DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Warning: This chapter contains descriptions of non-consensual sex.
A Capacity for Forgiveness
The Halloween feast had been more sombre than usual. The Jack-O-Lanterns' grins had seemed forced, and the tricks played by the Underclassmen half-hearted. There were many reasons for this: Katie Bell was still in hospital; there had been more reports of Death Eater attacks in the news; and Snape was, if possible, more snarky as the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher than he had been as Potions master, and had put the entire student body into a funk with his moods. Anyone who paid attention to that sort of thing would have noticed that said snark was absent from dinner that evening. Along with the Headmaster and, it seemed, half of the rest of the staff. Not that it had done much to lighten the mood. There was probably only one student who took any note of it anyway, and he was already in such a poor state that even a lap dance courtesy of Madam Rosmerta would have done little to improve his humour.
Harry had spent the evening distracted, trying to keep an eye on that student, but he had done nothing but sit poker-straight at the Slytherin table, looking rather peaked. Ron had, predictably, been oblivious to everything but the food (pork roast with whipped potatoes and peas), and Hermione had fluttered between finding Ron heart-meltingly cute (the way his hair flopped over his eyes or that little grin every time he looked at her) and unbelievably infuriating (every second word out of his mouth involved a Quidditch term, and he had sprayed bits of potato around when he laughed at Seamus's disturbingly accurate imitation of Professor Sinistra).
Once they had been dismissed, Harry had tried to talk Hermione and Ron into taking the Invisibility Cloak and tailing Malfoy. He had the Cloak with him in his pocket, as usual; it seemed he never went anywhere without it anymore.
"I'm getting worried about you." Hermione looked at Harry, troubled. "You're getting obsessive about Malfoy."
"I know you don't believe me," Harry said shortly, "but at the very least, as my so-called friend, could you not accuse me of mental illness?"
"That's not what I meant, Harry, honestly." Hermione frowned, both frustrated and annoyed. Harry and Ron had both been getting so funny lately, misinterpreting everything on purpose, or being so self-absorbed that they were downright oblivious to anything else going on. "I don't think you're crazy for worrying about Malfoy. I just think you should remember there are other things in life besides Draco Malfoy and whatever it is he's up to."
"Yeah, I know, I should be studying, right?" Harry snorted derisively. "Only tell me, how is getting good marks in Herbology going to help me defeat Voldemort?" he snarled. Hermione could have mentioned how knowing about Gillyweed would have been a great bonus to Harry during the Tri-Wizard Tournament, and that a similar situation could possibly arise in a confrontation with Voldemort, but she didn't. Sometimes, it was better to keep one's mouth shut.
"You're the one who should get her nose out of the library and take a look at 'other things in life', Hermione." Harry stalked off, alone.
"Touchy, eh?" Ron said, giving Hermione a goofy grin.
Hermione smiled in a pained way. "Oh, Ron, he's right, in a way. I mean, now that he knows about the--" She lowered her voice and looked around to make sure they were alone in the corridor. "--the Prophecy, school really isn't a priority for him anymore."
"But you're right, Hermione," Ron replied staunchly. "If he doesn't get off this Malfoy kick, he's going to start failing his subjects. He needs to pass so he can take his NEWTs next year." And start his Auror training, was the unspoken conclusion.
"Ron, don't you get it?" Hermione said, as gently as she could. "Harry's worried that he might not live that long."
Hermione and Ron covered the rest of the distance to the Gryffindor common room in uncomfortable silence. At the portrait hole, Ron let Hermione go first, and put his hand on her back, perhaps to guide her or steady her, or perhaps just to touch her. Hermione ducked her head and smiled, feeling a pleasant twinge in her stomach. Since she'd told him that she wanted him to come to Slughorn's Christmas party with her, he'd been downright chivalrous. He was so cute; she knew now that he fancied her, but it was hard for both of them to move their relationship on to the next level, seeing as they had been 'just' friends for so long.
They said goodnight in the common room, both hesitating a little, waiting to see if the other one wanted to say something else; both wanting to say something else, but being too shy to do so. Finally, Ron mumbled something about having a happy Halloween and shambled off to the boys' dorms. Hermione returned the sentiment and fairly skipped up to her room.
Snape finished decanting the potion into individual phials and stoppered them firmly. Four phials. Four doses. Four crimes about to be committed. He refused to think about that, though. He had long ago stopped thinking beyond the moment where his service to the Dark Lord was concerned. If he had thought about repercussions, consequences, lives being destroyed, he would surely have gone insane. Or killed himself.
He cleaned the cauldron in which he had prepared the potion with a methodical flick of his wand. Taking proper care of one's equipment was important. He then placed the four phials neatly onto a tray and carried them down the hall to the room where the ritual was to take place.
They were in an underground bunker, built by Muggles some sixty years earlier, but long since forgotten by them. The whole place was cramped and low-ceilinged, and he had to duck his head when passing through doorways. Dull greenish paint flaked off the omnipresent metal and concrete, and the ceilings and walls were stained brown and black with the results of water seepage and fungal growth. All in all, it was a rather depressing place to be. But then, he considered, the Dark Lord hadn't appropriated the premises for a holiday escape.
"Milord, the potion has arrived." Pettigrew's eyes sparkled in anticipation, but he avoided meeting the bearer's gaze. His left hand incessantly caressed his right.
"Excellent." Voldemort looked up from the tome he had been perusing, his blood-red eyes flicking to the tablet with the doses, then up to their author. "Then we may prepare for the evening's festivities." His lips spread in a disgusting leer. "Snape. You have been extremely courteous in the past. Always letting others take their turn. I think it's about time you were rewarded for your continuing loyalty."
"Milord." Snape inclined his head deferentially, his face blank. "I thank you for your benevolence. I am pleased to be able to serve you, as ever. I need no further reward."
Pettigrew snickered, his left hand moving more quickly over the smooth silver curve of his right one now.
Voldemort's red gaze pierced Snape's black one. "I insisssst," he hissed softly.
Snape did not look away, but he stiffened perceptibly. "I believe you know that I find the prospect of touching...Muggle flesh," he seemed barely able to suppress a shudder, "distasteful in the extreme. Perhaps Pettigrew would prefer--"
"Pettigrew will get his, don't worry about that, won't you, Peter?" Voldemort still did not take his eyes off Snape.
Pettigrew nodded with glee. "Yes, Master."
Voldemort's hands cramped convulsively on the book before him, creasing the yellowed pages. "But I feel that you have been neglected by us of late, Snape. I don't want you to think that we aren't keeping an eye out for you. You've been spending altogether too much time away from our company. Tonight's round of activity will do you a world of good."
"As Milord wishes," Snape acquiesced.
"And--" His leer became more obscene. "--Tonight, you need not worry about sullying yourself with Muggle flesh. But I dare say no more, lest I spoil the surprise!"
Hermione awoke with a start. It was quiet, yet something had woken her. There was a faint light filtering in through the dormitory window. She turned her head to look at her roommates' beds and she was barely able to suppress a scream as her heart leapt into her throat: a black figure was hovering next to her bed. At first, she thought it was one of the resident ghosts; the Grey Lady? Then she noticed the white skull mask, and she took a breath to scream, but in that moment the figure touched her, and she felt a violent jerk which pulled at her from somewhere deep inside her gut. And then there was blackness.
Snape drank the potion. It was smooth and greasy going down, and the bitter taste of ironwood bark clung to the inside of his throat. This was only the second time that he had taken it; the second time that he had been selected for this particular task. The first time, eighteen years earlier, it had been a sort of ritual of initiation. He had looked forward to it, been excited. Now, he felt absolutely nothing. He did not allow himself to feel anything. If he had, he would have retched up the potion all over the cracked brown linoleum. And he needed the potion, would not be able to complete the ritual without it. Already, he could feel its effects.
He took note of the two initiates out of the corner of his eye, also swallowing their potion. One of them was Draco. Snape supposed that the Dark Lord might have singled him, Snape, out for this task in order to bolster Draco. Not that the youth looked particularly like he needed any egging on. He was walking with a swagger, joking with the other initiate, Venalle, about what they were going to do. As Snape had done his first time.
Venalle, a few years older, had bragged, of course, that he wouldn't need the potion, but clearer, more experienced heads had prevailed. Pettigrew, the fourth member of their group, had knocked his back eagerly, licking his lips. Now, all that remained was to wait for the victims.
They were in an anteroom just off the larger room of assembly. The minutes ticked by. It wouldn't be long now. Draco and Venalle were obviously enjoying the potion's progressive effect on their bodies, adjusting their positions and their robes both pompously and self-consciously.
Two knocks on the door told them that the 'favors', as the Dark Lord called them, had arrived. Favors for his loyal followers. Snape was now feeling some physical discomfort, and was glad that everything would be over soon. As with any other unpleasant task, the only thing to do was to switch off one's innate reactions and get on with it. Afterward, it would be nothing but a memory.
A minute later, a triple knock on the door signalled them to pull their hoods up over their heads and mask their faces. It was silly, really; everyone knew who everyone else was, even with the masks, and the Muggles would be Obliviated afterward anyway. But Voldemort insisted on the masks, and who were they to argue?
The door was opened, and Snape led the others out. A good dozen Death Eaters ringed the room, both as observers and as vicarious hedonists. Voldemort himself was standing at the head of the room. His black robe hung straight down from his narrow shoulders, giving the impression that there was no body underneath it. His head was bare, and despite the skull-like appearance, he emanated an immense sense of power, at once attractive and repulsive. His red eyes locked on to Snape greedily as a haughty sneer disfigured his features even further.
And there were the 'favors', laid out on operating tables appropriated from the old Muggle field hospital which had been housed here. Snape allowed himself to glance briefly at the nearest one. A blonde, vaguely pretty, although it was hard to see past the rigidity brought on by her Immobilization. And young. A special concession to the initiates; they often found it difficult to complete the task with women old enough to be their mothers. Or grandmothers.
Snape tried not to focus on the stiff forms, but he did take in the fact that they were all young, barely more than girls. He took in the fact that they were all wearing nightclothes. And he took in the fact that that one had a great deal of long, frizzy brown hair. His step faltered, his heart started thumping harder in his chest. She was at the wrong angle to see her face, but it couldn't be--. He looked at the blonde one again, the closest one. She was looking at him now, her eyeballs swivelled sideways in her immobilized head. She was afraid. And he knew her. That was Lisa Turpin, a sixth-year in Ravenclaw. And the others-- Sandy Ploppe, a seventh-year Hufflepuff; Oonagh MacDermott, her year-mate from Gryffindor, and-- yes, it was, damnit, it had to be. Potter's friend, Hermione Granger. Good gods in the heavens. Voldemort had kidnapped four Muggle-born Hogwarts students for them to rape.
It was cold. Her chest hurt. Her head felt thick and heavy; feverish. She heard voices, dimly, murmuring. Remembering what had happened, she tried to move and panicked when she realized that she couldn't. Not her arms, not her legs, not ever her head. She must be Immobilized. This diagnosis was confirmed by the fact that she was able to open her eyes. Immobulus only interfered with the larger movements; the internal systemic musculature of the digestive, cardio-vascular and respiratory systems was unaffected, and swallowing and blinking were still possible. Vocalization, however was not. It calmed her ever so slightly to know that, even in a situation like this, her wits hadn't left her.
What situation was she in, anyway? She turned her eyes this way and that, trying to see. The room was weakly lit, but it was clear that she wasn't in her dormitory any more. There were shadowy figures standing around the sides of the room: Death Eaters. She was lying on her back on a raised surface. A bed, perhaps, but it was a little too high to be a bed. Too hard, as well. A table. Made of wood, or maybe metal. She couldn't move her hand to feel the material, but it was cold enough. Just at the edge of her field of vision, she could see someone else lying down in a similar position, wearing a light-coloured nightdress. She couldn't see who it was, but she had the uneasy feeling it was another Hogwarts student. She didn't dwell on that for long, however for another thought arose: why had they been brought here? She could only imagine two things that Death Eaters would do to witches bound immobilized on slabs: either they were going to torture her for information...or they were going to kill her. Probably both. She swallowed convulsively and stared straight up at the ceiling.
"Ah, splendid, splendid!" An unnaturally high man's voice spoke. It also sounded to Hermione like it might be magically distorted. Or perhaps magically sustained. Someone in the same direction as the speaker clapped twice. "We are ready to begin, then. I trust you have already recognized what a special event we have in store tonight." The voice took on a dark, threatening edge. "You Mudbloods, I am speaking to you as well, so listen carefully. I want you to take back every word, every action, to your Headmaster."
So there are other students here, Hermione thought, and they're not going to kill us. Not if we have to report back to Dumbledore. She thought this with both relief and trepidation. It was certainly good to know that she would live through the night. But whatever in the Nine Hells they had been brought here for, she didn't want to contemplate...
"Tonight," Voldemort said, "the Death Eaters are taking another step forward. Up until now, only the ensign of the Dark Mark has testified of our work. We have been forced to eradicate all witnesses in order to protect ourselves from the injustice of the filthy Muggle-lovers. But with the Dementors now working with us, we are ready to show our strength. You, Mudblood whores, will bear witness to all of wizardkind, of what happens to those who are unworthy to control the magic they possess, and who fight against the inevitability of our dominion."
A murmur of assent rose from the edges of the room.
"And now," he continued with gleeful anticipation, "I am sure that our participants are eager for the fun to begin. Initiates, you may choose your favorite. No pushing, now," he added with a chortle, "there's enough to go round."
Pettigrew echoed his master's laugh and squeezed his silver hand spasmodically in his impatience.
Venalle stepped immediately to Lisa Turpin's side. "Milord," he asked eagerly, "shall I cancel the spell? Or is it better to leave them Immobilized?"
Voldemort chuckled, a mirthless, raspy sound. "It is entirely up to you. Although I believe it will be much more entertaining all round if they are free to thrash and scream. However--" He raised a skeletal finger even as Venalle raised his wand. "Wait a moment, until all of your friends are in position. It seems that our second initiate is having a bit of difficulty choosing."
Snape looked at Draco, who was, indeed, standing irresolutely just a few paces away from the door. He looked at Snape through his mask. "Those are Hogwarts students," he whispered to him.
"You think I haven't recognized that, you prat?" Snape hissed back. "Just pick one and get it over with."
"But I--" Snape could see Draco's grey eyes, wide behind the slits. And if he could see them, the others would be able to see them as well.
"What seems to be the problem?" Voldemort inquired with a hint of impatience.
Snape turned back to the Dark Lord and at the same time pointed his wand at his own throat. "Voxtorqueo." Thus ensuring that his voice would not be recognized, he continued, "Milord, permission to approach."
Voldemort testily signalled his acquiescence.
Snape approached to within two paces, then dropped to one knee and bowed his head, trying to ignore the urgent throbbing which the potion had brought on. "Milord," he spoke in a low voice, "the initiate fears that he will be recognized. They are his classmates, after all. And if I may, the same goes for myself. I would not be able to continue in my position at Hogwarts if it should come out that I was here tonight."
Voldemort did not respond for a moment. Then he said, "Then ensure that it does not come out. Crucio!"
A cramping pain seized every muscle in Snape's body instantly. He gritted his teeth; this was a mild one. He wouldn't need to scream. He wouldn't... With a twist of his wand, Voldemort punctuated the spell. Snape gasped for air.
"Never question me," Voldemort said flatly.
"Thank you, Milord," Snape whispered hoarsely and stood up with as much dignity as he could. He then went to Draco and grabbed his arm. "Do not speak and keep your gaze averted as much as you can," he hissed at him irritably. "You must comply. Try and get it over with quickly. There is little chance any of them will recognize us."
"But I can't!" Draco sounded close to panic. "I-- I know them! I don't want to hurt them!"
"And yet you would have no qualms about doing the same to someone else's schoolmate, girlfriend, or daughter," he shot back. "If you want to survive among the Death Eaters, I suggest you get rid of your conscience right now. Or bury it where it won't plague you. Now go on. I will not be able to protect you from our Master's displeasure." Snape fairly threw Draco forward.
The young man looked around, only now, it seemed, taking note of the other Death Eaters ringing the room. Making a decision, he threw back his shoulders and walked, almost cockily, to the Hufflepuff seventh-year.
Voldemort nodded and smiled. "And you, Wormtail? Whom do you wish to have your fun with this evening?"
Pettigrew scampered to the raven-haired MacDermott girl, panting and groping at his groin.
"That leaves the runt of the litter for you," Voldemort said to Snape disdainfully. "Beggars can't be choosers, you know. Choice is a dangerous thing to have anyway. Be grateful that you have been spared it."
Snape walked stiffly to the table on which Hermione lay. She watched him approach with fear and loathing. He had to remind himself that she didn't know who he was. Although, he considered, she would give him much the same look if she did.
"You all know the rules," Voldemort announced. "Anything goes, and last one left standing wins!" He clapped his hands twice, and the Death Eaters around the room began to hiss.
Hermione had figured out that the strange, high voice was Voldemort, although she couldn't see him from where she was. She had also understood that four Death Eaters were going to be in charge of their torture, and that one of them, an initiate, had balked. Unfortunately, it wasn't the one who was coming over to her now. She was getting an experienced one. Remembering that Harry had been tortured by Voldemort himself, she reasoned that she should be able to get through whatever this Death Eater had in store for her, and the thought gave her new resolve.
She took note of his gait as he approached, thinking that she might be able to identify him later by it. Also his height, build, and hands, the only part of him that wasn't covered by his robe. His skin was pale, and the backs of his hands were sparsely covered with black hairs. They weren't the hands of a young man; the veins were already prominent, but there were no wrinkles or liver spots, so he wasn't that old, either. She looked at his face, trying to see something through the shadowy eye holes, but he held his head at an angle that made it impossible.
Voldemort started to say something, but at that very moment, 'her' Death Eater leaned over and whispered quickly, "Keep your eyes closed. Block off your mind. Do not fight. I will do my best not to hurt you." Then she heard two sharp claps, and a terrible hissing began.
Immediately, a cry of "Crucio!" rang out. Then another voice: "Finite Incantatem." And then she was also being freed. Her limbs relaxed, and she started to pull herself up, but the Death Eater pushed her back down fiercely, knocking the wind out of her. "Take my advice," he said, sharp and low.
Now able to move, however, she wasn't about to take whatever he had planned for her lying down. She scrambled into a sitting position, just in time to see another Death Eater point his wand-- rather shakily, she thought; perhaps that was the reluctant initiate-- at a girl who was curled up in a ball. Actually not such a bad strategy, Hermione thought, but then the girl was hit by a Cruciatus, and her body stretched out involuntarily, twisting and writhing with pain. Holy Mother Circe, Hermione thought to herself. That's Sandy Ploppe. She tried to get a look at the other two girls, but the Death Eater at her side was pushing her down again, his hand on her throat. "I won't warn you again, Miss Granger," he whispered, more urgently this time. "Keep still, or I shall be forced to do something we would both regret." Hermione thought he was trying to keep his tone down below that of the incessant hissing, which was in effect working like a Muffliato charm.
Hermione was startled into compliance. Miss Granger? Who among the Death Eaters would address her like that? Draco? Could Harry have been right about him being a Death Eater? But this wasn't Draco. He wouldn't have called her 'Miss Granger', and anyway, his hands wouldn't look like that. Who else? Hermione tried frantically to think, hoping that her identifying him now could somehow help her. Could it be... Was it Snape? He was supposed to have been reformed, but maybe he was still one of them. He said he would try not to hurt her. Maybe he meant it. Maybe he was just pretending to be one of them. This calmed her slightly.
One of the other girls was screaming now. Not the incoherent screams of pain which accompanied the Cruciatus curse, but cries of "No! Please, don't! Help me!" Hermione turned her head and saw a smallish Death Eater climbing up on top of a girl with short, dark hair (that had to be Oonagh!). He ripped her nightshirt apart and shoved his mask halfway up onto his head so that he could get his mouth around her exposed breast. She continued to plead for help and tried to push him away, putting her knees up against his body, but he simply immobilized her again in that position.
Hermione was watching the scene in horror, until she felt 'her' Death Eater pull her down toward the bottom edge of the table. She propped herself up on her elbows, thinking that he wanted her to stand up, but instead he grasped the waistband of her pyjama bottoms and started to yank them off.
"What are you doing?" she screeched, grabbing at the pants.
In response, he placed his wand at her throat and pulled her pants off with his other hand. Hermione got a sick feeling of foreboding, worse than when she had thought that she was 'merely' going to be tortured.
"Tarantallegra! Rictusempra!" Across the room, Lisa Turpin was lying on the floor, legs moving wildly and a terrible forced laughter coming from her lips. Her face was covered in blood, and a tall, thin Death Eater was standing over her, legs apart and arms crossed, like the Colossus. His shoulders were shaking, as if in mirth.
Hermione felt the cold, unyielding surface of the metal tabletop under her bare buttocks. Her legs were hanging off the edge of the table, and the Death Eater (whom she was now sure was not Snape: he might be mean, but he would never do this) was standing between them. Compulsively, she sought out the eyes behind the mask of the man standing over her, but the inside was lost in shadow. Still keeping his wand at her throat (long, fourteen or fifteen inches, black wood), he hitched his robe up with his other hand and reached underneath, just below waist level. Hermione shook her head frantically. "No, please don't, please," she pleaded, near tears, "put me under the Cruciatus, please, just don't--" She tried to cover up her nakedness with one hand, grabbed his wand with the other.
"Imperio!" the man commanded loudly.
Hermione felt numb. She was fully aware of what was happening, but she was completely uninvolved. It was as if she were experiencing it all through many layers of cotton. She was certain that if she lay perfectly still, nothing bad would happen. Nothing bad at all.
But then she felt his cold fingers seeking her opening, splaying her lips, and something else was pressing against her, something warm, and then there was a quick twinge, and she knew that he had entered her, and the shock of it threw off the Curse. She clutched at his wand with one hand, the edge of the table with the other, and squeezed her eyes shut. She was being raped. It was really happening. The hissing filled her ears, and she screamed.