Lost in the Woods: Predicaments and Resolutions

By Ange de Socrates

Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling has all claims to the characters and prior plots. However, the plot of this particular story is mine.


If you choose not to read this story based on the graphic content, I invite you to read my other stories here or on HP AdultFanFiction, pen name: ziggy zanzibar

Severus Snape paced his study, sighing impatiently. It was three o'clock in the morning and he was nowhere near being tired.

It had been this way for several weeks; he would stay up until an ungodly hour before finally falling into a fitful sleep, only to have his alarm clock wake him up a few short hours later at six. He couldn't bear the exhaustion anymore – he had to have sleep at any cost.

Spring break had finally arrived, and Severus felt it was the perfect opportunity to test out his newest brew – an incredibly potent sleeping potion, which would theoretically knock out the drinker within two minutes of consumption and would not just mimic but actually create the feelings of emotional and physical well-being that normally accompanied a true good night's sleep.

He had hoped it wouldn't come to this, but it was obvious there would be no sleep without the potion. This year had been absolute torture – it was Potter's final year at Hogwarts, which was the only pleasant aspect of it. Severus had a disc in his back ruptured in the Final Battle against Voldemort the previous summer, and the healers at St. Mungo's were unable to treat it. The disc had been herniated by a spell cast by a Death Eater and seemed to be incredibly resistant to treatments both magical and Muggle. The healers also worried that if they tried to remove the dark magic that had done the damage, it might cause even more damage.

Severus thought it was a giant heap of bullshit.

Dumbledore had convinced him to give it time, but Severus wondered whether he could deal with the chronic pain radiating from the right side of his lower back down to his right foot, paired with the numbness and pins-and-needles that afflicted him whenever he sat. Pain-relieving potions had ceased working, and so Severus had taken to hobbling around like a crippled old man in the privacy of his rooms; he would never let a student see him in a moment of weakness.

The wizard sighed once more. Hopefully once he was able to get some sleep, he would be in a state of mind to invent yet another potion to fix what the healers apparently could not. He plucked the vial of shimmering green liquid off his desk and shuffled into his bedroom, a lightning bolt of pain shooting through his leg as he settled into his bed. Severus uncorked the vial, tipped it back, and was asleep in thirty seconds.

Strange dreams took hold once Severus had fallen into a deep slumber. He was in a deep fog, unable to see his own hand in front of his face. A red ocean shimmered briefly on his left before quickly disappearing; a flash of green appeared on his right. He could hear a noise like nails on a chalkboard.

When he awoke at six, Severus couldn't remember anything from his dream. He stretched and yawned, perplexed when the action caused no pain on his right side. As a matter of fact, he felt completely and totally well-rested.

"Another success for the Hogwarts bat," he murmured, walking to his bathroom to prepare for a supply trip to Diagon Alley.

Severus couldn't believe it. It wasn't thinkable. It wasn't possible. Hell, it wasn't… it wasn't bloody right! Had he really enjoyed classes today?

It was the first day back from the holiday, and it had gone suspiciously well. The first years managed not to slice their precious little fingers off while slicing ash roots. The fourth years hadn't passed a single note or giggled precociously. And for Merlin's sake, Neville Longbottom's cauldron was perfectly intact!

He must have been going crazy. That potion must have been tainted. He must be dreaming.

Severus studied the vials of his newly created sleeping tonic. Was it possible that the key to the cranky Potions professor's physical and emotional well-being was simply a good night's sleep?

No. The potion must be tainted.

The wizard murmured a detection spell and moved his wand around the green-filled tubes. Nothing. There was no malicious material in the liquid – only his own carefully-measured, painstakingly-precise handiwork.

"Odd," he murmured, though a grin spread across his face, which nearly creaked at the unfamiliar muscle usage.

Although he was not too keen on marketing his creations, especially when they contributed to the betterment of the human condition, the excruciating pain he had experienced prior to this potion's inception gave him the strange desire to help others who experienced the same ailment. He made a note to begin research on side-effects and shelf-life tomorrow, after (hopefully) another peaceful sleep.

"Severus, have you any idea as to the nature of these incidents?"

The professor snapped to attention, a bit embarrassed to have been caught daydreaming during the staff meeting. "I'm sorry, Headmaster, my concentration slipped momentarily. To what were you referring?"

Albus raised an eyebrow at Severus before answering his question with a question. "Surely you have heard about the most unusual occurrences that took place this week?"

"I'm afraid I have been rather busy, Headmaster. Forgive me for my ignorance." Severus had been quite preoccupied this week – he had been relishing his once-lacking ability to have a peaceful, painless rest.

"Several students have reported seeing an unfamiliar ghost in their rooms at night, and there have been jinxes and curses placed on various objects throughout the school."

Severus shrugged. "Surely it's just Peeves up to his usual tricks."

Albus shook his head. "The nature of the curses is far too advanced for a poltergeist, and the spirit has been described as being much larger than Peeves and as looking somewhat inhuman."

"Inhuman?" McGonagall inquired, her voice cracking slightly.

"Yes, Minerva. Almost dragon-like."

Flitwick gave a nervous squeak and nearly fell off the pile of books upon which he sat to remain level with the rest of the staff. "Not another basilisk?" he piped up.

"It may be," Dumbledore conceded. "We cannot be certain what horrors have been harbored here since the founding of the school." He cleared his throat and stood as tall as he could. "My friends, please be on heightened guard until we can ascertain what exactly has been haunting these halls. That is all for this meeting."

The staff stood and left in small groups, chattering amongst themselves and sharing conspiracy theories. Severus did not leave as quickly as possible, as was his custom, but remained behind to speak with the headmaster.

"Albus, if I may have a word…"

Dumbledore smiled and held out a dish of sweets. "Of course, my boy. Jolly Rancher?"

Severus raised an eyebrow at the Muggle sweet, but decided to indulge. "Thank you, sir." He popped the candy into his mouth and was pleasantly surprised by the flavor. "I have come up with a solution to the curse that has plagued me with back pain and sleepless nights, and I wish to market it."

The older wizard nodded thoughtfully. "I have noticed a marked change in your general demeanor of late," he noted. "You seem almost cheerful. Be careful, or you might smile."

The professor glared at his mentor. "Sarcasm doesn't suit you, old man. Anyway, I was hoping that you might draw up the required paperwork so that I may begin testing the potion on subjects and searching for a market."

Albus nodded. "I will get right on that. I shall have the paperwork filled out and Ministry-approved by Wednesday."

Severus nodded politely. "Thank you."

"Anything for my dearest staff member." Dumbledore gave him a fatherly smile.

"Liar," Severus said teasingly. "I'm a great git and you know it."

"Of course I do. But your… honesty is refreshing." Albus patted him on the shoulder. "Now be gone. I won't have you hovering over my shoulder while I draw up the papers."

Severus bowed his head. "Of course, Headmaster. Good afternoon." He turned and descended the spiral staircase, and he was on his way to hole up in the dungeons for the evening when he decided that perhaps a bit of socializing at dinner wasn't beyond the new, improved, and pain-free Potions Master. Severus took a left and headed down to the Great Hall to make a rare weekend dinner appearance.

The tall, lean beauty with bronzed skin and golden hair slinked toward him with a look on her face that clearly spelled trouble. He narrowed his eyes lustily at the woman, but remained where he was – he wanted her to come to him.

"Hey stranger," she said in a breathless whisper. "Want to get away from this?"

He raised an eyebrow, grinning wickedly. "You know what I want."

She licked her lips and drew closer, her nose an inch from his. She reached down and caressed the evidence of his enjoyment of this display. "And I know what I want." She brought her lips to his ear and nibbled at it. "So give it to me."

Severus woke up in a cold sweat with a raging erection. Dreams like this had been plaguing (if one could call it that) him since he had started taking his self-created potion. He supposed he would have to list that as a side effect if he indeed chose to market it.

"May cause dizziness, drowsiness, and an unshakable desire to fuck," he murmured ironically, exercising some self control as he longed for human contact, even if that contact was his own hand.

He glanced over at his bedside clock. It was two minutes till six. He sighed and decided he might as well get up to take a cool shower.

Classes were a bit of a bore. Severus had his younger students working on their term papers and the older ones studying for N.E.W.T.s or O.W.L.s, so he had plenty of time to continue filling out the hundreds of pages of paperwork required for the wizarding patent application for his potion.

He rubbed his forehead and sighed. He glanced up at his seventh-year Gryffindors and Slytherins, made sure that they weren't goofing off, and delved back into his work.

"Known side effects."

Severus was perplexed. He had not tested on any subjects yet and so could legally say "None," but what little conscience he had left dictated that he should list those that he had noticed in himself. "Elevated mood, increased appetite, heightened sexual arousal."

He winced at the last one, hoping that the not-so-bright officials that normally reviewed these applications wouldn't make the connection that he was the only person to have ingested the potion and therefore spread embarrassing rumors about him around the Ministry.

A cough brought him out of his musings. Severus looked up and glared around the room for good measure. "Silence," he hissed, trying to find a guilty look on someone's face. When he found none, he continued to review the paperwork.

The rest of class was uneventful – no one coughed, sneezed, or even breathed too loudly for fear or reprimand from the professor. Despite his unusually not-unpleasant demeanor in the last couple of weeks, he seemed rather on edge today, and no one wished to bring back the snarky bat of the past.

At the end of the class period, the students quietly gathered their belongings and filed out the door. Severus watched them go with narrowed eyes, and then began rummaging for his hidden stash of firewhisky.


Severus jerked his head up so quickly that he heard his neck crack. "Miss Granger, I believe I said that class was dismissed," he snapped.

Hermione bit her lip, whether in nervousness or trying to hold back a sharp retort he was unsure, and held out a piece of parchment. "I'm sorry sir, I was just wondering if you would review this for me and give me some feedback."

Severus raised an eyebrow and snatched the paper out of her hand, scanning it quickly. It was a thesis on some complex potion or another, obviously the beginning stages of paperwork for an apprenticeship. "And what could I possibly add to this that you haven't already thought of?" he said by way of a compliment.

The girl looked somewhat stunned. "I'm sorry?"

The wizard sighed, feeling that vile thing called "praise" about to be voiced. "Miss Granger, you and I both know quite well that your work in potions is extraordinary and that anything which you compose for entrance into higher studies will be well beyond what is expected of any other recent graduate."

Hermione blushed a bit, but Severus could tell that she knew it was true, too. "Well actually, sir, I had wanted you to look over it because I had hoped to become your apprentice."

Severus couldn't help it – he stared at her like a wide-eyed first year. This young woman, who had been a nuisance to him for the last seven years of his life with her annoying, constant line of questioning and her shenanigans with Potter and Weasley, had the gall to ask to become his apprentice and annoy the living piss out of him for three more years?

"Miss Granger, while I admire your bravery in inquiring about an apprenticeship for the bleeding bat of Hogwarts, I would have you know that I have never taken on an apprentice before."

"But sir – "

"I wasn't finished, you silly chit," he scowled. "However," he glanced down at the parchment she had handed him, "your brilliance is, unfortunately, unquestionable, and it would be incredibly moronic to not even take your request into consideration."

Hermione's face lit up, and Severus winced. He hoped she wouldn't do anything stupid, like hug him. He couldn't stand being hugged.

"Thank you so much for thinking it over, Professor," she bubbled, trying to maintain some semblance of composure.

Severus merely nodded. "Mind you, this is not a yes, but it is also not a no. Stop by tonight once I have had a chance to review this essay, and we will discuss the matter further."

"Sir, if I may say so, I'm actually quite surprised you're even considering this," Hermione stated in a show of reckless Gryffindor courage.

The wizard rolled his eyes. "I am not an unreasonable man, Miss Granger. When approached with a proposition that is logical and beneficial, I do not turn it down simply because of my anti-social tendencies. You would make a most useful apprentice, seeing how you may well be the only competent brewer of potions in the school."

He could practically see her ego popping out of her ears.

"Thank you, sir," she managed to stammer, her head held high.

Severus nodded. "I will review this," he waved the thesis paper, "and we shall speak later tonight."

Hermione nodded eagerly and walked out, closing the door softly behind her.

"Finally," Severus groaned, pulling the firewhisky out of his drawer. He took a long swig of it and exhaled loudly.

It was true – he wasn't the unreasonable arse most students made him out to be. Granger would make a very decent assistant, and having her around to brew the more mundane potions would give him more time to attend to important matters, like patenting and selling this potion of his.

He took a shot of the amber liquid and puffed out a breath of air as it burned a trail down his esophagus. It was by no means his favorite liquor; in fact, he rather much preferred a good dark rum. However, firewhisky was cheap and readily accessible, which was exactly what he needed right now. All the stress of this potion was threatening to interrupt the peaceful nights it was meant to induce.

A few hours later, Severus was ashamed to admit that he was piss-ass drunk. He had retreated to his office with the bottle of firewhisky and polished it off, and then he moved on to the flask of vodka that he kept in the back of the desk drawer.

Severus stumbled to his feet, muttering curses as he tried to make it to his bookshelves, where his newest creation was stored in several vials.

"Suppose I should continue testing it," he slurred, picking up one of the tubes and nearly knocking over the rest in his efforts. "See what happens when mixed with alcohol…"

He knocked it back and waited. Nothing really happened – he didn't feel himself becoming sober, and he didn't feel the beginnings of anything serious, such as a seizure or heart attack.

Triumphantly, Severus grinned. "Potions Master Snape, 1, nasty side effects, 0."

And with that, he collapsed in a heap on the cold stone floor.

She had returned to him – the tall, leggy blonde. She sauntered into the room to where he sat at his desk and climbed on top of it on her hands and knees, giving him an enticing view of her round, supple breasts.

"I want you to fuck me," she whispered, her tongue snaking out to lick his lips. "Fuck me like there's no tomorrow."

His eyes half-closed, his erection straining against his pants almost to the point of being painful. She glanced down at the bulge and licked her lips.

"Perhaps a warm-up, then?"

Without waiting for a response, she lowered her chest onto the desk and reached down into his lap to unzip his trousers. She slid forward as far as she could without falling off the desk and placed her lips over his moist tip.

He groaned, watching the erotic sight before him and gradually raising his hips high enough so that she could take all of him into her mouth. He pumped in and out of her moist lips until he could feel himself about to come.

He stood quickly and moved behind her, flipping her onto her back on the desk and not paying any mind to her cry when her head hit the hard wooden surface. Pushing up her silver dress over her breasts to fondle them roughly for a brief moment, he then pushed aside the flimsy cloth of her thong and thrust hard into her tight, warm depths.

"So tight," he moaned, grateful for the extra lubrication she had just provided him. He began to thrust viciously inside her, hitting her cervix with every movement and delighting in the noises of mixed pain and pleasure that came from that beautiful mouth.

It wasn't enough. He growled, withdrawing from her long enough to flip her over and push her shoulders down on the desk before plunging into her at a new angle from behind. That was it. He was thrusting faster than he ever had before, his fingers bruising the golden skin of her hips as he neared his climax.

"Please," she cried out. Or was she crying? "Please…"

Three more thrusts and he came hard, jerking her up to hold her against his chest as his hot seed spilled into and back out of her.

And then he woke up. But this time, he wasn't alone.

Severus couldn't tell immediately through his pleasure-induced haze who it was he had just accosted, but he immediately felt nauseous when he saw the school robes that indicated a student.

He grew even sicker when he saw the bushy brown hair.

"Oh God," he moaned, retching horribly as he dropped Hermione to the floor. She yelped as she hit the stone and scrambled to right her clothes, her eyes red and watery, a trail of blood dancing delicately down her thighs.

Severus panted heavily, trying to catch his breath, but another dry heave caught him and forced him to choke on the remaining contents of his stomach. Half-processed whisky trickled down his chin and onto his hands, which were shakily holding him off the ground.

"Miss Granger," he whispered, "I don't know how…"

"Stop," she squeaked pitifully, looking absolutely humiliated and drawing her robes tightly around her. "Just… just stay away!"

Severus couldn't bring himself to look at her. All he could see was the tiny pool of blood that had gathered at her feet.

"What do I do?" he muttered, leaning back against the wall. "What happens now?"

Hermione characteristically answered his rhetoric question, albeit with much less enthusiasm than the girl who waved her arm wildly in class, begging to be noticed. "I don't know. I don't know what to do."

She sobbed. Severus watched.

Eventually he rose, his logical side telling him to find her a potion to prevent pregnancy. His even more logical side told him she wouldn't trust anything he could give her.

"Madam Pomfrey will have something you can take to prevent pregnancy," he said softly.

"It's already been taken care of," she said between sniffles.

There was another long silence. Hermione cried against the desk as he watched helplessly. He wanted to reassure her, hold her, but he knew she wouldn't be able to bear his touch or sight.

"Miss Granger." There was no response. He sighed. "Hermione."

There was only hiccup to signal that she had heard him.

"When you feel ready, go. When you see the headmaster, tell him I have packed and will leave at his command."

Severus looked at her for another moment, desperately hoping she would say something, do something, but there was nothing. She continued to sob quietly.

He left to begin packing.

When Severus awoke, it was to a beam of sunlight stabbing him unremorsefully in the eye. He groaned, sitting up in the armchair by the fire in which he had fallen asleep. His back was sore from the unfamiliar position he had been contorted in, and he could still smell a terrible mixture of vomit and sex.

He looked around for Albus, but didn't see him. Instead, he saw only his three trunks of books and clothes that he had packed last night in preparation for his dishonorable discharge from the school.

The wizard carefully made his way into his office, prepared for a (completely justified) surprise attack by Dumbledore, Lupin, or even Potter and Weasley. There was no one – only dried up pile of vomit and a small pool of blood by his desk.

It hadn't been a dream – he had really raped a student.

Severus trembled as he cleaned up his vomit with his wand. He had committed some horrible atrocities during his time as a Death Eater, but never anything as gross, as disgusting as this. His victims had usually been allowed to die afterward.

He stared at the blood for a moment, rage burning in his chest. He had either been rough enough to seriously injure her, or she had been a virgin. Neither option allowed for him to feel anything but remorse and self-loathing.

Severus swallowed hard and vanished the blood. But because he had been staring at it for so long, he could still see its afterimage on the floor, and he had no doubt that it would be permanently seared into his memory.

For a moment, Severus considered removing the memory – placing it in a pensieve, or perhaps even Obliviating himself. But how could he allow himself that courtesy when he had just raped a girl? The poor creature had shown up expecting to discuss an apprenticeship and had instead been horribly violated.

Perhaps for the first time in his life, Severus was truly afraid to face his students. Since it appeared that he was not fired or going to Azkaban yet, he wanted nothing more than to cancel classes, crawl into bed, and suffer his own self-loathing. The wizard's pride would never let him do so, but it was certainly a tempting proposition.

Severus was on edge through the entire day, not only because he was deathly afraid the potion would overcome him and he would lose all self-control, but also because he expected a team of Aurors to bust down the door at any moment and either drag his wretched body to Azkaban or simply kill him on the spot.

He preferred the latter.

The last class that day was another session with the Gryffindor and Slytherin seventh years. It took all of his strength for Severus not to cancel the class and bury himself in a bottle of rum, but he reminded himself that alcohol was what got him in trouble in the first place, steeled his nerves, and strode menacingly into the classroom.

Everyone was seated, except for one conspicuously empty seat next to Neville Longbottom at the front of the class. Draco Malfoy perked up eagerly, waiting for Severus to make a snide comment about Hermione's absence and deduct points from Gryffindor. He frowned, confused, when the professor showed no sign of noticing the absence and swept to the front of the room.

"Today, we will be brewing a simple restorative draught in preparation for the practical portion of the Potions N.E.W.T.," he said, doing his best to scowl at his students as he normally did. "I trust you know the ingredients and process."

The students didn't need to be told twice to get moving. They began conferring with their partners and grabbing the appropriate ingredients out of the cabinets that lined the wall. Longbottom, meanwhile, looked absolutely aghast at the prospect of attempting to brew a potion without his brainy lab partner.

"Mr. Longbottom, seeing how you do not have a lab partner, kindly join any other pair that will have you."

Neville gulped and began gathering his belongings, when the door to the dungeons swung open. Severus' heart leapt into his throat, whirling around to face an angry Dumbledore or perhaps a team of Aurors, but found himself staring at something even more frightening.

Hermione walked quickly into the room and took her seat next to Neville, not letting her gaze fall anywhere near Severus. The entire class sat with baited breath, waiting for the tirade that would surely befall her.

Severus merely glared around at his students. "Well?" he asked, snarling. "Move it!"

Murmuring quietly amongst themselves about the strange behavior their professor was exhibiting, the pupils finished collecting their ingredients and settled into brewing their assigned potion.

The Potions Master, though it made his stomach turn, glanced over at Hermione, trying to gauge her disposition. She looked worse than he felt. Her skin was pale and she had dark rings underneath her eyes, indicating that she had spent the night awake and terrified. Her hair, though usually bushy, was limp and knotted, and he could see a thumb-shaped bruise on her neck.

He couldn't look at her any longer. Shame was sending tremors through his body, and the nausea was coming back threefold. Without a word to his class, he swept through the doors of his office and into his private quarters, where he retched until he could barely keep himself propped up at the base of the toilet.

When he made it back to the classroom, the potions were nearly finished. Hermione and Longbottom appeared to be bottling a sample of theirs for approval.

"When you are finished," he said, the students jumping at his sudden reappearance, "leave your samples on my desk and get out of my sight." With that, he walked back into the office and locked himself in.

What was she doing? Why hadn't she reported him yet? Why hadn't anyone come to take him away? Surely she wasn't playing games with his mind? Even if she was, Severus couldn't blame her. He deserved to be tortured for what he had done to her mind and body.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the green liquid he had created sitting on his shelves, and he was overcome with anger. The anger was not at the potion itself – it was reserved for him alone for brewing such a monstrosity.

Growling fiercely, he strode over to the shelf and plucked one of the vials out of its holder and threw it viciously against the wall, his anger only growing when he saw it shatter. One by one, he took each of the test tubes of his potion and hurled them in whichever direction his arm happened to fly. Finally, he reached the last one.

"I truly am what those driveling idiots call me – a monster," he hissed. Drawing his arm back, he smashed the vial down onto his desk, shards of glass ripping his skin.

Severus didn't cry out or yell when he felt the sharp, jagged pieces pierce his hand. He squeezed his eyes tightly as the pain shot through his nervous system and registered in his brain. Slowly lifting his hand off the desk, he watched his blood run down the tiny glass shards and drip onto the desk.

"Beautiful," he said softly, watching it cascade and create another pool of blood to mirror the one that had stained his floor last night.

After watching it for a few moments, mesmerized, Severus shook himself out of his reverie and began pulling glass out of his fingers and palm. The wounds were mostly small, except for a gaping gash in the center of his palm with a long, thin piece of glass protruding from it.

As he slowly extricated the glass from his flesh, he concentrated on the sharp pain that coursed through him. It felt... better. Better than the hatred, better than the shame, better than the disgust. It was calming. It was intoxicating. And it definitely had the potential to become addictive.

Severus stared at his glass-free hand for a moment, memorizing the lines of blood that seeped out of his gashes. Sighing, he walked down the passage to his chambers and into the bathroom to clean his wounds.

After several days of tension, Severus concluded that Hermione was unlikely to tell Albus what had happened, which put him in an ethical dilemma – should he confess?

He had always been incredibly self-serving, and this predisposition made him lean toward not confessing. Granger would have told the headmaster if she had truly been emotionally or physically crippled, right?

The tiny piece of conscience that remained in his soul disagreed. Hermione hadn't told because she was just as afraid and ashamed as he was. She would see herself as weak if she let a man affect her life.

Bloody Gryffindors.

After deliberating with himself over a cup of tea that was held with a shaky hand, Severus decided not to own up to the crime. It wouldn't do any good other than to rid him of some of his guilt, all of which he felt he deserved to suffer through. Hermione was a strong girl – she would come out of this better than ever.

He hoped.

I've lost a great apprentice, he thought, sipping his tea and sloshing some of it on his robes as his hand shook. Severus regarded the scars on his fingers and palm, wondering if he had damaged nerves or if his hand simply shook from fear and loathing. He wished he didn't have the scars, but now that he had them, what was the point in hating them? They showed that he was paying his penance.

Carefully, deliberately, Severus placed the nail of his first finger against his arm and dug it into the skin, wincing at the sting. He drew the nail up his arm, leaving a deep, flaky impression in his skin.

He frowned. It wasn't bleeding. He wanted to see the blood. The blood was what made the anger disappear for a few brief, glorious moments. Severus repeated the motion with his nail and was pleased to see a few tiny drops of blood collect at the surface of the pink laceration on his arm.

Severus was suddenly glad that his teaching robes were long-sleeved. He was by no means ashamed of this newest scar, but he had no desire to share it with anyone. He deserved the pain and he deserved the scars, but he didn't deserve the strange sense of calm and peace that the pain brought.

She got worse.

Against all of Severus' hopes, Hermione Granger's well-being had completely deteriorated. When he forced himself to take meals in the Great Hall, he never saw her take a bite. In class, she had become silent; he actually missed the days of her waving her hand wildly in her seat, barely containing her excitement and her enthusiasm for learning. The dark circles never left her eyes now, and her form was wasting away, her cheekbones protruding pathetically from her cheeks.

Not that he was in any better condition. He, too, rarely ate at all, and he had stopped taking the potion, which meant that his back pain had returned in spades. And the cutting…

It had evolved from an angry outburst into his only escape from the loathing he felt for himself and the world.

His nails were no longer his instruments for the fine art he had honed. From sharp bits of a broken mirror to frayed wires to laboratory paring knives, Severus had pursued the craft with the perfectionism and precision he brought to every other activity he pursued.

However, no matter how many times he dragged a rough blade down his bicep, the guilt would always come back and it would always grow. The man had never been particularly fond of himself; his family had instilled in him a sense of worthlessness that was cemented in place by James Potter and his bunch. Attempting to find worth as a Death Eater had shown him how truly worthless he was, and despite his chance at redemption with the Order, nothing could save him from the despair he now felt at having raped an innocent, beautiful young girl.

He had tried to justify his cutting, though it needed no justification in his mind. It was simply self-preservation by means of self-destruction. The blood he let by his own hand was punishment for his loss of control, and yet it gave him control over his own life, his own pain. He hated himself for cutting, but it was a huge boost of confidence knowing that he had the power to choose. The confidence and the self-hatred cancelled each other out, and in the end, all he had left was a feeling of complete numbness and indifference that at least distracted him from the guilt he felt. He wanted someone to notice, but he didn't want anyone to interfere. It was a horrible web of contradictions that ate at his insides until he almost couldn't bear to look at himself anymore. Eventually, he was unsure that he wanted to be alive anymore, either.

It happened on a Friday evening. Severus had the seventh year Slytherin and Gryffindor class brewing Pepper-Up Potion for Madam Pomfrey to save himself the trouble later.

He was watching her brew, as had become his custom. He watched her slice the roots with shaking hands that mirrored his own, and followed her hollow eyes as they observed the mixture carefully.

Then he looked down at his hands. A scar peeked out of his sleeve, still pink and stinging from the fresh wound he had inflicted that morning.

Silently, Severus rose from his desk and walked into his office, his students barely even looking up as he left and shut the door behind him. He made his way to the mirror, rolling up his sleeves as he went. He wanted to be able to see it all.

The wizard regarded himself for a moment. He saw a gaunt, broken man with hundreds of scars and a cross on his back. He saw a man who couldn't keep control over his own life. But there was at least one thing he could control now.

Severus drew his wand and pointed it at the man in the mirror, a wave of hatred holding him in its grasp. "Avada kedavra!"

Severus woke up screaming like a madman, a flash of green light behind his eyelids. He shot out of bed and into the bathroom, tearing off his clothes along the way. The wizard panted, terrified, as he patted himself down in search of scars, blood, or anything else that would indicate that his dream was actually reality.

There was nothing. He breathed a sigh of relief and pulled on his housecoat.

His eyes narrowed. "The potion." It was a true search and destroy mission – Severus plucked his wand from under his pillow and summoned a box of neutralizing powder. Upon reaching his office, he snatched the vials of his "miracle potion" off his desk and poured them into a beaker, into which he dumped the entire box of neutralizing powder. The green liquid spat and bubbled as it disappeared into the powder, and Severus sighed with relief. He tossed the powder into the waste bin and sat down heavily in his desk chair.

It had been such a realistic dream. Severus hated to admit it, but he was scared shitless. He had slashed his wrists and arms. He had killed himself. He had…

"Granger," he murmured, glancing at the clock. It was only four o'clock; there was no way he could go barging into Gryffindor tower at this hour and expect to make it out with all limbs intact.

"Bloody Gryffindors and their overinflated sense of heroism," Severus muttered crankily. He stretched in his chair and was pleased to find that his back still hurt like a bitch.

He spent the rest of the early morning hours showering, icing his back, and sipping a calming cup of tea by the fire. That dream had shaken him immeasurably; to think that he could lose control over his mind terrified him. It had been his only defense against Voldemort and the other Death Eaters, and now it was what put bread on the table.

Speaking of bread on the table, Severus realized that breakfast was about to be served in the Great Hall. He set down his tea and set off upstairs to find his would-be victim.

Luckily enough, Hermione was already sitting alone in the Great Hall with her nose in a book when Severus arrived. Rather than making his way to his seat at the High Table, he strode to the Gryffindor table and cleared his throat.

"Miss Granger, a word, if you please."

Hermione raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. She followed him out of the Great Hall and into the main entranceway.

Severus inhaled deeply, trying to decide on his wording. "Miss Granger, you may not know it, but I have wronged and insulted you quite deeply."

Hermione went pale, obviously fearing for her grades. "Sir?"

He shook his head, trying not to snap at the girl. "It is much too complicated to explain. But know this: I am truly sorry for what I have or have not done." He attempted an encouraging smile. "Miss Granger, I would like to offer you an apprenticeship to become a Potions Mistress."

Severus was somewhat concerned that Hermione's eyes would pop out of her face. "Professor, I – I don't know quite what to say," she stammered.

"Of course, you have the rest of the week to consider…"

"I accept!" she exclaimed, beaming. "Thank you so much Professor Snape, I promise I won't blow anything up or ask too many questions or..."

"I understand, Miss Granger," Severus interrupted, wondering if he had gone mad to offer to spend the next three years training her. Then again, with her help, perhaps he would be able to cure the curse residing in his L-5 vertebra that kept him in constant pain. "You are indeed the most promising student I have ever had the pleasure of teaching, and it would be an honor to help hone your skills."

Hermione's grin was ear-to-ear. "Thank you, Professor," she said proudly, blushing at the only compliment he had ever given her, and certainly the best she would ever hear from him.

Severus nodded in response. "I would ask you not to mention this until after the N.E.W.T. exams."

"Certainly." Hermione nodded enthusiastically, and he dismissed her back to breakfast.

As he walked down the hall to his dungeons, Severus smiled to himself. It looked like those scars were going to heal after all.

A/N: Very dark. This has been sitting in my mind for quite some time, and I will even admit that some of it was drawn from my own experience and those of my dearest friends. I needed an outlet to help my own scars heal, so to speak, and I believe this was it.

I feel I should apologize to anyone who came into this expecting my usual light humor and instead found very dark subject matter. If I offended you, I offer my sincerest apologies and hope that I haven't lost your readership.

Thank you all for reading. I promise to have something a bit, well, happier as soon as possible. Much love to you all!