Author: Ramos

Rating: Mature

Warnings: Implied violence, attempted rape

Hindsight, by definition, allows one to see things more clearly, without the obstructions and distractions of the hurly-burly present. Despite this universal truism, Severus Snape could not deny the conviction that he should have figured everything out long before events unfolded as they did.

Little hints had been there all along, tiny clues that he had noticed but not pieced together until too late. No, for him, it all began when Vincent Crabbe's body had been found in the Forbidden Forest. No one had been entirely sure it was Vincent, at first, due to the condition of the body. Draco Malfoy, pompous and arrogant in his public role of the Malfoy heir, had been furious when Headmaster Dumbledore refused to allow anyone not part of the medical staff to immediately examine the remains. The official reason given out was that animals had been at the corpse, and its condition would unnecessarily distress the deceased's friends and family.

Rubeus Hagrid had frowned, his mouth tucking his beard in at the corners, but privately told Severus that no animal in the Forbidden Forest would go near the thing. Fang, his faithful hound, had refused to even enter the small clearing where the dead man was found.

The Ministry of Magic's Auror Department, headed by Kingsley Shacklebolt, was perfectly willing to let a qualified mediwitch like Poppy Pomfrey handle things. They hadn't the manpower or inclination to waste time investigating the death of a known Death Eater's son, and had told Draco Malfoy as much to his face. No amount of temper tantrums had moved the Aurors, despite some strongly worded owls from several members of the Wizengamot who were known to be in the Malfoy family's circle of friends.

Once Poppy Pomfrey had given her official, professional opinion – violent death by stabbing, and subsequent blood loss - the Potions Master was tasked with checking for Dark Magic. Thus it was his privilege to sneak into the hospital wing at an ungodly hour of the night, turn down the bloodstained sheet and take a long, hard look at something that only vaguely resembled a human being.

The short, stocky body had broadened considerably in the three years since he'd left Hogwarts. Crabbe had certainly enjoyed his meat and stodge, and it showed in the ham-like shoulders and beefy legs. Any sport the young man had gotten was limited to his association with Draco Malfoy. Like Gregory Goyle, Crabbe had been an acknowledged crony of the younger Malfoy and seen often in his company. What the three got up to was anyone's guess, but it did not take a genius to surmise it had to do with their collective fathers' endeavors for the Dark Lord Voldemort.

The condition of his body, however, was not something Severus had seen before in his many years as both a Death Eater and a spy. At some point in the last week, Vincent Crabbe had been – among other things – stripped naked, castrated, whipped raw, and been tortured to the point that his vocal cords had torn and the small blood vessels in his eyes had ruptured, and ultimately disemboweled. The torture showed a level of artistry he hadn't seen in some time.

"Is it possible the Dark Lord did this?" Dumbledore asked mildly, having appeared in the isolated portion of the infirmary like one of the castle ghosts.

"No," Severus answered quietly but decisively. "Draco Malfoy is a faithful Death Eater, and his two friends have enjoyed the benefits of his good graces with their master. None of them have done anything to warrant this kind of punishment. I would have known if he'd fallen this far out of favor."

"Perhaps not out of Voldemort's favor," the old man mused. "However, we both know that Mr. Crabbe has been involved in unsavory doings, which might have led to his untimely end."

Severus lacked the energy to snort in disgust. 'Unsavory doings' was a euphemism for the most depraved sorts of carryings on; just a month ago Crabbe had been implicated in the murder of Natalie McDonald's parents and a brutal attack on the young woman herself. The timing of the violence, just a week after her engagement to Harry Potter had been announced, was not considered to be a coincidence.

Several of Crabbe's hairs had been found clutched in Natalie's fingers, and that along with what were politely called bodily secretions, taken from the unconscious and badly beaten young woman. What had seemed to be damning evidence was discounted by certain members of the Wizengamot, who were, not surprisingly, old friends of the Crabbe and Malfoy families.

The evidence had then disappeared from the Auror department, and Natalie herself was discovered wandering the halls of St. Mungo's Hospital the next day, suffering from a memory charm that had left her unable to remember her name or how old she was, let alone who had assaulted her and killed her family. Head Auror Shacklebolt had initiated frequent arm inspections in his department, but it was too little, too late. With the lack of evidence or a reliable witness, all charges had been dropped against Vincent Crabbe. He had disappeared and been murdered just days later.

Wiping his hands on a red-stained towel, Severus gestured towards the body. "Well, I can tell you one thing for certain, Headmaster. Whoever did this was not happy with Mr. Crabbe. This," and he gestured towards the body with a casual jab of his thumb, "was an act of vengeance, not war."

"Hmm." Dumbledore nodded thoughtfully, seemingly unconcerned with the flayed, eviscerated mass on the slab before him. Holding his long white beard safely away from the clotted gore, the old man leaned over and peered closely at the marks across the fleshy shoulders. "Not a curse, then, you think?" he asked.

"Nothing that I am familiar with, and as you know my knowledge of such things is extensive. I've never seen something quite like this before. In addition, the... miasma of magic lingering at the crime scene was not in keeping with the Dark Arts. As well, if this had been a Death Eater punishment, he would have bruises from being beaten and kicked about. The Dark Lord approves of a hands-on punishment, yet there are no bruises or rope marks."

"Interesting," the old man commented absently, still looking at the corpse.

"If I were to guess," Severus said darkly, "I would say that Harry Potter had a hand in this."

Blue eyes raised, and Dumbledore regarded his Potions Master gravely. "The thought had occurred," he admitted, "considering Harry's affections towards Miss McDonald. I myself cautioned Harry against revenge shortly after her attack. However, I should have expected him to call Mr. Crabbe out in a duel than going to this extreme."

Although he hated to admit it, Severus could see Dumbledore's point. Harry Potter possessed a legendary temper, and he would be more likely to attack Crabbe in a crowded street than to transport him to a remote location and indulge in what would have been a lengthy, pain-wracked process. If it had taken Crabbe less than an hour to die, he would be very much surprised.

"Is that a piece of metal?" Dumbledore asked, pointing an arthritic finger.

Snagging a wad of cotton wool from the side table, Severus swabbed at a deep slash mark – one of many - the Headmaster had indicated. With a bit of effort, a sliver of golden metal emerged from the wound, quivering slightly in the lamplight. The Headmaster retrieved a small glass potions vial and held it close, and with a wiggle and a ping the shard fell into the receptacle. Capping the vial with a blob of beeswax, the old man peered at it closely and then pocketed it.

"I'll just have a look at this, Severus, and let you know what I find."

The Potions Master nodded stiffly at his employer's back, wanting to argue but unable to dredge up a reasonable objection. The protracted war with Voldemort was taxing the old man severely, and Snape was afraid to admit, even to himself, the fear that his mentor would not live to see the end of all this. The man needed to sleep, not spend his few resting hours mucking about with a dead man's remains.

On the other hand, he reminded himself, Albus Dumbledore had been an alchemist of no little renown for nearly seventy-five years before becoming a schoolteacher, and was uniquely qualified to examine the metal fragment. In any case, it was a waste of energy to object, and he had his own rest to find yet this evening.

The body was released to a contingent of Malfoy house elves the next day, and buried with all the pompous self-righteousness of a Pureblood family mourning their first-born scion, never mind the fact that the Crabbe family had more male cousins than was considered healthy in a highly competitive clan. Jokes about animals that ate their own young were not considered amusing in a society that so closely mirrored that behavior.

Days passed, and nothing more was publicized about the murder, although Dumbledore did pass along the interesting tidbit that the piece of metal found in Vincent Crabbe was a sliver of bronze. That in itself was not terribly exciting, but when he added, in that horribly understated way of his, that the metal had been forged over four thousand years ago, Severus found it quite interesting indeed.

However, the war was dragging on into its fifth year at that time and he had little energy to spare pondering the murder of someone who had richly deserved it. His time was divided between spying on the Dark Lord, teaching an endless stream of dunderheads, providing potions to the war effort, and not letting his allies in the Order of the Phoenix drive him insane.

At least once a month Albus Dumbledore gathered his Order at the ramshackle House of Black and went over the latest intelligence in the war. Intelligence was unfortunately a rather scarce commodity in either of its definitions, in Severus' opinion. Habit sent him drifting towards a chair in the dimmest corner of the large dining room where Albus held court over the loud and varied congregation. Severus had already been chivied into revealing what little he knew and could safely relay about the Dark Lord's activities to the rest of the group, and they spent a few minutes discussing the demise of Vincent Crabbe before going on to other subjects. In what was becoming a routine, Harry Potter had asked far too many questions, until Severus was annoyed enough to put the boy in his place. Tempers flared then, and Albus has once again been forced to act as referee between the two of them.

Harry Potter had changed little since leaving Hogwarts. Despite the sobering attack on his fiancée, he was just as stubborn and fool-hardy as ever. His training as an Auror was making him more battle savvy, to be sure, but his uneven temper and moody disposition led the boy to rely too much on his ginger-haired sidekick to maintain his balance. Ron Weasley had matured greatly, but was still a callow arse with a hot temper and unable to think clearly where his emotions were involved.

Contemplation of those two young men, sitting beside each other and conversing in low tones while the rest of the meeting went on, brought to Severus' notice that something was missing. Ah, yes, he thought, his eyes sliding towards the third member of the Gryffindor triumvirate. Hermione Granger, seated at the far end of the long table, had become something of a non-entity in the past few months. She was always in attendance during these meetings, always supporting Harry, arguing with Ron, fetching tea for the members and pointing out important details in the plans they laid late at night while trying to protect the general populace against the Death Eaters. For someone who was such an integral part of the Order, the girl herself had all but faded into the patchy, flocked wallpaper.

Once reminded of the Granger girl's existence, Severus found himself contemplating her from the shadowy depths of his corner. She had been radically changed by the murder of her parents just as she'd finished her first year apprenticeship at St. Mungo's Hospital. Now, two years later, she had the perpetually exhausted look of someone with only a slight acquaintance with her pillow. In fact, she might be the only person who worked nearly as hard as he did.

As an apprentice in her third and final year at St. Mungo's, she had an up-front view on the war and often kept the Order appraised of unusual casualties brought in for treatment. The everyday pathos of the war rolled before her in an endless stream, and she soldiered on, seldom missing an Order meeting. Her work was exceptional, he knew, because he knew how hard she had worked while attending Hogwarts. Her apprenticeship efforts could be nothing else but the finest.

Even from across the room, Severus could easily perceive the darkness that circled her eyes, which were bloodshot and drooping with fatigue. Her oval face was otherwise pale, framed by the spirals and dreadlocks of long brown hair in need of attention as it cascaded down her back.

The wrinkled set of too-large apprentice robes she wore were stained with potions and other less savory fluids. The pale gray fabric pulled slightly over her shoulders as she sat hunched over a mug of tea balanced on the edge of the table, as if she were cold or in need of comfort. A Muggle-style cardigan was visible under the neckline, which left only a small crescent of skin visible along the prominent ridge of her collarbone and the front of her throat. Below the fabric, barely visible, was a glimmer of something golden – a heavy chain of some sort that would have looked better on a man's neck than her slender one. She toyed with it absently and he caught sight of the emblem on the end – the caduceus symbol of a healer.

The meeting broke up soon after, and Severus left the cavernous house as soon as he could force his way through the crowd, fending off Molly Weasley's solicitous offer of more tea. He had other duties to attend, and the less he had to deal with the flock of Order imbeciles, the better. Strangely, however, in the month that followed the image of Hermione Granger returned at odd moments, usually when thoughts of the war threatened to overwhelm him. Her endurance, in the face of all that was against her, was enough to bolster him against the moments when he desired to see it all over with, no matter how. The thought that someone else was just as miserable as he was oddly comforting.

It was not until his godson visited him one afternoon that the image was superceded by another, older memory. Draco entered the Potion Master's office without knocking and slid into the chair across from his desk without a by-your-leave, both actions guaranteed to set Severus' teeth on edge. The young man reeked of recreational drug smoke and onions, regardless of his impeccable grooming. He immediately began to rant about something – it was a long standing bad habit of his – and Severus merely glared at the buttons on Draco's coat until a name, buried in the vitriol, caught his attention.

"What about Hermione Granger?" he snapped.

"I just told you, uncle. The jumped-up little Mudblood refused to put Nott ahead of some brat at St. Mungo's today. Said he'd have to wait until more urgent cases were treated."

Listening to the boy whinge, Severus let his eyelids drift down and remembered a different Hermione Granger than the one he'd seen at Number Twelve Grimmauld Place recently. He paid little attention to Draco's ranting – it had all been said before, and it was not as if there was any real threat to the young healer. In fact, the overindulged twat was absolutely powerless to do anything to the girl.

The two had clashed often during their last two years of school, and not surprisingly Draco had come off the loser on most every occasion. While he was an adequate wizard and had all the advantages of birth and wealth, Draco simply was not in the same league as the talented, driven, and dedicated witch. From the broken nose in third year, to the botched attempt to ambush Harry Potter at the end of fifth year, to the final confrontation just before graduation, Hermione Granger had never come off second to the spoilt brat in front of him.

Severus had been patrolling the halls randomly, late in the evening and well after curfew, when a glimmer of light under an abandoned classroom door had caught his attention. With all his stealth he'd crept up to the stone doorframe. The ward was surprisingly strong, but clumsy -- something he associated with Draco's spellcasting. It was the work of a moment to break it and ease the door open a crack.

Fully expecting to interrupt a tangle of writhing limbs and adolescent hormones, and regretting that he would be required to handle this situation with some delicacy, he was shocked to see Miss Granger standing over Draco Malfoy's supine body. The details came to him in an instant; the girl with her blouse torn open, her brassiere barely concealing half of what it should. Her hands were still tied together with a Slytherin-stripped school tie. Her robes and skirt lay in a torn heap on the floor, leaving the girl in pale knickers that were bunched about her upper thighs, revealing her shapely bum.

What was most surprising about the scene was his godson's wand in the young woman's hand and the fury in her eyes as she kicked the living shite out of the Malfoy heir.

Draco obviously hadn't bothered to remove her thick school shoes with their sturdy soles, and they made impressive thuds against Malfoy's spine, hips, and sides. The boy was writhing across the floor in a vain attempt to escape, but his hands were both clutched between his thighs, clutching at his crotch. His trousers and pants, down around his ankles, further hampered his movements.

Observing through the narrow gap between door and frame, Severus was more than a little impressed. She was both vicious and methodical, and he noted that she knew precisely where to aim her blows – the major muscle groups, to leave deep bruises, and the joints, where the tender cartilage would take weeks to heal even with magic and would probably indicate the weather with their aching in the years to come. She avoided the spine, the liver and kidneys, but more than one rib broke.

Breathing heavily, she paused. A muttered spell and the wand flashed, and a moment later the tie slithered out of its knots. Slender fingers flexed, the deep creases red with returning circulation, before she lunged at the prostrate boy on the floor and wrapped the tie around his neck, using it to pull him around. His nose had been broken, and blood dribbled down his aristocratic features.

"I could kill you right now, you realize that?" she snarled, and Severus was abruptly reminded that this hand-waving, Gryffindor goody-two-shoes was also the same girl that lured Dolores Umbridge into the Forbidden Forest for the centaurs to deal with. Despite her meek appearance and humble origin, she had a ruthlessness about her that superceded all her bookwormish behaviour and rule-following zeal.

Briefly the observing teacher wondered how he would explain it when Draco Malfoy ended up dead, but before he could intervene the girl had yanked Draco's right hand from its hiding place around his testicles and wrapped it around his own wand, then neatly tucked the folded hand under her knee, grinding it into the floor.

"I want your word, Malfoy. I want a wand oath from you, on your honour," and she spat the word out as if she doubted he had any, "that you will leave me alone. You'll leave Harry alone, and Ron, and our families. You swear to me that you'll walk away, and not try for any sort of retribution on me kicking your arse. Not now, not ever. Swear it!"

Snape didn't hear the reply, but it was obviously not what she wanted and a shrill shriek came from the boy. Broken noses were immensely tender, and a hard pinch would be agonizing.

"You swear, Malfoy, on your magic and your family honour, that you will cease this feud or I swear I'll strangle you right here and now." She still had his tie wrapped around her fingers, and pulling it made Malfoy's face even redder than before.

"Aww right!" he sputtered through the crimson clots in his nose.

"I swear... say it, Malfoy!"

He sniffed messily. "An oath given under duress is inadmissible!"

"We're not going to bloody court on this, Draco!" She hissed, yanking upwards on the silk in her hands. The boy convulsed, choking, then gave a great gasp of air as she released his tie again. "Now. Repeat after me: I, Draco whatever-the-hell Malfoy..."

"I -- Draco Lucius P-p-procyon Malfoy..."

"Swear by my family honour and by the magic in my veins..."

It was no surprise that Miss Granger had memorized the words of a formal oath; she absorbed everything like a sponge and regurgitated it on cue. She had chosen one of the few oaths that were actually enforced by the vower's own magic, which only made the irony more delicious. Hearing her force the self-absorbed Malfoy brat to swear he would, on pain of losing his magic and dying a horrible death, cease to cause harm and suffering to herself and her two friends gave Severus a new appreciation for the lack of subtlety. Certainly he was a Slytherin, and preferred the hidden knife and the veiled threat, but watching someone go unrelentingly for the jugular was rather interesting. She was even generous enough to allow Draco one caveat – that the day Harry Potter and the Dark Lord Voldemort met in battle and one of them died, he was released from the oath.

He'd contrived to disappear while Granger had Reparo'd her clothing and set it to rights, and then dropped Draco's wand in front of his face with a casual indifference that was leagues beyond 'contempt.' Severus gave Draco more than ten minutes to wallow in his pain before making his appearance in the abandoned classroom. He'd cleaned the boy up, given him a pain-killing draught for his bruised testicles and a word of sympathy for his bruised ego, but steadfastly refused to report Granger's assault on his person.

"Not to sound childish, Draco, but you did start it," he'd pointed out. "Did you really think you could successfully assault Miss Granger?"

Sullen silence had answered that question, and from then on Draco had steadfastly left the Golden Trio alone. Severus had refrained from insulting Granger for the remainder of the year, even going so far as to compliment one of her essays one day as he handed them back to the class. The girl had stared back at him, her eyes holding both question and challenge. His bare nod in response had not answered her question, but she accepted it and turned her attention away.

Now, years later, and sitting across the table from his godson, Severus was uncomfortably reminded of that day. Here was his godson, once again whining over the injustices of a Muggleborn who refused to stand in awe of a Pureblood Malfoy. How odd that the fierce girl from school had changed so far as to her current near-invisible state.

"Draco, do you have a point?" he finally dropped into the middle of all the whining. "If so, please make it soon and then remove yourself from my formerly peaceful evening."

Dissipated, bloodshot eyes met black ones, and Draco's aristocratic features twisted into a petulant sneer. "I still don't know why you didn't have her expelled, Uncle Severus. I can't believe how far this school has deteriorated. Albus Dumbledore should have been sacked years ago. My father..."

"Your father is in Azkaban, Draco. Just as he was when you made your ill-judged attempt to 'subdue' Potter's confederate. However, it would have been amusing to see you press a case of assault against Miss Granger, if only to see how you explained your attempt to press your affections on an unwilling partner, and the fact that she managed to get the better of you."

"Father would have dealt with her," came the sullen reply.

"Interesting that you have not attempted to rectify the situation yourself," Severus observed. Mentally, he gave Miss Granger another ten points for Gryffindor, for so thoroughly phrasing the oath that Draco was unable to even ask someone else to harm her. All he could do was piss and moan, and hope someone volunteered to do his dirty work for him. "Your oath still in full sway?

"Oh, I overheard Granger herself, telling her odious little friends," he added, although he'd done no such thing. As far as he knew, the male contingency of the Golden Trio had no idea Draco Malfoy had had his fangs pulled. Probably not, or they would not have left the blond alive after such an assault.

"Jumped up little Mudblood," the younger wizard muttered, apparently no better at creating new insults than he ever had been. "She'll get hers one day."

Despite the ominous muttering, Severus paid his godson no further credit that night. Lucius Malfoy was heavily guarded, along with several other high-ranked Death Eaters, and Kingsley Shacklebolt took care to assign dedicated anti-Dark Lord Aurors to Azkaban. Despite repeated Pureblood attempts to get Shacklebolt sacked or force him to change his "high-handed and inhuman" policies, the Wizengamot and Minister Bones continued to support the current security measures.

Several months later, however, Azkaban was attacked one night and completely leveled. The Auror corps lost nearly everyone on duty that night, and the survivors were gravely injured. Severus' Dark Mark burned within hours, and he quickly Apparated to the Malfoy estate, where he was required to smile and rejoice with the Death Eaters who gathered to gloat over the destruction of the Ministry's most prominent symbol of strength.

When he reported to Dumbledore after the revel, he was smugly satisfied in reporting the poor condition of the liberated convicts; most had been welcomed back by the Dark Lord and then promptly cursed for letting the Ministry catch them in the first place.

"It won't take long for most to recover," Dumbledore predicted.

Like most unwelcome prophesies, this one came true well before anyone was ready for it. Death Eater attacks came almost daily, and the Order of the Phoenix found itself fighting desperate battles on almost every front. The Daily Prophet's reporting merely stoked the panic, rather than giving any relevant information to their readers. Calls for Amelia Bones to step down were rampant. In turn, the Minister threatened to declare martial law. The goblins were restricting banking hours to a four hour window in the early afternoon, closing and locking Gringotts' massive golden doors at 5:00 pm sharp.

The Order meetings became even more chaotic and loud, with arguments that often reached shouting levels. The casualties were mounting, and in the bedlam one evening, Severus was only partially paying attention when Harry Potter bellowed at everyone to shut up, because Hermione Granger had been abducted from the front steps of St. Mungo's just an hour ago.

The visit from Draco came back to haunt him as Severus listened to the few facts the Boy Wonder had gathered in the interim; Granger's co-worker had been walking to dinner with the young woman and had begged to step outside for a fag; it was apparently a recognized pattern since "a tall man, in dark robes" had knocked down the smoking witch and grabbed Granger, activating a Portkey and disappearing in less time than it took to tell the story.

Moody gave the girl credit for adhering to the rules of going no-where without accompaniment, and immediately took it back for allowing herself to be predictable. While the old Auror went off on his own predictable rant about vigilance, and Potter yelled at everyone in general, Severus closed his eyes. The conclusion was obvious; Draco had obviously talked his father into taking the vengeance he could not.

The meeting ended with sharp plans to observe known Death Eaters and search patterns Severus knew would be absolutely futile. If the apprentice Healer were still alive, she would not remain so for long and would most likely have wished her end had come sooner that it inevitably would. Apparating to his home, he poured himself a tall vodka, performed a chilling spell on it, and did his best to stifle the urge to fire-call his old friend Lucius. Strictly for friendship's sake, of course.

However, when he turned around, a large, black owl plunged through the window and landed on the back of his armchair with typical Malfoy arrogance. It held out a foot, displaying a familiar stationary.

The owl took off as soon as the letter was off its foot, and was gone by the time Severus finished reading it. The missive mentioned only a time and the word 'clearing' by which he was sure Lucius meant the very next afternoon, and a former Death Eater gathering place at a clearing near the western part of the Forests of Dean. He tapped the edge of the paper, debating whether or not to involve the Order. Certainly, if he wished to advertise the fact he was a spy and a traitor to the Dark Lord he could bring along a dozen or so of the Order idiots. Assuming the girl was still alive. No, perhaps not. He would go alone, and if he could save her, he would. If he could not, then at least he could be sure she died swiftly, and her friends would not be forever tormented by wondering on her fate.

Armed with an emergency Portkey, several healing potions, and more than a little trepidation, Severus Apparated to the appointed spot. He was tempted to appear early, but that would have been thoroughly suspicious. Besides, it never paid to be too eager to do Lucius' biding – a bitter lesson he'd learned while still at school.

At the sound of Severus' appearance, two shapes turned to greet him, not one, and he quickly leveled his wand at them both. Lucius, he had expected, but not the other.

"Soudley! What the devil are you doing here?" he demanded.

"Now, now, Severus. No need to be rude," Lucius chuckled rustily. Since his imprisonment, the once-polished and sophisticated man had lost both his smooth voice and robust health. Now, he was a skeleton of a man, his formerly sleek mane of white-blond hair a brittle mare's tail down his back.

The other man relaxed and grinned at Severus with all the charm of a seventh-year Slytherin who knew he was going to get away with murder – literally. He was a Death Eater who truly enjoyed his work, and had been prominent in the Dark Lord's forces for the last year or more. He had not worked with him directly, but knew his reputation as one who was clever, dedicated, and threw himself whole-heartedly into his work.

Severus sneered back at him, but addressed Lucius. "Since when do you invite others to our meetings?"

"Soudley here is a new member of our Inner Circle, Severus. Surely, you do not intend on denying him the rewards of his devotion to our Lord?" He nodded to the still figure on the uneven, leaf-strewn ground.

"I was aware of his new position, old friend. I was not aware that he was a particular protégé of yours."

"I'm no man's protégé, Snape," interrupted the other. His blue eyes danced in the sunlight, enjoying the verbal sparring between men he now saw as his equals.

Both the older men ignored him completely.

"Why did you invite me, then, old friend?" Severus stressed the last words. "The two of you appear to have things well in hand, and you know I find such things tedious."

"It was Draco's wish, Severus. He knew how much you detested the Granger chit. He asked that you be included."

Severus paced closer to the wrapped form on the ground, keeping his wand pointed in the other two's general direction, and flipped back the cloak covering the rounded end of the body. It was not surprising to see Hermione Granger's pale, unconscious face, any more than it was to see Lucius Malfoy indulging his son's whims. The only mildly reassuring point in the entire mess was the pulse throbbing in Granger's long, white throat, moving the links of her gold chain with each beat.

"He specifically requested that we use her thoroughly before we killed her," Lucius continued.

Soudley made an impatient noise. "What are we waiting for? Tea and crumpets? If you don't want her, Snape, get out of the way of a real man!"

As Severus moved back and Lucius watched on indulgently, the other man quickly stripped the cloak off the woman, only to be confronted with the gray robes she wore beneath. Proving to be a resourceful man, he pulled a knife from his boot and slit the front of the robes enough to allow him to grasp each side and tear them open.

Straddling her prone body, he contemplated the Muggle clothing she wore beneath. "Enervate her," he demanded of no one in particular.

"Screaming is so tiresome," Severus remarked.

"So's fucking a corpse," replied Soudley with another eager grin. "I want some action out of this one. I hear she's a fighter."

"I'll put up a silencing ward," Lucius volunteered cheerfully, walking off to do just that. Severus sighed, and sneering again at Soudley, cast the charm on Granger.

The young woman gasped and stirred, looking up at the man over her with confusion. Her arms were quickly pinned with one hand, while her attacker began tearing at her clothes again with the other.

"Hey, what's this?" Soudley had found the gold chain around her neck. "That's worth real money, that is. Far too valuable to leave on a dead Mudblood." Hermione made a sharp sound, her first, really, as the chain was ripped off her neck and stuffed down Soudley's pockets.

Severus found himself watching Granger, not his fellow Death Eater, and was struck by the lack of expression on her face. There was no hope, or despair, or any other emotion on her features – merely mute acceptance of the situation. He found himself wondering if she even cared about her own survival at this point.

Vaguely aware of Lucius' aimless wandering about the clearing, Severus watched as Soudley became rougher with the unresponsive girl, slapping her and fondling her body with cruel hands.

"What is your problem, bitch?" he finally questioned, frustrated.

"We could make her scream, Severus -- between the two of us. Remember? I always enjoyed that."

Unwilling memories surfaced, and Severus suppressed a shudder. The things he had done in school to win the approval of an older classmate. Harassing the Gryffindors and the Muggleborn students. Things he'd done to please his friend, once they were both out of school. Joined him in his appetites. Joined Voldemort.

Despite his determination to witness Miss Granger's ordeal, Severus found himself unwilling to watch Soudley's pasty, pimply buttocks. He glanced away as soon as the man hiked up his robes and shoved down his trousers.


Instinct and experience had his wand out before he even thought it; Severus whirled about in a tight circle, searching for the threat. He barely registered Soudley's dead body, crumpled like an old newspaper over Granger's body. His entire focus was on Lucius Malfoy and the self-satisfied smirk he wore as he pointed his wand straight at his former confidant.

"WHAT THE HELL, LUCIUS?" he all but screamed.

"Really, Severus," came the drawled response. "Where is your Slytherin instinct? I thought you were the embodiment of our House."

"We're not schoolboys any longer, Lucius. You've just killed a member of our Lord's inner circle. He'll flay you alive for this."

"Oh, nonsense. That would only happen if we tell that serpentine monstrosity. And we're not going to do that, are we?"

Severus stared at the man.

Lucius shrugged elegantly. "I'm merely clearing the way, Severus. Just tying up the loose ends. We can't have upstarts like Soudley here getting above his station. He might actually help win this war, and we can't have that."

For a moment, Severus' world skewed sideways, and he would have believed almost anything at that moment; it would not have surprised him to see Albus Dumbledore emerging from Lucius' Polyjuiced form.

"Explain it to me," he snapped. "You have the position you need. Your place is assured in the Inner Circle. You cannot feel threatened. Since your return you've been nothing but honoured by our lord!"

Lucius sighed, as though hard put out. "Don't be ridiculous. I'm weeding out the competition before they get big enough to actually be competition."

"And am I competition, Lucius? We've been friends for 30 years."

"Ah, Ah, Miss Granger." Lucius chided, distracted. He summoned the wand away from the woman's grip just as she'd managed to retrieve it from Soudley's robes. He followed it up with a painful hex and she shrieked. "You just lie there, and I'll take care of you as soon as I've finished with your professor here."

Severus watched her arch in pain, and wondered fleetingly why he cared; he had no guarantee that either of them would survive this obviously insane Lucius Malfoy. The hex ended, and she flopped over onto her stomach, absently pulling the torn robes over the ruin of her Muggle clothing.

"So, you're just weeding out the up and coming Death Eaters? Don't you think our Lord will figure that out sooner or later?"

"Of course not. He's a maniac, and Halfblood besides. His end is assured, but I'm not ready for him to win this war, any more than I'm ready for Dumbledore and his Order of the Plucked Ninnies to triumph."

A strange sound greeted his ears; it was Miss Granger, laughing. "The bad guy always explains his evil doings in the end, doesn't he?" she chortled.

"Do shut up, Miss Granger," Severus snapped. "You're not helping."

"This is the part where Malfoy confesses everything. Don't you see?" She sat up on the damp ground and addressed Lucius with a dignity and aplomb that was entirely out of keeping with her current situation. "You tell us all your evil doing, and how bloody clever you are."

"Is this some Muggle custom, I suppose? Slytherins never reveal their secrets. We find out other peoples' secrets. Like yours, Severus. I know you work for Dumbledore, the old fool. I know you're actively seeking a way to destroy the Dark Lord. I'm not finished with him; he won't be eliminated until I'm where I want to be."

Granger interrupted again, and Severus was tempted to roll his eyes at her obtuse insistence in bringing herself to a dangerous man's attention. "You want them to destroy each other, don't you?" she asked shrewdly. "A war of attrition."

Aristocratic nostrils flared, the only indication Lucius had ever given when extremely perturbed. "The Dark Lord is a Halfblood mongrel without a true grasp of the old ways. Not as I and my kind were raised. His first rise was glorious, and we all believed in him, absolutely. Now I know the truth – he's a liar and impure. His vision has descended into madness."

"So why not fight against him?" the woman persisted. "Dumbledore…"

"Dumbledore is another fool, with no respect for our traditions."

Severus nodded. "So, you will let the two of them claw each other bloody, and when they are both exhausted and the wizarding world a complete shambles, you'll step in."

"Exactly," Lucius confirmed proudly. "My name is tarnished, but my family carries on. With my guidance Draco will rebuild the Ministry and the Wizengamot as it should be."

"Without Halfbloods and Muggleborns," Granger finished for him.

"Of course not." Lucius did not even seem particularly embarrassed.

"And where do I fit in to this utopia," Severus asked bitterly. "I am a Halfblood. As you well know."

At this, Lucius shrugged again. "You have your uses, Severus. I can always keep a potions master on hand."

"And if I have a different opinion on your plans?"

"Then our acquaintance is at an end. As is your life." The snake-headed wand rose, as did Severus' own.

"We swore an oath of alliance, Lucius. You're breaking those same old traditions you mentioned earlier. We were young, but we were both of age. We swore to protect and support each other as allies in all things."

"Yes, I suppose I am," Lucius admitted. "However, you won't be around to complain, will you?"

Hermione Granger stiffened where she sat on the ground, her back ramrod straight. "You are going to break a blood oath?"

Lucius smirked at them both. "Technically, it wasn't a true blood oath."

"Between us, it was a blood oath," Severus insisted. "You came back to school, my last year, and offered me an alliance. It's the only thing that kept me from killing myself!"

"You were only seventeen, Severus." At his blank stare, Lucius chuckled. "Fake blood, you fool. You didn't really think I'd ally myself with you? I had you for years, on my side, and it cost me nothing more than a two Sickle trick knife that would bleed false blood onto my hand.

"I have enjoyed your loyalty, Severus. But if it is at an end, then so is your usefulness."

"You swore falsely, and broke a given oath!" Granger's voice was unexpectedly loud in the clearing.

"What would a Mudblood know of false oaths, Miss Granger? Do stop being so annoying."

Lucius shot a spell at her; large and purple and hideous, and if he had had even a bare moment to worry about Granger any more, he would have regretted her death. Instead he instantly attacked with his own spells, which were deflected far too easily by Malfoy's shield. Even after five years in Azkaban, his spellcasting was superb. He had also taught Severus a great deal about the Dark Arts, but doubtless had kept the best knowledge to himself.

Severus braced himself for a vicious fight, not even considering how he could escape. If he Apparated away now, he would only become the prey of Malfoy's hunt, and inevitably reenact this scene, most likely on less favorable circumstances. He circled away for better footing, away from the two bodies on the ground without even glancing their way. He knew Granger had had no chance to defend herself without a wand.

Lucius also moved, soft-footed, and their concentration on each other grew diamond-sharp as they each waited for the other to make the next move. In a sudden flurry, spells shot across the space between them and their careful movement broke into a swift dance of dodging and curses, both profane and arcane.

YOU SWORE FALSELY." The words echoed around the clearing. Startled, both men looked at the source. Instead of a sprawled body, Hermione Granger was on her knees, gracefully regaining her feet. Despite her torn clothing and bruised face, the power radiating off of her was immense.

Her hands moved out to her side, the torn robe falling off her like last year's leaves. All on its own, her wild tangled hair moved in a breeze that was not made of this earth. Another hex flew from Malfoy's wand, only to be absorbed by the young woman's palm. The next was caught and strangled to a fizzling end in her long, nail-bitten fingers.

No fool, Malfoy chose the greater part of valor. He turned and ran. The popping of his Apparation was loud in the sudden silence.

Severus realized his legs were not working properly when they gave out suddenly. Kneeling in the same grass as Hermione Granger had earlier, the horizon abruptly went sideways, and the hot rush of blood down his side informed him he'd caught at least one cutting curse. It made his vision go surreal as he lay there, watching the young woman he had foolishly supposed he might have rescued.

She did not seem to notice his own form, and he was quite sure that was a good thing as she surveyed the clearing and thoughtfully stared after the direction Lucius Malfoy had taken when he'd rabbited away. With a measured step she returned to Soudley's body.

This time, when her fingers reached into the dead man's pockets, she retrieved the heavy gold chain. Slowly, with great care and absorption, she untangled the links and held it out in the afternoon sunlight. Her movements nearly ceremonial, she brought it closer to her body, but not to her neck. To Severus' puzzlement, she instead draped it across the crown of her head, tucking the ends down under her hair at the nape of her neck.

As soon as it sank into the masses of brown, the bright gold changed, turning green and gold and black. The links grew tendrils that split, thickened, and became snakes that twisted and hissed in chorus. He could not prevent the choked sound that broke from his throat at that moment, and she turned. Her eyes were red; not like Voldemort's glowing, demon-red orbs, but the red of blood spilled in hot vengeance.

She moved towards him, her torn clothing shifting to black robes before his blurry eyes. The small smile she gave him was utterly chilling.

"Be at ease, Professor," she told him in a ringing voice. "You are safe here."

Unable to argue, he held silent as another shape ran into the clearing, this one bent and angular.

It headed straight to the woman's side and crouched, fawning, against her legs. Not entirely human in form, it nevertheless wore red robes. Its head was decidedly canine, but it carried a scourge in each humanoid hand. The waterfall of leather straps make a metallic susurrus, for each was tipped with a bronze flail. Black wings protruded from the back of the red robes, looking inadequate but heavily muscled. They rubbed against each other in delight as Hermione gave the scarred, canine head an affectionate scratch.

The figure that was no longer Hermione Granger gave her one last affectionate rub and then cast her hand forward.

"Keres," coaxed the woman's voice, affectionate and inhumanly calm and utterly implacable. "Fetch."

He choked again, fearful now as he had not been in more than a decade. Keres, the Hound of Hades, and servant of the Furies. That fear rose up as the black-robed silhouette strode towards him.


Afterwards, Severus was never entirely sure if it were a memory or a hex-induced fantasy. He had only fragmented images of a woman kneeling next to him, feeding him his own healing potions. That, and a Hound of Hades' joyful baying, and the touch of a hand, colder than ice, on the back of his neck.

Dumbledore was immediately beside him when he awoke in Hogwarts' infirmary, and joyfully congratulated him on rescuing Hermione Granger from the clutches of Derrick Soudley despite a dreadful duel. He mentioned that Hermione had returned to her apprenticeship, hoping to put it all behind her, but he – Severus – had her profound gratitude for saving her life. Even Potter and Weasley showed up, gruffly extending their thanks and grudgingly venturing that perhaps their old Potions Master wasn't such a git after all.

Strangely enough, Lucius Malfoy had disappeared, entirely without a trace, much to the consternation of his son and the infuriation of the Dark Lord. Eventually his body was discovered, and the report on the front page of the Daily Prophet admitted to being highly edited for the sake of their readers. The few facts it did contain were gruesome.

The Order was busy taking advantage of Voldemort's loss, and with all the comings and goings at Grimmauld Place, he did not see Hermione Granger for some time. When he did finally cross paths with her, she held his gaze steadily before giving a slight nod. After the meeting that evening, he followed her to the townhouse's large library and waited while she warded the room with a quick wave of her wand.

"Did you have something you wanted to ask me, Professor?"

Normally that would have called for a scathing, sarcastic response, but Severus was not too proud to admit he had learned a thing or two in the last few weeks. Instead, he gestured – from a good arm's length away – at the heavy gold chain around her neck.

"Where did you find it?"

"It was a gift," she admitted. Taking a deep breath, she deliberately looked away from him and out the grimy windows that looked down over the front steps of the house. "Do you remember when my parents were murdered?"

"Yes," he replied shortly, rather than snapping at her to get to the point. It was the first of many assassinations carried out against the parents of Muggleborn students. All had been achieved in similar fashion, with great enthusiasm and inventiveness by the Death Eaters assigned those tasks. The Grangers' deaths had devastated their only daughter – not only for the fact of their deaths, but that she had also been the one to find their bodies in her childhood home when she had come home for Easter break.

The girl had been in the first year of her apprenticeship, an already grueling time for most apprentice healers. Once she returned to her classes and St. Mungo's rotation, she had descended into a depression that alternated with manic studying, planning, and almost obsessive attempts to help the Order. Severus had privately felt that the headmaster's refusal to allow her to help in the aftermath of more Muggleborns' parents' deaths was a mistake. Eventually, however, the girl had pulled herself back into the semblance of living and had ceased registering in his mind.

At least, until that one evening, when he'd seen her hunched over the mug of tea and wondered when she'd gone invisible.

"I almost killed myself that summer, but I knew Harry and Ron needed me. At least, I thought they did." She snorted softly, little more than a self-deprecating breath. "It turns out I wasn't as indispensable as I thought, since that was about the time Harry started seeing Natalie. Ron is a dear, but he cannot handle any emotions that don't do with food or Quidditch.

"In all my readings, I came across several references to the sacred oaths of Purebloods, and how they were based on the original Roman ideals of family and lineage. Part of that includes the penalties for violating those oaths."

"The Erinnyes," he mused aloud.

"Yes, to the Greeks. The Furies, to the Romans. The text I read referred to 'offering retribution' to those whom the victim was powerless to bring to justice. And the Death Eaters are certainly outside of our justice.

"I had to go all the way to New Zealand to find a newborn black lamb, but on the Winter Solstice I offered a sacrifice to the Furies of lamb and honey. My sacrifice was accepted. Unfortunately, the Furies are no longer as powerful as they once were. They were unable to seek out and find the people who killed my parents."

She reached into her neckline and pulled out the chain. "But they offered me this instead."

His eyes caught the caduceus swinging from the gold links, and healer's symbol seemed almost obscene in contrast.

"They saw no conflict in giving those powers to a healer?"

"They were amused, actually. And my position as a healer leaves me in a particularly advantageous spot to see the worst that occurs in this sad world of ours." She sighed. "I use my connection with the Furies to do what the Aurors cannot. In all other things I keep a low profile, and try not to do anything that brings attention to myself."

A scowl formed on his face, quite without his intention. "If you have these powers, then why haven't you used them?" he asked sharply.

The corner of her mouth lifted in ironic amusement, completely unaffected by his display of temper. "I'm still mortal, Professor. The only time I may summon Keres is to punish those who have escaped justice, and then only in certain circumstances. Such as Lucius Malfoy and his broken oath to you."

"But you killed Vincent Crabbe."

"Yes. Although that was barely within my boundaries, and only because he interfered with the oath of fidelity Natalie made with Harry. No one knows this, but they actually eloped about a year ago. They are husband and wife, and Crabbe was an interloper on their vows."

"And so you did not summon Keres to your side to save yourself, when Lucius kidnapped you?"

"Could not. He was committing a crime, but technically not breaking an oath."

Severus hmmmed thoughtfully, thinking through the limitations. "Is oathbreaking the only sin you may punish?"

Hermione shook her head. "No, it covers the classics, literally. Infidelity, patricide, fratricide…" Again, the corner of her mouth quirked up in a half smile. "The usual."

Severus peered at her intently. "So why have you not used your power against the Dark Lord?"

To his amusement, she huffed at him like he were one of her dim-witted friends. "I have no power to punish Voldemort. He has broken no oath that I personally know of. "

Triumph danced through his veins, and he grabbed her bracingly by either shoulder. "Miss Granger. Tom Riddle may not be an oath breaker, but he did commit patricide."

"I beg your pardon?"

"You didn't know? Well, Albus is notorious for holding certain truths far too close. It may not have ever been mentioned in your presence.

"Tom Riddle killed his father some 30 years ago. His grandparents, as well. The house in Little Hangleton was his family's home, and they are buried in that dreary little cemetery where he enjoys swanning about whilst threatening Potter."

Amber brown eyes met his, although dark red glimmers were surfacing even as he watched. "I never thought to try… It never really occurred to me…"

"And here I thought you were the brightest witch of your age, Miss Granger."

Those same eyes became red, edged with black, and she stood back from his grasp. Her voice, when she spoke, echoed with power and the chorus of her Fury step-sisters.

"Don't get snarky with a demi-goddess, professor Snape," she warned him sweetly. "It could be the last thing you ever do."

Telling himself he was not intimidated, Severus stood back and straightened the cuffs of his frock coat. "Noted, Miss Granger. May I accompany you?"

"Of course," she replied in her multi-timbered voice. The gold chain was removed, and he fancied he heard eager hissing as she slid it into her hair. "You're going to be the one who tells Harry where to find the body."


The Daily Prophet, along with every other wizarding newspaper in the known world, carried banner headlines the next day. Most also included the photograph of Harry Potter, standing over a scorched and muddied blob of unidentifiable something. Some of those photos even captured the slightly befuddled expression on Potter's face, but careful editing took most of those out.

Classes were cancelled for a week, and butterbeer flowed freely in the streets of Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. The euphoria was universal, and a record number of first-year students were admitted to Hogwarts roughly twelve years later.

Impatient to be on his way to his own celebrations, Severus strode through the halls on the school on the way to the Headmaster's office. Fortunately most of the students were in the village, joining the general merriment and no doubt making themselves sick on chocolate frogs. He was sorely tempted to see if a dementor would cure the insanity – Pomona Sprout had hugged him at breakfast that morning - but suspected the poor dementor would poof out of existence, no match for the overwhelming giddiness.

Subjected to the usual tea and lemon sherbets, he waited while Dumbledore nattered through a half-dozen bits of nonsense before finally getting to the point. And, as he had for the past few days, Severus refused to give a straight answer. The Headmaster was perplexed, and as annoyed as he could be, considering his side had just won a vicious, protracted war without losing a single person under his command.

"I simply do not understand, Severus. You have had my full trust and support for these many years, yet you will not tell me how Voldemort was defeated?"

Severus assumed an innocent expression. "Harry Potter defeated the Dark Lord, Headmaster."

"Don't give me that fiddle-faddle, young man. Harry himself told me that Voldemort was a burnt cinder before he even entered the Little Hangleton cemetery. A cold burnt cinder."

"I'm sorry, Albus, truly, but I swore an oath that I would not reveal the full truth, and it is an oath that I intend to keep."

Dumbledore sighed. "Surely this person would understand you breaking your word, if only to me?"

"No, actually, they would not, sir," he affirmed, setting down his teacup. "And I have no intention of incurring their displeasure. You have your victory and the wizarding world is safe once more. You will have to leave it at that. And speaking of leaving, I'm afraid I must go. I have an appointment."

"With a certain Healer?" the old man asked, gazing shrewdly over his square glasses.

"If you must know - yes," he replied stiffly.

"You've been seeing a great deal of Miss Granger, Severus. Is there something you'd like to tell me about that, instead?"

"No, sir. Miss Granger is a rather private individual, I've found. One of many things I've recently discovered we have in common."

"Ah, well, then. Go on, Severus. You don't want to keep your lady waiting. Hell hath no fury, and all that." The old man chuckled to himself.

"That's 'a woman scorned,' Albus. Not something I would do to Miss Granger."

"Not if you know what's good for you, eh Severus? He chuckled to himself. "She does have a bit of a temper as I recall."

Severus smiled thinly as he draped his cloak over one arm. "You have no idea," he murmured in an undertone.

"Good day, Headmaster."


Disclaimer: Harry Potter, Severus Snape, Hermione Granger, and other assorted characters are the property of J.K. Rowling and her publishers. No infringement is intended and no profit is made from this story.

Author's Note: Yes, I'm back. Yes, someday, I will probably finish Souvenir. Someday. Really.