DISCLAIMER: All characters seen here are the exclusive property of JK Rowling. She's the genius, I'm the fangirl who can't resist playing with her creations.


Hell


I did not stop in the struggle.
I did not stop marching toward life,
toward peace, toward bread for all,
but I lifted you in my arms
and I nailed you to my kisses
and I looked at you as never
again will human eyes look at you.

-Pablo Neruda

It was unfair.

Severus Snape drew his wand from the small sheath in which he kept it holstered and jabbed it at the sky. An indescribable sound came from his lips, one that was neither a cry of despair nor a roar of anger.

And then he brought the wand down over his knee and broke it.

The wood broke with a splintering crack, and he broke with it, his shoulders sagging awkwardly, as if they were not accustomed to doing so. He hung his head and his hair fell around his face.

He stood that way for a very long time, no part of his body moving, except for his fingers, which worked mechanically over the fractured edges of his wand. At some point, the clouds, which had been growing steadily greener, seemed to shake themselves for a moment and, with an aching groan of thunder, rain began to pour from them.

Even when the huge, cold drops began to hit him, he barely moved, except to twitch beneath the sudden chill of water on his skin. When water was running in rivulets from the ends of his hair and his long, hooked nose, he shook his head, sending water in all directions and plastering his hair across his face.

He dropped the fragments of his wand on the ground and raised one arm, taking a swipe at his face and moving most of his hair to his neck.

The motion pushed his sleeve up his arm, and he caught sight of a curving forked tongue, tattooed in black. His eyes fixed on the tongue with burning intensity, and his face worked angrily. With his right hand, he pulled at his sleeve, fumbling with the buttons that held it tight and then jerking it roughly up until the whole of the tattoo was revealed.

A skull grinned up at him, spewing forth a snake from its mouth. He fell to his knees with a cry of frustration and felt desperately in the grass for his wand. He found the two pieces readily enough, but he could not join them together again, no matter how hard he tried.

Eventually he gave up on magic and simply gripped one half of the wand like a dagger. Pausing only for the briefest of seconds to shake his hair out of his face again, he looked, took aim, and drove the jagged end of the now-useless stick of ebony into his Mark.

Pain such as he'd never felt before ripped through him, and he screamed like a man under Cruciatus. His whole body shook with the effort of keeping the wood embedded in his flesh against every physical instinct and desire.

In moments, the last remnants of his wand ignited, burning with the brightness of lit magnesium and consuming themselves just as fast; a few seconds later, they were gone forever. Only the Mark was left, gushing blood and glowing an angry, infected-looking green.

He clawed at the ground, retching and dry heaving.

"Hello?" said a voice behind him.

He squeezed his eyes closed. The rain was getting warmer. Or had he become so cold that the rain finally felt like something other than ice on his face?

No, he realized belatedly. He must be crying.

His face was in the mud now, one entire half of it, and he could smell the sweet, mineral scent of the earth. It smelled exactly like—what? He tried to think through the pain that seemed to be eating him alive by way of his arm and sniffed at the ground again.

Greenhouses. Summer. Rain. Her.

This time, he did vomit, his body shuddering with the force of its need to be purged.

"Oi," came the voice again, more insistently this time, but he wasn't sure that it was real, and was positive that he didn't care.

Someone's hands were pawing at his back now and he shrugged irritably, trying to push them off. Something wasn't working right, though. He flexed his left hand, where a dull, bone-deep ache had begun, and felt a stab of fresh pain. He'd driven his wand nearly all the way through his arm. He was probably bleeding rather badly.

That was good.

"You need to get up," said the voice.

No. He didn't want to get up. It was so cold, or it had been, and now he was warm, except for his fingers. His fingers felt like ice. He tried to flex them again. It didn't work as well as he'd imagined it would.

"You need to get up. Now."

Very distantly aware that,. in another life, it might have been childish to do so, he squeezed his eyes shut and buried his face in the mud.

Whoever was there with him waited for a few seconds to see what he would do before grabbing him and forcing him to expose his mouth and nose to oxygen again. He surrendered. It didn't matter, and he was tired. Too tired for this. Too tired for everything.

"You need to get up."

He worked his tongue over his lips. They were gritty, covered with dirt and bits of grass. How had that happened? Ah, yes, he'd put his face in the mud. Why had he done that?

He took a deep breath, trying to orient himself. There was that smell again. What was it? Dirt. Clean, wet soil. Greenhouses.

Her.

And he remembered, quite suddenly, why he had put his face in the mud. He remembered, too, why he'd tried to obliterate his Dark Mark with the splintered wooden ends of his destroyed wand, and why he'd destroyed the wand in the first place.

Spitting mud, he managed to crack his eyes open. Someone really was there, then.

"No," he finally managed to say. His teeth felt gritty. Had he opened his mouth when he put it in the dirt? He didn't remember now. Its scent was mixing with another one, far less pleasant. Someone was bleeding.

He hoped it was him.

"Yes," said the voice, but it sounded relieved all the same, now that he'd spoken. "You have to."

Stupid voice. He hadn't been talking to it.

"I'm sorry to do this to you, but you aren't exactly cooperating. Petrificus Totalus."

His muscles stiffened. Perhaps this was what rigor mortis would be like. Would anyone know? A ghost might, but he didn't plan on living long enough to ask any of them, so perhaps he would soon discover it for himself. It didn't matter if he was stiff anyway. He didn't want to move.

"Locomotor mortis."

He felt himself rise gently into the air and begin drifting slowly away.

This was bad. Something in his head insisted that it was bad. He did not want to leave this place. He didn't want to leave. He couldn't leave.

He couldn't break the spells upon him. He was bound, as completely as if he'd been tied with ropes. Easy enough to throw off Imperio, given half a chance, but not this crude physical incarceration. They were lucky that the Dark Lord had thought it beneath him. Severus appreciated the poetry of the Imperio approach, but sometimes the baser methods were more effective.

Whoever was transporting him didn't take him far. It might not have been more than fifty feet. That didn't seem right. They'd been so far away from everything else. If someone was going to come all this way for him, why only take him fifty feet and return him to the ground? His mind wasn't working properly. He couldn't think. It was so unbelievably cold. When had it got so cold? How could it be so cold, and yet persist in sending rain down onto him instead of snow or ice?

Someone had cast an Impervius charm on him. The rain didn't hit his face at all.

Somehow, it seemed like the crowning injustice to lie in the rain, waiting for it to fall on his face, but doomed to watch it slide away an inch above his nose.

He felt like Tantalus.

There were more people around now. He could distinguish more than one voice, although he had no idea which voice might belong to which person. Occasionally, someone groaned or cried out. Severus wanted to do the same. Once, he reached over and touched his left arm. It was hot and sticky and swollen, and he could feel tiny splinters of wood in his skin that wiggled when his fingers brushed against them. He didn't cry out, though. He gritted his teeth and waited.

"Bloody hell," someone muttered, standing above him. "Out of blood-replenishing potion. Now what're we supposed to do?"

"Just tie something around it and hope it stops on its own."

"Are you a nutter?"

"It's crude, but it works."

"I haven't got anything to tie around it."

"You're a bleeding wizard! Pull a damn scarf out of your sleeve!"

"Alright, alright, fine," muttered the person above Severus.

He closed his eyes, not listening for the incantation. Rough hands lifted his arm in the air and slid something cloth underneath it, tying tightly just above the spot where his Mark…had been? Was? It was too dark for him to see when he looked.

Or perhaps that was because his eyes were closed. When had he done that? He opened them and looked.

Still too dark.

Whoever had been there had moved on, though, and he thought he might be alone. In the corner of his peripheral vision, there was an orange glow that might have been fire, and he could hear very soft voices.

"What about Malfoy?"

"Dead."

"Where's the body?"

"They said to leave the dead ones until all the wounded are taken care of."

"Bloody hell."

"Too right."

Someone nearby was vomiting. The people at the fire didn't seem to notice. Severus didn't want to notice. He hated the noise. He hated everything.

There was only one thought that he wanted. He held onto it desperately, aware that he'd already forgotten once already. But he needed that thought. There was nothing else in the world that he needed outside of it.

He lay still for a while, gathering his strength, and then rolled onto his stomach.

It took several tries for him to get it right. His limbs weren't responding as precisely as he expected or intended them to. All of his muscles felt heavy and stiff, and his arm ached and throbbed like nothing else he'd ever felt before, and he was a man accustomed to pain.

Once he was on his stomach, he stopped and rested again, catching his breath. When had rolling over became such hard work?

What direction had they brought him from? Downhill. He was sure it was downhill, and now there was an uphill slope beneath him. Slowly, painfully, he began to drag himself up. He had to get back. He didn't want to be here, in this pile of half-dead survivors piled up under a hundred dripping tree branches. He wanted to be under the clear sky, with the rain falling freely on him, and the sweet-smelling soil untrammeled by passing feet.

He had to stop and rest many times. It was excruciatingly slow going, and by the time he was halfway there, he'd forgotten once more why he was going. He'd forgotten everything. All that remained was his certainty that he had to get back.

He was so very cold.

He knew he was there when his fingers touched something that wasn't part of the earth.

A tactile memory came with it, and he cried out softly as knowledge came back once more, shining through the fog of his unthinking existence. This was the reason. This. His fingertips stroked weakly. Yes, this was why he'd made the agonizing crawl through the mud and twigs and stones.

Just another few feet, and he'd never have to move again. It took all of his strength to haul his body along. His left arm was useless, his right exhausted, and his legs long since weakened. Even his head seemed unwilling to stay upheld any longer, and he rested it on his left shoulder for support while he crawled.

But, finally, he made it.

He looked down at her. The rain had not yet entirely cooled her body. He pulled himself a little higher still, until his torso covered her, shielding her at least somewhat from the rain.

So much of it had fallen. Her face was white and waxy, clearly visible even in the darkness, and it was covered with water. Her eyelashes had become like tiny waterfalls.

This was wrong. Wrong for her to be so cold and so wet. Gritting his teeth, he forced his rebellious left arm to work, the muscles burning in protest as he laid it gingerly across her stomach, where it had lain so many times before.

And then he went still, letting his head rest on her soft shoulder for a while. He couldn't make the rain stop. At least this would protect her just a little.

He thought that maybe he'd slept, because when he opened his eyes again, he had more energy than before. He looked at her. The rain was still falling, and water ran down her cheeks like tears.

He stared at it, his mouth open as he breathed. It was hard to breathe. There wasn't enough air to do it properly, and he was reduced to panting like an animal.

She wasn't wiping her eyes. How could she cry so much and never dry her eyes? Was she waiting for him to do it? He wanted to feel in his pockets for a handkerchief, but his arms didn't move when he told them to. Looking around desperately, he caught sight of the rough tourniquet on his left arm. The cut he'd made hadn't healed; it still oozed dark blood.

He looked at it curiously. Something in the Mark must be doing that, he decided—a punishment for attempting to harm it.

He sat up. It took long minutes, but he did it. Maneuvering gingerly, he managed to untie the tourniquet from his arm. Yes, that was what he needed.

He let himself down again carefully, his arms shaking violently under his weight. Lowering his head onto her shoulder, where it had been so often in the past, he gripped the rain-damp rag in his left hand and slowly, painstakingly willed his arm up until his hand was on her face and he could dab it dry.

"Don't," he whispered hoarsely, making a weak attempt to stop the endless tears. She was sleeping, he knew, and she couldn't hear him. It was just a nightmare. She'd had so many nightmares since the end of the war; there was a nightmare for nearly every night of the last three weeks that she'd spent sleeping in his arms. He knew by now that all he could do was hold her until it passed.

He let his eyes close, just resting them for a moment.

0 0 0

"Where'd he go?" muttered a young Auror, scanning the hillside with his eyes.

"Up here." The response was hushed, almost reverent.

"What'd we bring him down near the fire for, if he were just gonna crawl back up there, eh?"

"Shut up."

The young Auror mounted to the top of the hill and then stopped, his mouth opening slightly. "Oh," he said.

"Yeah," said his companion, looking down at the ground.

"Lotta blood."

"Yeah."

"That'll be his, eh? They done her with the killing curse."

"Yeah. It's his."

"He dead?"

The older Auror nodded, dropping to a crouch and surveying the scene before him.

"Look at that," he said softly, reaching out to touch one sodden brown curl. "Might just be sleeping."

"Yeah," said the younger one, looking a little uncomfortable. "They all look like that. Dead people, you know?"

"I've been doing this longer than you have. I know."

"You ever have him? For a Professor, I mean? Did you go to Hogwarts?"

"All seven years."

"Me too."

"Never thought he'd go like this."

The younger Auror shrugged. "We gonna move him?"

"Soon."

"Why not now?"

"Because I don't want to, that's why. Show a little respect."

"Respect for what? They're not going to get any deader."

"Merlin, what the hell is wrong with you? He was miserable his whole life. He looks happy. I'm not going to touch him."

"You're mad. He don't look happy at all. He looks dead."

"Potter's coming. The girl was his best friend."

"Move 'em apart before he gets here."

"Shut your fat mouth. I told you, I'm not touching them, and you're not either."

"There's more dead people need to be fetched."

"So go fetch them. You've got a wand. Use it. Bloody hell, mate, how'd you ever get through Auror training?"

"Where's his?"

"Where's his what?"

"His wand. I bet you they'll want it."

"Dunno. I didn't see it last night."

"You're gonna get in trouble with Shacklebolt if you stay here. We should just move 'em. I don't care who they are, and I don't see why they should stay that way. What'd he take the bandage off for, anyhow? It was working when I checked it."

"It's on her face."

"I got eyes, don't I?"

"I think—" the older Auror tilted his head, looking at the tableau of the Potions master and his onetime student thoughtfully. A bright red scar, barely healed, stood out on Snape's white neck where he'd been attacked by Voldemort's snake three months prior. His body lay curled protectively over Hermione Granger's, his left hand, covered with blood, still holding a dirty rag as if he'd just wiped away a tear from her cheek. "—I think he was drying her face off or something."

"That's the stupidest thing I ever heard. Let's get going."

"Right," he said quietly. "Right."

Each of them drew a wand and aimed it at the motionless bodies, moving them in identical swish and flick gestures. Snape and Granger rose into the air, limbs dangling limply towards the ground.

"What does he even care about her for, anyway?" said the younger Auror, as they began to direct the bodies back down the hill.

"Guess they got to be friends. He was teaching a NEWT prep course in Herbology and Potions over the summer for people who didn't want to go back for another year. My sister was taking it."

"And she said they got to be friends?"

"Nah. Never asked. What do I care what Snape gets up to now that I'm out of school and he's not a Death Eater? But why else would he care about her?"

"Yeah."

They lowered the bodies slowly onto a heap of others and surveyed the pile with the impassivity of men who have had as much as they can take and have long since stopped truly seeing their surroundings.

"Bet he reckoned if he hadn't been a Death Eater, things would've been different."

"What makes you say that?"

"I think he did it on purpose."

"Did what?"

"Died."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"He had blood-replenishing potion in his pocket. I saw it when his coat fell open. But he bled to death, from a wound in that Mark. And his wand's gone."

"Huh."

"They're saying this is the last battle. We got 'em all this time."

"They said that last time."

"I hope it's right. I'm tired of this."

"Ehh. You're an Auror."

"True."

"Wish I had a camera, though. Snape and the Granger girl? Bet the Prophet would pay piles of Galleons for a story like that. Bet they still would."

"More with a picture, though."

"Shit."

"Come on. Maybe someone's got breakfast ready somewhere."