This story was written for servantofall36 in the Summer 2007 round of the SS/HG gift exchange. The story is complete in three chapters, which will be posted within a week.
Bound to Silence
She walked up the street, looking curiously around her. She didn't quite know what she had expected, but it wasn't this. The windows of the bleak little houses glanced at her with hostile, blind eyes. Go away. You're not wanted here, they seemed to say.
So this is where he lives, she thought. As she approached the door, her heart started fluttering like a scared canary. She had, after all, not seen him in over three years. Not since he had rushed past her and Luna, telling them to assist Professor Flitwick, who had collapsed in his office. Without, of course, mentioning the apparently unimportant detail that the tiny Charms professor hadn't collapsed until after Snape had pointed his wand at him with a "Stupefy," right before he had gone on to kill Albus Dumbledore and then left Hogwarts forever.
Harry later swore that he'd seen him during the Last Battle, that he had recognized his thin frame and haughty bearing even under the Death Eater hood and mask. She had been too busy dueling to notice. A few days later, she had seen his name in the paper, part of the list of Death Eaters who had been arrested after Riddle's demise, along with the likes of Corbin Yaxley, the Carrow twins, and Draco Malfoy.
Another week later, there had been a short article in the Prophet stating that Severus Snape, former teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, had pleaded guilty to all charges laid against him and had waived his right to a trial. She had assumed he had been sent away after that, safely locked up in Azkaban. Until today.
Taking a deep breath, she knocked on the door. She didn't have to knock — she knew full well that he wasn't even able to open the door unless she had lifted the wards — but it did seem more polite. Even if this was Snape.
She tapped her toe impatiently as she waited for what seemed an interminable amount of time. Just when she was about to throw politeness to the wind and simply march in, the door opened with a hideous creaking sound, and a pair of malevolent black eyes peered out at her.
"Oh Merlin, they're sending babies now," she heard his contemptuous voice as he turned and limped away from the door.
A good day to you, too. Her lips pressing together, she stepped through the door, her hand clasped firmly around the wand in her pocket. "I'm here for the Wolfsbane."
Surreptitiously, she looked around, assessing her surroundings. The dim, shadowy room was empty except for a threadbare sofa and a low table. All the walls, floor to ceiling, were lined with empty bookshelves. It must have been quite a library at some point.
"In the kitchen." He pointed to an open door. "After you."
"No, after you." She wasn't about to turn her back to him. Even though Brewster Withers, her boss for the last eight months, had explained that attacking her and taking her wand would do Snape no good whatsoever. That he knew which side his bread was buttered on. That she would be perfectly safe.
She knew the Ministry well enough by now to not be entirely convinced by his words. It would be wiser to keep Snape where she could see him.
The kitchen was a little better lit, with a window facing what must be the garden. Snape apparently was using the room as a potions lab. Several cauldrons were lined up in a neat row against the back of the counter, like pot-bellied tin soldiers. Jars and bottles took up most of the rest of the available space.
The row of gleaming knives aligned on a square of black velvet made her take pause for a moment. She fervently hoped that Withers was right.
On a scrupulously scrubbed pine table stood the object of her visit — a large crate filled with row upon row of neatly stoppered crystal vials.
"So you've ended up in the Werewolf Registry, have you?" His lips curled disdainfully as he watched her pick up a vial and check the contents. "I'd have expected you to have higher ambitions than to play minder to a pack of snarling monsters. But to each his own."
"They aren't monsters," she flared. "They are people."
"And here I thought that the Registry was classified as part of the Magical Beasts Division," he said in a honeyed voice. "I must have been mistaken."
"You're not," Hermione said through clenched teeth. "But I'm trying to change that."
"Ah, yes. The poor, mistreated creatures. How lucky they are to have you."
Just ignore him, she thought, biting back a response. Don't give him the satisfaction of seeing that he's getting to you. That's what he wants. "The vault is out the back?" she asked in a clipped voice.
He pointed to the door behind him. "Forgive me if I don't come to your assistance," he said, still in the same silky voice. "But seeing as leaving the house would be detrimental to my health…"
Ignoring him, she opened the back door with a lift of her wand. With another swish, the crate of vials rose into the air and floated out ahead of her. The small dirt patch at the rear of the house — she hesitated to call it a garden, now that she'd seen it — contained only the remnants of an old outhouse. This was where she levitated the crate. Inside, the Ministry had installed a Transport Vault. When she had safely maneuvered the Wolfsbane inside, she activated the vault with a muttered spell. A flash of light, and the crate disappeared. Another flash, and a crate of empty vials and assorted potion ingredients had taken its place, along with a large, sealed cardboard box. She lifted the crate and box and turned back to the house.
As she came closer to the open door, she saw that Snape had seated himself on the only chair, his hands clasped behind his neck, his long legs stretched out in front of him. On his left ankle she could see the thick, ugly iron band that bound him to the house, sticking out from under the frayed hem of his robe. Where it rubbed against the ankle, the skin was chafed and raw, crusted, weeping clear fluid.
According to Withers, the shackle was an ingenious innovation, one of the best things to come out of Magical Law Enforcement in centuries. To Hermione, it looked positively medieval.
Charmed with an unbreakable curse, designed to kill him instantaneously if he left the equally charmed perimeter of his walls, it was meant to keep the wizarding world safe from dangerous criminals like Snape.
Also according to Withers, it was an invention that offered an all round better deal for everyone concerned. On the one hand, it enabled Snape to repay at least part of his debt to society, while on the other providing the Ministry with a much more humane solution to incarceration than guarding the prisoner in Azkaban.
That much was probably true. The idea of the wizard prison had always made her uncomfortable. As bleak as this place was, it had to be better than some cold, damp cell in Azkaban.
When at a wave of her wand the crate settled gently on the table in front of him, he looked up at her with a sneer. "I would offer you tea, but it appears I haven't got any. Pity. I suppose having a cozy chat reminiscing about the good old days shall have to wait."
"That's all right," she said stiffly, cursing herself for not being able to think of a more pithy reply. Doubtlessly a perfect comeback would come to mind tonight in her bathtub. "I have to go anyway."
"In such a hurry." He tsk-tsked. "Oh well. Don't let me keep you."
When there wasn't the slightest indication that he intended to get up, Hermione awkwardly half-turned to the door. "I'll see myself out, then." He ignored her completely, fixedly looking out the small, dirt-coated window. She hesitated, then turned and with hurried steps walked through the small living room and out the front door. With a sigh of relief, she closed it firmly behind her, glad that this was over and done with — at least for now.
Exactly four weeks later, she stood in front of his door again. Even though it was late afternoon, the sun was still high in the sky on this beautiful late-August day. Bracing herself, she rapped smartly against the door. This time, it opened immediately.
"Not you again," he said with a sneer. "Your superiors don't like you much, do they? The friend of the famous Harry Potter, reduced to running errands for the likes of Brewster Withers. And everyone had such high expectations of you."
"I like my job," she said through set teeth, raising her chin defiantly. "Not that it's any of your business."
"Well, do what you have come to do and get out. I'm not in the mood for your prattle."
"Fine." Pursing her mouth, she swept past him. If he wanted her out of here as quickly as possible — well, she would be only too happy to accommodate him.
When she returned from the vault a few minutes later, he had sat down in the living room, his head tilted against the back of the sofa, his eyes closed. He didn't open his eyes as she entered the room.
She took the opportunity to take a good look at him. What she saw caused an uncomfortable, uneasy twinge in her chest. He seemed…smaller than he had been as her teacher. In her memories, he was taller, more impressive. Looking at him now, it seemed likely that impression had had more to do with his larger-than-life personality than his actual physique.
Still — hard as it was to tell under those loose robes, it seemed to her that he was even thinner than he had then. Paler. Sallower. Dark shadows under his eyes.
He did not look well. Even half-reclining, he still seemed taut, tense, nervy. Of course he deserved punishment, but… She had a rough idea of how Muggle prisoners were treated. And while the Ministry might consider this "humane", it did not match up with her own ideas on the subject.
Sometimes those Muggle sensitivities were cursedly inconvenient.
Quickly, before she could change her mind, she pulled a jar out of her pocket and set it down on the table in front of him.
His eyes slowly opened. "And what might this be?"
"Ointment," she said awkwardly. "For your ankle."
His eyes narrowed as his mouth curled into a sneer. "If you've run out of werewolves that need your pity, you may want to turn your attention back to house-elves. I'm certain there are much more deserving subjects on which to waste your sympathy."
"Pardon me," she snapped, stung. "I just thought…" It had seemed unnecessarily cruel to her to add physical pain to this bleak incarceration. The way he had been limping last month…
"Enlighten me, Miss Granger," he interrupted her. "Exactly what idea did you have about my arrangements with the Ministry? I brew them the potions they want, and they in turn keep me out of Azkaban. But make no mistake about it, this is still meant to be punishment. After all, I killed a man in cold blood." A bitter note swung in his voice at the last sentence. "So spare me your misplaced sympathy. I'm certain none of your superiors would appreciate it."
"Fine. I'll make sure it doesn't happen again." A second later, she slammed the door closed behind her, seething. What had she been thinking? Let the miserable git hurt. As he had said, he deserved it. He was a murderer.
Ye gods, she never learned, did she? Here she went again, not content to just leave well enough alone. Well, if he didn't want the salve, he could throw it away, for all she cared. She took a deep breath, exhaling sharply. No more of that. Next month, she would find someone else to do the potion pick up. She was not coming back here, not if there was any way to avoid it.
Yet four weeks later, there she was again, walking up Spinner's End, not entirely sure why. She hated him for what he had done. She hated everything he stood for. She did not want to see him. And yet…she did.
Maybe it was because she liked puzzles. Except for puzzles she couldn't solve. And this run-down shack of a house was the only place she could possibly expect to find some of the missing pieces.
Severus Snape was in so many ways still a riddle. How does someone end up a traitor and a murderer? How could he have fooled Dumbledore for that many years? Why had he not even contested the charges laid against him? When it came to Snape, she had more questions than answers.
"Don't let him get to you. Don't let him get to you. Don't let him get to you." She repeated the mantra over and over as she made her way up the cobbled street.
But she needn't have worried. He opened the door without a word. As she followed him into the kitchen, she noted with a quickly suppressed, vindicated smile that his limp was much less pronounced. Apparently, he had found some use for the salve after all.
He stood by the table, motionless, watching her as she went about her business. It positively made the hair on her neck stand up to feel the cold gaze of those black eyes following her around.
"Well, here we are. Another month's work finished," she said with a too bright, too cheerful voice as she set the crate with the replacement supplies down on the kitchen table. She had slipped another jar of ointment into the supply crate when she had hauled it out of the vault — she would rather he find it there once she was gone.
He gave a short nod. "I shall see you in four weeks."
And with that, she was out the door. She didn't know whether to be relieved or disappointed.
The prisoner watched through the window as the girl left, his lips pressed into a thin line.
Did she have any idea how hard it was to simply let her come, do her job, and leave?
One of the few diversions he had during the month was seeing how big a rise he could get out of whatever Ministry minion had been sent to look in on him that week. They came every Wednesday for a five minute check. Usually some junior clerk in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement who happened to draw the short straw that week. Not many of them came more than once.
It had been a most welcome surprise to see her. She had been one of his least favorite students — the over-achieving, know-it-all friend of The Chosen One. Supposedly the brightest witch of her year. It had been…entertaining to watch her rise to his bait.
And then she had to go and be…kind.
It had come as a surprise that she had not only noticed the sore on his leg, but had actually decided to do something about it.
It had made life just a small fraction more…bearable.
It hadn't felt right to goad her after that.
Besides, sometime over the last month, he had decided that since the Ministry had to send someone to collect the Wolfsbane, Granger was a better option than most. Unlike the burly men or the gawky, pimply boys barely out of their teens who constituted his usual Ministry envoys, she was a solid, healthy-looking girl. Pretty, even, in an unremarkable, fresh faced way.
And when she talked to him, she actually met his eyes, straight on, in spite of how obviously uncomfortable she was around him.
That, right there, was a novelty.
No, unless she proved too aggravating, he wouldn't do anything to keep her from coming back.
The day before Christmas Eve, Hermione looked at the calendar in her cubicle, biting her lower lip. Christmas had always been her favorite holiday. She had decorated her tiny flat to the hilt. The presents she had bought for everyone were piled up in a corner, wrapped in bright paper and tied with red ribbon. Two dozen Mince Pies waited in the pantry, the result of a baking spree over the last few days. She would take them over to Harry and Ginny's tomorrow. All the surviving Weasleys would come as well. The arrival of little James had gone a long way towards healing the wounds the war had left in that family.
Unfortunately, there was one more thing on the calendar before she could go and enjoy the holiday.
She sighed. Snape and Christmas did not seem to go together well at all. Oh well, better get it over with.
The visits had become habit by now. No longer did her heart beat in nervous anticipation when she knocked on his door.
October and November had passed without any further incident — the most conversation he had made was to inform her that the Aconite that month hadn't been first quality, and to make sure the Ministry had a talk with the supplier. It had all been rather…unexciting.
This meeting was no different. Come in, get the Wolfsbane, exchange it for supplies, all with a minimum of words and actual contact, the way it had been for the last few months.
Before she left, she awkwardly turned to him. "This is for you." She pulled a package out of her bag and held it out to him.
He made no attempt to take it.
"It's nothing much. Just a biography of Hengist of Woodcroft. It came out last year." She still wasn't sure why exactly she had decided to bring him a gift, except that there was some vague sense that it was simply wrong to go to someone's house this close to Christmas and not bring anything. And that there was just a hint of fellow feeling every time she looked at all those empty book shelves. It was one thing to place a man under house arrest, another to take all his books. "I ended up with a spare copy. It's well written. Very interesting, really. He was quite a character, that Hengist. And well, I just thought you might like it." She stopped, aware that she was babbling.
For an unguarded split second, raw hunger flitted across his face as his fingers twitched towards the package.
Then his hand jerked back as if stung. He spun on his heels and strode from the room.
When she followed him into the living room, he was standing by the heavily curtained window, ramrod straight, his arms wrapped tightly around his chest. "Get out," he hissed, not looking at her. "I told you, I don't need your charity."
"Oh, please," Hermione said in exasperation. "It's Christmas. I happen to like Christmas. I happen to like giving presents at Christmas. I just thought you might like the book. It has nothing to do with bloody charity. So you can…bugger off." She tossed back her hair and gave him what she hoped was a scathing look.
She was just about to turn and leave when she saw the corners of his mouth twitch upward. "After all your time in the company of Ronald Weasley, I would have expected you to have a more…impressive vocabulary of swear words."
"I do." She looked at him defiantly. "I'm just too much of a lady to use it."
Another twitch of his mouth. "I have nothing with which to reciprocate your…non-charity."
"I wasn't expecting anything." She paused for a moment, gathering her courage. "But as a matter of fact…I've been wanting to ask you…I mean, that's not why I gave you the….nothing to do with that at all…I was just wondering…"
"Get to the point," he commanded.
"I would like to…." She swallowed. "If you wouldn't mind, I'd really like to learn how to brew the Wolfsbane. If you would just let me watch? It'd be so helpful, me working in the Werewolf Registry and all, and I'd…"
"Enough." He cut her off with a dismissive gesture. "Very well. Next month, be here at five a.m."
Hoping she wasn't looking like a pleased puppy, Hermione opened the door. "Thank you. Thank you so much. I'll be there. And Merry Christmas."
I owe a huge debt to Bellegeste for doing a lightning fast beta when I needed the chapter back, like, day before yesterday, and to ScatteredLogic, who adminned the story for the exchange and found some more boo-boos. All of the remaining ones are mine!