Last edited: 04 September 2007
VERY IMPORTANT NOTE (PLEASE READ): This is not a chronologically ordered fic. Rather, it is a situation based one, with a strong character-centric narration. This piece of fiction cannot be perceived coherently if one does not take into appreciation the entirety of the work. This fic is broken into a few parts, each having their own theme, central character and timeline.

Yes, things get a little complicated sometimes and some things might not make sense at first. Have patience and trust that the pieces of the puzzle will somehow fit together at the end, but most of all, enjoy the journey.

Note: This is set post Hermione's Hogwarts years. Non-HBP or HD compliant.

Disclaimer: I do not assume any legal liability of the characters or settings here. All creative property belongs to JKR, excluding the plot to this fic. I seek no monetary gains and all recognisable claim of JKR is intended for entertainment use only and will be returned safe and sound.

[[Nominated in Round Five of the Multifaceted Harry Potter Fanfiction Awards.


Porcelain Doll
I. Captivus
(Captured)

They were in the study, sitting in various poses of staged leisure. Remus leaned against the bookshelf, an old book propped in one large hand. Every now and then, he turned the page, the dry parchment crackling slightly. The only thing that betrayed the fact that he was not actually reading the tome was the way his eyes were staring blankly at the centre of the page. He shifted a little when the rack that was digging into his lower back proved to be too uncomfortable to ignore.

Ginny sat curled up beside Harry, fingers tangled in her hair, her expression showing that she was preoccupied with her own thoughts. The Boy Who Lived stared directly into the flames burning merrily in the grate, a long limb slung over the girl's shoulder. She blinked away her reverie and glanced at Harry's frown before pressing herself closer to him. He half-turned towards her, his emerald eyes blinking tiredly to look at her. She gave him a tiny encouraging smile, which he returned half-heartedly, the crow's feet cutting deep into his skin.

'I blame myself,' he said quietly, casting his gaze away, unwilling to see the condemnation in her eyes. She closed her eyes briefly and sighed. She reached over to tuck her thumb gently under his chin, tipping his face towards her, forcing him to meet her open gaze.

From his corner, Remus looked up from his reading and frowned. He knew how troubled the young man was; how much guilt he placed upon his own shoulders. He snapped the book shut and turned to slip the book back into its place on the shelf. 'No one blames you for what happened, Harry. Just…let it go,' the older man said tiredly, lacking conviction.

The redhead glanced at the wizard and absently noted the sallow complexion and the dark circles around his eyes. The moon was burgeoning and in a few days, he would face the horrors of transformation.

She turned to Harry. 'Really, it's true. No one blames you.'

He shook himself angrily from her gentle caress. 'I can't let it go,' he said roughly, looking at the carpet. 'I can't let her go. Don't you understand, Ginny?' He peered at her with heavily hooded eyes, his voice scratching the surface of desperation. 'She was – is,' he corrected firmly, 'my friend. My best friend.' He pulled away and stood rigidly with his back towards the youngest Weasley. 'They told me to move on,' he confided quietly. She leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees, straining to hear him. 'They told me to forget her and move on. I… I can't…,' his voice broke and he struggled to finish his sentence, 'I can't just forget her. It's my fault – don't you see? They went after her to get to me.'

Ginny got to her feet silently and placed the palms of her hands flat against his back, rubbing in slow, soothing circles, hoping to ease his tension and guilt. She cast a quick look across the room at their ex-professor, silently requesting for some privacy. He obliged, sending an understanding look in return.

'No one blames you,' she repeated firmly as the door shut behind Remus. 'Hermione understood the implications and adversities that came along with her being your friend. She knew the dangers she'd be in if she stayed at your side. But Harry, she still counted herself as your friend, even knowing full well all the risks and the things that could and would happen… she loved you, Harry.' She finished, letting her words taper off into the silence of the room.

'You talk about her as if she is dead,' he remarked emotionlessly after a moment. He turned, stilling the movement of her hands with his.

'Harry? I don't… Ouch – you're hurting me! Let go!'

His grip tightened and he glared angrily at her. 'You talk about her in the past tense. What? You think she's dead then?' he hissed.

Tears sprang into her eyes as she tried to wrench her wrists free. 'Be reasonable, please. It's been months now. And – '

He interrupted her, yanking on her captured wrists to bring her closer and whispered with cold anger into her ear, 'And what, Ginny? She should be dead by now?' his tone bitterly emphasising the word "should". 'Was that what you were about to say? Wanted to say?' Pinning her with one last look, he released her and spun away.

The sudden rage that possessed him left, leaving him an empty shell, his shoulders slumped in despair. She stared at his back as she massaged the blood back into her fingers. The splotchy red marks encircling her wrists fading rapidly.

'Harry… I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that.' Her apology was tentative, as if she was testing the waters.

He drew in sharp breath which he let out noisily. 'No, I'm sorry.' But as she took a step towards him, the soles of her shoes whispering over the rug, he glanced at her past his shoulder. 'Stop… don't…I… I want to be alone for a bit.'

She was motionless for a few seconds, momentarily hurt at his brusqueness. 'Alright… I'll be in my room, then.' She paused awkwardly, hoping for a reply. When she received none, she quietly exited the study, pulling the doors shut behind her.

Harry ran a hand through his hair, impatiently brushing away the dark curtain back from his eyes. He sighed heavily and gazed listlessly around the room for something to occupy his mind. The study was very much the same as the day she had disappeared. No one could bring themselves to move the things there, as if it was improper, that it was her place.

Some things reminded Harry painfully of her absence – the neat pile of books stacked at one corner of the desk; the pot of ink with no black smudges on its lid; the array of quills lining one side of the desk… He smiled pensively when he remembered her peculiar habit of arranging and grouping her numerous quills by colour and length before she started work. He reached, as if to pick up one of the grey quills but the fingers hovered inches above the feather as he hesitated. It didn't feel right. It didn't feel right to touch her things – to violate her things - as it didn't feel right to come into the study with the absence of her sitting hunched at the desk, scribbling furiously away. It seemed to be an intrusion of her – of the memories of her. Hermione was – is - his mind hurriedly corrected – rather possessive about her belongings and Harry was reluctant to release that small shard of hope that the bushy-haired witch would come bustling in and tell him off, for her fingering her stationery.

Slowly, he withdrew his hand, letting his arm fall limply to his side. He jumped when lightning stabbed the sky and the guttural boom of thunder shook number Twelve Grimmauld Place. The incessant pitter-patter of the large raindrops drumming the roof almost cloaked the loud crack of someone Apparating just beyond the bounds of the anti-Apparition wards. In three quick strides, Harry's nose was pressed against the cold window as he peered into the crying night.

The dark figure beneath the wiry tree staggered. The stifling darkness of night was briefly lifted by another flash of lighting and Harry's heart constricted when he saw the dark robed figure. The masked wizard slipped on a puddle, muddying his badly torn robes. He swayed like a drunkard as he tried to regain his footing, the large bundle in his arms obviously giving him more than a little trouble. He lost his balance when his foot disappeared into the wet ground. He stumbled and sank almost gracefully to one knee, his porcelain mask slipping off.

Harry watched, rooted to the spot, as one pale spidery hand reached up to grasp the white thing and flung it viciously into the bushes. It snagged on an outstretched branch and hung there, swinging like a pendulum spot of white in the gloom. The man in the rain bent forward, the black locks stringing together and shrouding his face. The wizard seemed not to pay heed that he was kneeling in the mud as he gently pulled away the coverings of the bundle. In the study, Harry failed to stifle a gasp and he took a step back in shock at seeing the familiar curls springing free from their dark confines – Hermione.

The drenched wizard peered over his hooked-nose as he checked his charge's neck for a pulse. Her head lolled in his arms and she lay quite still, almost doll-like. His expression was grim as he tucked the wrappings tighter around the small frame and glanced up at the house.

It seemed as if he reached out with his Legilimency skills to pierce the gloom. The black orbs, improbably as it may seem, locked onto Harry's and snapped him into action. The young man left the room in a whirlwind of swishing robes and he bounded down the stairs, jarring his knees painfully when he leapt the last few steps. His wand was already out of his pocket and with a few complicated incantations and wand movements, he dropped the wards and pulled open the front door and stepped into the embrace of night.

'Lumos!'

He almost fell when his trainers failed to properly grip the slick ground. He ignored the water clinging to his glasses and drenching his robes, making them hang heavily to his body. His breath fanned out in front of him in a white mist, the edges of the curls sneaking discreetly into the chilly night.

He skidded to a stop before the wizard, suddenly unsure. The tall man stared down at him, his expression carefully devoid of any emotion. 'Take her, Potter.'

Years of tutelage under the harsh Potions Master made Harry raise his arms automatically as his body reacted to the cold commanding tone the man had used. She was barely settled into his arms when she started to thrash about wildly, crying out wordlessly. She moaned piteously in Harry's Quidditch-strengthened arms and trembled violently. She felt horribly light in his hold, but her flailing made it hard for him to carry her.

'I can't!' he said desperately, raising his voice to be head over the storm and her incoherent cries. 'She won't keep still!'

Snape glanced dispassionately at him before reaching into the deep recess of his robes to pull out his wand. 'Shall I cast an Incarcerous spell on her then?'

'No!' cried Harry, outraged. He wrapped his arms protectively around the witch and threw his former teacher a dark look. 'Don't you bloody dare, Snape!' But the man already brushed past him, not staying to hear his tirade. With analytical detachment, Harry noted that the older wizard favoured his left leg more than the other. Hermione whimpered in his arms, her energy spent.

'Shh, Mione. It's me… It's Harry,' he whispered softly. At the mention of his name, she let out an ear-splitting shriek and started anew, writhing so furiously that Harry was obliged to stop and kneel, his shaking hands fumbling to pull away the heavy cloak that covered her face.

A hand stopped his numb fingers and drew them away. 'Leave it,' the tone was tired, but the dark eyes held him captive.

'But, sir… Hermione – she won't stop struggling. I…I just wanted her to know it was me…'

Snape didn't even glance at her. 'She is still now.'

Harry brushed his wet hair aside and looked down. Indeed, she lay completely motionless; half in the mud and half draped across his lap.

'Give her to me.' Severus did not wait for a reply or a protest. He reached and with masked gentleness, scooped her into his arms. Again, Hermione started to writhe and started to moan lowly. 'Shush there, silly girl.' Immediately, she quietened and lay compliantly still.

Harry kept pace with the older man, hovering awkwardly by his side. Snape kept his gaze forward and would not meet his eye. Long thin arms snaked from within the folds of the bundle and wrapped themselves around his neck. Disfigured fingers, terribly twisted and swollen, curling tightly into the soaked lapels at the wizard's collar. Harry took a half-step back with shock when he saw when he saw the skeletal arms – paper thin skin stretched taut over the bones, the skin so white it was almost translucent; the blue network of veins that spidered clearly beneath the epidermis was easily visible, and angry red lines criss-crossed abundantly, the deep cuts healing slowly, marring the pale flesh.

If Snape noticed Harry's adverse reaction at all, he gave no indication. Instead, when he turned to the young man at his side, his Potions Master persona was firmly in place. 'My hands are clearly occupied, Potter. Open the door.'

Harry carefully edged around the older man, mindful to avoid jostling into the charge in his arms, and twisted the handle and pushed. The immediate rush of warm air seeped through their sodden clothes but failed completely to touch the inner core of their bones.

'I'll take her to her room. I suggest that you hasten to wake the –'

A voice laden with disbelief interrupted suddenly, 'Oh God, is that… is it?'

They whirled to face the owner of the voice, Snape's head snapping so fast that the wet locks whipped around his face. The colour drained from Ron's face as he approached hesitantly. The fists caught in the folds of Snape's dark robes tightened momentarily and the three men heard a small intake of breath before the fingers loosened their hold on the dark material and the arms slipped slowly down his chest.

'Mione, Mione, Mione…' Ron's voice was weak as he reached for the marble hand, his fingers unsuccessfully trying to slip themselves into her limp hold.

'Step aside, Weasley,' the man snarled, brushing past the teenager. He swiftly took to the stairs, throwing a reminder over his shoulder to Harry, 'Wake the others. Immediately!'

Harry met Ron's wide-eyed stare. 'You're wet,' the redhead noted the obvious and fished around in his too-short pyjamas for his wand and cast a quick Drying charm.

'Thanks,' his friend muttered before starting up the stairs, taking three at a time.

Minutes later found all the occupants of number Twelve Grimmauld Place gathered in the living room, in various stages of undress. Molly clutched her dressing gown with one hand, the other in her hair, anxiously patting the curlers as she fidgeted beside a worn-looking Arthur Weasley.

'What's all the ruckus about, 'Arry?' asked one of the twins who was perched in an armchair, rubbing his eyes. Harry found himself the centre of attention as all eyes landed on him and he shifted his weight from one foot to the other, suddenly incredibly nervous. The current situation, the unexpected reappearance of Hermione hit him abruptly and he took a few steadying breaths to buy enough time for his mind to quickly organise his thoughts and form an appropriately articulate response.

'She's back,' was all he could manage. They stared at him in silence before launching questions at the same time, raising their voices.

'-Who's back?'

'-You don't mean Mione?'

'-When was this?'

The noise rose and they converged on him as a single body, demanding some proper explanations. Harry struggled to cope with the onslaught, only managing to answer a question halfway before being interrupted by another.

'That is enough,' a quiet voice commanded, the dark rich quality of the tones reverberated around the room. The confused chatter died away as Snape commandeered their attention.

'What is he doing here?' muttered Fred angrily, sharing a significant look with his twin, who already had his wand in hand.

'The git brought Mione in!' Ron exclaimed, perhaps to the defence of his former teacher, but he shrank away at the smouldering gaze he received.

George rounded on the wizard at once, 'You brought her in? You utter bastard! Took you long enough! How many weeks and months, sir,' he spat derisively, 'before your Lord grew tired of her? Before you collected her and returned her to us, used and abused? You think you can garner our trust again, just because you waltz in here carrying our friend? Slytherin scum, your mother dredged you up from the deepest pits of Hell!'

'George!' his mother exclaimed sharply, darting a look at the angry wizard.

'Don't be presumptuous, Weasley,' Snape retorted coldly. 'I do not have to explain my actions to a child.'

Fred managed to restrain his swearing and cursing brother from pouncing. Snape had drawn his wand, but its tip was cast to the ground and he regarded them with a satirical smile that seemed to infuriate the young man further.

'Enough,' Harry said quietly, taking a step closer to the man he was supposed to despise. The anger flared momentarily in George's eyes before it died. He scowled and yanked his arm free from this brother. Snape met the challenging glare and raised an eloquent eyebrow. His ex-student meet his intense stare defiantly, there was a tense moment when both men refused to back down.

The younger wizard was forced to look away when his sister laid a hand on his arm gently. 'Please, George.'

Snape treated the assembly with a sneer. He glanced cursorily past the faces and he nodded curtly to Remus, acknowledging him. He stood in the centre of the room, his back ramrod straight and his fingers curled into a tight fist as he drew in a deep breath before releasing it, relaxing his finger as he exhaled.

'Miss Granger is back,' he said finally, perhaps unnecessarily, but the faces were bright with renewed amazement and in the corner of his eye, he caught Molly clutching at her husband, crying silently in relief. He swept the room with his black eyes, holding each of their gazes briefly before moving to the next person. 'Her status is critical as she is gravely injured.' He lifted a hand to stem the oncoming questions and continued in the same monotone, 'She is very weak, in both mind and body. She has suffered countless hours of the Cruciatus curse. I suggest that you abstain from visiting her at the moment - let her rest and recover sufficiently before subjecting her to your presence and pestering her.' His tone was dark and hinted that it was decidedly not a mere proposal and suggested repercussions of epic proportions if not obeyed. The thin lips curled into an ugly sneer. 'I will take my leave now. Goodnight.' With a short bow that belied his upper-class wizard breeding, he left the shell-shocked room in a billow of black robes.

The twins glanced at each other and stood, making briskly for the exit.

'Where are you going?' their mother asked, perhaps a little too sharply. Her still wet cheeks shining and she waved away the handkerchief her husband offered her, her eyes narrowed dangerously at her sons.

Fred paused, his hand resting on the doorknob and his twin turned, squaring his shoulders defiantly. 'We're off to see Hermione, of course. It's not like that bastard vampire can stop us and–'

Molly exploded. 'You heard what the professor said-'

'He betrayed us! He killed Dumbledore! Why should we trust him?'

The woman regarded her children warily, before exchanging looks with her husband and Remus.

George caught the brief exchanged and frowned. 'What's going on?' he demanded, trying to catch his father's eye. Arthur looked away uncomfortably.

'Nothing is going on!' Molly said agitatedly, tightening the belt of her robes. 'For heaven's sake, there is no conspiracy! And don't you dare disturb the poor girl. Don't say "But Mum",' she snapped angrily, seeing Fred open his mouth. 'If I catch you within twenty feet of her room, I will hex you.' The warning glare she sent around the room implied that the threat extended to them too.

Harry left the room, shutting the door decisively behind him as Mrs Weasley continued her lecture. The stairs creaked ominously underfoot as he climbed the steps, one hand resting lightly on the polished wood of the railings.

Hermione was back.

He didn't know when the news was going to fully sink in. It seemed to be almost impossible – a miracle. With a start, Harry realised that he had actually given up. He had given up the hope that he would ever see her alive again. He was subconsciously sure that he would be seeing her violated body draped across his doorstep. His feet slowed and he found himself pondering if he would be surprised if that had happened. He had been ready to face herlifeless– no matter how hard he tried to convince himself that she might make it back, he was undeniably prepared mentally to say goodbye to Hermione Granger. It was all a façade, he realised. The way he seemed to so adamantly cling to optimism.

"Move on, Harry," they murmured quietly to him in the hallways. He had shaken his head defiantly. All an act. He was acting. For the benefit of himself. He had moved on, looking forward to the future, towards the inescapable battle between Light and Dark. Her being taken was regrettable and a real shock, but she was expendable. Somehow, he had managed to convince himself that she was a justifiable compromise in the cost of war.

'What kind of friend am I?' he whispered in horror. What kind of friend would abandon hope for another? He had lost faith. Had she? Had Hermione bitten her lips when they questioned her under the Cruciatus? Had she tried to fight off the overwhelming despair, pain and humiliation, drawing onto the last vestiges of hope in her drying well? Did she think of him then? Was she thinking of the Order when they left her in the uncomforting solitude of night?

He ground his teeth in frustration at the feeling of guilt and worthlessness. He looked around and saw that while his mind had been wallowing in culpability, his feet had brought him to the very end of the house. He paused, about to turn and retrace his steps when he realised that he was standing directly in front of the room assigned to Snape. Harry was torn between turning his back and walking to his room - and to risk the anger of a possibly irate Death Eater, whose standing in which field remained shadowy - just to ease his troubled thoughts.

He raised his hand and knocked on the old door and waited for a beat. He frowned when there was no reply from within. Harry rapped again, this time with more confidence. As he raised his fist again, the door was yanked open and the man glared murderously at him. 'I see that you fail completely to grasp the simple concept that I want to be alone. I do not want company, least of all yours.'

Harry stuck his foot in the rapidly decreasing space between the door and its frame as Snape started to close the portal. 'Sir, I want to talk.'

'And I have no wish to have a conversation with you,' was the acidic reply. 'Remove your foot before I do it for you.'

Harry caught the blazing glare and stepped back dutifully. 'Please…' he pleaded, in a voice that could barely be described as a whisper. Snape paused, the door only open now by mere inches. It emboldened the younger man. 'Please… I just want to know what happened to her.'

The black eyes hiding behind the dark veil of hair blinked once tiredly and disappeared. 'Come in,' the man called over his shoulder. Harry pushed the door open and stepped into the dark room. He was immediately assaulted with the piquant fumes of mixed herbs and exotic spices. Rubbing his watery eyes and coughing, he could make out three small cauldrons bubbling in a corner. The middle cauldron contained a lurid green potion which belched ominously at regular intervals. He tore his eyes away and found Snape already seated on an old armchair, his long legs propped on a low footstool. Despite the relaxed attitude, the ropy muscles in his shoulders were tense and the hand that gripped the glass of amber firewhisky was stiff, the fingers wrapped so tightly that the knuckles shone white. Cautiously, Harry approached the wizard, halting a few feet away.

'Sit down, boy,' the man drawled, nodding to the vacant armchair opposite him. As Harry sank into his seat, Snape downed the remainder of his drink with a grim expression before stretching out an arm to grab a dusty bottle of Odgen's off the table to refill his glass. He held the bottle aloft and swirled it, the crystal red liquid lapping against the sides. 'Care for a drink?'

Harry accepted after a moment of hesitation and watched quietly as Snape conjured another glass and filled it with the sparkling elixir. Harry took a tentative sniff before daring a sip. He choked and spluttered inelegantly as the drink burned his throat on its way down and settled uneasily like lava in the pit of his stomach.

Snape chuckled mirthlessly behind the rim of his glass. 'Firewhiskey – a drink for real men.' Harry locked his eyes on the dark wizard and took another generous mouthful, stifling the automatic reflex to gag. Snape smiled thinly and lifted the bottle, offering to refill Harry's cup. Harry accepted the challenge readily and held out his glass.

They settled into what may be timidly be labelled as a companionable silence. The alcohol surged through Harry's veins, warming him deliciously down to the very tips of his toes. Every now and then, the Potions Master would turn his head to check the progress of his concoctions. Curiosity grew in the Gryffindor's chest until he could no longer contain himself, 'What are those things?' He indicated to the brewing mixtures.

The wizard sighed and placed his drink on the low table, but there was no impatience in his tone when he answered. 'I think that you could, at the very least, identify the Dreamless Sleep Potion when you see it.' Frowning, Harry squinted through the gloom of the room and he found that he did recognise the potion bubbling on the right. 'The middle cauldron holds a variant of the Blood Replenishing Potion and in the last cauldron; the Muscle Relaxant Draught.' As he spoke, his slender digits reached to massage his right knee, drawing the pads of his fingers in slow circles around his patella.

Eyeing the older man kneading his knee, Harry ventured to ask, 'The potions are for you, then?' At the sharp look Snape gave him, Harry continued, 'I noticed that you'd hurt your knee…' He trailed off uncertainly as the other man straightened rigidly.

Snape clutched the armrests of his chair tightly, his lips thinning into an unforgivable strict line. 'They are for Miss Granger,' he replied jerkily. The black eyes were unreadable and guarded. He met the younger man's emerald stare the briefest of seconds before reaching for his drink to mask the awkward moment. He nursed the wizard whiskey as he waited for the forthcoming questions. Harry toyed with the glass, spinning it in his hands and asked his next question cautiously, as if dreading the answer. 'What happened to her, sir? What happened to Hermione in the hands of Voldemort?'

Snape flinched at the mention of his master's name and stood, dusting off his robes. His gaze was firmly locked to the corner of the room as he strode to the cauldrons. He took a few minutes, pretending to check the consistency of his potions before turning and answering the question.

'She has suffered much, Potter,' he said softly, each syllable dropping like a stone in a pond. He drew a shaky breath and closed his eyes briefly, the muscles in his strong jaw twitching. When he opened his eyes, the dark orbs were like a dry void, a bottomless abyss with no emotion. 'No one deserves such treatment... It was inhuman,' he said, his voice was soft. Grief and guilt peeked from behind their stone masks before the man packed them away again. 'I will not tell you what that witch was forced to endure, Potter… but ask me again and I will show you.'

There was no threat in the sentence and Harry read the meaning behind the veiled words at once. He carefully placed his drink onto the table and stood, looking openly at the face of his father's childhood nemesis with no fear, suspicion or hate. 'What happened to Mione.'

It wasn't really a question. With each precisely pronounced word, he took a step closer towards the tall wizard half shrouded in the shadows. The clear eyes pinned him. Snape advanced slowly, taking carefully measured steps. The dark orbs never left Harry's face as Snape swallowed Harry's hand which still held his wand, in his. He raised Harry's wand to his temple and gave a small nod of his head.

Harry stared at him with wide eyes, cottoning on. 'Legilimens,' he whispered, almost in awe.

The room swam, as if plunged suddenly into murky water, and images – Snape's memories – filtered rapidly beneath his eyelids. The memories, Harry realised, were well filed and he was watching them. Bile rose to the back of his throat as he went through the clips and flashing images chronologically.

Hermione, her wrists bound behind her back, was pushed to her knees by a masked Death Eater. Her red lips were forced apart by a cruelly tight gag. Her eyes were so wide that the whites were showing. The Death Eater lifted a fist and delivered a punishing blow to the side of her head, snapping her head back. The ring he wore scratched the flesh and drew blood. The scarlet blood dripped into her eye and she shook her head, blinking furiously. Her eyes were sparkling with unshed crystalline tears, but she straightened her back and met his gaze squarely. He laughed at her and drew his wand.

'Crucio.'

Harry staggered, trying to stop the flood of images, but Snape pressed forward, mercilessly pushing down the mental barriers that Harry tired to put up to stave off the torrents of memories.

She crouched within a circle of black robed wizards. Her right eye was swollen shut and blood dripped from her nose. She glared at them defiantly.

'Mudblood filth!' screeched a woman as she lunged forward and brought her white hand sharply across the pale cheeks. Bellatrix Lestrange bared her teeth in a feral manner and pulled out her wand from the folds of her sleeve. 'Diffindo!'

An ugly cut sliced the flesh, dragging from one ear, down the jaw and across the neck, ending at her collar bone. Hermione cried out, pressing her palms to the wound. 'Diffindo! Diffindo! Diffindo!' The skin on her arms split brutally open, exposing the bones in her forearms, as she threw up her hands instinctively to protect her face. The crimson life poured down and dripped from her elbows.

'Diffindo!'

Despite the sunken cheeks and the once lustrous blonde hair that now hung in lifeless clumps to the man's scalp, Harry recognised the unmistakeable aristocratic facial cut of Lucius Malfoy. The gaunt face and the thin arms were evidence of the wizard's incarceration in the wizarding prison of Azkaban. The pallid face twisted into a satanic expression and he raised his stolen wand.

'Crucio.' He intoned with great relish, pouring all his malice and hate into that one curse.

She convulsed, shoulders shaking and she jerked and twisted as she curled and uncurled herself into a foetal position. A ragged scream tore from her lips and her back arched at an impossible angle. Her eyes rolled wildly in their sockets and her cries doubled in intensity as two "pop"s heralded the dislocation of her shoulders.

'Enough! Enough!' Harry cried as he crumpled to the ground, shaking. Empty eyes watched him as he struggled back to his feet. Perspiration peppered his brow and he reached to brush away the sweat-drenched locks from his forehead. His legs were staunchly refusing to bear his weight and he staggered, groping for the back of the wingchair for support. 'How could you…? How could you just stand there and do nothing?'

'By reminding myself of my duty.'

'What duty?' spat Harry, testing the strength of his legs.

'My duty to the Order.' He regarded Harry's incredulous expression coolly.

'I was there, you know,' Harry said at last, 'I was there the night you killed Dumbledore.'

Snape's face betrayed no signs of surprise. 'I know,' he replied quietly.

Harry straightened and pulled out his wand from its holster, pointing it at Snape's chest. 'Why did you do it? He begged you not to kill him!' The hand that held the wand shook unsteadily as he relived that night. 'Why?'

Instead of answering immediately, the man turned and gave the Blood Replenishing Potion a stir. 'It is ironic,' he sighed tiredly after a tense moment of silence, 'that I would not take a life in the name of the Dark Lord… and yet… I do not hesitate when it comes to the Order.' He peered with half-lidded eyes over his shoulder. 'Dumbledore was not begging for his life - do not stain your last memories of him. He would never beg… The potion he had consumed – yes, I know about that – was slowly killing him, draining him of life. He pleaded, yes, but not for me to spare him. He pleaded euthanasia. He wanted me to end it quickly. In his last words, I understood the role he wanted me to play,' he said bitterly. 'Albus was one of the greatest wizards of our time, and a bloody conniving bastard. With me casting that Unforgivable, he had put in motion the plan to kill multiple birds with one stone. Murdering the most powerful wizard would help me rise in rank in the Dark Lord's inner circle. I could regain his trust. I could keep an eye on young Malfoy… but most importantly, I could still pass on valuable information to the Order.' He turned and his gaze flickered briefly down to the wand still pointed to his chest before moving back up to Harry's face.

Harry gasped, suddenly remembering the times when mysterious owls ferrying charmed letters appeared almost weekly, delivering the sealed envelopes directly to Remus or to one of the other adults. It had been Snape all along…

'It was also fortunate,' he continued quietly, 'that I had been close at hand to slip the girl a Portkey.'

Harry lowered his wand almost shamefully. 'Is that how you did it? Portkeyed her out of there?'

Snape smiled humourlessly, 'It sounds absurdly easy, doesn't it? Insultingly simple? That's the beauty of uncomplicated plans with very little factors to affect the outcome – it either goes miraculously right or it goes woefully wrong.'

'How did you get the Portkey to her?'

The expression on the wizard's face clouded over and he frowned, not giving an answer. 'It is late, Potter.'

Harry knew a polite dismissal when he heard one and he took his cue and nodded. 'Goodnight, sir.' At the doorway, he paused and turned to look back at the man who wore his cloak of indifference proudly, the wizard who hid behind cold personas because he preferred to be alone, in his quiet solitude. 'Thank you…' And he closed the door gently behind him.

Snape's mouth curled unpleasantly and he strode to the table and swiped the Odgen's off the top. He chose to forgo his glass and lifted the bottle to his lips. He threw back his head and gulped down the sense-seducing drink. He tossed the empty bottle into the hearth, the tightness in his chest loosening slightly at the satisfying tinkle as the bottle shattered, sprinkling shards. He shut his eyes and sank into a seat, bracing his face in his hands. The alcohol was slow in its work and unwanted memories rose from the back of his mind. He shuddered, drawing a rattling breath as her screams echoed hollowly in his head.

Dolohov's raucous laughter drowned out the others as Lucius pushed Snape forward. 'Do you see that, Severus?' the blonde man purred silkily into his ear, the grey eyes alight with a devilish glint. 'The Mudblood whore!'

The ring of Death Eaters laughed uproariously. Snape's lips curled with unhidden disgust and his gaze lingered on the torn blouse, held together by mere threads, barely managing to modestly cover the shivering witch. Her chocolate eyes met his and held him as she silently pleaded with him to save her. 'Do you like her, then? Your new pet?'

Snape glanced sharply at the man beside him. Lucius leered, licking his lips in an insinuatively vulgar manner. 'Your prize – for your taking, to warm your bed at night. The Dark Lord insists, my friend.' He stepped lightly around Hermione, roving eyes drinking in every inch of detail. She stiffened; her breathing accelerating as terror grew exponentially, inhibited in her, and it reflected clearly in her eyes. He circled her slowly, like a lazy vulture regarding a slab of meat, his booted feet silent as he glided around her. She jumped, much to the amusement of those gathered, the coiled muscles in her body reacting instantaneously when Malfoy dragged his long fingers through her matted locks. She flinched and jerked away sharply. His hand entangled itself in her hair, near the roots of her curls, and he yanked her head backwards. She bit her bloodied lip to keep from crying out.

'Can you see her, Severus?' he hissed, enjoying the way her eyes widened at the way the other man's name rolled of his tongue. 'Can you see her writhing weakly, uncooperative in your grasps as you lie between her legs, taking her as she chokes back on her own tears and ultimate shame? Screaming your name in the stillness of night as she begs, between raspy gasps… Crying as you take her forcefully again and again and again, pounding into her unwilling flesh?' He drew in a deep breath, revelling in the scent of fear that tainted the air. She moaned quietly and shook her head feebly. He watched shrewdly out of the corner of his eyes and saw Snape's potion-skilled hands twitched imperceptibly. The obsidian eyes were filled with muted fire.

'Take her. Now.'

As if under an Imperious Curse, the man jerked forward, fingers working at the fastenings of his heavy cloak. He fumbled with his belt and a soft groan of frustration escaped his lips at the many tiny black buttons lining his formal frock-robes. She shut her eyes tightly as he shed the last of his clothing. His warm hands were not gentle when he laid them on her shoulders and applied enough pressure to force her onto her back. She bit her lips and turned her head resolutely away when he tore away the dismal scraps that covered her thus far. Hermione curled her trembling fingers into a tight fist when he nudged her thighs open with his knees. She concentrated frantically on the uncomfortable roots and bits of sharp rock digging into her back, trying to distract herself from the inevitable. Her eyes flew open when he poised himself at her entrance. She swung desperately, lashing out with her fists, but he blocked the clumsy blows easily. He crushed her with his weight, his lips grazing her ear in feathery kisses before he nipped her lobe hard, drawing blood. He growled as she shifted under him, the low rumbling resonating in his chest. Snape gripped both her wrists in one hand and roughly pinned them above her head. She panted, pupils dilated with undiluted fear and apprehension and she was suddenly aware of the friction between their two bodies. He crushed her lips with his in a possessive, searing kiss, invading her mouth with his tongue, flicking hungrily against her teeth. He pulled away and barely spared her a moment to recover before he leaned down and bit her collar-bone, dragging his tongue over the area to soothe the redness at her pained hiss.

'Look at me,' he commanded, his voice harsh, the black wings of his hair framing his thin face. He imprisoned her gaze and with one swift thrust, buried himself in her, tearing her and making her bleed. Tears squeezed from the corners of her eyes and she cried out at the invasion, feeling ripped apart and exposed.

'Look at me!' He ordered and pulled out of her, sparing her only a brief moment of orientation before driving into her again with such brutality that she screamed. He panted, thrusting into her with primeval urgency. She struggled to obey him, to hold his unwavering stare as he rocked rhythmically against her hips. With a guttural moan, he slumped against her as he filled her womb. She turned her head a side and cried softly. His breathing eventually slowed and he pulled himself off the ground and stood. He dressed unhurriedly, slowly doing up his buttons.

The surrounding Death Eaters watched silently from beneath their hoods. Lucius smirked arrogantly, his wand dangling between idle fingers. Snape turned and regarded her coldly, pushing back his greasy hair with one hand, before digging into his robe pockets.

'For your service,' he sneered and tossed a bronze Knut at her. The blonde wizard laughed in perverse delight and clapped the man on the back. She wrapped her goose-pimpled arms around herself to recover what little humility she had left. Hermione hung her head, not wanting them to see her tears of disgrace. With her peripheral vision, she saw him crouch in the dirt beside her. He gripped her jaw and twisted her face and brushed against her wet cheek with velvet lips. 'Hold tight to that as you would hang on to your foolish Gryffindor courage, girl,' he murmured in an undertone.

She blinked confusedly at him, her long lashes wet with tears. He unsheathed his wand and drew it sharply across her left breast, directly above her heart. She hissed in pain as Severus marked her as his. The letters burned into her flesh were thin and spidery.

Property of the Half-Blood Prince.

To be continued...