I am working on my longer stories, but I just couldn't get this little one-shot out of my head.
It wasn't a full scream, only a single syllable, a momentary slip in a powerful silencing spell.
The split-second of a scream woke her instantly. Hermione was sitting up in bed with her wand clutched tightly in her hand before she even realized she was awake. The sound could have been a part of a dream, but deep in the pit of her stomach, she knew it wasn't.
She made her way through the darkened hallways of Grimmauld Place, both needing to know and terrified to find the source of the sound.
By the tiny blue light of her wand, she made her way from her bedroom on the third floor past door after door of sleeping Order members. She passed the door to Harry's room and seeing it slightly ajar, peered in. His bed was empty and her desperation to find the source of the scream grew. Something was not right.
She descended the first staircase and then the next, finally ending up at the top of a third, the one that led down to the basement. She had never gone down there, had not dared to venture into the forbidding darkness of the belly of the house. But somewhere deep in her stomach, she knew that the scream had come from the darkness that lay beyond. She held her breath and placed her foot silently on the first step. Once she reached the bottom of the stair, she felt herself enveloped in the blackness and shivered in the cold, damp air, suddenly very aware of her thin white nightgown and bare feet against the freezing stones. There was a faint light, a lit crack under a doorway at the end of the hallway, and she followed it, the tension in her stomach growing with each step. Finally, she reached the door and gathered all the courage she had to fling it open with one sudden movement.
She gasped at what she saw.
Alastor Moody, Kingsley Shakelbot, Remus Lupin and Harry stood over the crumpled form of a man casting curse after curse as the man lay writhing and screaming on the stone floor. Despite the fact that the man looked like a scattered pile of flesh and bones, the dark hair and robes gave away the identity of the victim. They had caught the traitor, Snape.
"What are you doing?" she gasped in horror and the four men turned to face her. All four wore hardened expressions that seemed foreign to her and she struggled to recognize within them the men she fought beside, the men she considered friends.
"Hermione, go back up to bed. This is nothing you need to worry yourself about," Remus said softly in a tone that would have been reassuring if it wasn't so patronizing.
"No," she responded.
Harry stepped forward from the group and softly touched her shoulder.
"Hermione, it's Snape. We've caught Snape." There was a cruel glint in her friend's eye that she couldn't bear to see; she had to look away.
"He should be turned over to the Ministry," she said, looking directly at Kingsley.
The man said nothing.
"Oh," she whispered, realizing finally what this was. "This is why the Order of the Phoenix was formed in the first place, wasn't it? Not to avoid corruption and traitors within the Ministry, but to be able to operate outside of the ministry's rules and restrictions." She motioned to the man now lying motionless on the ground. "The Ministry would never permit this. They don't even allow Veritaserum interrogations. This is why they need the Order, isn't it?"
When no one answered her, she knew she had stumbled on the truth.
She closed her eyes for a moment and tried to reassemble her vision of the world.
Because she had come to believe that her enemies were capable of anything, but she couldn't bring herself to believe the same of her friends.
She had been told that people have a moment of growing up and she was suddenly aware that this was hers. It was a moment of disillusionment, the moment when the black-and-white, good-and-bad world of her childhood disappeared into smoke.
"No," she said again, more firmly this time.
"He has information," Moody said roughly, "We're trying to get information out of him about Voldemort that we can use."
"Information?" she cringed at the shrill sound of her own voice and gestured to the figure on the floor with her wand. His eyes had rolled back into his head and his blood trickled down into the cracks between the stones. "This man is three curses away from losing consciousness. All you're doing right now is doling out your own personal revenge."
She stood firm, suddenly very aware of her tiny figure in a thin white nightgown trying to order around these grown men.
"I think," Kingsley said finally, "that the prisoner has had enough for tonight."
The other men shot Hermione contemptuous looks, but followed the auror up the stairs.
He lay on the floor so utterly drained he couldn't even open his eyes. But in the darkness of his own eyelids, he listened to the girl order around two aurors, a werewolf, and the Chosen One as if she had every right to do so.
His blood pooled on the floor under his face as he listened to the sounds of boots ascending the basement stairs, followed by the softer, more delicate sound of bare feet on stone.
He had never been in more pain in his life, not even when he had displeased the Dark Lord. They had enervated him every time his body had attempted to give up and pass out. They had kicked him and cut him and cast unforgivables on him. Every square inch of his body was in pain. His left arm still twitched with aftershocks from the Cruciatus.
But he knew what he had done. He had betrayed them. He had killed the beloved Albus Dumbledore and this was what he deserved.
He let the darkness envelop him in his own grief and pain and misery. He wasn't sure how long he lay like that before he opened his eyes into the blackness as he heard the sound of bare feet on stone once more.
The door opened with a creak, spilling in soft blue moonlight from the small basement window in the hallway. Hermione Granger stood in the doorway staring at him for a moment before entering his cell and closing the door behind her. It had taken a lot of effort to keep his eyes open and they slipped shut once again. He must have lost consciousness because the next thing he knew, his head was no longer resting on the cold stone floor, but on something soft. It shifted and he realized that his head was resting in the girl's lap as she stroked his forehead with a warm, wet washcloth.
Did the girl not know healing charms? But of course she did, he reminded himself, this was Hermione Granger. Through his pain-clouded brain he understood that she had not brought her wand down to the basement with her, had not wanted to risk the slim possibility that he would be able to get it away from her and use it to escape. So she was healing him the muggle way. It was insufficient, but more than he deserved. He felt a cool glass being pressed to his lips and the liquid being poured down his throat as he swallowed it greedily.
"Why?" he managed to croak, staring up at her in the darkness, able only to see her eyes.
She was silent for a few moments before she responded.
"Because this is what we're fighting against…the Cruciatus cast in darkened basements with no trial. If this goes, what do we have left?" She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "This is not the world I'm fighting for."
He felt the warm washcloth on his face once more as she cleaned off the blood. No one had ever touched him like this; no one had ever taken care of him.
"I don't know what separates us from them anymore," she whispered in the darkness.
He wasn't sure if she was talking to him or to herself, but nonetheless he answered her.
"This is war. There are things, there are ideals, that must be sacrificed. Victory is all the matters, victory at any cost." He paused to take a breath before he made his admission. "I would be doing the same thing if I were in their place."
She took a moment to respond, leaning down towards him so that her reply was nearly whispered in his ear. There was a determined fire in her voice.
"That is why I won't let you win."
She finished her work and set his head back down on the floor, making sure part of his robes were bunched up to cushion it.
"I don't deserve this," he mumbled as she emptied a vial of pain potion down his throat and made her way towards the door.
"This isn't about you."
She stood and he looked up at her from the floor.
"You don't care if I live or die."
"No, I don't. But I care about them. Someday, without the pressure of the war, Harry will have to look at himself in the mirror. He will have to look back on what he's done and I want him to be able to live with himself." Then she added quietly, "I want to be able to live with myself."
He wasn't sure how many weeks or months they had kept him there, only that he would periodically be tortured, give them what they wanted to know, and then afterward be healed in the middle of the night by the girl who had appointed herself his savior.
There was a loud pop of apparition in the hallway…unusual for anyone to apparate directly to the cellar.
The door was flung open to reveal Hermione Granger, not in her nightgown as he had grown accustomed to seeing her, but in her robes with wild, matted hair and a cut across her cheek that was dripping blood. She looked both elated and panicked.
He painfully pulled himself to his feet and she approached him, wand in hand.
"Your master is dead." His second master; he had already killed the first.
They would kill him, now that his information was no longer needed. He could only be glad that she had been the first to arrive.
He inclined his head, holding his eyes closed for a moment. Then, raising his gaze to rest on her wand, he said quietly, "so you've come to grant me mercy, to kill me quickly before any of the others make it back to give me a slow and painful death."
"No. I've come to take you to the ministry and turn you in."
He stared at her, dumbfounded.
"They will try me and kill me anyways."
"Yes," she said firmly, staring him in the eye. "You will have a trial and if they decide to execute you, it will be done after you have been proven guilty, and in the light of day."
"What is the difference?"
"It's the difference between vengeance and justice," she said, grabbing his arm and apparating them both.
They arrived in the lobby of the ministry and he collapsed under the strain of side-along apparition in his weakened state. There was a whir of activity around him as he pushed himself up to his hands and knees on the smooth marble floor.
"This is Severus Snape," he heard her tell two aurors, "He has been captured and needs to be held somewhere awaiting his trial." He was yanked to his feet and magically bound. As he was led away, he risked one last glance over his shoulder at the girl who seemed determined to both save and destroy him.
Three weeks later, she stared at him through the bars of Azkaban.
He had asked her to prepare his defense for his trial, to gather the scattered threads of his innocence and bring them out into the light for all to see. She was the only one he trusted not to destroy them as she found them. He had told her where to find the documents Dumbledore had left, where to find his own vials of vital memories.
"Because nobody else will," he had replied simply.
And she had followed through. He had been exhonorated and granted his freedom. As he made his way out of the courtroom, he noted the guilty looks of those who had tortured him. Only one pair of eyes met his squarely and without remorse.
"Congratulations on your freedom, Sir."
"Thank you, Miss Granger."