This story is, and I quote, "creepy as fuck." Nothing overtly gory, but yeah, I definitely felt a bit squirmy writing this. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Thank you ccognett for beta-reading! You are awesome-sauce.

Oh, and by the way, this is a one-shot. I don't think I can write another chapter as disturbing as this one.

"Grang... Granger?"

His eyes are dimmer than she remembers, and his voice sounds like something wretched.

She closes her eyes and breathes in her name from his lips and it hits her like opium; it hits her like a screwdriver to her temple; it hits her like ice running down her spine; it hits her like everything she's ever wanted because it's been so long since she's last heard it.

So long.

"Granger... what have you done?"

"Shh, Severus. It's okay. I saved you, I brought you back, don't you see?" She is choking on her own words but she doesn't care.

"Y-you...? I was... The Shrieking Shack, then... There was the snake..."

"Done in by your own kind, weren't you, you traitorous bastard?" She is only half joking, but it's been years since then. She is a Gryffindor, after all. She can let go of old grudges with the best of them. "It's okay, I came back."

"Is that... What's he doing here? Is he—" He starts thrashing around. His muscles are in appalling condition. She brought him back, but she is no miracle worker.

"Shh, don't mind him. I came back for you, Severus. I saved you. We have time, now, like you said. You said before that we had time, but we didn't. Well, now we do."

Suddenly he looks straight at her, and that old familiar ping!rattles her heart in her ribcage.

God, save her.

"Granger, did you kill him?" A long time ago this question would have flayed her. But now the pain is barely noticeable.

"No—no—no! How could you even—I... I didn't kill him... I saved you."

After the war, things didn't go back to normal quite as quickly as they had hoped. It turned out that the real world didn't really work that way, and things like grief and pain and death with all its accoutrements didn't go away just because you won a war.

Voldemort was dead and everything, and most of his followers had turned tail like the fucking mongrels that they were, worming their way into Wizarding societies abroad.

Wizarding Britain began to rebuild. People threw around words like 'deliverance' and 'elation,' words like 'closure' and 'peace.' There was an air of bright-eyed optimism everywhere. People were having babies.

But after the initial daze began to wear off, after the trials and speeches, after the dinners and the medals and the Ministry officials in their official robes bestowing some very official-sounding titles, there was rehabilitation.


Months spent relearning how to use damaged bones and atrophied ligaments.

Pamphlets with the battle-worn wizard looking off into the distance on the front page sent to the families of those who fought.

No loud noises, they said. No sudden movements. Try to anticipate the triggers. Don't pressure them into talking about it. Be patient and understanding. Don't take their outbursts personally. It's the war, they said. It's not you.

The younger ones, those who saw what happened but didn't really participate in it, regarded them with something akin to stupefied reverence on their faces. It pissed her off. She didn't want their respect. She wanted to tell them that there is nothing to getting old. It takes nothing.

But she didn't, because the flashbulbs were in her face, and because she is Hermione Granger, war heroine. Instead, she took their smiles and answered their questions and signed their bloody copies of Hogwarts, A History until the flashing lights tugged at some memory in her brain and she started darting around, wand in hand and ready to hex the next blighter who wanted to kill her, and someone had to take her away.

One time she went to buy clothes because everything she owned smelled like blood and looked like garbage and the next thing she knew she was waking up in St. Mungo's, the sedative still fresh in her veins.

The point is, she couldn't fucking take it.

They won the war so she was a winner, right? It felt wrong on her lips; it felt wrong in her brain; it looked wrong written on the victory posters plastered all over Diagon Alley. Because the war had taken so much from her and what did she get back? A permanent throbbing in her shoulder and a sodding medal.

So she ran away.

Some Gryffindor you are, she told herself as she packed her bags. But she reminded herself that she fought in a war before she even finished school, and this made her feel a little better. She can be a coward if she bloody wanted to. She earned it.

She didn't have very much to pack. She used the same beaded purse that served her so well when they were living like animals with the wild wind licking at their heels. This is where my life's dross is piled up, she thought.

Somehow, she ended up in Viktor Krum's flat, her back against his kitchen counter as she jacked him off with her fist. Or maybe she planned it. It was all fuzzy in her head.

"Please, Viktor," she implored him, twisting her wrist just the way he liked, layering her voice with a raspy honey that made his black eyes widen in a way that was achingly familiar to her. And holy hell, did it sting. If she closed her eyes, she could almost imagine someone taller someone meaner someone dark and dangerous someone half-dead

It's worth it, she told herself.

Viktor was always the perfect candidate. So solid. So ardent. So eager to please his Hermy-own-ninny.

She could toss him scraps of offal and gristle and he would follow her off the edge of the Earth. It used to sicken her.

He's worth it, she told herself.

The first time they kissed, there was a stuttering of dry, thin lips on chapped, trembling ones. It was quite possibly the most awkward thing she'd ever had to live through in her life.

She didn't know how it started. He'd never really payed attention to her. It was always Potter this, Potter that, Potter I am assigning you detention for the rest of the month because you look too much like your bleeding father.

She was just the yippy, ragtag know-it-all, the show-off with the hair and the teeth who didn't know how to keep her mouth shut. Yes, she defended him to Harry and Ron. Yes, she tried not to call him a greasy git, but she didn't really like him either. She probably would have hated him if she'd given him more thought. But she hadn't.

It started around that time in Grimmauld Place, she supposed. When she stumbled sniffling into the library because of something Ronald the Berk had said to her, and she saw him sitting and staring daggers into the fire. He didn't notice her. She could smell him, though. It was tangy and metallic and intoxicating in a way that she didn't like to think about. It was the stench of blood and mud and sweat and fear (You can smell that, did you know?), and it was redolent of something craven and abject. She gagged.

He looked at her, then. He looked angrier than she'd ever seen him, like she'd knowingly intruded on some deeply clandestine ritual he was holding.

It was the first time she saw him lose control.

It was a jarring, fascinating sight, and her body had thrummed with something new, somewhere along the back of her neck, somewhere down the knobs of her vertebrae. He called her a sycophantic upstart, a sanctimonious little bitch, he'd raved and yelled his throat hoarse and asked her how the shit smelled from her lofty pedestal. He'd called her Lily, and her mouth hung open in befuddlement.

She pulled herself together when she thought he was going to call her a Mudblood, but it turned out that he was going to use another 'm' word. Mongrel, she thought it was. Moron. Mangy. Mutt. Minger.

Mangy minger Granger.

She didn't just stand there and take it, of course. She called him a bully, a lonely old codger, she called him a fucking murderer, because somehow she knew that the blood in his robes wasn't his own.

He'd fallen silent and just stared at her, his mouth a gaping rictus of disbelief. She remembered thinking that he was even uglier, this way, with his tombstone teeth and his great big joke of a nose. She remembered that she wanted to laugh cruelly in his face.

You won't survive a fucking day out there, Granger, he'd whispered. You haven't got what it takes.

She said some things back. Or maybe she just stood there, staring at him as the indignation slowly ebbed out of her.

Anyway, that was probably the turning point, if she had to pick one time. That was when the glances went from indifferent to angry, from angry to furious, from furious to heated, from heated to covetous. When she went to bed, she couldn't sleep because she could still smell him. The smell of him had made a permanent home under her skin. She wasn't sure how that made her feel.

One time she passed by the spare room he sometimes used and she heard him groan through the mold-damp walls. God, she was young, then. Barely seventeen, and the sound went straight to her groin. She thought that was his way of initiating something more, something dirty and illicit, because why the hell didn't he put up a Silencing Charm? He probably had little experience with women, and he didn't have the guts to approach her first. She'd wavered there, in front of his door, itching all over and fidgeting up a storm.

Then she decided she had nothing to lose, because he already thought nothing of her.

So she walked through the door as casually as she could. Later, she would marvel at her boldness. Later, she would wonder that he didn't curse her dead right there, because it turned out he wasn't inviting her; he was just too knackered to cast precautionary charms.

He made quite the sight; his back turned to her, his pale arse thrusting into his hand, one leg bare and the other still trapped with his trousers around his ankles. She was mortified. He was petrified. But she'd wanted him for weeks for various unknown reasons that she conveniently summarised with the word desperation, and she somehow felt that they were running out of time, so she marched up to him and grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled his lips to hers. His nose had bumped against her forehead. He was still holding onto his cock between them and she wondered if he was wanking to thoughts of her.

He didn't respond at first. For three horrifying seconds, with her neck bent awkwardly and her palms starting to sweat, she thought that maybe she'd imagined all those knowing glances, and maybe she just might be going mental. She was just starting to back off, her mouth already poised to shoot out excuses (like what, Hermione?) when he started kissing her back.

Like she said, it was awkward. Their bodies didn't touch at any point except at their mouths, and her hands sitting primly on his shoulders. She remembers thinking that his lips were surprisingly pliant, but still predictably firm, and that his fingers felt good gripping her hips, and that his breath was hot skittering across her face as they parted, and joined, and parted their lips again. It lasted for all of eight seconds, and then it was over and she fled back to her room.

She used to think that he was the sort of man who had a formidable grip on his own impulses. She thought he was unfair and cruel, and she hated it when he belittled her, but she didn't think he was the type to violate his authority as a teacher and do... things with a student. But she'd underestimated his capacity for losing control, for succumbing to that tremulous shadow that was always within him. Seventeen years ago it led him to ruin, and seventeen years later it was cracking his veneer. Hairline fissures. Fractures. Shards of his soul peeking through. It was a ghastly sight. But sometimes, if you fight the tempest for too long you end up split straight down the middle like a sad little twig. Sometimes it's better to let the squall take you where it will.

Besides, it was never like that with him. It wasn't some sort of torrid... power thing. She didn't call him daddy, and he didn't have anything to teach her. He was almost as inexperienced as she was, but he was quick and insistent and the way his jaw clenched when he looked at her—the way he made her feel all swoopy—more than made up for it.

At first it scared her; the intensity of his stare, and the way he would occasionally go rigid and vituperative and fling his calumny around for no reason. But later she would understand that he was a man too long denied what he wanted in life, and he was at the brink, at the lip of the chasm and he was barely holding it together.

That was true for all of them at some point, but he was always so good at hiding it under his buttons. He was the very best at it.

She used to believe that death was a profound event. She was terrified of it, no matter how much she shamed herself into denying it. Lying in that tent with nothing but the howling silence, she pissed herself more than once whenever a twig cracked or some bird hooted into the night. She would clean herself up with her wand and try to cajole her brain into some semblance of rest. She used to tell herself that she would die for Ron, for Harry, for Ginny, for Neville, she would die for sodding Filch if it were required of her. And she really would.

But she never realised what a world of difference there is between dying for something and killing for something. They were in a war, and if she stopped to look at their faces and remember their names, she would never have gotten out alive.

On the night she became a murderer, the stars were out and there wasn't a cloud in the night sky. It was beautiful and serene, and nothing fit.

Except the cold.

The air was cold enough to freeze the inside of her skull, and did you know that it can be so cold that the air sparks magnificent and deadly like thunder? Because it was just that cold on the night she became a murderer.

On the night she became a murderer, she realised that there is nothing profound about death. It is ever so quick, and no one even noticed.

Ginny used to call her 'biscuit-tits' back in the day, whenever Hermione was pissing her off.

But Viktor looked at her in a way that made her feel like a woman and said things that embarrassed her a little. Because it felt good. Because for so long she had told herself that she didn't care what she looked like and she didn't care what other people said.

Snape never said anything about her body. But Viktor never made her scream like Snape could.

Once a week she Apparated from Bulgaria back to Manchester. She never told Viktor where she went, but he never asked, so it wasn't lying.

She had to keep him levitated to prevent bed sores, and turn him over regularly to prevent blood pooling. She had to wash him. There was a time that she would have blushed like a virgin princess at the very thought, but she knows his planes and angles almost as well as she knows her own. She chuckled at the thought of how he would react if he saw her now. He would swallow his tongue if he could see himself, like a piece of meat skewered on a spit.

Sometimes she would wake up with the fear stupefying and paralyzing and wrapped tight around her throat, like a garment she couldn't cast off. Fear for herself. Fear for what he would do if he found out. Fear for her soul. But then she remembered that fear feeds on life, gorges on hope like flies on putrefied flesh.

She flexed her fingers and reminded herself that she was still alive.

Just barely.

There was something about Viktor Krum that made a girl feel safe. It might have been his duck-footed gait, or the way his too-long arms swung from their sockets. He made her feel protected in an entirely primitive way.

Viktor Krum also had a debilitating weakness for her cooking. She wasn't spectacular at it or anything, but he watched her in the kitchen with a possessiveness that should have affronted her.

She doesn't say anything, though, because she knows too much of his weaknesses already.

Snape had a cruel mouth, but he used it well.


So fucking well.

"Tell me exactly what you want me to do," he had sneered into her throat.

"I.. I..." she gasped. Her whole world was collapsed into a point under her jawline, where his hot breath burned her skin and made her his.

"What is it, Granger?" he mocked her.

"You basta—ungh," she grunted as he licked her ear. His lips were cold, but his tongue was searing.

"Please," she whispered.

Please touch me. Please hold me. Please fuck me, you miserable old bat.

"Please, what?" God, her veins were about to explode and she was going to die of internal hemorrhaging. Her heart was pounding somewhere in her temple, in her wrist, in her groin. It was pulsing, for God's sake. His nose brushed, just barely, against her collarbone.

"Please... touch me..." she succeeded in getting only the first part of her mad internal monologue out, before he attacked her.

His response was torrential, overwhelming, and suddenly his teeth clacked against hers and he was tugging at her hair, tilting her head back-back-back and kissing her lovely. It was wet and perhaps a little sloppy, but when the tips of their tongues touched they both moaned, their voices tangling together in the air, and it was glorious. His kisses were almost hesitant at first, but quickly became domineering. He was a quick study.

"Touch—you—where," he whispered in between suckling on her top, then bottom lip. The pressure of his tongue working against her lips threatened to drive her to hysteria.

"Wh-where?" she groans back stupidly.

"Put my hands where you want them."

Merlin. She loved it when he got impatient.

She hesitated, but her blood was too hot and it was threatening to melt her from the inside out. She grabbed his right hand and pressed it against her breast; grabbed his left and (What are you doing? What the hell are you doing, Hermione?) shoved it between her legs. He moaned in response, ragged and choked, thrusting against her hip.

"A little... eager, aren't we?" He smirked against her lips, despite himself, rubbing both hands back and forth the slightest, tiniest bit. His smirk grew when she ground her hips against his palm.

"Bugger off, Snape. Just do it!"

He straightened up and gave her that look. That look.

"Somehow I knew you'd be a bossy bitch about this sort of thi—"

She yanked him forward by his robes until she could reach his throat and she sucked on the spot below his ear. She felt his whole body stiffen before turning to liquid under her mouth. His breath hitched. His skin was tangy with sweat and lust, and something else that she always smelled on him, but now she tasted it on his neck.

"Fuck. You trying to—ungh—to kill me, Granger?"

She continued sucking. He started to knead her breast beneath her shirt, and rubbed at her crotch over the fabric of her jeans. Bloody hell. If they could only see her now. Hermione Granger snogging Snape. Hermione Granger licking Snape's collarbone. Hermione Granger riding Snape's hand.

His other hand left her breast and his fingers hooked into the waistband of her jeans. She let her hands roam over him, over his back, his thin shoulders, his wiry arms. She let her hands drop to his ass and squeezed, and her stomach almost collapsed when he mewled against her skin and she felt its vibrations all the way down into the muscles of her calves. He pushed her back until her back hit the wall with a thud. He started to kiss her again, dipping his knees to press his loins hot heavy thick against hers.

"No... no—wait," she breathed out with great effort. He continued kissing her until she placed her hands on his chest.

"What—don't fucking tell me you don't want to—"

She stared at him, with his mouth hanging slack around his crooked teeth, his cheeks pink. He looked... sweaty.

"Of course I want to, you bloody idiot. Just... just hold on a second." Her face flushed. Now, of all times. She looked down at the floor as she hooked her fingers under her top and pulled it off. Then she reached behind to undo the clasp of her bra. She was wearing the plainest bra she owned, because shit like this doesn't happen to her, and she wasn't exactly planning to be screwed into the wall by Severus Snape.

When she looked back up at him, his eyes bore into hers like three-inch nails, pinning her in place. And even if she could move, she wouldn't have. Not for the world.

"I... You..." his voice trails off.

She'd done it. She'd shocked him into a spluttering silence. Later, she told herself that this is what gave her the courage to say what she'd said.

"Take your clothes off, Snape."

He'd gaped at her, but made quick work of it. He wasn't graceful. He didn't even step out of his trousers when he vanished hers and lifted her leg over his arm. With his other hand, he held himself and pressed his cock against her, sliding its weeping hot tip against her clit back and forth, back and forth. She'd banged her head against the wall rather spectacularly when he did that. He was panting and seething like a bull and looked quite frightening, his lips clamped shut, his nostrils flaring. He brought his hand to the head of his penis, gathering the moisture collected there, and pumped hard twice. And then he looked at her like he was asking for permission but really he wasn't, because he always made sure to slide into her before she got a chance to respond.

When he pushed in and up into her, he groaned long and low and soft and decadent, hissing like a sybarite through his teeth. She kissed him.

Friction, is what they had between them. Dirty-meaningless-magical.

He fucked her hard, gripping her by the hips so very tightly. His arms were deceptively sturdy. She'd wrapped her legs around his pistoning hips as they pumped pleasure into hers. When he came, his teeth latched to that spot between her neck and her shoulder and she could swear that she'd gone incandescent with the force of her orgasm.

Later, when they were spent, he looked at her almost shyly as she lay by his side on the floor, his robes the only thing between their skin and the dust. The night was comfortably warm as the soft filtered light pushed the shadows into the darkness. When she was drifting in and out of sleep, she felt his lips press against her eyelids.

"I love you, Hermy-own-ninny."

She didn't mean to trick him.

"I love you too, Viktor."

She thought he knew what he was getting into. She hadn't exactly been forthcoming with her plans, but she thought he knew. He was so well-versed in the Dark Arts, more so than her.

So when he pushed her back into the sheets and covered her body with his own, when he palmed her breasts and tongued her cunt, when he looked her in the eye and shuddered his release, she let him.

They were so very similar, after all. Same hooked nose, same tubercular pallor, same forbidding lips.

"What did you mean, I haven't got what it takes?"

It had bothered her for the longest time, but they had this understanding between them. They didn't talk about the war if they could help it. They were both too far into it, and this was their reprieve. At least, it was for her. She didn't know what it meant to him. Maybe it was his salvation. Maybe it was nothing at all. At any rate, they didn't talk about much at all.

They were lying in his bed in Grimmauld Place. She didn't remember how they ended up the only two people in the entire house, but sometimes life granted you little mercies like that. His head was on her breast, his hand idly toying with her nipple, his breath skittering across her bare chest. Her fingers had found their way into his greasy hair. It was soft, and her mind immediately brought up the image of slow-moving algae frosting the edge of a pond. Granted, it wasn't a flattering comparison, but it was apt.

It was the hour at which the light exalts things and everything that was ever vulgar and odious is rebirthed in magnificence. The soft glow glanced off his ribs and made him seem paler than he was. She thought he'd fallen asleep. She wouldn't have minded.

"I mean you're too soft, Granger. Too unspoilt. If you're not careful, you'll find yourself a fuck-up of a wreck when it ends."

She sat up at that. He grumbled and tried to push her back down.

"What do you mean, soft?" she groused, working herself into a snit. "If you mean that having morals—that having some standards makes you sof—"

"It's a little more complicated than your moral superiority, my dear," he said, the endearment rolling off his tongue like an imprecation. He looked at her like she was being refractory, and she felt somewhat like a chastised child.

"But that's all there is, isn't it?" she persisted, brushing off his heated glance. "How could you possibly know what to do, how could you keep going if there isn't something there to tell you you're doing the right thing?"

"You don't know, Granger. You can't know what right and wrong is. This is war, if you haven't fucking noticed."

She bristled. And oh, the man knew how to infuriate her.

"I have noticed, thank you. How dare you belittle my part in it? I know it's war, and you can't have a war without sides, Snape, if youhaven't fucking notic—"

"There is no right and wrong, there is nothing poetic about what we're doing. There are competing interests, and in the end there are the bodies and the vultures. There are no bloody heroes in this story."

"Yes! Yes, there fucking are! What about Harry? What about Dumbledore? What about you? You're a wretched sodding bastard, but you've picked a side just like the rest of—"

"You know nothing of my motivations," he sneered with such potent malice that she recoiled from him. He suddenly got up and dressed himself. He left the room with a billow and something cold and pathetic settled into her chest, but she was much too proud to call to him.

The next time she saw him, Dumbledore was dead.

There are twenty-six stages to death. It's rather complicated, actually. There is a multitude of external factors that contribute to the way your body decomposes. She used to think you just stopped breathing, twitched around a little, and then your soul was off to the great beyond.

Or something.

But no.

First, your heart stops. That's the most important part. Your heart stops and your breath ceases and your thoughts fade away into oblivion for one last final time. Your life flashes in front of your eyes, as your brain goes into a frenzy trying to find something in your past to help you live. Your brain gives up, eventually. Then your skin gets tight and grey in color, sort of like parchment drawn over bone. Then your muscles relax, and your bladder and bowels empty. Which is a little funny, just a little bit, because no matter how you die, there is absolutely no way to do it with any semblance of dignity. Sometimes men get an erection, but only if they die vertically or on their stomachs. Typically, your body temperature will drop by 1.5 degrees every hour, unless outside environment is a factor. All this within the first thirty minutes.

After thirty minutes, your skin turns a lovely shade of waxy purple. Lips, nails turn white, hands and feet blue. Blood starts to pool in the lowest parts of your body. Your eyes sink into your skull.

After four hours, that's when the rigor mortis starts. She's seen those procedural dramas on the telly, and they seem to think that this starts immediately after death. No. It takes four hours, silly. After twelve hours your body is in full rigor mortis.

After twenty-four hours, your body is now the temperature of the surrounding environment. If you have bollocks, then your semen dies. Your head and neck turn a mottled greenish-blue, and this color spreads to the rest of your body. Your face is unrecognizable, and this is when the stench starts. Congratulations; you are now carrion.

After three days, if some person hasn't stumbled upon your decaying corpse yet, the gases in your body tissues form large blisters on the skin. Your whole body begins to bloat and swell, and fluids start leaking out from your face. She'd seen it before. She'd seen people she knew swell up and leak, but you learn how to deal with it.

After three weeks, your skin, hair and nails are so loose that you can pull them off with your bare hands. Your skin starts to crack and burst open because of the pressure from the gas. You decompose until you are nothing but bare bones in an empty field. If you ever loved someone so much that you told yourself that you would recognize them no matter what, that you would feel that special pull whenever you are near them, you are dead wrong. The teeth are often the only thing left, years later. The jawbone is quite dense too, so sometimes that's left behind.

The first time she saw him laugh it felt to her like something was shattering between her lungs. She tried to hold it together but she couldn't. She remembered it was sometime during that long year in the forest, and she had stolen away to the Headmaster's office to soothe her raging bones.

When he killed Dumbledore, she thought she would never forgive him for it. Apparently, both of them underestimated her capacity for embracing the sins of those she cared about. In any case, it wasn't her place to forgive him.

That time she saw him, her heart felt like it had melted and splintered into little pieces and embedded itself under her flesh. She drank the sight of him like water to her parched soul, and she'd forgot how hard he made her ache. How devastating he could be when he felt up to it.

She'd said something silly.

"You know, sometimes I think you're evil."

Yes, that was what she'd said. Or something to that effect. She meant it, too. He'd gone still and she prepared herself for one of their blazing arguments, but when he looked at her his eyes were soft and the corner of his mouth was cocked at an angle.

"Sometimes?" he answered slowly, his eyebrow quirked.

"Yes. The rest of the time there's absolutely no doubt."

He laughed, then. Short and harsh and barking. No, his eyes didn't sparkle, and it did not make him look younger. If anything, it was bloody strange and off-putting, and she didn't know how to react. It was over before she even registered that it was happening, and swiftly his features fell back into stone and there was silence once again.

There were times when he would look at her and her brain would come up with the tritest, most inane cliches. She rarely indulged herself in this, because she liked to think that she was a classy lady and above such things.

She couldn't help it, though. It wasn't like she wanted to doodle his name into a piece of parchment and draw little curlicues and hearts around it. But it was pretty damn close.

Those days were past.

Now, there were times when she would wake up in a cold sweat because she felt his eyes on hers in her dreams but she wouldn't be able to remember what he looked like. There would be an indistinct image of lines around white lips, hooded eyelids, and so much black, black, black, but his face would be fading away from her like sugar in water and she would grab her cloak, grab her keys and almost splinch herself as she flung her body through space and time, through the million kilometers between Bulgaria and Manchester. She would walk up the dingy steps of his dingy house and she wouldn't be able to breathe until she was in his room.

She didn't touch him, though. She never did, not unless she absolutely had to. She didn't think she could bear feeling his flesh spongy and ripe like rotten fruit under her fingers.

Viktor treated her well and never asked uncomfortable questions. Sometimes when his back was turned to her she would pretend that he was a little bit taller, a little bit surlier, a little more sure-footed. Then she would choke on her own spit, and her chin would start wobbling. He'd laugh at her, thinking she was trying to be funny, and she'd try to laugh back. He always offered her tea. He probably thought that was the surest way to a pale little English girl's heart.

Whenever he passed her in Grimmauld Place, back when he wasn't still a traitor to their side, he used to trail his fingers discreetly along the small of her back and she felt like his dirty little secret. But it felt good. It felt fucking wonderful. She used to meet his eyes across the room and smile at him. Small. Minuscule, even. But she knew he would catch it. He never smiled back, but he always caught her somewhere, in the doorway, under the stairs, in the loo, and ravished her mouth with his wicked tongue and teeth and lips until she felt like all the blood in her body was thumping in her head and she would grow faint with lust.

Oh, how he plucked her strings. How he bent her notes, and the music was sugary sweet and thunderous and conflagrant and so, so very fleeting. He smelt slightly of grease and more strongly of mint and most strongly of sex, and he learned rather quickly how to pleasure her with his hips and his cock but it was always his fingers that she liked best.

Other times, it was she who prowled around and stalked and ambushed him. She would stand on her tiptoes and lean forward until her entire body slanted against his, her breasts flattened against his chest. He would rest his back against the wall and bend his knees slightly to give her access to his mouth. She liked to think that she could drive him just as mad as he did her. She liked to make him tremble and beg.

Viktor never saw it coming. He was a big guy, so it took quite a bit of planning to pull the whole thing off. No one knew she was staying with him, so that was a plus. She didn't want anyone to make the connections.

He looked at her with eyes wide and trusting and she despised herself. Hermy-own-ninny, he whispered brokenly. Vat are you doing. She almost ran the knife into her own stomach, she could almost feel the ruthless blade twisting in her gut, but an image of black eyes (blacker than yours, Viktor) and quirked lips fortified her. She wished there was a way to make it painless, but in order for the spell to work there must be anguish.

There must be blood.

There must be the rupture of virtue.

When he smiled at her she felt like she were part of some inside joke only the two of them shared. There had been days when all she could think of was his smile, when all she was living off was his smile, and to an outsider it sounded like she was a frivolous little teenage girl feeding off her silly fantasies, but to her it was everything.

When she saw Snape lying there in a pool of blackening blood, she whined like a rat in a cage. It felt good, in a way, because for the longest time she thought she'd forgot how to feel anger like this. Bone-deep and wearying, and she felt like something intrinsic and necessary was being yanked out of her arteries and exposed and left to die in the embers. He didn't even see her. His eyes were already fading by the time she got there, and he was chasing the only meaningful memory he thought he had left and he belonged to someone else, someone with russet sheets of hair and eyes that spoke of truth and succour, though she didn't know it at the time. How foolish she was. How very naive.

It hurt,though. She thought her stomach was trying to eat her heart, because it felt like something was clawing at her insides. She wanted to take him and set him in a pool of boiling wax. Then she would step into that pool herself and wrap her body around his until she lost where he ended and she began.

And she bent over and whispered comforting things in his ear.

Like: I will be with you.

Like: Somewhere. Somewhere. Far away from here. We will freeze and fold and lie together, and your skin will blend with mine, and I will be with you.

Like: I love you.

But he didn't hear her.

He was already far off in that Far Away that she promised him, dreaming pretty dreams of his cruel redhead goddess where she was beautiful and bubbly and alive, doing terrible things to his chest, and where his filthy flesh was flushed bare of blame.

She wanted to weep for him because there was something inside of him that only she saw, something that he wanted to own, some ideal that he kept holding onto despite his outward bitterness and sarcasm and all that rot he said about not having pure motivations. And now it was forever gone from him, because his heartbeat had stopped. He could never be the man that he longed to be.

He died right in front of her.

Something surged within her and she vomited brutally, getting her sick on his feet.

It was a bloody good thing too that Hermione Granger was a dab hand with a wand. The spells didn't take too long. She vanished the sick and the blood. She caught him right at that stage between emptied bowels and eyes sinking into the skull. Just in time, really.

Sometimes they used to just sit and read.

Rarely, though. They saw each other sparely, and often when they met their blood was running fierce through savage veins and they clutched at each other's naked skin.

But sometimes, they would just sit there. The silence was almost companionable.

One time, she burst into tears.

We're going to die, she'd wailed. We're going to die, and you're going to betray us, and we're all going to die.

He'd looked at her then. Stern. Impassive. Unforgivingly cold. It sliced her to the bone. She remembered that she didn't really know him. She'd mapped his body by that point, memorized the pulse points and the soft spots and the patches that made him shudder with that wanton glaze in his eye. But she didn't really know him. He'd been a spy for a long, long time.

But then he stood from his seat and walked over to her. She was still sniffling like an idiot. He told her to shut up. Shut up, Granger.

Shut up, shut up, shut up.

Then he kissed her until she did.

We have now. We've got time. Shut up.

Later when she was running around in the forest with Harry and Ron, she would dream about that night. He told her they had time. He'd been wrong before, though. She would dream about his face twisted in pleasure. She would dream about his eyes shut in sleep, on those few nights that he did sleep with her. She would dream about the silly things, the stupid things, like that freckle he had on the corner of his nose that took her by surprise. She'd giggled like a schoolgirl when she saw it. Or about the way his toes curled and the way his feet, so much more graceful than her own, arched when she made him come with her mouth. She'd wake up gasping with an iron band around her ribcage.

Whatever it was they had, it wasn't beautiful. It wasn't comforting. It didn't feel like home. It was hard, and jagged, and it tore up her insides when it was wrenched out of her. It was cold like the moon in winter. It was impossibly strong and brittle at the same time. Like that charged second between lightning and thunder. Like the smell of dirt. Like an impetuous, romping torrent; hissing, crying, colliding, churning up gravel, wearing down the rocks showing through its surface as it hurls water and foam into the air.

Lily was nothing. She spurned him and laid his heart out on a plank and trampled all over it, all because of a word. Hermione had learned to use that word like a weapon.

Yes, she was a Mudblood. What of it?

Lily was dead. And Lily couldn't have brought him back even if she tried, because Lily Evans wasn't the brightest witch of her age.

Have you ever set blood on fire? Because it is possible. With magic. And ingenuity. And just the right mixture of stone-cold determination in your gut and that hard glint to your eye. You have to know that it's worth it, you have to examine each possible option and know that there is no other way. You have to kill a little part of yourself, that little voice that you depended on for so long to nag you this is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong. You have to quash it to a pulp. You have to have nothing left to lose.

"How much blood do you need, Hermy-own-ninny?" he asked. So ardent. So eager to please. The perfect candidate.

"All of it."

The truth will set you free?


The truth will leave you for dead on the side of the road. The truth will stab you in the back with an ice pick. The truth will gouge out your eyes and tear out your throat. He said she was soft. And oh, she would show him. She would bloody well show him.

The smoke that rose from the burning basin of blood sputtered and hissed like rendering fat. It wasn't better or nobler than any other smoke. There was nothing special about it.

It's not murder. She did not rend her soul. She is safe (please, please). Intent matters in things like this. She merely replaced one life with another.

Viktor came willingly (enough).

"Granger... what have you done?"

His eyes are a little dimmer, his skin dusky with the remnants of death. He still smells like it, and she doesn't know if she can wash it off.

But still she wants nothing more than for him to brand his breath into her mouth, to break, blow, burn, wrap his name around her ribs. And she has that mint-scented soap that he always liked stored by bulk in the cupboard in her loo.

They said it was impossible. Do not interfere with such things, they said. Death is beyond us. There is nothing but the gnashing of teeth where you are heading.

It's not you. It's the war.

But she is Hermione Granger. Brightest witch of her age. Gryffindor Mudblood. Heroine. And they have underestimated her.

You see, all it takes is a bit of sacrifice. A little tit for tat. A bit of a 'you-help-me-and-I-help-you' sort of thing (Except, Viktor didn't really benefit from the arrangement, did he?).

And death isn't so difficult to conquer, after all.

"Everything—anything for you. I saved you, don't you see?"


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