Half-Blood Prince Spoilers. You are warned. Standard Disclaimer applies - it's all JKR's.

The patient had been shunted to a forgotten corner of the ward. They hadn't really wanted him here, either, but since he had been extradited from some god-forsaken hell-hole in New Zealand, and in that part of the world there seemed to be a bit more of a concern for what they termed 'human rights', the Aurory had deemed it best to at least provide some semblance of care. Even to a traitorous murderer like him. He wasn't worth an international incident.

He had put up a fierce fight when cornered, but it had been a dozen against one – it was a miracle he had survived at all. The last of the Death Eaters. It had been four years since the world had been rid of Tom Riddle. One by one, Magical Law Enforcement had hunted down the remaining 'war criminals', until only one was left.

They had tracked him down, finally, and now he was here. Dumped on a cot, his insides scrambled like so many eggs, most of the bones in his lower body broken. The Healers blatantly ignored him – no sense in spending money and time to save a patient for later execution. Better to let him die now. Better for everyone concerned. So they all busied themselves with their work and nicer people and tried to forget about the semi-conscious, fading man at the end of the hall.

All of them, except one. She didn't know why she found herself drifting over to the otherwise empty room where they had left him. Her shift was finished, and by the time she went back on duty tomorrow, it would surely be all over for him.

And yet, there she was, opening the door, cautiously sitting down on a stool next to his cot.

He hadn't changed much. Strands of long, greasy black hair still fell around his sallow face. His lips tinged blue, the area around his mouth and hooked nose a sickly grey, he looked paler than ever.

It was obvious that he was in agony. His body was held artificially rigid, stiff, as if the slightest movement would cause intolerable pain. His head was tilted backwards, his eyes closed, his breathing measured, quick and shallow.

She didn't know where the feeling came from, but there was a sudden sense of unbearable wrongness. She was a Healer, for God's sake. She had sworn an oath. So he would die, but he did not need to die like this.

When she returned to the room a few minutes later, she held a small, sky-blue vial in her hand. She lifted his head gently. "Drink this. It will help with the pain."

His eyes opened suddenly and looked into hers, deep, hard, suspicious. Finally, there was an almost imperceptible shrug of the shoulders, as if to say 'what does it matter'. His lips unclenched, and he let her tip the vial against his mouth. He swallowed with difficulty.

"Nothing I can do will take the pain away entirely," she said. "But it will help."

He turned his head by a fraction of an inch, staring at her. "What do you care?" he asked harshly, dismissively, his voice a raw rasp.

She looked at him, one corner of her mouth curling down. "Honestly? I don't know," she said bitterly. "Call it a basic Healer flaw. I can't stand to see anyone suffer. Even you."

He let his head drop back, and after a while she could see the potion taking effect. Slowly, bit by bit, the rigidity left his body, and his breathing slowed. Still, she didn't leave, remaining there as if waiting for something; what, she didn't know.

"Little Miss Know-It-All." He pushed out the words as if his throat hurt.

She had not, until then, realized he had recognized her.

"Still…an idealist, I see." She recognized the sneer that accompanied those gasping words, even if it was a faint shadow of its former glory.

"Just doing my job," she said coolly.

Suddenly, a spasm seized him, and he lurched, arching his back, making horrible gasping noises as he tried to stifle the pain. Before she knew what she was doing, she had slipped an arm around his shoulders, holding him, supporting him against the pain, making soothing noises that accomplished nothing but let him know he wasn't alone. When the spasm passed, she pulled back suddenly, horrified.

This was Severus Snape, for heaven's sake.

Death Eater, top of the Ministry's Most Wanted list for the last five years. The man who had killed Dumbledore, killed him when the old wizard was defenseless and weakened. Coward. Traitor. Murderer. Someone who deserved every drop of suffering that fate meted out to him. What, for crying out loud, did she think she was doing?

He turned his head away, too, as soon as she let go, and to her abject horror, she saw that he was crying. Soundless, silent tears, slipping over his rigid cheeks as if he regretted each one of them but was powerless to hold them back.

Against every instinct, against her will, even, she found herself reaching for his hand.

"Don't touch me," he ground out. "Just leave."

She didn't leave. For the next few hours, as the night grew longer, she stayed by his side, not knowing why. Maybe it was because the image of the Potions master, sometimes respected, always disliked, still lingered stronger than the image of the Death Eater. She had missed his flight from Hogwarts, and after that, it had been hooded men in masks, one much like the other, nameless, faceless.

For six years, she had tried to please him. For six years, she had trusted him, at least most of the time, never supposing for more than a few moments that Dumbledore could be wrong about him. A few shadowy images, she supposed, hadn't been able to completely erase the other pictures of him from her mind.

He asked her, after a few hours.

"Why are you… still here?" How a man in so much pain could still put that much contempt into a few words, she didn't know.

She shrugged her shoulders helplessly, not really knowing the answer to that question. "I suppose," she said hesitantly, "it's because I know you."

"Know me." He spat the words out so bitterly she looked up, startled. If she hadn't looked up right that second, she would have missed it. The look of unbearable pain, unimaginable suffering. But she caught it.

In a second, she was sitting on the edge of his cot. "Let me help you," she said, feeling helpless herself, her hand on his shoulder. No one should die like this.

"Help me." He stared at her for a long second, and then he laughed harshly, a laugh that sounded like it hurt. "Fine, then." A second later, his hand had grasped the side of her face tightly, his fingers pushing into her hair. "Legilimens."

She could feel his presence in her mind, cold, hard, and knew that she could do nothing about it. Helplessly, unable to fight back, she waited, for him to take over, to take her mind, to destroy her, as he had destroyed everything he had ever touched.

And waited.

And then she felt his mind pull back, slowly, as if in invitation, as if begging her to follow. She did, hesitantly, and she felt him leading her back, tenuously following the line that connected him to her.

And then she was in his thoughts, in his memories, seeing what he had seen, feeling what he had felt.

Taking the Mark, searing pain slicing through his arm…
Standing helplessly next to Voldemort, in front of a red-haired woman begging for her baby to live…
Looking at Harry, consumed with hatred for the child that had cost the woman he had loved her life…
Fear, loathing, as the Mark flared back to life after lying dormant for years…
"You know what I must ask of you…"
Kneeling in front of a woman, taking a Vow…
"I can't do this any more, Headmaster. You are asking too much..."
Dumbledore's fatherly hand on his shoulder – "You must kill me when the time comes, there is no other way. To protect Harry, you must stay in your place. Do it for Lily."…

Blue eyes locking with his – "
Severus, please…"
Casting the curse, hating himself and the old wizard equally…
Clandestinely passing information to the Order for over a year…
Killing Fenrir Greyback in the last battle, then fleeing before the Aurors could kill him in turn…
Years spent living on the run, always alone…
The decision to stop running, that enough was enough…

The memories came fast and furious, hitting her one after another, shifting again before she had time to assimilate what she had just seen.

"He made you do it." She pulled back, stood up, her back braced against the wall, crying helplessly. "He ordered you to kill him. Why did you never tell anyone?"

"Who…would have wanted… to believe me?" His breathing was becoming labored.

Hermione still stood against the wall, shaking, crying.

"Forgive me," he rasped out. A thin trickle of blood became visible at the corner of his mouth. "A weakness, I know…but… I suppose…I just wanted one person in the world…to not think ill of me…as I die."

She had pulled out her wand, frantically muttering incantations. His eyes closed. "No," she shouted, kneeling down next to him. "It's not fair." At those words, a faint smile appeared on his face. He looked oddly at peace.

Her voice, crying, calling out for him, coming from far away as if through thick cotton wool, was the last thing he heard as the world slowly faded to white.

This could stay a one-shot, or I have some ideas for a second chapter. Please let me know what you think – any kind of feedback is appreciated!