Disclaimer: Acknowledgements to Sylvia Plath and J.K. Rowling, whose material I have borrowed.

-- -- --

"I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

-- — --

Almost idly, my fingers slip into the familiar jerky movements. In. Out. Around. The only thing missing, really, is the length of string—without it, the Cat's Cradle is simply the vague, unformed motions of a mad girl. I can see you, you know. I'm insane, not blind. Why don't you come in? It must be uncomfortable, staring at me through the pane of glass. My father once told me that all glass is really liquid, still flowing inexorably downwards by the pull of Newton's Gravity. I can recite all the forces of physical nature if you wanted to hear it, but I don't suppose you do. No one ever did.

I tried once to explain Cat's Cradle to the insipid girl they have monitoring me. She merely backed away as if I were a cat and she a particularly juicy mouse. Mouse indeed. She is nothing like Pettigrew. Now he was a man particularly worthy of rat-ship. Always where he wasn't wanted, always ready to exploit any opportunities…but like any good human fighting the evolutionary battle for top dog, I took him out in the end, two weeks after Harry freed me and killed Voldemort all in the same hour. He squealed like the little rodent he was, pathetic, really. I would have thought he'd be smarter, but really, you just have to find out what kind of cheese this particular rat couldn't resist. But I was explaining to you about Cat's Cradle, wasn't I? Silly game, really, Muggle in origin of course. No wizard or witch would ever deign to learn such an intricate and bland game, when they had parents who could enchant a soft toy to move, quite literally. My neighbor taught me. He felt sorry for the child of the workaholic dentists, perhaps. He smiled at me every time he saw me, and he gave me permission to climb his tree—he had a particularly good reading tree. The last time I went back home, it had been cut down, replaced by a simpering flowerbed. Weak little things I could crush easily beneath one petite foot, unworthy of the space they took up and the insects they drew.

Ah, you came in today. Well, don't just stand there gaping at me like I'm some strange creature at the Zoo. Really, didn't your parents ever teach you proper manners? Oh, excuse me, that was rather rude wasn't it? Do accept my apologies, it appears Severus is wearing off on me. Well, sit! There, that's better, isn't it? Much more comfortable, almost like the old times. How are your children? Three now, is it? All with their father's signature green eyes and mother's hair? Yes, yes, I remember them. Honestly, Harry, do you think I'd forget my own godchildren? Oh no, excuse me—Luna's godmother to the last two, isn't she? They were born after I came to live here. Ginny couldn't come today? What a pity, I always enjoyed her company. Tell her I said hello. I'm doing very well, thank you. Although Severus seems to have slipped out for the moment. He never likes your company, you know that. You'll have to excuse him. Even the end of the war hasn't changed him much. I'm sure you understand.

What? No, no, he was definitely here just before you came by. Oh, don't go over this again, Harry. We've discussed this before. He simply doesn't like you seeing him, or him seeing you for that matter. Stubborn fool, but he's adamant. I doubt you'll ever see him. It's been a while since any of you have dropped by, tell me what's new. The newest Mediwizard they've put on my case seems to have decided that they might cure me by not telling me anything at all. Honestly, that imbecile. Just because I'm a little 'round-the-bend doesn't mean I can't appreciate some news about my dearest friends.

We've been over this before, Harry. I've accepted my diagnosis. I'm—to put it bluntly—loopy, crazy, loony, raving mad, psychotic, mentally ill, bananas…all those and more. Who am I to dispute the best mind Healers in the medical field? I can self-diagnose myself, even: I bought a book on psychological disorders some time ago. I'm a very classic example of a post-traumatic stress disorder victim, perhaps even schizophrenia, and some bouts of depression. Being a prisoner for months and months without even a toothbrush available wasn't exactly helpful to my mental stability, you know. Don't pull that face, Harry, you don't want it sticking that way, do you? Even Severus tells me that I'm completely off my rockers, but he still loves me. Wonderful man, I still can't believe he's mine. He holds me at night, when the screams and the voices start. I know Voldemort's dead, I really do—I was there, right next to you!—but that doesn't stop my mind from convincing me he's in my room when it's dark and everyone's settled for the night. And Severus doesn't mind holding me still, or fighting imaginary people, or a myriad of other things I've had him do, poor man. He's such a good person, to stay with me even after all of this.

It was embarrassing at first, I'll admit it. I was first choice for Head Girl! My brains were what everyone admired me for, the way I could prove my worth to the world. It was a crushing blow to realize that it was that same mind that had turned against me, you know. But Severus really helped me through it. I even taught him Cat's Cradle. No one else ever bothered to learn.

Oh dear, is it really time for you to go now? I shall miss you, Harry. Please visit again soon. Unless that dratted Healer Zabini something or other decides to cut off all my contact from my friends, of course. I do hope he doesn't, even with Severus' company it gets rather lonely sometimes, just me and the perpetually squeaky bed, and Neville's parents down the corridor. Oh, and the mousy caretaker, of course, it's so easy to forget her, and judging by her terrified glances, she'll be quitting or requesting a transfer from the loony ward soon enough. She really belongs more in the maternity ward anyway. Nothing but nerves, anticipation, and bundles of joy there. Not that I'm saying anything against you or Ginny, you understand, I'm sure you love your children very much, but I'm awfully glad Severus never wanted them. I don't think I'd make a very good mother, and especially not when I'm not completely stable. I'd rather not suffocate my baby in a fit of insanity like that woman in the papers a while ago.

Please, do give my best to your family. Tell them to visit, perhaps next week? Severus will be back any moment now, so you had better hurry. Wouldn't want a duel in the middle of St. Mungos. Good bye, Harry. Yes, I'll be perfectly fine, although you could ask Healer Zaba-what's-his-face to fix the springs in my bed. It's positively ancient, creaking every time I move. Severus hates the noise. Thank you. Ta now.

-- -- --

"Severus, swear to me that you'll stay safe and come back to me. You'll always come back to me, no matter what. I need to hear it. I've lost so much already…my parents…Ron…promise that I won't lose you too."

A tall man, clad in a swirling black cloak and reaching for a deathly white mask paused. "Hermione, you know that my life is not my own to dictate—"

"I don't care! Swear it! Promise, Severus, or I shan't let you leave me!" The petite brunette, close to tears, grasps hold of the man's arm firmly, nails digging into the pale flesh beneath the disguise. The arm trembles minutely, so quick and fleeting a moment that one could blink and miss it, or perhaps mistake it for a momentary ripple of air and not muscle.

A breath, a sigh warm and caressing on the top of her head. "I swear, Hermione, my love. I swear it on all I hold dear that I will always return to you."

-- -- -- --

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

-- -- -- --

"Perhaps you'd like to see just who tried to rescue you like some shining knight in armor, Mudblood? I didn't know you had it in you, truly, to turn one of my servants away from the true path, but I should like to hear just how you swayed him. Feminine wiles, perhaps? He has never been one much fawned over by women. A promise of some naïve future together, with six children and growing old, dying in each other's arms? I'm afraid that only the last might come true, my dear little Mudblood. You have Wormtail to thank, you know. It take a traitor to know another traitor, and he'd suspected it for some time. Catching him in the act was a wonderful bonus I should thank you for, darling."

She is drowning in red, drowning and breathing and choking on the malevolent red of the monster's mocking eyes, red of the dull blood, red of her obscured vision as her own blood pools in her mouth. It tastes like silver, like a rusted metallic drink, like the time her parents had to extract a tooth from her mouth and they pulled and pulled and pulled until the gleaming doorway gave, and revealed a gaping hole in her pink gum and filled with blood like a mini-lake.

-- -- -- --

God topples from the sky, hell's fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan's men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

-- -- -- --

They tell her, after she is safe and Voldemort is dead and she stood at his smoking corpse and made sure that his eyes are no longer red, that Severus is dead, that he died trying to save her, that they killed him in front of her. She wonders why they are worrying. Severus has disappeared occasionally before, after all. And he promised—she can't forget that. Severus always keeps his promise.

She is already beginning to suspect that she has post-traumatic stress disorder when he comes back. Molly is worried when Severus comes in, and Hermione leaps into his arms. When she asks why, Severus tells her that from now on, he is only visible to those of faith—those who loves him. Hermione is sad that Molly and everyone else cannot see him. It merely proves that so few have taken the time to get to know the man she knows and loves. Even when Harry pleads with her, for the sake of their friendship, for the sake of the living, the survivors, to give up pretending, Hermione knows in her heart that even if she is insane, she is not hallucinating this one thing: she is not dreaming Severus. He is here with her always, like he promised—even within her mind, her broken chaotic mind, just like the musical her parents took her to as a child: the Phantom of the Opera is there inside your mind…but Severus is no phantom, and this is no dream or trance.

And years later, she has no regrets, even as the standard bed at the permanent ward of St. Mungos groans quite annoyingly and the Healers refuse to install things like TVs and game rooms—why, some of them even tried to withhold reading material from her! But she has no regrets, because as she settles back into bed with the latest Potions Monthly that Harry has brought with him, because Severus is there with her, warm strong arms around her as he reads along and makes snide comments about how the standard of Potions has gone down since he was a teacher. She knows, with the deepest contentment, that this is right, just like that night when he finally came back home and held her close to him right in front of Molly Weasley who couldn't see him, and whispered, "I promised you that I'd always return to you, didn't I?"

-- -- -- --

I fancied you'd return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)"

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A.N.: A short piece inspired by Sylvia Plath's Mad Girl's Love Song, whose verses are interspersed in the piece.