Title: It's Elemental, My Dear Snape
Author: cathedral carver
Spoilers: AU after Deathly Hallows
Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me.
Summary: Everything has been figured out, except how to live. Pay attention – there's a test later.
"Neither fire nor wind, birth nor death can erase our good deeds."
First there was pain.
The pain was devouring him, eating him alive.
If he was actually alive. He wasn't quite sure.
Then there was fire.
The entire world, apparently, was on fire.
The world was on fire and he was burning in the centre of it.
The world was on fire and he was burning and everything was black. He thought it should be blistering red from the flames, but no. He moved his eyes from side to side. Nothing. Blackness. And fire licking at his limbs, filling him up, consuming and raging, roaring so loudly he could hear nothing else—
Where was he?
He struggled to move but found he couldn't. Tried to speak but found his tongue compressed against the roof of his mouth, his lips parched and stuck together.
He forced his mind to calm itself, to rationalize despite the rising panic.
Heat and darkness and unendurable pain.
He would have laughed, if it hadn't hurt so much.
He was in Hell.
Of course. Where else?
Then the fire became a snake and the snake rose and turned and attacked, again and again, devouring him until there was nothing but pain.
Time passed and it did not pass. The pain ebbed and flowed and expanded and contracted, but it was always present. His entire body, the entire world, was on fire.
He opened his mouth to scream but there was no sound because there was no air.
Well, I don't need air if I'm dead, he reasoned.
He just didn't think there would be so much pain involved in being dead.
He wondered if it would always hurt like this.
But, of course it would.
It wouldn't be Hell if it didn't hurt.
Someone was moaning.
It was him.
"Here." A voice! A soft, feminine voice, infinitely patient and gentle, floating somewhere above him. He tried to smile but then there was pain. So much pain. The voice was attached to hands, apparently, and the hands held something against his lips. A wet cloth, rough and cool. Drops of water along his lips, sliding into his mouth, down his scorched throat. Blessed relief for mere seconds before fire consumed him again.
"More," he said. He tried not to beg but he felt he would give his very soul for an endless fountain of water.
The irony was not lost on him.
The cloth returned and the wetness and the fleeting flash of mercy. He wanted to say thank-you but instead he said:
"Are you…an angel?"
She made a sound like a sigh.
"Maybe." She sounded amused, or flattered. And sad. His angel sounded sad. "But I don't think so."
"I think so." He paused. The fire leapt and roared and threatened to overwhelm again. "Then I am…dead."
"I…can't explain right now."
"Oh." He turned his head, felt a surge of heat and pain. "Not dead."
"Wish I was."
"Don't say that."
Do angels cry? he wondered. His angel sounded like she was.
"Sleep," she said.
Someone was moaning.
It was him.
He tried to lick his lips. Pointless. There wasn't enough water in the universe to hydrate him. The fire was ruthless, consuming, merciless.
"Where am I?" His voice sounded strange in his ears: raspy, unused, ailing.
"Here." Her voice, on the contrary, was sweet, young, concerned.
"Who are you?"
"An angel, remember?" She was teasing him. He liked it. Again he wanted to smile. Again, so much pain.
"Did I say that?"
"It's all right," she soothed. "You don't need to remember. You need to rest."
"I…I can't see." He sounded petulant and frightened and he hated himself for that. He closed his mouth, bit his tongue, hard.
"I…I've covered your eyes." She sounded contrite, like he might be angry with her.
"For…for your own protection. Please—"
Now he was terrified. "What's wrong with my eyes?"
"I was worried there might be some…damage. I…treated them, but the venom—"
The word hitched in his chest. Then the fire became a snake and the snake rose and turned and attacked, again and again— But it had been a dream, hadn't it? He couldn't think.
"You don't remember." It wasn't a question.
He tried. He tried to…he could not. If he'd had enough moisture in his body he might have wept with the not knowing.
"I remember fire." He tried to not sound belligerent.
"It's everywhere. It's everything."
"Oh." She understood. Of course she did. "You're very sick. You have a…a terrible fever. You—"
The cloth was back. He sucked gratefully.
"You need to sleep."
She was holding his hand.
"I'm dead. I know this."
"You're not dead."
"I should be."
He couldn't explain. He couldn't find the words to tell her what he'd done, the terrible things he'd done, the terrible things he'd said. How could he? What would she think of him? She was too good to understand. He simply shook his head.
"Doesn't matter anyway."
"If I'm dead." Her hand tightened around his then and he held on, held on for his very life.
"It matters. It matters to—" She stopped.
"It matters," she said again. His angel sounded teary again.
"Indeed," he said but his heart swelled at the emotion in her voice. He wasn't dead. He was not. Not yet, anyway. And it mattered, to someone.
If this truly was Hell, he could think of worse places to be.
He was wet.
He awoke drenched in moisture. His clothing was moulded to his body. He was shivering.
He felt her hands on him. She was undressing him, rolling him, removing his sheets and blankets, redressing him. All by hand. He was confused.
"Why don't you…"
She paused. "What?" She sounded nervous.
"The usual…rules don't apply here."
"I don't understand."
"Where is the fire?"
"The fire…oh. It's gone…for now. Your fever broke."
"I'm…better," he said.
She didn't reply.
"I wish I could see."
She paused longer than she should have. Her hand touched his brow, smoothed his hair.
"Sleep," was all she said.
He awoke to the sound of her voice. She was talking quietly, murmuring, but not to him. She sounded as if she was reading, or chanting.
"What are you doing?" he said into a darkness that didn't seem nearly as frightening as before.
She immediately moved closer. Hands on his face, his neck, shoulders. He tried to lift an arm, to find her hand with his but she pushed it back gently.
"Please lie still. You need to lie still, Professor—" She stopped short and he heard the catch in her throat, the panic in her voice.
"Who are you?" he said quietly.
"I'm…trying to help. That's all. Please. Please."
That voice. He knew that voice. He knew it. But if he was right, how…how could it be?
"Miss Granger?" he said tentatively, testing the name on his tongue, even though he knew the answer.
There was a long pause and he knew. He knew.
Angel. He'd called Hermione Granger an angel. And she'd let him. He was suddenly very, very glad he couldn't see her face, or anything else for that matter.
There was a very long silence during which he tried, and failed, to picture the expression on her face at that moment.
"Professor?" She sounded worried.
"Why are you here?" he said finally.
"Because…I just am," she said simply and he let it go because it was a fact and he needed her and there appeared to be no one else around, and what else could he do?
Then the fire roared again and nothing would quench the flames.
And so he burned.
"It…hurts," he gasped and hated the sound of his voice, weak and trembling.
"I know. I know, sir," she said and he felt something cool press against his face. "It's the venom. I'm trying…I'm trying to—"
"Do something," he demanded, using his best teacher voice. Things had changed, now that he knew her true identity. Angel indeed! His face burned from more than fire when he recalled addressing her that way. If she was here, then where were the others? Her moronic cronies? Where was Madam Pomfrey? Minerva?
Where was everyone?
Where was he?
"Where am I?"
"Where is here?"
There was a small pause, as if she was thinking.
"Does it matter?"
He supposed it did not, at least not for the time being, because the answer didn't come and he didn't ask again. He simply slipped away.
Sometimes she read to him, for hours it seemed, and he didn't hear the words, never remembered them later, but the sound of her voice, low and cadenced, lulled him into a kind of semi-sleep, hovering tentatively somewhere between here and there, dream and reality, life and death.
"You need to drink this, Professor," she said. He felt a vial press against his lips.
"What is it?"
"It will help."
"What is it?" he demanded.
"If you think I'm going to consume some concoction thrown together by a mediocre potions student—" His voice caught in his throat and he started coughing. Pain flared.
"I'm…I'm doing the best I can—"
"It's not good enough, clearly," he hissed when the pain subsided and it felt good, it felt right to talk like that again. He was back in his classroom, he was teaching third-year potions, and the students trembled before him. It was before any of the other things had happened, before—
"Professor…please." He heard the tremour in her voice, heard the plea, felt her fear, her fear for him, not of him, and he trembled before it.
"Where am I?"
She sighed. He heard, for the first time, the rustling of her clothes, the creak of the floor as she stood and moved about. Still he could not see, but it didn't bother him as it had before. He felt safe. She was there and he felt safe.
He didn't bother thinking about the implications of that.
"Don't you mean, where are we?"
"I suppose. But, you're not really here, are you?"
"Is that what you think?" she sounded amused.
"What else am I meant to think?"
"Do you think you're dreaming?"
He considered this.
"Perhaps you are, then."
"And you're dreaming too?"
"Perhaps I am," and he heard the smile in her voice.
"I know what you did," she said.
"I know. Everyone knows now. You're no longer a…villain."
The word made him laugh. He choked it back.
"You should be very proud of yourself."
This time he couldn't hold the laughter back. It sounded like a cough. It made his lungs hurt.
"Yes. Don't you realize what you did?"
"I know precisely what I did."
"You've done so much good, you don't know, you don't know—" She had to stop because she was crying, he surmised. She was leaning over him, performing the small but necessary duties she had been performing for how long now, tucking in his sheet, smoothing his hair, tending his wounds and he felt the suspect drops of water fall into his face, warm and … salty, he realized as one slipped into his mouth.
He felt her small, cool hands on his face once more. Blessed relief. He felt her mouth close to his ear, felt her breath on his cheek.
"You're a hero, Professor."
He turned his head a fraction of an inch, felt his mouth brush along her jaw before she pulled back as if burned.
"You're a liar, Miss Granger."
Someone was moaning.
It was him.
Someone was holding his hand.
It was her.
"I'm here, I'm here," she whispered over and over, until it was all he could hear and it was everything, it was bigger than the fire.
"Where is my wand?" he asked suddenly. He could sense her sudden stillness.
"My wand. You heard me."
"There are no wands here."
"What do you mean?"
"There is no magic here." She took a deep, shuddering breath. "The usual rules don't apply here."
"Where is here?"
"I'm going to remove the blindfold," she said.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. It's time."
He nodded tersely, but didn't trust himself to speak.
"Your eyes…they'll be very sensitive to the light. I've made it as dim as possible in here, but still…"
"I understand." Just get it over with already.
He felt her hands slide along the sides of his face, move behind his head. He felt them fumble with the tie, felt them tremble with trepidation, felt the blindfold slip away, felt cool air against his eyes.
He heard her move away, as if out of his reach should he try to grab for her.
He was scared.
Slowly, very slowly, he let his eyelids relax, felt them flutter, let them open. The world began to form, to take shape. The room was very small and very dark. A candle flickered on a desk. There were books, a bag, a writing pad. A single window, covered. He let his eyes wander.
The room had no door.
Hermione moved closer. She reached the edge of the bed, studied his face intently. She didn't speak.
"I can…see," he said.
She was smiling.
"I can see you," he said, reaching out a hand. She took it.
The fire returned.
"We can no longer stay here," she said as he sucked on the cloth.
"Because…" her voice trembled. She sounded close to tears. "It's not working."
"Where are we going?"
She shook her head. "I don't know."
Someone was shouting.
Oh. It was him.
The Dark Lord was there—
"My Lord…My Lord…Forgive me…"
"Stop," she said. "Stop, stop, stop…"
He opened his eyes. She was beside him, holding his hands. Her eyes were huge in the candlelight.
"He…Voldemort is dead."
Why couldn't he remember?
"I wouldn't say that."
"Where are we going?" He watched her frantic but controlled movements as she hurried about the small, dark room. She was shoving objects in a bag, pulling on a coat, tying shoelaces.
"Away," she said. Her evasiveness was irritating him.
For the first time in a long time he felt…calm. The fire had subsided and he had slept without dreams. He was weak, but he felt…stronger. The worst, he felt, had passed. He had told her this and thought she'd be pleased. On the contrary, she had begun her frenzied packing and pacing.
"Miss Granger," he said quietly.
"I need…you need to be away from here. It's not working here. I'm not…I'm not doing it right here. I need…there are other things I need to find get you well."
"I am well."
"No," she said and her voice broke. "You're not. But I swear…I swear, you will be."
She hoisted her bag over her shoulder and approached him.
"I need you to stand."
"I don't know if I—"
"I'll help you."
"It would help if you told me what was going on," he said, but this she ignored.
She put her hands on his shoulders, helped him sit. He felt dizziness wash over him. He put his head down, closed his eyes, waited for the nausea to pass. When it did she pulled him upright. The sensation was overwhelming and he clung to her.
"I'm going to hurt you," he said as he leaned heavily on her.
"No, you won't."
He felt her arms move around him. He closed his eyes.
"Are we apparating?" he asked, knowing the answer.
"No," she said. "The usual rules—"
"—don't apply here," he finished with a small smile. He looked down at her.
She looked up.
"There are other ways to travel."
"Are you ready?"
He looked into her face, into her eyes and felt himself nodding.
"Take my hand."