Never Anything Less
Archive: sure, that's cool
Warnings: death eater squickness – torture and the like
Fandom, Pairing: Harry Potter Un. JK Rowling, Snape/Hermione
Summary: The girl fell backwards, her eyes rolling back in her head, the voice still in her ears, her hand fully healed. All around the temple the torches flickered and then went out.
Disclaimer: not mine, never was mine, never will be mine. all is jk rowling's.
For: wizardtrauma's ficathon: 31. Character A is tortured during the War. How does he/she handle this upon being freed?
Beta: mranonymousj (who said he would then wasn't going to and then did) and cherrychalk (who I asked when j said he wasn't and before he did).
Word Count: 4,578
Author's Notes: This was hard to write. Torture is hard to write. People's reactions to it are. Because each and every case is so unique, so different. I hope I did this justice.
NEVER ANYTHING LESS THAN BEAUTIFUL
The sun was setting over the water in the distance. Inside the temple, the girl kneeling at the foot of the altar didn't notice. She had been in the alcove for several hours and the priestesses were beginning to worry.
One went closer, averting her eyes from the entrance to the alcove. "O Holy Mother, Great Mother Goddess, Goddess of the gods, I call upon you Regina Juno Moneta, to hear my plea." The priestess' eyes widened and her hands began to shake.
A plea. A plea to Juno Moneta. A plea to Juno, in her temple, at her altar, while evoking her name.
The girl continued. "Save them, Mother, please. Save them for me."
The broken cry echoed down the hall, past the retreating priestess to the others waiting for her. When she got to the others, one grabbed her arm to steady her. "She evoked the Mother Goddess. The Regina. Called her. To hear her plea."
The others were silent, looking at each other in wordless communication. They could only hope the girl knew none of the blood rites.
In her temple, any of the rites could only bring great and terrible things.
"No!" the girl screamed, twisting under the burning piece of metal. "No! Please, gods, no!"
The words had no effect on her captor. She giggled manically and leaned forward, piercing the girls back where she had before, listening to the sizzling flesh, hearing the screams.
The girl thrashed. The pain wasn't enough for her to blackout, not anymore.
The metal was cooling down, the flesh sticking to it. With out a thought the woman ripped it from the girl's back, relishing in the screams of pain.
In the alcove, the girl knelt, oblivious to the worried priestesses. She was in the same position she had been in for several hours now, since she had first knelt in front of the altar. Tears streamed down her face and her hands were shaking as she pulled a bag of white, votive candles to her. Despite her shaking, the small bit of flame she called to her fingertips light the candles one by one did not flicker or wane.
"For Harry," she murmured, dedicating the first candle. "For Ron," she dedicated the second. "For Mum, for Dad, For Gandmum, For McGonagall," she continued, lighting one for each name. Finally the sack was down to only one. "For Severus," she sighed as she lit the last one.
She did not light one for herself.
After the last candle was lit, she pulled a silver knife from her belt. At first glance, the knife was plain and barely note worthy. But a second glance to the hilt proved it worth every bit she had paid for it, the meshed silver betraying its complicated make. Slowly she raised the knife, her eyes transfixed.
"Goddess, hear my plea. Those that I have named, those that I have left unsaid. Please save them, guard them. For this greatest boon I ask, I give my blood in bond." She brought the knife across her right palm, one swift stroke that left a fine red line behind. She held the bleeding hand above the center of the altar, which she had left bare when lighting her candles.
The blood welled up and began to drip to the altar. Each drop hissed and disappeared, though there was no other reaction. The blood kept falling, but the girl stood still. She didn't know what she was waiting for, she just knew it hadn't come yet.
She was beginning to feel faint when a white mist rose from the altar. It didn't form anything, but was burned away by the candles. A voice called out from above her, somewhere she couldn't see. It wasn't attached to the mist directly, but she knew it was related to the appearance.
"You have asked a great boon of me, my daughter, and I will grant it. One drop of blood for each life protected I have taken. So it is that I intend, and so it will be. Hermione Granger, our business is done."
The girl fell backwards, her eyes rolling back in her head, the voice still in her ears, her hand fully healed. All around the temple the torches flickered and then went out.
She was hurting. It was worse than anything she'd felt. Even her back, the second time, hadn't hurt like this.
This time it was her eye. This time she was lying on the floor, a hand over her eye, feeling the blood seep against her hand, down her wrist.
The blood fell to the floor and she could hear it forming a puddle by her ear. A bit of it ran down her face, into her hair, over her ear. She could feel it drying, and knew it would be turning black now, or soon.
She moved, just a bit, and let out a low moan of pain.
It hurt so bad.
When the war had ended, the losses were substantially less than any had dared hope for. Stories of spells that were dead on missing their target or deflecting off nothing, all saving the lives of those on the Light Side, ran rampant. Even Dumbledore was at loss to explain what was happening.
One loss that had dampened any celebration for Harry Potter, The Boy Who Lived Again, was the loss of one of his best friends, Hermione Granger.
3 months before, Severus Snape had escaped Voldemort after he had figured out his true allegiances. How he had managed to do that, no one had ever figured out. As far as they could tell, he was the only one to have ever managed to escape the fortress from where he had emerged, ragged and tired but mercifully alive. It had been there, on that night, that he had heard the tales of the capture of Hermione Granger. With the loss of Severus as a spy, word of her whereabouts had been few and far between.
No one had hope that she was still alive. No one dared hope that she was still alive, not with what they knew Death Eaters did to those they had captive.
Four days after the end of the war, in which most of Voldemort's openly supportive followers had been killed, a ragged figure had appeared on the doorstep of Hogwarts, School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Sometime in the night she had stumbled across the lawn to the front door and collapsed.
She, or so they assumed, was curled in a ball, her thin limbs were wrapped around her emaciated midriff, and open wounds, all at various stages of infection, littered what they could see of her skin. On her back, an angry red and yellow abscess gave the Healers who saw her a start. None had ever witnessed something so disgusting, something so long untreated.
Madame Pomfrey, the resident mediwitch, hustled down as fast as she could, her face nearly white. When she threw the heavy doors open, with the help of one of the Weasley twins, the figure on the step shrank away and cried out.
The words made no sense. A combination of shrieks and sobs, the girl's voice – for they could tell it was a girl now, by her voice and by what little of her figure was now visible – grated on even the most even tempered witch's nerves. It was like hearing the dead speak as they left, like nails on chalkboards. So misused and untended, the girl's throat seemed to be raw.
"There, there, dear, calm down now," the mediwitch told the girl. The girl seemed to relax at the sound of the woman's voice, and seemed to move forwards a bit. She turned her face towards them, and they gasped.
Before them was Hermione Granger, and yet she was not the girl who had disappeared just three and a half months prior. One eye was weeping greenish goo; the other was open, but barely. The girls face had cuts and bruises on it, and was completely shrunken in.
Her hair, once long, curled locks, was thin and missing in places, tangled and dirty. It didn't seem to have been washed since before she'd been taken. Her clothing, and those Fred and George could attest were what she was wearing on the day she had disappeared, was basically disintegrating off of her.
"Madame Pomfrey?" the girl asked. The mediwitch nodded, her voice gone. "I need help, I think," she told them, before she collapsed again.
It was raining when they came. Late, and cold, and raining, even though it was only August. She shivered, wondering why the dark was making her so afraid right now. She'd taken the walk from the apparition point in the park to her parent's home many times.
She glanced over her shoulder, wrapping her fingers around her wand tighter.
When she looked forward again, two were in front of her. Then there were two behind her, two to her right and one on her left. Seven Death Eaters for one girl. Seven. Against her, Hermione Granger.
If she hadn't been so scared she might have laughed.
It didn't take them too long to subdue her. She was alone, and they had surprised her. She did get a warning signal off at the very end, a beacon that would lead Aurors right back to the place.
Unfortunately it wouldn't lead them to her.
She fought like a wildcat, and once they had her bound, they laughed about the marks she'd given them.
In the end the fighting didn't help, but it made her feel better.
When Hermione Granger awoke, the first thing she noticed was that the pain in her eye and her back was gone. The two places that had burned the worst, despite everything else Bellatrix Lestrange had inflicted on her. She knew her back had abscessed over and over again, and that once her eye had been pierced that it should have been healed then if she had wanted to be able to use it ever again.
As she slowly tried to open her eyes, she knew that she had been right. The five weeks in between the time in which Bellatrix had put the metal into her eye and now had been too long, and her eye was gone. She was thankful that she could see at all.
She lay still and felt her body out, something she had quickly learned to do. Knowing what was going to hurt the worst before Bellatrix tried to find out was always a good thing. As she felt her body out this time, she nearly began to cry. Nothing hurt. She couldn't tell if it was because she had been healed, or if she was dosed with something to prevent pain.
It was then it hit her. She was safe. She was back at Hogwarts. She wasn't in Bellatrix Lestrange's dungeons anymore.
She began to sob.
She dreamed that Harry would come save her. Every time she slept, as fitful as her sleep was, he came to her, rescued her, kept her safe.
She always woke in tears when it wasn't true.
When what was happening was too horrible for her to comprehend, she would think of him, call for him. It just made Bellatrix laugh and hurt her worse.
But by then she was too far gone to be affected. Her mind wandered and she was no longer there, no longer feeling the pain, no longer hearing Bellatrix's voice.
It was only after she was gone that she returned and sobbed.
Five days later and Madame Pomfrey allowed her to go to the Great Hall for dinner. Hogwarts wasn't the same anymore. It wasn't full of children. The school had been shut down, she remembered, a few days before she was taken. Now it was filled with orphans and homeless.
She looked around the hall and saw many faces she knew. Slowly she counted off the candles she had lit. Every single face from the Wizarding World was there.
The hall quieted as they realized she was standing there. She didn't look much like the dilapidated thing she'd been described as coming in as, though she was awfully skinny still. She felt their eyes, their thoughts, and she began to tense. She backed up until she could feel the wall behind her, staring back into the crowd defiantly. She would not give in and run.
She didn't know where to go though. It wasn't sorted by house, or age, or anything she knew. She didn't know where she belonged, and she wasn't willing to sit by a stranger.
Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Harry coming towards her. Someone familiar. Someone she knew. But someone she couldn't handle seeing.
She whirled around, turning to flee the hall, and nearly ran into Severus Snape. "Professor!" she squeaked out.
He nodded. "Indeed."
She blinked up at him, her entire body tense.
"The crowd is a bit much, isn't it Miss Granger?" he asked her, as if he was speaking of the weather.
She nodded, relaxing a bit, and looking down. "It is, sir. I… They're all…"
"I know, child, I know." She looked up, surprised. She didn't think she'd ever heard compassion from him before.
"I'm not a child, sir. Not after… Not after that," she told him quietly.
"I… I'm sorry. Would you care to take dinner else where?" he asked her, as if making amends.
She looked up at him, then glanced around. Harry was looking at her worriedly, nearly upon her. "Please," she nearly sobbed.
Her old Professor nodded, then reached a hand out, pushing her towards the doors gently. He could feel her tense, she knew, but didn't really care. They were out of the hall and away before Harry could catch them.
After stopping by the kitchens to get some food, they returned to Severus' rooms. She didn't know why they were there, but for some reason she didn't actually mind being there. Severus himself relaxed her, more than anyone else. Why, she didn't know, but he did.
They talked about this and that over their food, never touching on anything significant. It was three hours later before she knew it.
Severus insisted he walk her back to the hospital wing.
She dreamed of Crookshanks, her beloved cat. Most people hated him, with his nasty disposition and his flattened face.
Ron still hated him, despite that Scabbers had been Pettigrew in disguise and Harry hadn't ever even acknowledge him after the first round of "What The Hell?"
But he had been there for her for a long time. Through all of her problems at school, Crookshanks had always listened to her problems. Whenever her day was going completely off, he would show up and comfort her, purring and rubbing against her.
He would often defend her. Not in the most obvious of ways, but whenever she could hear someone nattering about her, she could see Crookshanks getting ready to pounce.
It was a wonder everyone wasn't scared to death of him, if that was how he treated them.
Sometimes, when she was lying on the cold stone floor, she dreamed he was right by her, warm and comforting, purring his loud rumble.
She wished for him more than anything at night.
Three weeks later and she was talking nearly every meal with Severus in his rooms. She attended breakfast sometimes, very early in the morning, and lunch just as it was starting or ending, but never dinner. She'd successfully avoided Harry, Ron and nearly every other person she'd known well before she'd been taken.
The only one she didn't was Fred Weasley, who she knew for a fact had helped carry her to the hospital. She'd thanked him, with a smile that wasn't quite true, and he'd accepted it as what it was, an attempt for normalcy.
"So I hear you and the good potions master are quite close these days," he said by way of greeting as he fell into step with her in one of the corridors.
She'd glanced over at him, gauging his intent. "Yes," she'd finally told him. "He doesn't treat me like I'm dead, or like nothing has changed."
Fred raised an eyebrow. She snorted. "You don't think I don't hear Ron and Harry arguing with Poppy?" she asked. "She's ill – she can't defend herself. She's not right in the head, Madame Pomfrey. He'll take advantage of her. He's going to hurt her. You can't let her see him. Like she could keep me from doing what I want!"
Hermione's voice had risen as she was speaking, and Fred saw it for what it was. She was still holding what had happened in. Snape and Pomfrey were just being there for her, ready to hold her when she broke.
He sighed and they walked on in silence. He'd have to talk to his baby brother about being far more careful in his word choice.
The first time Bellatrix had brought someone else with her, she hadn't cared. She hadn't been there long enough to be immune to the pain, but she was numb to the words. It was only when she realized his intent that she started to struggle.
He seemed to take more pleasure in it that way. To like it more.
Finally she gave up and let it happen, tears mixing with the grime on her face.
She lasted three months until she cracked. Harry had cornered her in the Main Entrance and she'd responded like a cornered wolf would. She lashed out, physically, verbally, her eyes wild and her teeth nearly bared.
"I don't care what you think, Harry Potter! You don't get to have any say in my life – you left me to that, that, that madwoman! You let her do things to me! You let her, let her, her…" and she'd broken down.
Harry had moved forward as if to hold her, but she'd shrunk away from him, her entire body shaking.
"No, no… please no. Don't let him, no! Harry'll come, I know, please, no, don't… Don't let him, please, please, please… Don't touch me! DON'T!" she cried, not at Harry but to the world.
Severus was there immediately, kneeling down beside her as she collapsed to the floor. He looked up, glaring at Harry, and Harry was gone. He didn't need to be told.
Severus pulled her into his lap, rising as best he could, then carried her down into his rooms. There he lay her on the bed, kneeling on the floor next to her, his hands wrapped around hers, talking softly to her.
Slowly, he drew the story out of her.
"Now, now little mudblood…" Bellatrix's voice told her mockingly. "Don't you want to play?"
That was what she asked her, every time.
The first few days, even weeks, Hermione had been defiant, had screamed and yelled and struggled.
Slowly, though, she'd stopped fighting. She'd given up. Had just allowed things to happen.
Sometimes, though, when it had been a few days, when she'd healed some, she'd spit something back.
Those were the days she was hurt the worst.
She'd been on her way from Harry's flat to her parent's home when they'd struck. Seven Death Eaters, all of them on her before she could even draw her wand. Bellatrix Lestrange had claimed her.
She'd been kept in the same dungeon her entire time there. Abused, beaten, assaulted, burned, stuck, raped, and cut. Anything and everything Bellatrix could think of. After she'd done what she wanted with her through muggle ways, she'd moved on to magical ways. She'd used every torture curse under the sun.
Most days Hermione had prayed for the Killing Curse.
It never came.
Finally, just as things were getting really bad, the wards had fallen. Hermione could feel them fall, and she'd known something was wrong.
"The wards are keyed to me, I'll know if she tries to get out."
The words had stayed with her, even three months later. She'd known then that Bellatrix Lestrange was dead.
And she'd made her escape.
The forest was cold and dark and she couldn't see really. She hurt so bad, and didn't know where to go. She knew she smelt of blood, and vaguely wondered if anything was coming to find her, to eat her.
She wondered what it would feel like to be eaten by a wolf.
She knew, logically, that there were no real wolves left in the UK. They'd been eradicated hundreds of years before by over zealous hunters.
But logic wasn't her strong suit at the moment.
Her mind was still wandering on wolves when the creature landed before her. She stopped, eyeing it, wondering.
She realized then it was a Thestral.
"Hello there," she'd croaked. The beast had moved forward, sniffing her, licking her experimentally. "Hey now, that tickles."
The beast had backed up a bit. She didn't see anything wrong with asking for directions, despite the fact the beast couldn't speak back. "You wouldn't know how to get to Hogwarts, would you?"
She wasn't speaking clearly, not really. Her voice was dry and hoarse and her lips were cracked. Her eyes were messed up and her back hurt. She wondered if someone could fix her.
The beast nodded its head, shaking its mane a bit. She giggled. "Take me there?"
The beast had lowered it's self a bit, and she'd slid on.
She didn't even think twice about the surrealness of the entire thing.
She didn't give him details. She' glossed the entire thing over, as if she was summarizing a book. But he knew he'd tell her, piece by piece, what had happened.
So he was content.
The night she met Lucius Malfoy was something she would rather forget. She didn't know how he'd gotten out of Azkaban, and at that time, she didn't care.
She didn't think anything could be worse than Bellatrix's razor spell, the feeling of thousands of razor on her, cutting her, all at once.
She was wrong.
Lucius was so much worse.
But that didn't matter, since Bellatrix was creative.
She learned to never think something was the worst, since it always could be topped. Always.
She continued to pull away from Harry and Ron. They tried to corner her, both of them together, and apart, and every time they tried she'd get a feral look in her eyes, and she'd push them away.
Slowly, they stopped trying to talk to her.
She told Ginny once, when they had tea on Wednesdays, something that they did every week, that it wasn't because she blamed them, not really. She felt like they had abandoned her, but in the end she couldn't really blame them since no one knew who had her or where to look.
No, she told Ginny, it wasn't that. It was that whenever she saw them, she felt a part of her dying. They tried to act like nothing had changed, like everything was the same, like nothing had happened to her, and it had.
"Can't they see?" she asked the red head, gesturing to her face, the scars, the missing eye. "Don't they just look at me and see how different everything is?"
Ginny didn't know how to answer her. She'd never been that close to Hermione before she was captured. She'd always been so jealous, so angry at her. Afterward she'd come back, she'd gone and sat with her for a few hours each day. She'd finally come to realize that, especially now, Hermione wasn't after Harry and she didn't want Ron and all she really wanted was people accepting her.
For a long time that had been Harry and Ron. But it wasn't anymore.
The wards were down. That was the only thing it could have meant. Nothing else ever felt like an entire magical thing went over you, taking a scan. Only wards going up and down.
She'd raised herself from the floor, holding herself up by the bars. There had never been a muggle lock on the door, just a magical one. The door pushed open with the fall of the wards, like they were supposed to.
She knew they were keyed to Bellatrix. Did that mean she was dead?
Hermione stepped out of the cell and stopped. Where was she going? Who would she go to? How would she get there?
The questions were in her mind, but she didn't contemplate them. She just walked.
Six months after her breakdown, she started to move some of her things into Severus' rooms. She didn't actually talk to him about it, but just did it. It was things like books, her favorite blanket (which she thought might have been his originally anyways) and a set of things for Crookshanks. Then it was a few sets of clothing, then her toothpaste. Within a month the room she'd been give in the Gryffindor tower, not too far from the common room, was empty and everything was in Severus'.
She had begun sleeping in his bed, next to him, not long after she broke down. Her nightmares had come then, leaving her screaming into the night over things she couldn't speak about.
Only his touch would calm her down.
People talked, but she didn't care. They tried to ask her questions, but she had become more and more adept at Severus' patented glare. He took great amusement in seeing her use it.
Students would be returning the next year. All of those who had been taught by the parents would be tested, and those that wished to come back for one or two terms were certainly going to be allowed.
McGonagall would be Headmistress. Snape, her deputy. Hermione was taking the Transfiguration position, once she passed the test she had to take in the spring to "graduate" from Hogwarts. It wasn't if, for no one had any doubts that she wouldn't do it. It was when.
As a small olive branch, Hermione had sent Ron and Harry a set of notes and a schedule to help them study, so that if they wanted to take the test then they could to. They had acknowledged her from across the room, but kept their distance.
Maybe in time they would be able to talk, to come together and remember.
At Christmas, they sent her a copy of Hogwarts: A History, updated to include the last year of events. She hugged them, but they didn't speak.
One night, not too long after she'd finished moving her things in, Severus was looking through her books. She smiled slightly when he'd raised an eyebrow at some of the titles. She'd giggled when he'd pulled one out, and full out laughed when he read a passage.
"Really, Hermione. Romance novels?" He replaced the book on the shelf then walked over to the couch she was sitting on.
She shrugged. "It's nice to have a bit of hope."
"Hope?" he asked, crouching down next to her.
"For someone to come 'sweep me off my feet'," she told him, her face twisting into a sardonic smile.
"I thought I already had," he half-asked her, one of his hands resting on her foot, his eyes never leaving hers.
She smiled softly. "Have you?"
"After Potter corned you. I more swept you off the floor, truth be told." He didn't let her reply, but kissed her softly. "But I think that will do."