Disclaimer: Anything you recognize, unless it's an original from one of my other stories, does not belong to me.
Author's Note: It's been ages since I've written any fanfic at all! I hope I still have my fans... but if I don't, I don't blame you, because I owe everyone an apology for starting and not finishing "Dusk to Dawn". I can't promise anything, because I'm really busy with college applications and stuff, but I'll try to finish it sometime, and to finish this one – although I have no idea where it's going right now.
Summary:"Hello, Hermione," he said from the shadows. He watched the colour drain from her face. "No…" she whispered. He was a living nightmare… And that broke his heart.
Kiss of the Traitor
Chapter One: The Token
It was his twenty-first birthday, and it had been nearly four years since he had looked at the face of the person who had broken his heart. He had absolutely no desire to celebrate… that desire had not increased over the past three birthdays, and it certainly wasn't about to spark to life now. He stood in his bedroom, in a house he had inherited and transformed so that it was barely recognizable as what it had once been, and he heard the sounds of people moving around downstairs.
They often didn't come over to stay. He didn't live alone, but the house wasn't normally this full. They were all here for his birthday, waiting to greet him with their grins and laughter and presents as soon as he set foot from his room.
He had never wanted so badly to lock himself in forever.
It was unfair, he supposed, not to be grateful for them. Because he really was, somewhere in the corner of the bleak wasteland that had become his heart. They tried… they spent every day, every moment they spent with him, trying to bring him back, to watch him laugh and to know that he mean it, to see his once-brilliant eyes sparkle once more. Ron lived with him, in a bedroom along the corridor, and they were, in some ways, a regular pair of roommates, best friends… only, unlike normal best friends (the kind they once had been), one terrible heartbreaking subject lay between them, tacitly avoided at all costs. Ron hurt too, he knew he did. So did Hagrid, who often visited. Ginny, who was married now. Neville, who had remained firm friends with them and had gained their respect after his courage during that battle. Luna… Mrs. Weasley… Parvati… Fred and George, even if they tried to hide it. He supposed they understood, because they had been irreparably hurt and damaged by the same thing… only it had been worse for him, and they knew it. For him, it had been… it still was… unbearable.
What they didn't understand was that he couldn't go back. He couldn't become who he once had been, his green eyes would not sparkle again. He had done the unthinkable. He had done the unforgivable. And he had faced the most painful betrayal imaginable, and fallen prey to its pain. They had to understand he couldn't come back.
He stood in front of the mirror, dressed in jeans and a frayed checked shirt, his black hair tousled from sleep and faint shadows marking the patches beneath his eyes. His wand stuck out of one of the front pockets of his jeans. The last living Death Eaters still hung around, dangerous and hungering for revenge. Besides, having his wand with him at all times was simply habit too. And he was pale, paler than usual, the kind that came from illness and not lack of exposure to the sun. He wasn't ill. It was simply what was inside, the wasting away of everything inside him… the wasting away of his heart.
He had thought the haunting memories of the war, of Dumbledore's death, of Sirius, of Voldemort's eyes and the excruciating pain of killing another – he'd believed that would be the worst of it. But even those memories were bearable. It was the memories of his life before, of his happier times and of that horrible night, that lingered over him like a haunting shadow.
But whatever else he might be, and might have been, he was and never had been a coward. He had to go outside and face the birthday he wished had never come, face the faces that were there and those that were not there, and give due appreciation to all the people who still stuck by him even after everything.
Smiling slightly, because four years had made him an excellent actor, he turned around and walked to the door of his room. He unlocked it, and stepped out into the hallway.
Strangely enough, it was deserted, and as he made his way along it towards the stairs, nobody jumped out at him or showed him their beaming face or played a playful joke on him. He was surprised, and for the first time in a long time, he felt a twinge of curiosity and amusement. They were playing with him and his expectations, keeping him on his toes as they used to do, to gauge his reaction and laugh themselves silly at the mental image of him lurking in the hallway of his own house, expecting a loud yell from any direction.
Honestly, he thought, I've become almost as bad as Moody.
He made his way down the stairs, and thought he heard a muffled giggle from somewhere nearby. He straightened, pretending to be completely casual, as if this was just another ordinary bloody day, and he strolled towards the kitchen as if intending to have a mug of coffee before studying any new reports Professor McGonagall might have sent him (he was what Ron liked to call a 'freelance Auror').
He couldn't quite help grinning slightly at the eager faces that burst out at him when he entered the kitchen. There was a large, lavishly and quite repulsively decorated cake on the table (he suspected the twins might have had something to do with the mouldy-looking icing), firecrackers went off, and ricocheting off the ceiling and walls, and a horde of people were grinning at him. There was the entire Weasley family, the twins beaming brightly at him, Ron nearest to the door, and Ginny nearby with her arm linked through Terry Boot's; there was Lupin, looking unusually happy, with Tonks beside him, her hair a vivid pink in honour of Harry's birthday; Mad-Eye Moody, Kingsley Shacklebolt and Professor Flitwick were grinning at him from around a cauldron of what looked like bubbling seaweed; Professor McGonagall was there, trying to look disapproving and failing miserably; Parvati and Neville appeared to have been in the middle of an Exploding Snap game when Harry's entrance had hushed everyone briefly; Luna was sitting dreamily inside the sink and smiling vaguely at him, although Ron kept shooting her concerned and tender looks; there was Slughorn, Hagrid, Fleur and her sister Gabrielle, Bill and Fleur's tiny daughter Aurelia… and Snape.
A part of him was pleased to see them, and immensely grateful for the effort they put into all of this. But another part of them just felt tired and bleak, wishing that they would understand and just leave him alone. They had to comprehend this. They had to understand that the Harry Potter they had once known was dead.
As everyone rushed to hug and clap him on the back, grinning and gesturing at the pile of presents on the table (half of which had been charred by some antics of the twins, undoubtedly), he managed to manoeuvre his way through everybody and finally found himself in possession of a bottle of Butterbeer while everyone settled down to enjoy the morning party; and he also found himself facing Ron as well as Snape.
"Twenty-one, is it, Potter?" Snape asked in a cool voice, looking him up and down as if expecting him to come down with the chicken pox or something.
He nodded slightly. "I didn't expect to see you here." He noticed Ron shooting Snape mildly hostile looks from beside him; Ron had never gotten over his dislike of Snape, and like him, could not quite forgive Snape for the things he had done.
Snape smiled his cool smile that looked faintly like a sneer. "Horace and Minerva persuaded me. It seemed they felt that collective unity was important today."
"Well, thanks for coming," he replied, in a slightly flat tone. He appreciated Snape's presence, but could not claim to care very much either way whether the man was here or not. His attention was at that moment distracted, and his mood dampened, by the sight of a bushy-tailed ginger cat springing onto the table and fixing him with a mildly affectionate and mildly haughty look. Crookshanks lived at the house, but was always off hunting and he never got used to bumping into the cat.
Ron's expression, too, flickered at the sight of Crookshanks. "Hello, you lousy mangy creature," he said in a slightly overly hearty voice. "Came for the cake, did you?"
Crookshanks gave him a disdainful look so reminiscent of someone they had once known that they both stiffened. Snape glanced between them and the cat, and his expression was impassive as stone as Crookshanks leapt off the table and disappeared amidst the throng of people. Ron looked at Snape, and then at him, and said: "Look, mate, don't let the cat get to you today."
"I think Potter could use something a little stronger, Weasley," Snape interrupted coolly, "Why don't you bring him a Firewhisky?"
To his astonishment, Ron did not protest, but merely nodded and said, "I'll be right back." He then turned and disappeared to get the drink in question, and for the first time, the young Auror left with Snape began to suspect that there was something out of the ordinary happening amongst all of these people who had come here today. Collective unity, Snape had said. Collective unity for what? He looked at Snape questioningly, expecting an answer.
He got one.
"I did not add my… ah… token to the pile on the table," Snape said coolly, sounding as if the words came with difficulty. He reached into his typical black cloaks, and produced, to the Auror's amazement, a wrapped parcel. "I felt it would be wiser to give this to you in person."
"But…" he stared at the parcel now in his hands, trying to process the knowledge that Snape had just given him a birthday present. It was like Kreacher buying him a new broomstick for Christmas, one of those impossibilities in life. Snape had always loathed him, and that had not changed very much in the time that had passed. Or at least, he had thought it hadn't changed. Why, then, had Snape handed him a gift? He looked up, and asked: "Why?"
"I'll be frank with you, Potter," said the old Potions master of Hogwarts, "I don't like you in general. I probably never will… you partake of far too much of your father's character."
In spite of himself, he actually smiled at that. Snape would always be Snape.
"However, you may call this a… a token of appreciation. I will not forget that you saved my life, and that your… nobility and courage… saved thousands of lives that would undoubtedly have been in peril had the Dark Lord vanquished you. Like many others here, I felt that if there was something we could do in small repayment of the debt we owe you… we would do it."
"What are you talking about – ?"
Snape sighed, looking as disdainful as he had used to during their Potions lessons. "For once in your life, Potter, save your questions until after the fact. Perhaps you might consider opening it?"
After a moment's hesitation, he opened it. For the first time, he became aware that conversation and laughter all around had ceased, and that everyone was watching him and Snape with intent and almost nervous expressions on their faces. With a twinge of foreboding, he pulled apart the wrapping on the parcel and looked down at the simple items below – a piece of parchment, a small box that was sealed, a very old letter… and a photograph.
He felt every muscle in his body freeze, and he couldn't breathe because of the constriction in his chest. Nearly four years since he had looked at the face of the person who had broken his heart.
Finally, he looked up, and his green eyes were blazing. "What is this?" he asked coldly.
Expressions all around registered anxiety and concern, but nobody looked surprised. Ron, looking more nervous than everyone else, was standing quite near him, a bottle of Firewhisky clutched heedlessly in his hand. But Snape looked completely unperturbed.
"This," he said coolly, "Is your one chance at salvation, Potter. I would suggest you take it."
The anger bubbling inside him died. It was the tone of Snape's voice that gave him pause, making him wonder for the first time whether it was possible…
Seeing the change in expression on his face, and the pallor, Snape straightened with a partially satisfied gesture and bowed in acknowledgement to the others in the group. He then turned back to him and said: "My work here is done, then. I suspect it won't be long before we meet again, Potter, but until then, farewell."
"W-won't you stay for some cake?" the words slipped out before he realized it.
Snape actually looked amused. "Thank you, Potter, but no. Appreciative I may be of your deeds and qualities, but that does not mean I will become friendly."
And with a swish of his black cloak, he swept out of the room. Harry watched him go in silence.
There was just one light on inside the house. He could see it flickering against the frosted windows of what was probably the bedroom. It was cold here, and he pulled his Invisibility Cloak tighter around himself. Why on earth would anyone choose such a cold place, he wondered, unless they wanted to punish themselves? The thought, offhand when it had first uttered itself in his head, took root and made him feel even colder. He approached the house, located as one of the few buildings across the desolate moor, and tapped the door with his wand.
It opened slightly. The house appeared to be completely Muggle-ised, with not a trace of magical protection over it. That made him angry. It was the equivalent, to him, of a suicide wish. He slid silently into the house and laid his Cloak down on the nearest furniture shadow. He then made his way up the stairs towards the location of the lit room.
He found himself in the corridor, and at the far end, a door was partly-open, the light spilling faintly out. It was nothing more than a night-lamp that would light the room only dimly. He approached the door and pushed it open slightly.
The figure on the bed sat upright at the creaking sound of the door and blinked into the darkness, trying to make out what was there. She reached towards the drawer of her bedside table; he assumed that was where she must have stashed away her wand. He looked at her, bathed in the soft glow of the lamplight, and he felt as if everything inside him was being torn to shreds all over again. She looked so small and vulnerable and beautiful, covered by the quilts… so familiar… and yet the change in her was shocking.
"Hello, Hermione," he said from the shadows.
She froze, the hand reaching to the drawer stilling in mid-air and falling limply to her side as if she couldn't hold it up any longer. He watched the colour drain from her already pale face. Her brown eyes filled with unspeakable pain.
"No…" she whispered, sounding anguished.
He realized that, to her, he was probably a living nightmare rearing its ugly head to haunt her once again. And knowing that broke his heart.
A/N: Updates soon! Please review if you want me to continue... I need some encouragement that this is a story worth writing in order to write it!