The deep blue wallpaper taunted her as it always had. She stared instead at the rotting wooden ceiling, seeing the cracks and spots she had come to be so familiar with over the past years. This room, the third from the right on the second story of Number 12 Grimmauld Place, was where she had always come in times of pain.
This was the room where she had wept in agony after her parents had been murdered, the room where she had lain motionless for weeks after Bellatrix's torture had left her barren.
Now she retreated once more to her spot on the bed and let herself go to her pain. The things he had done to her…the things she had seen herself do…the things he had said to her…it had all been too much.
The pillow was wet with her tears, but they kept coming.
She hadn't realized that anyone else had entered the room until she felt a weight on the bed beside her. A blanket was pulled up over her body and her hair was smoothed in slow, calming strokes. Harry. He hadn't spoken, hadn't asked what was wrong, but had silently come to her side when she was hurting.
When she finally stopped crying, he whispered softly.
"You can tell me if you want to."
And then it all came spilling out, the erased memories, her marriage, her daughter, the betrayal, everything.
Harry listened without comment and held her silently when she started crying again. Eventually she drifted off to sleep.
A knock at the door woke her and Harry rose to answer it.
"I need to speak with her," the brusque voice said from the other side. It was his voice.
She buried herself deeper in the blankets, knowing what conclusions he would draw from finding Harry here in her room after the other discoveries they had made that morning.
"I don't think that's a very good idea," Harry replied, holding the door open only a crack. "I don't think she should see you right now."
She waited for the disparaging insult to come, for the acidic reply telling Harry that he had no right to decide for her. But none came. Instead, he said simply in a low, urgent voice she had never heard him use, "Something has happened."
She was up and across the room in a flash, tearing the doorknob from Harry's grasp and flinging it open all the way in wide-eyed panic.
She stepped into his arms without question and he apparated them both.
She stepped away from him to find herself in the kitchen of a dingy apartment. Following him into the living room, she glanced out the window to find only a dirty view of a brick alley wall. The living room was no better than the kitchen. It was completely empty save for the one bare bulb that hung from the ceiling, illuminating the space.
He made no mention of the events from that morning.
"Catherine has been taken. I am going to retrieve her."
"Who…who took her?"
She looked for a place to sit down, but there was not one piece of furniture in the barren room so she leaned against the wall, relying on the grimy painted surface to keep her standing.
She suddenly found it hard to breathe.
He began pacing back and forth in the small room, seeming at the moment more like a caged animal than a man.
"You are aware, no doubt, that because of generations of inbreeding, many of the oldest pureblood families now have a high rate of infertility."
He paused as she gave a short nod, and then went on. She wasn't sure what this had to do with her daughter, knew only that it could be nothing good.
"They have instituted a program. All magical children are being tested. The ones that show the greatest potential are taken from their families and placed in pureblood families that cannot produce their own heirs."
He paused for a moment and took a deep breath.
"She is a gifted child."
"What are we going to do?" Hermione managed to whisper.
"I'm going to retrieve her."
He looked at her sharply.
"You will wait here."
"I'm coming with you," she instisted.
"You cannot do this alone."
"I thought you were the only spy…"
He lowered his head, letting his hair hide his face from her.
"I am, but there is someone I can trust, at least in this."
She nodded numbly.
"I will send someone to bring Catherine to you. Once you are alone with the child, apparate to the cabin and wait for me there."
And he was gone with a pop, leaving her alone.
Severus apparated to the front gate of Malfoy Manor and crossed through the grounds quickly. The house elf that opened the door for him returned a minute later with Narcissa.
"Severus," she smiled, "It's good to see you."
"Narcissa," he nodded.
"I'm afraid you've come at a bad time. Lucius is out."
"I know. I've come to speak with you."
Her posture seemed for falter for a split-second.
"Perhaps we should sit down."
She led him to the sitting room and nervously sat.
"Narcissa, I need you to do me a favor."
"Anything, Severus." She owed him and he knew it. He had gone above and beyond the call of friendship time after time for Draco.
"There is a girl, taken prisoner during the magical examinations and being held with the other children yet to be placed. She is my daughter. I need your help in getting her out of there without revealing her identity to anyone."
He sat silently, staring at his hands and giving his request time to sink in.
"You're asking me to betray our Lord," she said incredulously, "You're asking me to betray my lineage, to betray my master, to betray my husband."
"Yes," he said, looking up suddenly and staring at her deeply and she understood…he was not on her side, yet he had risked everything for the life of her son time after time.
The realization hit her like a punch to the stomach. This man who she had trusted for years, who she had depended on, was a spy. And she would now betray everything she had lived for out of debt to him. She owed him that much.
It wasn't hard to find the child. Among the other children being held, the girl's seriousness stood out in a way that made Narcissa sure that Severus could have no other child. Because of her family's position within the Dark Lord's circle, she was allowed to go wherever she pleased and had no trouble accessing the children. She didn't know Severus' exact plan, only that he was creating some sort of a distraction that would draw guards away from where the children were held. That left only one young Death Eater on watch that she quickly sweet-talked her way around.
With the girl finally in her arms, she apparated swiftly to the location Severus had given her.
The door swung open to reveal a girl, younger than she expected, and strangely familiar. The older woman knew instantly by the look on the young woman's face that she was the mother. It came to her suddenly, memories of photographs from the Daily Prophet. This was Potter's mudblood. If she had had any doubts about where Snape's loyalty lay, her questions were now answered.
The girl hesitated for a moment before allowing her to step inside.
Her assessing glare swept over the dingy apartment.
"You're not staying here, are you?"
There was a small matress in the corner which had obviously been transfigured. Narcissa lay the little girl down on it.
She turned to see the other woman staring at the child with a mixture of hopefulness and terror.
"Sleeping…half a vial of calming draught…it's perfectly safe for children."
She took a step towards the door, but the younger woman's words stopped her.
"Please Mrs. Malfoy. What do I do?"
She turned slowly.
"Is there anything else I need to know?"
She smiled softly, remembering her own first days as a mother, remembering everything that had happened since.
"More than I could ever tell you, but you'll figure it out."
She moved towards the door once again, but stopped once her fingers closed around the grimy knob and turned once again to face the brunette.
"Actually, there is something, something you must do." The best thing she had ever done for her son.
Hermione watched her in anticipation.
"Find a powerful wizard, a good wizard, one with a strong sense of loyalty and a strong sense of duty and make him her godfather. Harry Potter is rather loyal to you?"
"Make sure he feels responsible for the safety of the child."
Hermione nodded. Narcissa turned once more to leave but was stopped by the other woman's question.
"Where is Severus?"
She lowered her head.
"I don't know." She paused for a moment, halfway between leaving and staying.
"He's a good man." She said, "but I guess you already know that."
With that she left, shutting the door swiftly behind her and vowing to scourgify the stink of Muggle London off of her as soon as she got to the manor.
Severus staggered towards the familiar door, exhausted and sore, but more or less alright. His daughter would be safe for now, he had at least that much faith in Narcissa.
That still left him with other problems. He had been an asshole to her earlier, he realized that now. Those things he had said...he had meant to hurt her and he had.
What could he say to her now? What could he say to her to make everything alright? He had seen in his memories how miserable he had been without her.
He paused a moment outside the door, still unsure of how to greet what waited for him on the other side. He was unsure whether she would be happy that he had found a way to retrieve their daughter, or still angry at how he had treated her earlier.
He opened the door, quickly walking through and closing it behind him. No sooner had the latch clicked in the frame than he was hit by a burst of momentum, knocking him back against the hard surface of the wooden door before he even had a chance to pull out his wand.
It was only after a moment that he realized it was a woman who had knocked him back against the door with such force and that he was currently enveloped in an embrace to tight he had trouble breathing.