's too far, and you know it."
"Too far? Nothing's too far anymore, Hermione. Yes, we heard his story and yes, I believe him but there are still questions to be answered." A slight shove, and Harry was again free, stalking up to Snape with a single-mindedness that…scared her a little.
And yes, sometimes she did miss the boy-Harry, or even the boy-man Harry. Because she didn't like this new man-Harry, even if it was supposed to be good for people to grow up. The hero always grew up at the end of the book; the difference was that he was happy, and he was whole, and he was better than he was before. But man-Harry wasn't…he wasn't exactly better. Nor was he worse. But he was different.
Man-Harry wasn't the boy-Harry that Hermione loved like a brother.
Ron moved to the side, casting Hermione a worried look. She shook her head at him, mouthing 'Ginny', and hoped that Harry wouldn't notice as Ron left the room. As it was, Harry was too busy measuring out precisely the right amounts of the serum into a bottlecap while Snape looked imperiously on.
He didn't display the slightest sign of fear, and Hermione wondered if maybe…maybe he had already told them everything. Just maybe Snape didn't have anything left to hide.
Everyone has secrets.
As it was, either Harry didn't ask the right questions before Ginny stormed in, or Snape was being honest when he said that he didn't have anything that could be of use to them that they didn't already know—or that other members of the Order didn't already know. And so they returned to wedding preparations with disgruntled sighs as Hermione tossed the vial of Veritaserum into the lake and regarded Harry with fire in her eyes, turning around and walking away without looking back.
"Just…leave it, Ginny. Just leave it."
"You're being stupid."
And then she walked away as well.
Harry could have asked what was wrong with him that the two most important girls (women?) in his life felt the sudden urge to walk away and leave him staring incredulously after them. Twice in less than one minute. Insane. Everybody was insane. So Snape had his story, and it was tested under Veritaserum and he was telling the truth. But what if he'd changed since then, huh? What if he'd changed?
Seventeen-year-old Snape—a rather scary thought—hadn't been that bad a bloke, considering. But what about thirty-something-year-old Snape? It had been a long time. Twenty years was a very long time.
Twenty years was a very long time.
Severus Snape watched Harry Potter kick at something by the lake and hop around, holding his foot in agony. It was a strange sensation, watching something happen but unable to hear it. Television on mute. He'd never liked the muggle device, anyway. Entertainment for those with little to no imagination. He scoffed, and sat back down on his bed.
They didn't trust him all that much.
Like he'd given them any reason to.
And he rolled up his sleeve, tracing his finger delicately along the tightly wound bandages that encased his left forearm.
It was night. Odd how these things were always done under the cover of night, as if the bright sunlight of day might be tainted if something awful was done then. Had anyone ever seen someone crying, weeping in the open, while the sky was blue and the sun shone on green grass and trees and the breeze rustled through flowers and held singing birds aloft? No. Crying was reserved solely for cloudy days and lonely nights and cold dungeon chambers.
It is a still, humid night. The sort of night where the minutest sound is heard (yet curiously muffled) because of the lack of moving air. The glint of sharp metal pressed against pale flesh with a quivering hand. Grinning black skull. Hideous/Beautiful. There is a terrifying artisan's touch to the tattoo.
In goes the blade.
Red is the blood.
Black and white and red and silver blend together as the man hacks and hacks and hacks around the mark that scars him for eternity. Out. Out. Get out. Out. Get out. With his muffled scream of pain, the mounds of flesh fall to the stone floor and he collapses against the walls, shaking and somehow managing to find his wand despite the agonizing pain.
Fires lick around the grotesque wound, burning the flesh and stopping the blood. Out. Get out. Hastily summoning bandages to wrap around his arm and he can't move his fingers but is it out? Is it gone?
The tattoo lies shredded to pieces on the floor and he suppresses the urge to vomit. Let it be gone. Please, it has to be gone. The bloody pieces fall to dust and he sighs wearily, looking at the massive gouge in his arm and realizing that he may never use the arm again. Too many nerves destroyed and burned and cut out.
But the tattoo goes deeper than that. He knows that within his arm, where he cannot reach, there is still a spark of dark magic. He doesn't have much time before the tattoo will return again, with more pain than ever. He's running out of time.
It's out for now. But not gone. Never gone.
Severus Snape felt the wound through the bandages and noted with despair that the flesh was healing. And once it was healed the tattoo would return. From time to time he felt a weak pain in his arm, a weak summons, but it wasn't strong enough yet. He'd have to resort to more drastic measures if he wished to be physically freed from the Dark Lord. Psychologically would be harder for the Dark Lord was a skilled Legilimens.
Severus would have to be a better one.
Look, Potter…you may not believe me now but you'll have to. You'll have to.
The whole of the fucking world rests in your hands. No pressure or anything. You just need to defeat the Big Bad, find true love, go through emotional turmoil, get physically injured at one point or another, and then go through the rest of your miserable life constantly bombarded by paparazzi and stalkers before ending up on a measly half-page spread article when you're sixty years old and nobody cares anymore.
Snape wasn't cynical. He was brutally honest.
Rarely do weddings go without a hitch.
Fleur's was an exception.
Was there anything Fleur couldn't do better? Hermione wondered, just a bit sadly, as she watched Fleur proceed down the aisle towards an obviously ecstatic Bill. Because…Fleur was so beautiful. And she was charming, and she knew exactly the right things to say all the time. She never let a word escape from her mouth that wasn't carefully contrived to exact specific emotions in the person she was conversing with. And she had such a nice laugh—Bill wouldn't ever get sick of that laugh. Soft and high and gentle and knowing.
Hermione had a different laugh. Her laugh…well, it was sort of loud when she got carried away. And then she couldn't stop, and when she laughed she tended to snort and wheeze a little.
But you're smarter, right? She asked herself. No, she wasn't. Maybe book-smart. But book-smart didn't tide you over after you left school. What about real-life-smart? She wasn't real-life-smart, because a real-life-smart person wouldn't be in love with her best friend and wouldn't have a walking target as her other best friend and wouldn't spend nights suffering like an insomniac, dwelling on all her imperfections of body and character.
She didn't really have a chance, surrounded by all these beauties with additional strength of character.
See Ginny? Fleur was a classic beauty, and Ginny was the…the loud, bright beauty with her red hair and blue eyes and long, slender limbs. She was witty (Hermione was only…smart). She had presence. She couldn't be ignored, ever, because she seemed to draw people around her like bees to their queen, and it wasn't because of Veela blood. And she was quick-tempered (but that made her more alluring), and she was outgoing (and people always liked outgoing people), and she had a loud, hearty, flirty laugh that was somehow intimate (not like Hermione's laugh, that made people sort of give her odd looks).
And then there was Lavender Brown, or Parvati Patil, or Padma Patil. Everybody knew the type. Giggly, flighty, sort of shallow. But goddesses when it came to gossip or fashion or beauty. They knew everything. They were the ones who somehow found out secrets because people felt the strangest urges to tell them despite their reputations for being the literal grapevines of the school. Maybe they were shallow, but no one seemed to mind, because they were interesting while being shallow. Hermione could easily talk about clothes and boys and gossip with them—yes, even enjoy it—but…it wasn't so fun when you didn't know all the gossip and when there were ugly gaps during which you could never get a word in edgewise because the others were far too close and you were only the afterthought.
She was an odd sort of mixture of a person, Hermione was.
Helping Fleur prepare for the wedding had brought about a whole new slew of insecurities, it seemed. Frowning to herself, Hermione mentally batted them away and concentrated on Fleur's radiant face and the love that so obviously emanated from it. In front of her, Mrs. Weasley sobbed openly into her handkerchief—the only indication that they were happy sobs was the older woman's huge smile.
Ron turned around and caught Hermione's eye.
And for once…for once her breath didn't hitch in her throat and the telltale blush didn't creep up and the butterflies…why, even the butterflies were gone.
He smiled at her. It was an adorably silly, sweet, completely Ron-ish smile that should have had Hermione flying without wings. It only evoked a sisterly (a sisterly, a little part of her cried out) urge to cuddle him. Cuddle him. Instead of wanting to jump up to the podium and smash a ring onto Ron's left ring finger and snog him and do all sorts of other unspeakable things with him, it made Hermione want to cuddle him.
What was wrong with her?
Ron must have seen something in her face because he frowned, opened his mouth, but returned to the celebrations when his mother jabbed her elbow into his side.
"Hermione?" Harry looked at her in concern, carefully keeping his voice down and wincing when Lupin sent a reproving glance his way. "What's wrong?"
Was she that obvious?
She shook her head sternly, emphatically looking at Fleur and Bill and the reverend and nothing else. Besides, she still wasn't speaking to him.
Harry shrugged and smiled as Fleur Delacour became Fleur Delacour-Weasley and Bill was officially joined the love of his life.
"You may now kiss the—Oh, my."
Fleur had barged in for a full make-out session before the poor man had even pronounced the sentence, and oblivious to the hoots and cheers, the newlywed couple stayed wrapped in each other's arms for another two minutes.
"I suppose I'll have to get along with her from now on." Ginny dolefully approached Hermione, who instantly felt guilty for her jealous thoughts of earlier. The younger girl began to cheer up. "But I suppose it won't be too hard. She began to grow on me after she hexed Fred and George for using the Extendable Ears to listen in on Bill and her while they were…ahem. Enjoying the luxuries of their bed. Room."
Hermione laughed. She laughed and laughed far harder than the weak joke warranted because there was a bit of her that believed that everything would be okay. The sun shone gaily as puffy white clouds drifted in the bright blue sky, and Fleur was throwing her elaborate bouquet in the air and Professor McGonagall had caught it and was blushing as nobody had ever seen the staid professor blush before.
Hermione sort of wanted to freeze time. Just freeze time, just for that moment, and stay in that moment so that Harry wouldn't have to go out and face Voldemort and Ron and Hermione could, in another world and another time, have something and so that nobody else would die.
How many faces would be gone from the tableau come the next few years?
"Hermione…" Ron's voice said, and she turned around in surprise, making him shuffle his feet in embarrassment. "D'you…d'you want to…oh, bugger it, Hermione…Want to dance?"
She saw the next ten years in front of her. They'd dance at the wedding, and then they'd help Harry defeat Voldemort (they're the sidekicks. And one of the sidekicks always gets the hero, but if they don't, they get each other and that's the fact), and then they'd go back to a hero's welcome and they'd kiss and they'd marry and soon she'd have bouncing babies on each knee.
"Sorry, Ron." Hermione whispered. "I'm a bit tired now. Maybe another time."
"Oh. All right, then." He turned red to match his hair and aimlessly meandered towards the food. "See you, 'Mione."
Another time, another world; maybe. But the hero had his beautiful, bright princess-in-disguise, and the sidekicks had only each other. And what if they weren't right for each other, even though it was the most logical solution? What then? There weren't other love interests running around that they could leap into the arms of. And just because there wasn't anyone else didn't mean they had to leap into their arms. They didn't have to repopulate the world or anything, for Christ's sake.
"Miss Granger." She turned to see Snape regarding her out of dark, hollow eyes. "Are you quite all right?" He said it stiffly, as if unaccustomed to asking such a personal question.
She tried a tentative smile. It died on her face. …Good grief, but there was just something so very wrong about smiling at Snape. She didn't understand how Professor Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall had managed to do it at all. "I'm all right, Professor. I'll be all right."
That one man had understood the boy's thirst for redemption and revenge (both at the same time) better than anyone and had offered him both. So when the boy (for he was still a boy, if a bigger, older boy) shouted out the words, those words that were a cruel mockery of the age-old 'Abra Kedabra', it was as if he had killed off that chance for redemption (and what a cold word that was). His need for someone to reach out that hand grew stronger, and his only chance for that hand was burned to cinders, surrounded by green flame.
So what would happen then?
Abra Kedabra; pull a white rabbit out of a seemingly empty black hat.
Watch them clap, and then wonder why you can't pull doves out, instead.
A/N: Meh. Didn't like this. In fact, rather dislike this story already and am waiting for it to grow on me…hopefully, it will. Sorry about the craptastic writing.
Thank you to: Artic Demon (gah, I love your reviews…there's just something so…descriptive about them? I don't know. But they never fail to make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside because you see more into my stories than even I do. Muah. And…just thank you. I'm glad you caught that line…tis one of those special lines that I loved writing, lol. Thanks so much!) Clever witch (Thank you!) trieste (aaw, thank you…it was weird. I just thought that Seekers are supposed to be all light and small, right? So, like most athletes, wouldn't they be under pressure to be that way? I don't know. It made sense to me, lol…and yes. Snape is ucky here. But I'm hoping to develop him a leetle further…thank you so much for reviewing!) Artemis (Thank you so much!)
By the way, lurkers are…rated amongst the more dishonest people. So if you've managed to read this through, please leave a little note? Just a few of your thoughts. If you're indifferent (and why). If you like it (and why). If you loathe it with every scrap of your being (and why). Please? Reviews mean a lot to me.