For those of you just joining this story, please read the note at the beginning of chapter one so that you're not utterly confused. Final thanks and acknowledgments are at the end of this extremely long final chapter.
A/N: I have read countless stories where Snape drags himself back to Hogwarts broken and bleeding from some myriad of Unforgivables and torture. Although that makes for convenient drama, I always found it a bit unbelievable that Voldemort would casually curse his soldiers, particularly one as valuable as Snape, casually no matter how much he wanted to test their loyalty. There is no army in the world that can function with such an erratic commander. After all, isn't the Cruciatus Curse supposed to be the worst pain you can ever feel? So, while I have assumed that Death Eaters would show no mercy during an interrogation, the cursing of another Death Eater would be both rare and largely unacceptable.
Though you can probably guess, here's your warning that violence and general unpleasantness lie ahead. Some very nasty stuff happens. Snape isn't all that nice… though on the plus side, we finally get to see his POV, sort of. Consider yourself warned.
"Nothing I have seen in the world has supported your famous pronouncements that love is more powerful than any kind of magic."
– Lord Voldemort
"I'm not scared of dying; I just don't
want to. If I stop lying, I'll just disappoint you."
– Robbie Williams
Hermione found herself staring down into the dead, blank eyes of her father. She screamed and jumped back. Only she could make no sound, and when she tried to move, she felt something in her way, as if she were trapped between two walls. To her horror, she felt her lips splitting in a grin. Her black-booted foot pressed against Paul Granger's cheek, smudging it with dirt and twisting the head to the side.
She felt vomit rise in her throat and collect just behind her uvula. It could go no further, for her borrowed body flexed its vocal folds against her will and emitted a high-pitched giggle like a schoolboy. After giving the body a parting kick, he loped away with a gangly limbed gait. He moved towards a house whose outline slowly began to appear through a cloud of thick smoke.
He – whoever he was – lifted a hand to his face, squinting against the black smoke that blew against him. The faint outline of a house – what remained of her house – resolved itself into a blazing wooden skeleton topped with broken roof beams that reached like steepled fingers into the sky. A gust of wind cleared a section of smoke momentarily, and Hermione saw that it was only late in the afternoon, that it was the smoke from the still-burning house that painted the sky as black as night.
Her surrogate body picked its way through the debris with a nearly delightful air, acting like nothing so much as a child in a playground. A swish of his wand caused the twisted carcass of a sapling to disintegrate into ash.
As she approached the path that would lead into her backyard, she began to hear other voices. They were indiscriminate but harsh and sharp, like the chattering of blue jays. Her body rounded the corner, and as she beheld the sight in the backyard, she nearly retched out her insides.
She – Hermione Granger – crouched upon her knees, her head hanging between her arms, her palms barely holding her body off the ground. She was wearing jeans and a white sweater that had a large tear across one shoulder, exposing a bra strap. As she watched, the memory of Hermione Granger vomited blood onto the grassy lawn.
Only then did she notice the half-circle of figures surrounding her other self. One of the shadowy figures turned to face her and her surrogate body, and she recognized him even through the mask: Antonin Dolohov, the man who had wounded her in the Department of Mysteries. She noticed more familiar figures within that circle: Bellatrix Lestrange, Augustus Rookwood, Walden Macnair, Nott, Mulciber, Avery, more that she did not know.
For a brief moment she felt an idiotic sort of pride that what appeared to be the entire Death Eaters' fighting elite had been assembled in her honor.
"You're late, Jonas," Dolohov growled at her, at her surrogate body, who must have been another Death Eater.
"It seems like you started the fun without me anyhow." Jonas, the mysterious Death Eater's voice was effortless, sneering, and slid through her vocal cords like sugary-sweet syrup. "This one doesn't look like she has much left."
Dolohov scoffed. "The only mark on her is where she banged her head when she was thrown by the explosion. We 'convinced' her to take a little potion to make sure she hadn't swallowed the Dark Lord's locket." Both turned to watch as Hermione spat another mouthful of blood onto the scorched grass, the contents of her stomach long since emptied. "Why waste our magical energy if there's a chance of getting it another way?"
She felt her chest rumble as Jonas sniggered. "You haven't looked everywhere yet, have you? I can think of lotsof places on her luscious body where she could be hiding it."
"You would enjoy that, wouldn't you?" It was a new voice that spoke then, sibilant and familiar.
"Mr. Malfoy," Jonas said with mock deference. "Yes, it would be an undeniable pleasure."
"How utterly brutish and unoriginal. Do you have no idea of who this is?"
"Of course I do. She's Potter's Mudblood friend. And I also know that she is female, and she is human. Therefore, why should we not exploit her most obvious weakness?"
Lucius' eyes glinted from behind his mask. "They told me that you had a mind that rivaled Bella's in perversion. I shall watch your career with great interest."
She felt Jonas' lips twist upwards into an unpleasant smile as Lucius stepped to one side. Hermione never thought the day would come when she would beg for Malfoy's protection.
Jonas walked forward, and the other Hermione Granger lifted her head slowly. Her eyes were streaked with red, and her face was ashen.
The Death Eater grinned. "I trust that you heard that pleasant exchange?" The other Hermione coughed, and her eyes rolled back in her head. Jonas knelt down and continued in a whisper, "You see, Mr. Malfoy believes me to be artless in my method. But little does he know that I plan to make you beg for it in the end. Crucio."
Mercifully, there was no pain; all of that fell upon her past self. Instead, Hermione's mind was assaulted by images and sounds, scenes from a life that was not her own flickering in the back of her mind like the shadows of Plato's Cave.
Flies as large as honeybees, buzzing through a rancid dumpster; pale reptilian fingers, cold as death, placing a wand into a chubby hand; the shrunken baby-face of Voldemort twisted in a terrible smile…
There was a sensation like having all the air sucked from her lungs, and Hermione gasped, blinking darkness from her vision. Her other self trembled upon her parents' lawn, spitting blood through her teeth. Her Death Eater twirled his wand between chubby fingers, a snicker escaping his throat.
"Where is the locket, Mudblood? Tell us and we might stop. Then again, I might not."
Jonas twirled his wand in his baby-smooth hand and watched his victim's twitches slow, then stop, then return with a steady tremble. And then he did it again.
Hermione felt Jonas' wand grow warm under the ferocity of the curse, and she beat against the prison-like walls of his mind, casting around for any emotion, anything that she could feel. She knew that casting the Cruciatus Curse required a considerable amount of raw hatred and desire to inflict pain. But she felt around the mind of the man and found only… curiosity. Only an insatiable desire to know, slow-burning and cold.
Hermione watched with horrified fascination as her limbs thrashed and bent underneath the pain. Her body jerked violently, and she heard a crack as she landed on her wrist. The Hermione staring through the eyes of her tormentor suddenly felt a twinge in her malformed right wrist.
When Jonas broke the curse, Hermione saw herself flop bonelessly to the ground, landing on top of her broken wrist without a sound, her mind too overwhelmed to process this additional pain.
She tried to scream then, wanted to scream more than she ever had in her life, because she knew that things had only just begun. Her mind did not remember what had happened this terrible day, but her body did, and it was shrinking away in horror from the scene before her eyes.
Jonas did not disappoint. Few wizards were capable of tossing out an Unforgivable more than three times in succession without becoming fatigued. Even Lestrange and Crouch had help when they had tortured the Longbottoms into insanity.
How many Crucios did it take before one went insane?
Hermione saw herself thrash and scream over and over and felt that she must be quickly approaching that point.
In the summer after her fifth year, Hermione had taken a course in film theory, just for fun. One of their lessons consisted of analyzing the elements of good comedy. Excess is hilarious, the lecturer said. One Chihuahua barking at a chav was amusing. One hundred yapping Chihuahuas was side-splitting.
Light faded from the sky as afternoon turned into dusk, and the bright red splashes of her blood on the grass faded to black. She heard some of the Death Eaters standing around them begin to chuckle. Hermione felt Jonas' annoyance when Lucius Malfoy laughed outright after a particularly drawn-out Cruciatus.
"Jonas, once again you show us how much you lack in subtlety."
Jonas turned towards Malfoy as the older wizard stalked towards him. In the background, the Hermione on the ground moaned softly. The blond wizard looked past Jonas and raised a disdainful eyebrow.
"Is this how you do things? Beat their heads against the ground until their brains come spilling out, leaving you to plunder at your leisure?"
Hermione felt his shoulders shrug. "It appeared to be the path of least resistance," he said. And then he added as an afterthought, "Sir."
"Do you know who you remind me of, boy? Severus Snape. Oh, not as he is now, but how he was when I first encountered him: a scrawny, mal-proportioned youth with no greater desire than to make the world bend to his will. He had to make up for what he lacked in other areas, you understand? By the end of his years as a Hogwarts student, he could recite and cast any Dark Spell ever known and several that weren't."
Hermione felt Jonas swell under possibly the greatest praise that Malfoy would ever bestow. His smile began to falter as Malfoy's grin grew wider, like a shark about devour its prey.
"You certainly like to throw out Unforgivables, but you completely lack something that Severus had in spades. Style Even a dog can learn to walk on its hind legs if it tries enough times."
The wand twitched in Jonas' hand but remained pointed at the ground.
Malfoy raised an eyebrow. "You show admirable restraint for your age. Help me retain my good opinion of you and stand down."
Jonas glared at him for a long moment before stepping back with a curt bow. "Be my guest, sir."
As a diligent soldier, he proceeded to watch the ensuing scene with impeccable attention.
She saw Malfoy walk slowly over to the Hermione upon the ground. She had pulled herself back onto her knees, holding the greater part of her body off the ground but barely. Her hands trembled as they pressed into the ground as if she were kneeling in prayer. Her fingernails were bloody and streaked with green from clawing frantically at the grassy lawn around her.
"Hello again, Miss Granger. I don't believe that we've met since our encounter in Hogsmeade. I must say that those were some nasty hexes that you threw my way, quite unbecoming of a lady such as yourself. And I was nearly beginning to think that you were more than Mudblood filth. What have you to say for yourself?" It was amazing how the silver-tongued wizard could make those words sound like the most tender praise.
Hermione wheezed something at him, but no sound emerged. She had long since screamed herself hoarse. Malfoy seemed to take note of her predicament. "My apologies," he said. He lifted his wand. Hermione flinched instinctively, but he merely pointed his wand at her mouth and said, "Aguamenti."
A jet of water spouted from his wand and trickled past Hermione's cracked and bleeding lips. She swallowed and immediately coughed the water back out, the liquid tinged red from where she had bitten her tongue. Malfoy was a patient man and continued to trickle water into her mouth until she was properly hydrated. She saw herself reach out her hands towards Malfoy's hand, wanting more. One hand closed over his wrist and tugged feebly.
"Tsk tsk, Miss Granger," Malfoy chided as he firmly pushed her hand aside. "You mustn't be greedy. Now then, we can talk in a civilized manner." And with that, he swept his robes to one side and sat lightly on the bloodstained grass. He began to chuckle. "Didn't they always say that I bathed in the blood of children? Well, I imagine that this wasn't what they had in mind."
"What… do you want?" Hermione heard herself say in a trembling, pained voice. "Please… just tell me." She gasped in pain as, leaning towards Malfoy, she put pressure upon her broken wrist.
"Oh dear," said Malfoy. "It looks as if you're still a little worse for the wear. Nothing permanent, however. Ristossis Reparo!"
Hermione saw herself lift her healed wrist into the air and saw the gratitude shining in her eyes.
"What we want is very simple," Malfoy said. "You and your little friends have stolen something that belongs to the Dark Lord, and we very much want it back. Oh, I agree that some of us have been quite overzealous in their efforts to persuade you to return it, and you have my grudging admiration for withstanding the Cruciatus for longer than anyone in the history of wizardkind. But I trust that you understand our distress over the predicament."
Hermione, her eyes glazed over, nodded mutely.
"Excellent," Malfoy said brightly. Then he lowered his voice to a whisper that Jonas, by straining his ears, just barely heard. "And while it is beyond our mercy to return you to your friends, I have always believed in equal exchange. A quick death, Miss Granger; it will feel like falling asleep. I can do that. I can also let this…" Malfoy used the tip of his wand to prod a particularly sore place on her chest, and Hermione groaned in pain. "I can let this continue. All I ask for is one little piece of information."
Hermione wheezed and whimpered, closing her eyes.
"None of that," Malfoy said, his voice still soothing but slightly sharper now. "Let me help you, Hermione."
She nodded in submission, and Hermione, who was watching, screamed in helpless outrage. She could do nothing, though, as her other self opened her mouth to speak.
"I… I want…"
Malfoy moved closer, placing a hand on her wrist, "Yes, Hermione? Tell me."
"I want… dinner." She saw her mouth crack open in a grin as Malfoy's face filled with confusion. "And a movie. I'm not… the kind of girl who falls for anyone without at least… dinner and a movie." Then she laughed, the sound horrible and roughshod as it split the scorched air.
Malfoy's eyes narrowed like a snake's as he hissed and leapt to his feet, making a slashing motion downward with his wand. Hermione echoed the strangled scream that her other self emitted as her wrist shattered and exploded. She stared dumbly at the chips of bone poking out through her skin.
"You little bitch, how dare you forget who has the upper hand? We have you here at our mercy until you beg for death. Don't you ever forget who has the power!"
"Quite right, Lucius."
Hermione's blood ran cold, and her mind froze in disbelief as she heard the new voice speak from behind her.Don't turn around, she begged.
Jonas turned. She looked.
The unmistakable figure of Severus Snape stood at the edge of the circle, having just Apparated to the scene. A hush fell so quickly that Hermione's ears rang. Snape stepped forward, and Malfoy stiffened, rising to his full height and averting his eyes.
Jonas, however, did not look away, and Hermione was able to take in the sight with a twisted sense of awe. Severus Snape had always been a force of terror in the halls of Hogwarts. But there had always been something missing from his overbearing personality: a lack of credible malice as he took points away, as if he knew that he could do nothing to prevent other professors from adding them back; a slight restraint in his glare from the Head Table, knowing that the Headmaster watched at all times.
All manner of restraint and hesitation was gone now. This Severus Snape did not walk, he glided forward, a black-robed monolith of absolute power. Even Jonas remained silent. In her prison, Hermione despaired.
You said you were never here. You lied to me.
Snape stepped past Jonas, his back to him as he looked upon the girl lying prone upon the ground.
"Why was I not informed of this sooner?" he asked in a tone of voice that Hermione had never heard before. He barely whispered, yet the sound sent chills down her spine.
How many more things have you lied to me about?
"Sir," grunted Dolohov. "We believed it to be beyond your concern. You were tracking Potter and—"
"And doing so serves absolutely no purpose when the person responsible for coordinating his actions is lying here among the ruins of her house. Lucius…" The blond wizard's eyes darted over as the dark wizard turned his attention to him. "Physical violence was never your style. Who is responsible for this?"
"I am," Jonas said.
Snape's black eyes settled upon Jonas, and Hermione's heart jerked as she felt his eyes also upon her. I still can't take my eyes off of you, no matter how I might despise you.
Snape's voice, if possible, grew even colder. "You will speak when you are spoken to, boy."
Jonas tipped his head not quite low enough to be deferent. "I believed that I would be better suited to answer for myself."
Snape's lip curled in a sneer. "How long did you torture her?"
"Three hours, give or take a few minutes."
"Impossible. The Longbottoms went insane after one hour."
Hermione cursed the dark and the inability to see clearly into his eyes. He could not be emotionless; he could not stand there and feel nothing…
Jonas smiled. "I did it myself, so I'm pretty sure."
"As sure as you may be, the fact remains that you have done a remarkably stupid thing. Who do you think is the mind behind all of Potter's actions now that the old fool is gone? You have destroyed any hope that her mind could be put to use in our service. And it is also obvious that despite all your trouble, she has told you nothing."
"There's more than one way to hurt a sniveling schoolgirl…" Jonas snickered. "So many more." She felt his hand creep to his belt buckle.
A great rush of air escaped from Snape's mouth that might have been laughter. "Not only is that arguably impossible from your end, it would serve no purpose. The Mudblood has not talked after all this time, which means that she knows nothing of use. The obvious solution is to return her, wiping her memory so that she remembers nothing of tonight, and wait until she learns something of use. As I have said, this girl controls Potter. What is it, Jonas? You look as if you don't believe me. That would imply that you believe this Mudblood has resisted your very best efforts to make her talk, and… well, aren't you supposed to be the perfectsoldier?"
A grinding sound filled her ears as Jonas bared his teeth at Snape in animalistic fury. He did not, however, disagree.
Snape smirked. The semi-circle of Death Eaters watched as he glided over to where Hermione lay flat upon her back, her pain-filled eyes staring into the night sky.
The girl's spine arched, and wretched coughs emerged from her throat as Snape neared.
"Intendos Auros," muttered Jonas, so softly that no one else could hear. The sounds of Snape's booted feet striking the ground suddenly grew louder. There was the scrunch of gravel as he stopped, looming over her fallen form.
Her own voice was much more distant. "—Snape," she heard herself say.
"Miss Granger," Snape hissed. Then he paused, his Adam's apple bobbing. "What an unexpected displeasure it is to see you here."
His wand trailed a path down her cheek, pushing her head to one side. Snape's breathing sounded unnaturally ragged in Jonas' ears, or it could have been the effect of the listening charm. Snape took several steps back and stopped. His body was angled in such a way that only Jonas had a clear line of sight to his face.
Only Jonas and Hermione saw the look of gut-wrenching sorrow – she was too skeptical to call it compassion – fill his gaze like a ray of sunlight piercing a deep, dark pool. Snape pointed his wand at her head.
"Obliviate," he said, sending a jet of silver light at her, his whisper filling her ears like a prayer.
Hermione screamed in surprise as she found herself surrounded in crackling red light. There was more hatred, more fury, in this curse than in any dark speech that had passed Jonas' lips before now. Hermione felt his mind shudder; then she was expelled from his body along with silvery tendrils of memory, traveling upon the curse, traveling towards….
The curse streaked toward Snape, and she was traveling inside, her world spackled with red sparks that connected and shivered around her. The world outside was a blur, and she felt the curse impact Snape between the shoulder blades with a whining.
And then her world exploded.
She was in Snape's body, in his head, in the ragged supernovas of his twisting nerves, in the tips of his fingers as they locked around his wand, unable to move from the pain. She saw flashes of her other self curling in upon herself, screaming until she had no voice left. For an eternal, excruciating moment, she felt her other self and Snape within her head at the same time, their essences bumping against each other and sliding apart like bars of soap floating in water.
She thought she heard it escape his lips, a shout with the brevity and intensity of brushing her hand against a burning stove.
There was a sun-bright explosion as two flashes of colored light, one red and one silver, collided like two dueling dragons. She felt something within her other self shudder and then disintegrate, leaving only emptiness behind.
Then she was looking through Snape's eyes as they snapped out of their pain-filled haze to see Malfoy and a Death Eater she did not recognize holding a young boy between them. The boy, he could not have been more than twelve years of age, cried out as Malfoy threw his weight onto his arm, snapping the bone.
Hermione screamed at them to stop. She could see the tears in the boy's blue eyes, and his skin was as pale as a ghost's. The Death Eater standing by Malfoy twisted the boy's broken arm viciously, sending him to his knees, and Hermione's blood boiled at the sight. However, the words the Death Eater spoke next froze her to her core.
"You're dead, Jonas," he hissed.
The boy's face screwed up, and Hermione saw that they had been tears of rage, not pain, in his eyes. Malfoy had broken his arm to make him drop his wand.
"He's a traitor!" the boy spat at Snape. "I saw the look on his face. He cares for the Mudblood bitch." The childish voice, which sounded effeminate on the man that Hermione had believed Jonas to be, was now the most horrifying sound she had ever heard.
"You cursed a superior officer, little Death Eater," Lucius hissed into his ear.
"And now you'll have to explain yourself to him," said the unknown Death Eater.
Jonas sneered. "I owe him nothing!"
"Not Severus." Lucius smirked, twirling the boy's wand in his fingers. "Him." Then all eyes, including Snape's, turned as one as Lord Voldemort stepped into the center of the circle.
He was barely three feet from Snape, and Hermione couldn't help squirming. The slanted red eyes turned onto her, and she had trouble breathing.
He can't see me, he can't see me…
She nearly melted from fright when she felt the cold tips of Voldemort's fingers touch Snape's—her—cheek. The fingers slipped downwards, in the direction of his throat, then changed course at the last moment, moving towards the center of the face. They touched his skin under his nose and came away with the tips glistening with blood.
"I trust you are not damaged irreparably, Severus."
Hermione felt Snape nod abruptly, coldly.
Behind Voldemort, Jonas sniffled, wiping his nose with his unbroken hand, and looking for all the world like a little boy who had just lost his favorite toy. On the ground, Hermione lay unmoving upon her back, eyes staring blankly upwards.
Voldemort turned slowly, with the ease and menace of a panther. At a gesture from him, Malfoy and the Death Eater released their hold on the boy. They did not return his wand.
"Jonas, Jonassss…" Voldemort's reptilian tongue lingered on the final syllable of the name languidly. "You disappoint me."
Jonas drew himself up to his full height of four feet, ten inches, including his straw-colored hair. "My Lord, you taught me—"
"I taught you to be the perfect soldier. And that involves respecting your superiors."
Jonas sniffed and frowned. "My arm really hurts."
Voldemort's eyes gleamed as if he were smiling. "Silence." He drew the tip of his wand down the boy's downy cheek, leaving a thin line of blood. "I suppose that it is somewhat poetic. When I pulled you from the trash heap as a babe, I had marvelous plans for you. If Dumbledore was going to build his perfect warrior from a toddler, it was only reasonable that I should do the same. And he thought I spent over ten years as a helpless cripple! You were to be my greatest warrior, Jonas. After all, there is nothing on earth crueler than children. But from trash you were born and to trash you have returned."
The boy's eyes, which had been slowly drifting closed as he drank in the praise, opened abruptly. "My Lord! Please let me explain. I saw his eyes as he prepared to curse the Mudblood. There was no hatred there, only compassion."
The smile in Voldemort's eyes grew into a nasty grin. "No, boy, it is you who does not understand. You cursed Severus Snape; you may as well have cursed me."
Jonas gritted his teeth together. "I did what I thought was proper, my Lord."
There was a chilling laugh from Voldemort. "And I too shall do what I think is proper. Severus!"
Snape's gaze moved from the boy to Voldemort smoothly like a camera changing focus. He made a slight bow. "Yes, my Lord."
"What satisfaction do you demand from our willful son?"
There was a silent pause that roared through Hermione's ears. "I demand the fate of the Mudblood."
"Such a curious and small price. Should I have listened to Jonas? Can it be true that you care for this witch?" Voldemort's cajoling tone was edged with ice.
Snape laughed lightly. "I demand the fate of the Mudblood in hopes that something still may be salvaged of her mind for our ends. For the injury and insult to my person, I demand the fate of Jonas."
The circle of Death Eaters seemed to shrink away, cringing in anticipation of Voldemort's reaction.
The Dark wizard's red, serpentine eyes narrowed. "Is it really necessary for you to kill him?" he said at last.
"Death would be too kind. The boy is a danger to everyone around him. He no longer knows his place. He killed Draco Malfoy in Hogsmeade last September, against your orders. He has turned his wand upon a Death Eater today."
Voldemort paused, long and calculating. "I expected as much from you, Severus," he replied. "You are, after all, a man who knows his values." He paused, pondering as wistfully as his flat, reptilian face would allow. "It is a shame to lose such an effective instrument."
There was a blinding white flash of magic, and both Malfoy and the other Death Eater released the boy with hisses of pain. The stench of scorched flesh filled the air. Hermione blinked and almost missed Snape's hand flying forward, wandless – the smoke clearing to reveal the fair-haired boy suspended in a crackling sphere of energy, limbs splayed inelegantly in the posture of fleeing.
Jonas fell roughly to the ground when Snape released him. The Death Eaters tightened the circle. He got to his feet slowly, and as he turned his hard, blue eyes on Snape, he began to clap his good hand and broken hand together slowly, in mocking applause.
"You may take your secret to the grave, Snape. But I know… I know." The boy's voice, no longer light and jeering, sounded as if it were being scraped over sandpaper.
"It's a shame that you were never taught how to fear, Jonas. I don't think I'll enjoy this nearly as much as a result," drawled Snape. His voice was cold and reverberated like a death knell in Hermione's head.
The voice was emotionless, soulless. She found herself praying to whatever gods that existed that Snape's skills as an Occlumens must have merely blocked his feelings from even himself.
The spell was spoken as calmly as if he were reading off a list of Potions ingredients. Hermione had never heard it before. Apparently, neither had the Death Eaters, for they watched the sickly yellow curse arch towards the boy with an air of morbid curiosity.
The beam of odd yellow light struck Jonas square in the chest, and he grimaced, scratching at the spot. For a moment, Hermione imagined that Snape had struck him with an advanced version of the Tickling Charm.
Then Jonas began to laugh in short, sharp gasps, always scratching away at the spot on his chest. Five minutes later, the buttons on his thin linen shirt flew in every direction as his fingernails tore through the fabric and raked bloody gashes across his skin. His gasping had mutated into the guttural moans of a wounded animal.
"Cruciatus is a blunt instrument, boy," said Snape, his voice smooth as butter rum, his eyes alight with hideous delight. "It is always the same level of pain. The victim knows what to expect. It becomes… tiring."
Jonas dropped to one knee, keening as he clutched at his chest, a paroxysm of a small, shriveled man suffering a heart attack.
"I find it is much better to peel away their endurance layer by layer. A skilled wizard could continue this spell for hours, even days, as the victim begins to realize that the pain just gets worse, that it can always get worse… and that it will never stop getting worse, every second that it continues."
Jonas was on his back now, blood gurgling in his throat from where he had bitten through his tongue. He flailed his limbs like a madman one moment and curled into a foetal position the next.
Time ceased to have meaning and was marked only as the boy's gasping turned into screaming and finally into sobbing pleas for mercy. A dozen Death Eaters, their Dark Lord, and Hermione-through-Snape's-eyes watched as Jonas begged for his mother and his father, for mercy, and finally for death.
The boy didn't move anymore; he had broken his back, arching from the ground in spasms of pain. His eyes lolled in his head as his skin began to glow strangely. For a brief instant, his veins were imprinted clearly against translucent skin, a network of nerves glowing darkly like molten lava flowing through cracks in earth. Then the body burst into flames, a rancid inferno that blazed brighter than the sun before extinguishing in a puff of smoke, leaving only a pile of ash behind.
Snape's breaths were rapid and harsh in Hermione's ears. "Unfortunately, the body always gives out long before the mind breaks."
Within the circle, nobody spoke. The other Hermione remained as she was before, prone upon the ground, locked within her own personal hell and immune to the horrors around her.
Then Lucius Malfoy flicked away a spot of ash that had settled upon his sleeve. "See what I mean? That is style."
Without a word, Snape walked over to Hermione's body and reached down, his spidery fingers closing around her limp wrist. She wished she had a corporeal hand to slap him and scream for him to get his filthy hands off of her.
"Severus. Stop." Voldemort's voice sounded behind them, curt and clear. The reptilian wizard sounded almost joyful. "Just where did you learn that delightful little spell?"
Snape's shoulders rose and fell. Then he turned to face the dark wizard. He had not released Hermione's wrist. "I invented it back in my school days, my Lord. There was little else to do at Hogwarts."
"Quite advanced for a schoolboy's daydreamings." Snape was silent, his eyes fixed on a point about two inches in front of Voldemort's curled lip. "See that you never again keep anything that useful to yourself, Severus."
Snape nodded rigidly. "Never, my Lord."
"For example, would you care to enlighten us as to what you will do to the Mudblood?"
Snape looked down to where he was still holding her wrist. "The girl was hit with a complex combination of spells with promising results. It seems to have completely incapacitated her where several hours of the Cruciatus could not. I would like to properly analyze her symptoms and see if I might refine such a weapon against our enemies. This much we can salvage from this botched operation."
"Botched is right," Malfoy sniffed. "I would have liked to see how strong her singular mind truly was. What a pity that mind had to be wasted on one of her kind."
The assault came rapidly, unexpectedly. But Voldemort only lingered at the gates to Snape's mind, stroking the fine border separating him from Snape's deepest thoughts, a location that felt like bare millimeters from where Hermione shrank away, trembling. Then Voldemort withdrew and nodded. "Promise me that I will see the results of your endeavors in good time."
Snape inclined his head. "Yes, my Lord." Then he turned to the other Death Eaters. "Torch the house. Leave no Dark Mark in the sky; let the police think this a case of Muggle arson so that the Order will not be informed. It wouldn't do to put them on their guard."
And then the world disappeared before him, and Hermione let out a little scream as they were sucked into the vacuum of Apparition, reappearing before Spinner's End with the mill chimney on the horizon.
Snape muttered something under his breath, and Hermione's body lifted to hover several centimeters from the ground. He walked rapidly up the street and through his front door, guiding Hermione behind him like a floating sack.
Once the door was closed and warded behind him, he turned towards another door off the side of the main sitting area through which she caught a glimpse of a bedroom. Then he seemed to think better of it and instead flung Hermione's body onto the sofa in the middle of the room. The dusty springs squeaked as her body hit the cushions hard. Hermione heard herself moan softly.
Get me out of your filthy head, she thought. I don't want to see this. Please, please…
But he was backing away from the sofa, step after shuddering step. A lurid collage of every awful thing that the world contained seemed to surge through his mind, and Hermione nearly passed out from its intensity. Then Snape tore the Death Eater mask from his face and fell to his knees, retching violently over the ragged carpet.
Hermione felt his jaw tremble as his stomach emptied itself again and again until there was nothing left and he continued to dry heave with shuddering, gasping breaths.
He remained there, his forehead pressed against the hard floor as his breathing slowly grew deeper and calmer. It took a long time, long enough for Hermione to grow certain that she truly didn't know him at all.
Snape struggled halfway up and moved over to the side of the couch on his knees before taking her shattered wrist tenderly in his hand. He took a deep breath before murmuring a spell in a steady tone. Hermione's wrist went limp and rubbery in his grasp.
"Be thankful to that idiot Lockhart for teaching us that charm in your second year. Otherwise, I would be at quite a loss." The voice that had tortured a young boy to death mere minutes ago quavered under a watery smile as he held her wrist gently in his hand.
Without releasing her hand, he reached into the folds of his cloak and removed a small vial. Hermione recognized it as Skele-Gro. He pulled the cap off with his teeth and then tipped the steaming contents into her mouth, rubbing her throat gently to induce swallowing.
The girl on the sofa did not react except to close and reopen her eyes with painful slowness.
Her vision blurred, and Snape blinked rapidly, lifting a hand to wipe the moisture from his eyes.
There was the sound of a gasp from far away, and the scene began to fade. Snape, she realized, attempting to pull her out of his memory.
She mentally seized upon the nothingness before it had a chance to disappear from view. Contrary to her early desire to depart, she knew she would not leave now until she had seen everything. Feeling as if she were pulling a Hippogriff through a knothole, she dragged Spinner's End back into focus.
It was an indeterminate amount of time later. The couch had been transfigured into a cot, and Hermione's wrist that Snape held in his hand was no longer swollen. With his other hand, he bent finger by finger forward and backward, watching her face intently.
The scene blinked like a projector moving to the next image in a slideshow.
Hermione screamed, her good hand scrambling for purchase on the wall behind her, her wand hand dangling at one side, the hand bent unnaturally at her wrist that would never heal properly. He walked toward her, hands held out, wandless. "I'm a friend, Hermione. I'm a friend."
Her eyes bugged out from a mask of pure terror. "Who is she? Who are you talking to?"
His voice was impossibly gentle. "You, Hermione. It's you."
With a hiss, she brought her distorted right hand to her temple, rubbing forcefully. She opened her eyes again, her gaze darting around the enclosed room like a caged animal.
Her eyes lit upon the strange, dark wizard standing much too close. She shrank against the wall and began to scream piteously. "Where am I? Who are you? Don't hurt me, please…"
Snape lifted his face from the sink and looked into the mirror. A skeletal horror looked back, its cheeks sunken and its eyes glowing dully like the smoldering remnants of a firework. He looked down, catching a handful of water with difficulty between his long, bony fingers and splashing it over his face.
By the time he shook the droplets from his eyes, he was standing before the large table in the well-lit lab, and Hermione realized he had Apparated within his own house. Erected before his eyes was a magnificent construction of glass and metal tubing; brightly colored liquids flowed through them into graduated beakers that looked as if they had been stolen from a Muggle chemistry class. Scattered all about the table were clippings of articles and tattered magazines that bore titles such as "The Search for an Alzheimer's Cure" and "The Truth About Amnesia."
It took Hermione several seconds to get over her shock enough to examine Snape's memories. He had spent a week reading through every book on memory charms he owned as well as the considerable collection in Malfoy's private library. Finding nothing even remotely similar to her condition, he had turned to Muggle publications. He had hit upon a promising solution at last, but it had required Muggle laboratory equipment.
She watched Snape bend over a small dancing flame beneath a glass beaker filled with clear liquid and adjust a knob until the flame blazed blue.
Hermione wrinkled her face in distaste and pushed the empty beaker back into Snape's hands. She shuddered lightly and then was still. Her eyes rolled unnaturally and then focused on his face. "I feel as if I should be afraid of you, and yet I can't seem to scream. Why?"
Snape made the beaker disappear into the folds of his cloak. "I believe that your brain has grown weary of fear, even if you don't actively remember."
She snorted. "Remember. The last thing I remember is heading home on the Hogwarts Express." She stopped, and she could see her brain working furiously. "Then where… where is this?" Her eyes widened and she backed away. "What have you done to me?"
"Why are you so afraid, Hermione?"
"Do I have a reason not to be? It was always Harry and Ron rushing off into danger while I made excuses and held them back. I'm not the strong one. I never was."
Snape stood up so fast that Hermione flinched. "Not the strong one? Don't you ever even think… Shut up, Miss Granger, just shut up!"
He swept out of the room and slammed the bedroom door behind him. Then he fell to his knees before the mattress, and for the first time, Hermione heard him weep.
"What are you doing with a Muggle stopwatch?"
He looked down at the purple plastic atrocity in his hand and then back up at her. "Because I must be precise," he said simply.
"Precise about what?"
He glared at her steadily. "Much as it pains me to admit this, Hermione, you were never as irritating as you are now."
She huffed and swung her dangling feet from the edge of the cot. "Hermione. My name is Hermione," she repeated. "Why do I remember other people's names but not mine? And not yours?"
He never took his eyes from the stopwatch. "Trust me when I say that you are better off by not remembering me."
"I was hurt, wasn't I? By Death Eaters." She gestured to her wrist once again resting in a sling. "I can still feel the pain lingering in my body. Why am I here then?"
He did look up from the watch then. Hermione saw herself shiver as their gazes locked. "You are here because you were worth saving. Because people like you are the only reason I continue playing this miserable game."
Her eyes went wide and for a heart-stopping moment, there was a flicker of recognition in her eyes. "You were my professor," she said slowly, her eyes sliding briefly out of focus.
Snape's fingers dug into the arm of the chair until the wood cracked.
Hermione's lips moved. "You were my professor. You're a wizard. What…" She swayed as her eyes slid in and out of focus. Then she frowned. "What are you doing with a Muggle stopwatch?"
Snape's sigh of relief was released the same time he clicked off the stopwatch. The digits read "04:08:15." His thoughts rang through his mind, clear as spoken word.
She can remember over four minutes at a time now. She is recovering quickly. Too quickly. She must be returned.
He stood over her as she slept, her body curled in a protective foetal position. The moonlight illuminated a stray curl tickling her cheek. He brushed it back behind her ear, his fingers lingering over her skin.
From somewhere outside his field of vision, a few notes of phoenix song floated through the air, humming with the warmth of honeybees. Snape raised his hand, and Fawkes came to land upon his outstretched arm.
Dark hair met crimson feathers as Snape bent his head to the creature, whispering words in a language that Hermione did not understand. He finished muttering, stroking one finger along one of the phoenix's long, beautiful tail feathers.
"Hogwarts," he whispered.
Fawkes stared hard at Snape with his small, beady eyes and seemed to nod. With a flurry of feathers, the phoenix flew out of a window and out of sight.
His other hand reached into his robes and emerged with a vial filled with oily black liquid. He tipped the contents into her slightly open mouth and then wrapped his spidery fingers around her unresisting wrists, jerking them roughly out from under her body.
She blinked away the pins-and-needles feeling of emerging from the void of Apparition and looked into Voldemort's red eyes. Snape bowed to the dark wizard and gestured curtly to Hermione's body lying at their feet.
The body's eyes stared into nothingness. Her chest was still in death. She wore the torn white sweater and jeans she had worn on that fateful evening. Every single square inch of exposed skin was covered with dark bruises.
Voldemort laughed chillingly. "Why, Severus, I never believed you interested in that sort of thing."
Snape sniffed in disinterest. "The tests were singularly unsuccessful. I decided that she had outlived her usefulness; she fought back."
"Proud little Gryffindor! Well far be it from us to deprive Hogwarts of such a jewel. Leave her at the gates. As a parting gift."
Snape bowed. "With pleasure, my Lord."
Having just pushed open the main gate of Hogwarts, Snape whirled around, barely deflecting the vicious Severing Charm aimed at his arm.
Minerva McGonagall held her wand trained upon him, her matronly face contorted with fury until it resembled a grey-feathered bird of prey. "I didn't believe it when the wards told me you were here. I didn't believe you had the nerve to return. First Dumbledore, now Hermione?"
"Don't call me that!" she screamed, sending another curse flying that Snape easily deflected.
"Petrificus Totalus," he said, almost leisurely. McGonagall, still distracted by her anger, didn't have a chance.
"Now," said Snape, observing the rolling eyes of his infuriated and captive audience. "As much as I would like to explain all of my actions to you, Minerva, if only to prevent you from another pitiful attempt to hex me, I simply don't have the time. So pay attention. Miss Granger is not dead. The potion will wear off in about an hour, ample time for you to bring her unnoticed into the Hospital Wing and keep her hidden. I cannot stress how important it is that her presence remains secret. The Dark Lord believes her to be dead, and that continued belief is the only thing that will keep her alive."
He pointed his wand at the totem-like McGonagall. "Finite Incantatem."
She stumbled but kept her wand affixed upon him. "The bruises, Snape?"
He smiled nastily. "You'd like to think so, wouldn't you? It would be convenient for you to think me a monster. They are part of a Glamour Charm, Minerva, and will vanish as soon as I am gone."
"You're not going anywhere," she hissed.
McGonagall's wand arm fell to her side, and her eyes seemed to glaze over. Snape removed a familiar silver bracelet from his robe. The freshly minted metal surface gleamed with the unmistakable etchings of a snake drinking from a flowing stream. With a whispered spell, he concealed the bracelet within an inner pocket of McGonagall's robes.
"You will wait until Miss Granger's condition has stabilized, and then you will find this bracelet on your person and give it to her, believing yourself to have made it. It will prove to be of immeasurable value to her."
McGonagall blinked several times and then nodded.
Snape looked down at the lifeless body at his feet, and Hermione felt a sudden surge of emotion through his mind that left her reeling.
Then he looked back up at McGonagall. "You will forget that I was here."
The spell struck McGonagall the same time that Snape Disapparated, and everything was plunged into darkness.
The slideshow had ended.
--Still 2:30–3:00pm, September 19, 1998--
Hermione blinked away the last remaining tendrils of Snape's memory as she breathed deeply, feeling as if she had just surfaced from a deep pool.
Snape gently lifted his fingertips from her temples. "I'm sorry. I suppose I showed you more than you needed to know," he said, and his voice penetrated her shock long enough to break her heart.
"Do you see now? There is no one left to avenge yourself upon other than myself. Can you blame me for treating death like a fair bargain?"
"No," Hermione shook her head, bewildered. "You saved me."
"I destroyed your mind, Hermione! I'm the reason you are like this now… like a bird shorn of its wings… always doubting yourself and your abilities… always certain that you couldn't possibly be as courageous as your friends. You have said it yourself… getting back at the evil bastard is what you want; it would make you happy. Well, it would be my pleasure to give you that pleasure. All it will require is the death of a single despicable man."
"Why are you saying these things?" Hermione cried. "Why? Did you forget how much you risked for my sake, for all our sakes over the years? I have not. When the war is over…"
"When the war is over, I expect to be dead, and I'd rather not have it be because of my silly promise to Lucius. Spare me your anguish, Miss Granger. I do not deserve any hero's reward when peace comes. I have played a wretched game for 17 years, sitting at the right hand of two masters, bowing my head in supplication as each of them prided himself in my loyalty. Oh, it was a dangerous game, but a game nonetheless. I could not deny it was a thrill to walk on the edge of a knife, and I never did so out of a desire to save the world. Do not think that what I did to you is the only thing I have done to deserve death. You've seen what I can do, what I did do to a pleading child. When peace comes, it will no longer be my world to live in."
"I don't believe you," Hermione said obstinately. "You couldn't have done all the things you did for me… and all the things you've done since then, if you hadn't changed."
"You still believe in redemption, you silly girl?" Snape laughed; it was a wretched sound. "I did those things for the same reason I have done everything in my life. I'm Eileen's son through and through. I'm a selfish bastard who wanted his worthless, pathetic life to have some meaning, even if it meant doing thankless jobs for everyone in the world. Or protecting Lily Potter after she cut me out of her life. Or allowing myself to entertain the dream that there could have ever been anything between us that is untainted and good.
"And it would have truly been a dream to take you to Paris tonight, knowing that the person I respected most in the world was upon my arm. But dreams end, Hermione. Always. Even if Lucius had not arrived when he did, my fate would have caught up to me eventually. In the end, when the side of the Light triumphs, it is best that you feel nothing but contempt for me and everything I stand for. It's best that no one miss me in the slightest after I'm gone."
"I would miss you, Severus. I need you." Tears streamed down her face as she finally spoke the words she had felt for ages.
"You say that now," Snape said gently. But he had not masked his shock quickly enough that she hadn't seen it. "But as time passes, you will always remember me as the one who ruined you. Your Gryffindor conscience will force your quill to write the words. And you will hate me."
"Oh you will, Hermione, you will. One way or another, I will see to it that you hate me enough to do what you must."
She looked up in shock, seeing his face set into a statue-like grimace. "By all the gods, why?"
"Because what was done to you was monstrous, and I, in a cowardly decision to wipe it from your mind, destroyed your life. It matters not that I wasn't directly responsible. I deserve to be punished for it. I deserve to be punished for so much."
"You're a bloody martyr, Severus. And… and stupid and an idiot as well, and I won't let you do this."
His hands caught hers fiercely as they reached for her quill, and Hermione heard a faint crack. He broke the quill. Oh gods, what will I do?
"Why? Because you deserve your justice, and you deserve your revenge."
She was beating at his chest, then kicking his shins when his iron grip prevented her from landing any blows with her fists. "I'm not going to kill you, you stupid man! Can't you see that I've already forgiven you?"
"You would forgive me of this … of the rape of your mind? That you would do so is beyond my comprehension. But there must be something that even a silly Gryffindor heart will not forgive. I cannot understand how I have come to be the object of your affections, but it will serve me well. You would not forgive such a gross betrayal in the end." The intensity of his gaze nearly made her heart bleed, and when she looked back at him, she knew that he was serious.
Hermione shook her head furiously. "I may not be able to remember, but I'm not stupid. You can't just pretend to care for so long. I'll know. I'll know!"
"You forget, Miss Granger, that I am a consummate actor," he declared in a snide monotone that made her want to choke the life out of him.
"Fuck you, Severus Snape!" she screamed. She couldn't see his face through her tears, but his sudden stillness told her that she had said something very dangerous.
She felt him lifting her hands, raising them towards her face. He stepped closer, and he released her wrists, trapping her hands between their bodies. His own hands lifted to rest on either side of her head, squeezing her face just short of bruising the skin. His fingertips burned like censers on her cheeks.
He needn't have bothered restraining her hands; the force of his gaze burning into her eyes held her as immobile as his chest pressing up against her forearms. As his face filled her vision, she knew exactly what he was going to do, but that didn't prevent her from staring in disbelief as his lips descended upon hers.
Viktor had kissed her clumsily, with a gentleness that belied his rough exterior, as if he were afraid of hurting her. Ron had kissed her tenderly, with an ardent intensity that hinted of passion. The night before the attack on Hogsmeade, a drunken Draco Malfoy had given her a very sloppy but utterly exhilarating kiss, his apology a mumbled whisper as he passed out.
Severus Snape kissed her as if he were drawing the last breath of his life from her lips. He feasted upon her mouth like a starving man, and his gasping breaths filled her ears like crackling wildfire.
Hermione banged her shin against the armchair as she was backed roughly into the bookshelf. And then her arms were free to make their way up the length of his back to wind about his neck, dragging him closer.
They kissed violently, a wet battle of teeth, lips, and tongue. Severus loomed over her, bending her back until she felt the top of her head connect with a hard wooden edge of a shelf. She gasped in pain, seeing stars. He released her lips and pushed her head down until he could kiss the wound through her curls, his probing tongue soothing the rapidly swelling bump.
Hermione took advantage of his new position to latch onto his collarbone, planting open-mouthed kisses on his skin over to the hollow at the base of his neck. She felt his larynx vibrate with his groan.
From a distance, she also felt the telltale twinge of the bracelet on her wrist.
Severus gripped her head again and dragged her mouth back up to his. His kiss this time was sweeter, slower. Irresistible. Hermione relaxed and let him take control, gasping when his teeth nipped her bottom lip hard enough to draw blood.
"I'm sorry…" he whispered as he drew away. Hermione knew that he wasn't apologizing for her cut lip, and for a moment, she imagined that he had said something else. My love.
"Tell me this is an act, Severus…"
"I could have kissed you forever," he whispered hoarsely. Something wet fell upon the tip of her nose, and she looked up, stunned, but he blinked and it was gone.
Staring into his eyes, she was helpless as her legs were kicked out from under her. Severus caught her easily and Apparated with her to the entrance of the potions lab. He dropped her unceremoniously at the top of the stairs. She landed in a heap, scratching her palms as she threw out her hands to break her fall.
"Miss Granger! Are you alright?"
Hermione put her hand to her cut lip and winced. Her head throbbed. "What happened?" she asked.
In anticipation of the many groans and death threats for an epilogue, I really don't expect that I'll be writing one. This ending may seem very abrupt, but I thought it better to leave details of Snape and Hermione's new life following the scene in the field in chapter one up to your imaginations. In the end, it was the best ending Snape could have possibly hoped for, considering his impossible situations and the whole world's vendetta against him. But that's just my humble opinion, and the more different reactions from my readers the better. I like to think that I inspired you to think at least a little. :-)
I would like to thank first and foremost my two lovely betas, without whom this story would have had copious extraneous commas and at least one gaping plot hole. Thank you sshg316 and SouthernWitch69; your assistance, friendship, and encouragement have been invaluable and enormously appreciated.
I would also like to thank each and every one of my reviewers, especially those that stuck with this story from the beginning… you know who you are.
Finally, I would like to thank each and every one of my faithful readers. I would dearly like to know what you thought of my (overly?) ambitious endeavor. And as this is your last chance to tell me what you thought… please leave a review. I also encourage you to reread sections of this story now that you have all the chapters, as I had an inordinate amount of fun plugging in little clues and references throughout, from the seemingly-random appearances of Snape's raven to subtle hints of the growing SSHG relationship by the timestamps of scenes at Spinner's End extending later and later into the night.
And if after this, you are in the mood for lighter fare, I have also written two entertaining one-shots More Than a Dream and Serpensortia that can both be considered SSHG.
I'll leave you with this final lesson in bad
Intendos Auros intendo (aim/extend) + auros (ear)
Quirictusempra quirito (scream) + sempra (always)
Imperio Prodico impero (command) + prodico (to delay)