Disclaimer: The universe of Harry Potter and all its characters belong to J.K. Rowling, Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic and others. Not mine.
Author's notes: Disjointed, probably very confusing. Multiple stories weaved together. Dark. Angst and romance, Snape/Hermione.
Summary: The proximity of a Dementor is a curious thing. DarkFic.
Above, the sky is a maze of clouds, greys and blacks spun together in a dizzying puzzle. They're high clouds, storm clouds, autumn clouds. Has Halloween come and gone, he wonders.
There's mud under his upturned hand, slick, viscous lake mud that has half-swallowed his palm, leaving only pale fingers curling up like wilted flowers from the ground. He pulls his hand free from the ground, the mud reluctant to give up its prize. He doesn't clean the mud off, but lays it across his stomach. He doesn't want any part of him in the mud. He feels dirty enough as it is.
He can smell chrysanthemums. His mind offers up a memory; red and yellow and purple chrysanthemums tracing a spotted path down to the Hogwarts lake.
"Hold on, Severus. Just a bit longer."
There's mud on his hand still. He tries to brush it off on his robe, but he can't move his hand. He can't move his arm. The ceiling passes by, candles and brightly lit sconces floating by every so often.
"He was down by the lake." That same disembodied voice.
"The lake?" A new voice, vaguely surprised. "The lake is well within the anti-apparating field, how did he get so far?" A gasp. "Do you think-- Do you think Voldemort sent him?"
He wonders then, how do they know his master?
There's a long silence, where the ceiling continues to pass by but he cannot hear. He can see a flip of black hair, long ends unbound. A flash of white flesh, a graceful length of throat.
His mother's house is an old house. It's her parents' house.
The floors are wood, unvarnished, old. His socks snag on the splinters that stick out. He races up and down the hall, by himself. Always by himself. His mother watches from the doorway, but never smiles. He doesn't mind.
Up and down, back and forth. Past the strange old paintings, past the strange family tree at the end of the hall. His mother delights in showing him their names on the faded parchment paper. "Carmilla," she says, pointing to hers. Then, "Severus," pointing to his, "after my father." Her finger moves up to the name above hers.
He points to the blank space next to her name, the ominous line above his. "Where's my father's name?"
Her hand falls away, long finger nearly ripping the delicate paper.
One day, his father comes back.
The snow falls, covering his hair as he stands on the rocky driveway. His father is tall, lean and muscular. He has black hair, shiny like a raven's wing.
"I've come for my son," he says. "I'm not going to let you raise him to be like you."
His mother stands on the porch, the open door behind her letting the smell of her potions drift out. "He will be a wizard. Go back to your Muggle parents and your Muggle life. You've served your purpose and I no longer have any need for you."
But his father holds out his hand, beckoning him. The man doesn't even know his name. "Come on." Fingers twitching. "I'll take you away from all this."
Warm fingers on his arm. A hand gathers the material around his wrist, pulling his sleeve up.
"How long have you known about this?" The woman's voice is angry, demanding. He still can't move, but struggles to answer anyway. His arm is frozen beneath her probing fingers. "How long have you known that one of our own students has been working for them?" Not a question for him then. He sighs.
"Minerva, now is not the time for explanations." That same patient voice. He's sure he knows him. "Rest assured we are not in any danger; I would never compromise the safety of the school."
"That's why you have him in the full Body-Bind?" He's starting to dislike the woman with the black hair. "I remember Severus Snape, I remember Carmilla Snape. We are well within our rights to take him directly to the Ministry."
He can see a flash of white hair and an upside-down face. Bright eyes, honest eyes. Familiar somehow. "Honestly Minerva, think logically. He's in no condition to fight anyone. Voldemort could think of a better spy."
"I have seen less elegant ploys that have worked just as well."
He struggles then, because he remembers. 'James and Lily Potter.' His master's voice. 'Dumbledore's most faithful servants. The cruelest cut for that Muggle loving fool.' The laughter echoes in his head.
"Lily," he manages to gasp through his teeth. "Potter."
"Potter," he hisses, though he's surprised his voice still carries weight.
The Boy Who Lived looks down on him, cruel and unpitying from his throne. "Severus." But it's not Harry's voice, not that voice that had cracked with the strain of puberty not two weeks ago. It's Voldemort's voice, that high, snake-like hiss that still sends shivers of fear down his spine. "Severus." And the not-teenager reaches down, fingers stretched to touch his cheek. He struggles against the masked Death Eaters holding his arms. "Severus," again, a soft, sad whisper. But is the sorrow Voldemort's? Or Potter's?
"My Lord," he chokes.
"You've betrayed me Severus." A voice thick with pain. "Did you think I wouldn't know?" A thumb reaches up to run lovingly over his cheekbone. "You tried to keep me from what was mine. You tried to stop the inevitable."
"My Lord, I-"
Those long fingers wrap around his throat. "You sought to keep me from this body, from what was rightfully mine to claim. For those who disobey Lord Voldemort, there must be punishment." One by one, those fingers unbend, maddeningly slow. Not-Potter leans back, smiling. "First the mother, then the son. How many times will you betray yourself, my dear boy?"
Voldemort pulls his wand from his robes, an eerily familiar gesture on a strange body.
"I'm sorry, Lily," he whispers then. "Forgive me."
His mother isn't like anyone else's. Not like Geoffrey Forbes's, who lives next door. Not like Jackie Miller's, who watches from the end of the road with a pair of high-powered binoculars.
His mother dances around her simmering cauldron, barefoot with her skirts pulled up to her knees. She twirls her wooden spoon, a whirling blur in her hand. She dances like a demon and he has no bad connotation to go with the word.
"It's a subtle science," she says. "An exact art. That is what potion-making is." She begins to dance with him, in that grand, exaggerated way all mothers dance with their sons. "We're sorcerers, my dear. You mustn't tell anyone though. Muggles don't understand us, they can only fear us." She hums and then sings, spinning off to stir her concoction. "A nasty lot, Muggles are. Be grateful they're happy with living in their small little houses, crowded around one another gossiping. We're better off without them."
That day, he catches Geoffrey Forbes peering in through the cracked window.
"Mother." He pulls on one of her long sleeves. She sets down her white birch ladle.
Wordlessly, he points to the pimply face hovering behind the dirty glass. Her pale hand moves like a striking snake, her wand suddenly there in her hand.
"Petrificus Totalus." Her wand is pointed like a fencing foil at the teenager. The look of absolute terror freezes on the boy's face shortly before he topples to the ground. The wand is still in her hand, stabbing angrily at the empty window.
He looks up at her, marveling at the strength of her power. He knows of some magic, of course, she promises he will be a great wizard, a feared wizard. But he is far weaker than she.
The door opens with a horrendous bang, the boy's painfully rigid body floating through. Fingers gnarled and mouth twisted in a rictus of fear, each of the teenager's pimples stand out on his pale face.
His mother stops the body in the middle of the room, next to the boiling cauldron. She lets the body hang there in the air, circling it like a predator. "And just what did you think you we're doing, young man?"
A flick of her wand and the boy's mouth pops open, expelling a burst of breath. "I lost my football, in the garden," he begins in a shaking voice. "I only wanted to get it back."
"Liar," she condemns. "Why were you looking in the window?"
"I- I wasn't."
She doesn't threaten him, or even give him a chance to explain himself. Her hand plunges into her robe, withdrawing a bottle of clear liquid. Veritaserum, he realizes. He helped her brew it last week.
She seizes the boy's chin, forcing his mouth open. Tipping his head back, she pours the requisite three drops down his throat.
Snow has begun to drift in the open door. He watches it scatter across the wood floor, not wanting to see the blank stare that's come over the other boy's face.
The forest stinks of rot. Of decaying leaves and long dead things.
Her hand is wrapped tightly around his arm, refusing to let go. They duck under low branches as they run, jump over exposed tree roots. The cloth-covered sword slung across his back swings madly.
She trips suddenly and falls to the forest floor, her fingers tearing gouges in his arm. He stumbles to a halt, legs trembling with exhausting. A shuddering gasp, and he turns to walk back to her.
She sits on the ground, picking wet leaves out of her hair. Her knees pressed together, feet turned out, she looks like a child playing in the dirt.
He can see the length of her leg, a pale white river in the black mountains of her robes. Long and thin, it speaks of the graceful woman she has grown to be.
Even if her heart hasn't caught up yet.
Her face in her hands, she sobs.
He shrugs his shoulders, readjusting the weight of the sword across his back.
"I don't know if I can do this," she says. "I don't know if I can look at him, at that face, and do what we came here to do."
He was afraid of this. "What we want to do and what we need to do are two very different things. If you can't do what we need to do here today, then I suggest, Ms. Granger, that you turn back now."
She doesn't look up. Her shoulders begin to shake with her stifled sobs.
He lets the sword slip from his back, gripping the cloth-covered blade in his hands. Crossing the distance between them, he crouches down in front of her.
Her head lifts slowly, white face emerging like the rising sun.
He twitches the cloth from the end of the sword, exposing the ruby-encrusted handle. "It's what I need to do," he says, knowing she won't hear the betrayal in his words, only the regret.
He's careful not to touch the actual metal of the sword, only experiencing it though the thick cloth. That should be her first sign that everything is not as it seems.
And when he impulsively leans forward to press his lips against hers . . .
That should be her second.
He leans back and lifts the end of the handle to her again. She reaches out to take it, hand wrapping firmly around it. Just as he taught her.
The flash of betrayal in her eyes shortly before she's pulled away is enough to break his heart.
He can smell lemons.
"Why did you do it, dear boy?"
He shudders at the appellation and shifts on the bed, a nervous resettling of awkward limbs.
"We are always here for you, all of us."
"Do you think I had a choice?" he asks suddenly, eyes flashing. "The way I was treated here, the way all Slytherins are. The moment we were Sorted, we were damned. We never even had the choice."
Silence stretches between them, almost tangible.
"We all have choices, in everything that we do."
A wrinkled hand settles heavily on his shoulder, and he resists the urge to pull away.
"You wouldn't understand," he begins, and turns his gaze away. "You couldn't even begin to understand."
A pause, a gathering of thoughts.
"No, perhaps not. But I shall try."
He runs a finger down the plane of her stomach. "Another birthday come and gone," he says.
"Nineteen years young," she murmurs, and he tries not to think about how old that makes him.
She rolls onto her stomach, giving him new territory to explore. She folds her arms in front of her, resting her chin there. He traces the curve of her spine with his finger. Up, past her too prominent ribs, past the thin scar where Potter literally stabbed her in the back, ending in the waves of hair spilling down either side of her neck.
She turns her head, half-cocked so that he can see only the profile of her face. "Do you think," she begins in a wavering voice. "Do you think he remembers me? I mean, deep down, where it's not Voldemort, but actually Harry. Where the Dark hasn't gotten to yet." She meets his eyes. "Do you think he remembers me?"
"I'm sure of it," he says, hoping she can't hear the lie.
Turning on her side, she lets her hair swing behind her back. She reaches out to touch his face, fingers on his cheek. "I love you, you know."
His hand slides behind her neck, fingers tangling in her hair. He pulls her close, his lips finding hers, and she eagerly meets his advance.
He wakes with a start to see the cloaked shadow that passes by his cell, tall and thin with desperate, grasping hands. He shudders, and huddles closer to the cold stone, trying to sink back into the hazy memories.
He remembers. . .
Chrysanthemums. And a girl with brown hair.
He remembers. . .