Disclaimer: Everything you recognize belongs to the inimitable JK Rowling and Co, who are kind enough to allow us to play with her toys. Everything else is mine. No moneys made, no moneys sought
Chapter 1. Help
"Help me! Please!"
The cry that tore through the foyer of 12 Grimmauld Place was one the likes of which Severus Snape had very rarely heard; it was at once enraged and defeated. And he found himself thoroughly unsettled by it, a feeling seemingly shared by the Order members seated at the table as all turned their attention to the hallway.
Hermione Granger burst through the door, another plea for help spilling from her lips. Her frantic, hollow eyes quickly scanned the room of adults. Molly Weasley's maternal instinct immediately took over as she jumped up from her seat to rush to the girl's side.
"Please! You have to help me. I just left them! They're dead! Deatheaters! I just left them!" she cried incoherently, shaking her head, trembling as Mrs. Weasley attempted to calm her.
"Who? What, child? Your shoulder! It's bleeding!" she said, attempting to seat the girl in a chair.
Hermione did not have time for Mrs. Weasley's sympathies. She needed action. Turning to Albus Dumbledore, seated at the far end of the table, she advanced on the old wizard, her right hand going absentmindedly to her left shoulder. "Please, Professor Dumbledore! Please! I just left them! DO something!" she cried, her voice cracking.
"Who, Miss Granger?" he said, his eyes scanning the witch in front of him, taking in her bleeding shoulder. Splinched, I expect, he thought fleetingly. The girl was haggard; puffy, blood-shot eyes, bruises where her neck met her shoulder, limping slightly as she crossed the room to him.
"My parents! Deatheaters came to my house! They killed them!" she cried, releasing her shoulder and gripping Dumbledore's forearms tightly in her blood stained hands, fresh tears streaming down her face. Gasps erupted from the table. "I couldn't do anything! I couldn't do anything! I tried bringing them here! I couldn't! Please! You have to go to my house! You have to get them; I can't just leave them there!"
Severus had not moved throughout the scene; he sat, stunned into absolute inaction. He had never seen the girl like this; she was the know-it-all, the smart one, the logical member of the golden trio, always so composed and collected.
"Remus! Arthur! Come with me," Dumbledore said, relinquishing the girl, who was beginning to sway on her feet, back into Mrs. Weasley's arms.
She immediately sat Hermione in a chair and began inspecting her shoulder as Minerva McGonagall came around the table to join her, both murmuring soothing nonsensical words. Severus stood to join the men making their way to the door. "No, Severus." Dumbledore looked back. "You are needed here; I expect the tremors will start soon."
Tremors? he thought, turning back to the girl. She was attempting to wrestle away from the two women, crying about going with Dumbledore. He moved Minerva aside without a word and crouched before Hermione. He began unbuttoning the top of her shirt, pushing the fabric gingerly off of her left shoulder. She had splinched herself badly on her journey to Headquarters.
"Accio Dittany!" he called, his hand lifted to accept the bottle flying down from the headquarters' infirmary. "I'm afraid this will hurt, Miss Granger." He began applying the potion to her shoulder, chanting a low incantation to speed up the healing. She did not even flinch as the potion steamed in her wound.
He lifted his eyes momentarily to her face; Hermione had gone nearly catatonic. The dark amber eyes that were constantly alive, consistently thinking, always questioning him, had now been rendered blank. They were glazed and unfocused, fixed somewhere over Severus' left shoulder. There was horror there. She had seen things, he was sure of it. He knew that look, had seen it in some variation or another for the past twenty years. It was a look of defeat and utter despair.
"We need to move her to the sitting room. She needs to lie down. Give her a Blood-Replenisher, from the infirmary. I will go to Hogwarts for the Ante-Cruciatus…"
"Cruciatus?" asked Minerva, eyes-wide as she and Mrs. Weasley stood on either side of the girl.
"I would be surprised if they didn't Crucio her, Minerva," he sighed, turning towards the sitting room to the Floo.
Five minutes later he was back, coming through the Floo to find Minerva and Molly attempting to make Hermione sit on the sofa. She was struggling against them, trembling and mumbling about Dumbledore and what was taking him so long.
"I told you she needed to lie down! Were my instructions not clear?" he snarled, advancing towards the girl and man-handling her onto her back on the sofa.
"We tried. She kept trying to leave," Molly said, coming around the back of the sofa to hold the still struggling girl down.
"You could not restrain one Gryffindor? Between the pair of you?" he spat out. Tilting Hermione's twitching head back; he tipped the Ante-Cruciatus into her mouth, lightly massaging her throat to induce her to swallow. "Did you at least manage to give her the replenisher?"
"Yes," said Minerva, standing at Hermione's feet, still shell-shocked, staring at her favorite pupil. "She took it when we asked her to."
Now that she had swallowed the potion, Severus' eyes trailed down her body, methodically scanning for any other injuries. Her shirt had ridden up her torso as she twitched on the sofa and dark bruises were peeking just under the hem of the blouse. He moved away from her head, pulling her shirt up just under her breasts, revealing ugly purple bruises fanning her right side. The women gasped as he shook his head, pointing his wand at her ribs.
"What is it now, Molly? Seven? Eight children? I've lost count, but I would have thought that at some point you would have learned to heal broken ribs," he said, narrowing his eyes as he heard her bones snap back into place.
"I didn't see it, we were -" she began, hands covering her mouth as she watched the bones pop.
"Wasting your time arguing with her instead of forcing her onto the sofa for treatment, yes I know." He leaned back on his heels and cast a series of diagnostic spells on Hermione, who had grown quiet.. not flinching when he healed her ribs nor showing any signs of noticing their presence at all. She stayed still, spine rigid, unfocused eyes staring at the ceiling above her.
The diagnostic spells revealed more severe nerve damage than Severus had been hoping for, suggesting sustained administration of the Cruciatus. He stood up, peering at her disturbingly impassive face, wondering, not for the first time, just what had happened that night and if Deatheaters had been involved, how he had not known of it.
"She appears to have slight muscle sprains in her shoulders, arms and right foot, no... internal injuries," he deduced, relieved to know she had not been violated. "We will need more Ante-Cruciatus. I have some in my stores at school. Heal the remaining injuries and levitate her to a bed upstairs, if you can manage it." With that, he turned back into the Floo and vanished in a puff of green smoke.
It was a long night for the occupants of 12 Grimmauld Place. Molly and Minerva had just finished settling Hermione into a bed upstairs; transfiguring her clothes into loose fitting pajamas and casting a series of cleansing and freshening spells in lieu of bathing her, when Severus returned with the potions. He glanced over the girl, ensuring that the two witches had healed all her wounds. He was about to leave to check in with Albus when the seizures began. The attack came suddenly; one minute Hermione was laying quietly, eyes closed and the next her face had pinched into an expression of acute agony as her body convulsed. Her limbs had a mind of their own, shaking, while her head twitched violently. Her back arched off the bed in a gross imitation of ecstasy as Severus brought his hands down on her shoulders, forcing her back flat on the bed.
"Grab her legs!" he barked at the two witches. "Grab them and straighten them out! Don't let them bunch up! Massage the knots out. Force the knots out with your hands," he instructed as he roughly began kneading her upper arms. He moved down both arms simultaneously, his thumbs aggressively loosening the knots that were forming. He looked down at the two witches to check their progress.
"Be harder and rougher than you think you need to be. Miss Granger has no use for your tenderness right now."
"I don't want to hurt her," Mrs. Weasley said as she massaged Hermione's calves.
"Yes, when she loses the function of her toes because you allowed the nerves to bunch up and die, I'm sure she will be consoled by the fact that you spared her a few extra bruises."
At this, both witches began increasing the power and intensity of their administrations. Minerva, a fierce scowl on her face, took to Hermione's legs with vigor, viciously chasing away each and every knot she came across. The girl was silent throughout, gasping and sucking her breath at each convulsion; she did not scream, she never screamed. Severus found himself staring into her face, wondering what was wrong with her. Having endured the after effects of the Cruciatus many times, he knew how painful these tremors were, it was almost like experiencing the curse anew. Why is she not screaming? he thought, watching her pinched and gasping face.
It took twenty minutes of consistent work before the convulsions fell into shudders. Hermione's face was flushed, a slight sheen of sweat covering her face and neck; she was breathing more evenly now, though shallower than usual, as if her body were afraid that deeper breaths would call the tremors back. Severus tipped more potion into her mouth while the witches straightened her clothes and covered her in the bed sheet.
"I think they're back," Minerva said, pushing some stray hairs off of her face.
"Yes," Severus agreed, straightening his posture while still looking down at the girl. "Someone must stay with her. We will need to repeat the process when the tremors return."
"I'll stay," said Molly; sitting in one of the chairs and pulling it closer to the bed. "You two go, I'll watch her."
"You will call us if she so much as trembles," Minerva said sternly to the witch as she followed Severus into the hall.
The debriefing with the order was interrupted twice by Hermione's convulsions, with a further three attacks before the sun came up. Arthur and Remus relieved the two witches for the latter attacks while Severus continued working on her arms, shoulders and abdomen. Hermione remained unconscious as night faded to day with still no improvement. Molly and Minerva took over mid-morning, aided by Dumbledore, as Severus returned to Hogwarts to brew additional Ante-Cruciatus potion. Without the girl's testimony, it was impossible to know how long she had been under the curse, but given the frequency and intensity of the tremors, Dumbledore and Severus both thought it to be easily at an hour or more.
The morning of the third day found Severus seated at the kitchen table in Grimmauld Place with a cup of tea and the Prophet. He had spent the past three days more or less at headquarters, at Dumbledore's request, as Molly, Arthur, Remus and Minerva rotated to assist him during the convulsions. Hermione faded in and out of consciousness during that time; never lucid enough to provide an account of what had happened, but never asking after her parents either. She kept apologizing, kept saying there was nothing she could do, the Deatheaters had wanted nothing. Dumbledore and Severus were at a loss to comprehend what she was saying in these brief periods of awareness.
Severus was contemplating whether he would need to return to Hogwarts to brew anything else for the girl when she walked into the kitchen. He looked at her; took in her vacant eyes scanning the room, her disheveled, matted hair, her rigid posture. She appeared gaunt and … lifeless, as if she had no will for anything; he could not detect any magic from her. She just stood in the doorway looking at him with no expression.
"Miss Granger." He jumped up from his seat.
She flinched at his sudden movement and he stilled. He desired to approach her, take a closer look at her appearance, assess her recovery, but was fearful of causing any unnecessary distress. The last thing he needed was an emotional breakdown with none of the witches here to comfort the girl. She moved into the room, around the opposite end of the table, towards the tea kettle. It seemed to require all her concentration to open the cupboard, take down a cup and prepare her tea the muggle way. Severus contemplated offering to do it for her, but as she did not appear close to collapsing where she stood, he reconsidered and returned to his seat.
She poured the water in, placed the tea bag in the cup, dragging it around the water as she gazed out the window into the headquarters' backyard. Severus could see from her profile that she was not focused on anything; her mind was far from Grimmauld Place; where he did not know. What is she thinking? What is she remembering? he found himself wondering after several minutes of silence, holding the Prophet before him, but taking in nothing from the paper.
"Did you know?" Her voice came over him, low and weary. She did not turn from the window.
He lowered the paper and looked up at her. "Know what, Miss Granger?"
"That it was going to happen."
He said nothing, his mind refusing to believe that his treatment of the girl through the years, however caustic, would allow her to believe he was capable of permitting such a thing to happen, capable of not intervening, capable of such evil.
"I will not dignify your question with a response," he finally said, looking back down at the forgotten paper.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her turn around to face him, teacup in hand. She looked at him with a frighteningly expressionless face. He locked eyes with her and attempted to push into her mind, to see for himself what was behind those dark amber eyes. Her thoughts swirled around the forefront of her mind in a hurricane; a cyclone of blinding pain, rage, despair and grief. The force of the emotions was so strong; he had trouble maintaining his foothold in her mind. But he stood his ground, determined to make some order out of the chaos whirling in her thoughts. He felt her realize he was there and all of a sudden walls came down around him in her mind; shutting him out, all was black. He pulled out and refocused on her face - her still expressionless face - and wondered if she had unconsciously Occluded her thoughts and thrown him out. She seemed utterly unaware of what had transpired, her eyes still locked on his.
"You know I'm a spy for the Order, Miss Granger. You know I am on this side."
"I also know that many sacrifices have been made for the war effort. Many have died who might not have. I'm sure Professor Dumbledore has counseled you to allow for some… sacrifices on our side," she replied, her tone even, no hint of anger or accusation. She was relaying facts to him and he wondered how much she knew; her and her friends were not members of the Order, though Dumbledore had told the-boy-who-lived-to-annoy more than he probably should have.
"He has," Severus admitted, "but such a sacrifice as this would not have been tolerated, I assure you. You and your… mental acuity have proven themselves far too vital to Potter's success to allow such a thing to happen. I assure you;" he repeated, "I had no prior knowledge of whatever occurred that night." He watched her absorb this information, wondering how she was filing it away in the manic swirl of thoughts he had seen. She gave a small nod, turned to pluck another teabag from the box and made her way out of the room.
"Are you experiencing any pain, Miss Granger?" he called as she reached the doorway.
"You ought to eat… for your strength," he heard himself say.
She paused, her head turning slightly, before resuming her path out of the room. Severus wondered if and, indeed why, his compassion should extend that far. As long as she was alive and no longer convulsing, he would leave the coddling to Molly or Minerva. Happy with this resolution; he stood, tugged the collar of his robe into place and headed for the Floo to inform the headmaster.
A/N Hope you like it! Second chapter up in a bit. Just for clarification, its not going to be too AU aside from the fact that they are currently in their seventh year at Hogwarts. Although the events of HBP didn't happen, the Horcruxes will nevertheless feature in the story. Snape is back to teaching potions... other than that, it should be easy enough to follow along and I won't stray too far from canon.
Also, clearly I took some liberty with the application of Cruciatus :p for dramatic effect.
Hope to hear from you!