Disclaimer: I'm not muscling in on JK's turf - just gambolling on it, like a spring lamb, having fun working out the literary and psychological puzzles which she is having fun setting us
WARNING!: seriously long chapter alert. There are whole books out there shorter than this chapter. What can we say? They had a lot to talk about....
Snape looked at the clock again, fretfully. Surely, nothing bad could have happened? Albus had taken every precaution; there would be at least two Order members with Hermione at all times, pretending to be distant cousins, and she and her parents would be staying - had been staying - at a wizard-run hotel which, if it was in some ways an obvious target, was at least extremely heavily warded. It wasn't quite Unplottable - if it had been, guests would have had to be Obliviated of the address as they left - but it was the next best thing, and anybody staying there was invisible to any location spells cast outside its rather ugly Art Deco walls.
Surely, if anything bad had happened to her, he would know? [Was that why his heart had raced and hammered half the afternoon?] Surely, if she had "met someone else", if two days in the company of the whole and unsullied had cured her of her curious attraction, he would know?
She had only been gone two and a half days, and here he was already retired to bed at seven o'clock on a Tuesday evening, feeling as dry and dislocated as if he had been lost in a desert. It was shaming to admit to himself that he had hoped that she would want to be with him, that she would hurry back sooner than this; embarrassing to be so dependent, to let what little sense of self he had left rest so heavily on one person: yet her continued interest in him was possibly the most flattering thing which had ever happened to him, and her steady good sense was an anchor in a rough sea.
Not that Lovegood wasn't also both reassuring and encouraging, in her own bizarre way. He watched her where she sat perched on the edge of the bed, her leg lying comfortingly against his, her expression earnest as she worked on an essay on lesser-known demonic forces for Alastor Moody (poor man), and he had no doubts of her whatsoever. It was profoundly disturbing to think that students he had taught, perhaps even Slytherins he had watched over and cared for, had hated him enough to jeer at him in his torment; but he had always associated Hogwarts students with being jeered at and tormented, one way or another - the really surprising thing was to find that there were two Gryffindors and a Ravenclaw of whose friendship and goodwill he was completely certain.
That was not even to mention the Slytherins who guarded his door - a reassuringly solid presence, and for a moment when he heard the murmur of voices outside in the corridor he thought nothing of it except that Albus had come early to take over from Lovegood - and indeed that was Albus's voice, muffled by the thickness of wood and stone but raised to - he grabbed for his wand as the voices outside escalated into sudden shouting and Lovegood slid from the bed, as fluid as water and as poised as a cat, and positioned herself between him and the door but standing, he noted with approval, slightly to the side, so as not to interfere with his own angle of fire.
Albus's voice again, hard, clear, insistent, and the door began to open and for one frozen, terrible moment he thought, seeing the white-blond head outlined against the light of the torches outside, that it was - but even as the hex started to flow automatically from will to wand he realized that Lucius was a tall man, and this was -
Draco never knew how grateful he should have been, in that moment, that he had never quite attained his father's height or breadth of shoulder. He had left Dumbledore explaining to Pansy and Blaise that yes, Lucius Malfoy's son could be trusted, and slipped through the familiar door.
The room beyond was very different from the spare sitting-room he'd seen once or twice before. The walls were hung with tapestries, and everywhere was warmth and colour from the tinted glass shades around the candles to the glittering mobile hanging over the bed, which now held centre-stage, instead of being tucked into a side-room. Lovegood stood beside the bed, looking absurdly frail but with a martial glint in her eyes and her wand held ready to strike. And past her....
Draco stumbled, missing a step as the door swung to behind him and he took in the true extent of his godfather's injuries. He was even thinner than usual, and the blankets did not conceal the empty space where his legs should be. His left arm was gone as well, there were terrible scars on his face, and he looked petrified as he stared along his wand at Draco.
Draco had never seen Severus Snape look really afraid. The sight was almost more horrifying than the scars and the obvious weakness and illness. "I'm sorry," he whispered, freezing in place, not daring to approach the bed and its broken occupant any closer. "I should have waited. Uhm. Professor Dumbledore said it was all right for me to come in, but I can go away if it's a... a bad time."
Granger hadn't told him everything, not even close to it, he knew that now. But the tender concern in her usually shrill voice was a lot easier to understand now.
Snape, for his part, flopped back against the pillows, the room wheeling dizzily around him, and said the first thing which came into his shaken consciousness, which was "Shit!" The small irreducible part of himself which watched himself watching himself noted that this was not the most appropriate opening for a touching reunion with one's long-lost godson, but as the wand fell from his nerveless fingers he wasn't sure which prospect terrified him the most - that it really might have been Lucius standing there in that doorway, or that he had just come within a hair of smashing his godson into the wall with a magical force which, deprived of its release, was now burning and coiling through him like a towering electric storm, leaving him so sick and shaken he was barely aware of Lovegood retrieving his wand from the blankets and placing it firmly back on the bedside table within easy reach, her own wand still gripped tightly in her hand and her expression dour and untrusting.
He started to raise his hand, to stay Lovegood, to welcome Draco or to send him away, he wasn't sure, but his jaw refused to open, and the blue-white glow of St Elmo's Fire burned at his fingertips and left a tracery on the air.
"I don't think there is such a thing as a good time for this," Lovegood said, frowning at Draco. "He isn't well, you know."
"I know. I mean... I knew he wasn't well. I didn't know it was this... bad." Draco swallowed hard, suddenly glad that he'd emptied his stomach quite comprehensively while Granger gave him that incomplete outline of what his godfather had suffered. Otherwise he might have embarrassed himself now. "My father sent me away, almost as soon as they started. He told me you'd died." He found himself talking to Snape, almost pleading with him to understand. "I've been living under guard for months. He said you were dead, but he wouldn't let me see anyone or talk to anyone who wasn't a Death Eater. He wanted me to take the Mark, but I was - even though he promised me he hadn't let you suffer for long I was still - angry about you, I wasn't sure I wanted to be one of them any more. I wasn't sure I didn't, either, but he said if I went to Him with an impure will I'd be killed, so he was - keeping me where he and Walden and that lot could re-educate me, until I was ready."
"Did you believe him?" Lovegood said, with detached interest. "That Professor Snape was dead, I mean? I know he nearly was, for a long time... I think he only weighed three stone, when they brought him in."
She stroked the tip of her wand past Snape's hand without touching him, drawing off the excess energy into a glimmering ball which hissed and crackled. When she had stripped out the worst of it he found he could speak again, his tongue unstuck itself from the roof of his mouth, although he was still trembling with shock. "Lucius is very... plausible, isn't he Draco?" he said quietly and, God, he didn't mean it to sound spiteful, he meant to defend the boy against Lovegood's implicit accusation, but somehow it came out viciously soft. "Just not very - merciful."
"It was all in the papers though, about you being alive and everything," the girl said. "Even the Prophet got it nearly right."
"He didn't let me speak to anybody except his friends since - since October. Not even Mother. He s-said I was in danger."
Snape stared at the boy, standing there all green-faced and wan and miserable, and he wanted to be unreservedly glad of his safety, his survival, he wanted to welcome him with - well, whatever passed for open arms, these days, but the sight of him was dragging something hard and horrible up from the confused tangle of memory, half of him was here in this room looking at his stricken godson, and half of him was somewhere else, strung up like a side of meat, jerking and spasming in his chains and keening with pain as that same horrified face looked on and then turned to Lucius, shouting something, but the memory of his own screams kept him from hearing what it was as he struggled, shaking, to master his body's need to curl up into a whimpering foetal ball.
"I did believe it. We... had a bargain. I wouldn't shame him before them all by protesting if he made sure it ended quickly." Draco shivered, looking down at his hands. They looked very pale and feeble, all of a sudden. "He promised me. I should have known he was lying, I suppose."
Lovegood knelt beside Snape, murmuring something in a gentle, almost coaxing voice. Draco watched helplessly, with no idea what to do, trying not to wonder what could have roughened and hoarsened his godfather's silky, perfectly controlled voice like that. Damage to the throat, of course, but had it been some inflicted hurt or merely weeks and months of screaming that had torn it so badly? "She... Granger found me," he said, more to be saying something than anything else. "She said you wanted to know I was all right. That was when I found out you were still alive. She... she told me...." He trailed off, trying to master the childishly high pitch of his frightened voice. "Dumbledore looked in my head. I told him everything I know. He said it was all right to come down, that he trusted me...."
"Professor Dumbledore trusted Mr Crouch," Luna said calmly, "the one who wasn't Professor Moody; and Professor Lupin too, although Ginny said he didn't tell anyone about Mr Black being an Animagus. You didn't ask Mr Malfoy to try to save Professor Snape, instead of killing him?"
"Slytherin pragmatism," Snape said, hauling himself back from the depths and peripherally aware of, and grateful for, Lovegood's tact in not cuddling him in front of his godson. "There's no point asking for what you know you won't get, unless it's as a bargaining counter - and in this case, no point at all, because he would know Lucius would know that he knew that my freedom was something Lucius neither would nor could deliver. That's right, isn't it Draco?" As the boy opened his mouth to reply, Snape's brain abruptly caught up with his ears, and he pushed himself upright one-handed and said sharply, "You said that - Granger - found you? How did she find you? Was she injured at all?"
Draco couldn't argue with Lovegood on the subject of Dumbledore's judgement, since he was inclined to agree with her. "There was a bit of fighting, but she's all right. Nothing serious." Her leg had been bleeding a bit, but she'd been walking on it, so how serious could it have been? "We'd stopped at the hotel for something to eat, and she was there. I suppose she could tell I was a - sort of a prisoner." He took a deep breath. "And you're right. I knew that even if he wanted to, my father probably couldn't get you out. But I know that you used to be friends, and I thought he might be willing to risk killing you quickly so you wouldn't suffer any more. I thought... I thought that was the best I could hope for, with you in His hands. I knew I couldn't rescue you myself, my father was watching me too closely after I... I don't know if you remember, but I saw you once, soon after they captured you, and I couldn't pretend not to care, or to think that it was right. I'm sorry. I've never been much of an actor."
"Under the circumstances it's... probably to your credit that you are not." Unlike himself, whose survival as a spy had often depended on his ability to pretend to enjoy scenes and even actions which inwardly horrified him. "And yes, I do remember," he added quietly. "I thought that exposing you to such a scene was - disgraceful, even by Lucius's standards. And far from keeping his side of the bargain, he was only sorry that my condition deteriorated so fast that he was unable to keep me alive under torture until Christmas, as he had planned." As Draco sucked in his breath and paled even further Snape looked away, pretending nonchalance. "You say that - Miss Granger was involved in some form of fighting? You are certain that she is all right?"
"The others handled all the real fighting, I think: Granger just helped. I got Stunned a few minutes in, but there were some Aurors there who attacked first. Granger just Stunned me and dragged me off into a quiet corner, as far as I know." And Granger was damned unimportant at this point. Draco didn't know why Snape kept bringing her up. "She didn't stop talking the whole way back here, and that usually means she's fine." He swallowed hard. "She... told me a bit, about you. About what happened. I was sick," he added, blushing with deep embarrassment, but wanting his godfather to know that he was still himself; still weak-stomached and easily unnerved and with a measure of decency concealed inside him somewhere in the region of his oesophagus.
Snape smiled faintly. If Hermione had been up to dragging Draco anywhere, followed by a bout of trademark non-stop nattering, she was clearly on good form, and he could stop worrying about her and just appreciate her tact in allowing him time to talk to Draco. And her generosity in helping to rescue the boy and bringing him to him in the first place. Seeing Draco's sorrow and self-deprecation, he was suddenly flooded with vast relief - with relief and with unaccustomed tenderness. "Miss Lovegood," he said softly, "would you - leave us for a while?"
"No," Luna said flatly. "But I'll go into the bedroom and just watch from there, and you can do that Muffly thing you do." She unfolded to her full height, such as it was, and gave Draco a considering look. "And if you do turn out to be an enemy, and you try to harm him, well, the Entrail-Expelling curse isn't at all difficult, you know... which would be quite poetic, really."
Draco blinked at her in confusion. "Why would it?"
She looked at him thoughtfully. "You don't know, do you? They cut his stomach open and then dumped him in a store-cupboard where we wouldn't find him for a day and a half. Silenced, you see."
Draco stared at her for a long moment. "They... they cut his...." He swallowed hard, and swallowed again, feeling chilly sweat break out on his forehead as his stomach tried to rebel and was foiled by its emptiness. "Granger didn't tell me that. Didn't tell me a lot, I think. She didn't say they'd... done that... or mention the scars...." Unconsciously he lifted a hand to his own cheek. "She said they'd tortured him, but I thought... I don't know what I thought. Not this." His eyes stung, and he rubbed them surreptitiously with a hand drawn over his face. "I don't have that foul an imagination, thank Merlin."
"There were maggots," Luna said dispassionately, as Snape snapped "Leave it, Lovegood!" - seeing Draco reel where he stood. He understood what she was doing and appreciated her vigilance, but at this point he would rather take a chance on the boy's sincerity than torment him with things he could not have helped. "Draco - come here, now, and sit down." He patted the side of the bed firmly.
As his godson made his unsteady way across the room, Snape picked up his wand and tapped the tumbler on his bedside table, silently summoning water to the glass. "Sit down now, and drink this." As the boy looked at him wanly over the rim of the beaker, the older man sighed and pulled a wry face which only accentuated the scars leading from the corners of his mouth. "It was - bad, and I won't pretend to you that it wasn't but, as you see, I did survive, and I am... recovering at a reasonable rate. And Lovegood: if you tell him anything else that distresses him he will spew, and I shall expect you to clean it up - without magic."
Draco gave a very faint snort that might have been amusement. "Granger didn't tell me about...." He gestured at his own stomach with a shaking hand. "Once I started being sick she wouldn't tell me any more detail, she said she was afraid I'd turn inside out." He smiled a weak, queasy smile. "She was probably right."
"All right," Luna said brightly, "I don't think you're faking. But I'd still like your wand, please, before I leave you two alone."
Draco bared his teeth at her in sudden annoyance. "Since when did you join the Aurory?"
"It's all right, Lovegood," Snape said quietly, "I'll vouch for him."
"Thanks," Draco muttered. "It's not like I could ever outdraw you, anyway."
"There is that, also." As Luna retreated to the bedroom, the spitting ball of surplus energy following behind her like a puffskein made of crackling force, and seated herself on a chair from which she could watch them through the open door, Snape raised the Muffliato screen which would enable Draco and himself to speak without being overheard.
Draco finished the water, feeling his stomach reluctantly start to settle. "It always embarrassed my father horribly," he said quietly. "The weak stomach, I mean. I'm sort of glad about that, now." He winced, the thought of his father a raw wound now. "Mother cried when I told her about you," he said, wanting Snape to know that not all his family were as vile and treacherous as his father seemed to have been. "Just a bit. She didn't let anyone else see." He looked down at his hands. "I did, too," he whispered. "When I thought you were dead."
"Look at me, Draco," Snape said quietly. "It was the right thing to do, to try to have me... to try to end it. It was only by a fluke - because of Potter, if you can believe that - that I survived, and if I had not done so - which was by far the most likely outcome - then it would have been... far better to have died at the outset." Better for the Order and the cause, perhaps, if he had done so anyway, before he spilled his secrets like bloody rain. "It was the right thing, and I thank you for it, even though - even though your father cheated you out of your bargain."
"It was the only thing I could think of to help. I wanted to rescue you, but I knew my father would be watching me too closely." Draco frowned, as he realized what he'd heard. "Potter saved you? But he hates you. I'd have thought he'd be pleased to see you all... broken."
"You would have thought so, but apparently - apparently when I disappeared he was so certain that I'd returned to my - master voluntarily, that when he found out quite how wrong he was he was overcome by remorse - as unlikely as that sounds." He drew a deep breath. "They - that is, the Dark Lord, assisted by your father, Pettigrew, Bellatrix and Macnair," he said, nearly steadily, "they bound me so that I couldn't die, and no healing or - or pain-relieving spells or potions would help me. I was very sick - infected, you understand, and starved and, and burned - their intention was that Headmaster Dumbledore and the rest would have to watch me suffering, for hours or days, unable to, to alleviate my pain in any way, and then when the spell that kept me in my body finally wore off I would die of blood-poisoning."
He looked at Draco's steadily whitening face, which was now the same colour as the sheets he sat on, and sighed. "But Potter - you know how stubborn he is, there's nothing he thinks he can't do, but in this case it worked in my favour. He insisted that there were Muggle medical techniques which would keep me alive long enough for them to work out how to lift the curses which kept me from being healed magically, and that H - Miss Granger would know what they were. She in turn called in her half-sister's fiancé - the young man whose wedding she was attending at the hotel - who is a Muggle healer, and he managed to keep my - crumbling ruin of a carcase alive long enough for Bill Weasley and Professor Flitwick to unravel the curses. For which also I gather they needed Potter, since part of it had to be undone in Parseltongue."
"I... I see." Draco nodded, scowling. "Then I'll have to thank him, damn it, which I'll hate like poison but for saving you I will do it. And Granger, too, for helping to heal you as well as for saving me." He smiled a little. "She's not bad, for a Muggle-born, is she?"
"Not... bad, no."
Draco didn't notice the strange expression on his godfather's face. The horrors his godfather had suffered made his stomach clench and churn uncomfortably, and the debt to Potter (horrible) and to Granger (unsettling) made him feel no better. "It's... I keep half-hoping I'll wake up," he admitted in a sudden rush. "That all this will be a dream. That my father didn't betray me and that I'm not trying to run from him and from... from Him, and that the world's still the same as it was this morning. But I don't want it to be a dream, because you're alive and safe, even if you're not exactly well. I wanted you to be alive." He leaned down to hug his godfather, awkward and sudden and desperately glad that at least one adult in his life had turned out to be trustworthy and good....
Caught unawares, seeing the silver-haired figure suddenly lunge down at him from a height, as that other almost-identical, taller white-blond figure had done so many times before, Snape yelped in fright and jerked away, striking his head and shoulder against the oak headboard as he did so; and the sudden sharp, bruising pain forced him further down into the cesspit of memory, until the surface was over his head entirely. Overbalancing onto his unsupported left side, he pressed himself back against the end of the bed, babbling "Lucius, no, don't, please, no, stop...." over and over.
Draco had jumped away when his godfather flinched, frozen for a moment as Snape collapsed, whimpering in that ruined voice. Then he reached out nervously, wanting to mend the damage he'd somehow done, but Lovegood was suddenly there, pushing him aside. "Don't lunge at him, for pity's sake, it upsets him."
"But... I didn't...." He flinched himself as he heard his father's name, and a horrible suspicion formed in his mind. His father had tortured his godfather with his own hands. Had maybe even.... Draco's stomach was too tightly knotted even for nausea at that vile thought.
"Shush." Lovegood knelt by the bed, soothing and coaxing until her level, eternally unruffled voice cut its way through to Snape in his mindless terror, anchoring him to a little island of warmth and safety in the midst of chaos.
"That's it, now, sir," the calm voice was saying, as the small hand slipped into his and clasped it firmly. "Breathe for me - that's it." When he uncurled a little, she slid her arms around him, careful and unthreatening, and hugged him close, letting the dark head rest on her thin shoulder. "It's only Draco, sir, not Mr Malfoy. He's a silly boy, but I'm sure he didn't mean to scare you." She gave Draco a disapproving look.
Draco couldn't help a tiny ripple of annoyance at being dismissed with a "silly boy" and a fish-eyed look from Loony Lovegood. But his godfather's almost tearful whimpers were far more important, and he knelt beside the bed, reaching out very cautiously to touch Snape's hand. "I'm sorry," he said quietly, trying to mimic the soothing evenness of Lovegood's voice. "I didn't mean to startle you...."
Snape nodded once, convulsively, without opening his eyes, and relaxed bonelessly into Lovegood's hold as his breathing and his racing heartbeat gradually slowed towards normal. After a moment he reached out, still blindly, took Draco's hand in his and gave it a reassuring squeeze.
Draco returned the squeeze very gently. "I'm sorry," he said again, looking up at Lovegood. "I wouldn't... he's all I have, now." It was uncomfortable, being humble to her, but it seemed as if she'd need to know. "My family... well, disowned is the best part of what I'll be, especially if my father catches me. Professor Snape is my godfather, and the only person who might want to even be associated with me just now." He wrapped his other hand around the thin, scarred one, cradling it gently in both of his.
Snape made a harsh noise and opened his eyes, looking directly at his godson. "You're the nearest thing to family I've had for bloody years, ever since my mother - " He gripped Draco's hand firmly, using it to haul himself up to a sitting position as Lovegood braced his back, and then looked away, colouring dully. "I'm sorry," he muttered inconsequentially; "sorry I didn't send you a Christmas present this year, but I thought that your father - ah, God." He started to shake, grimacing as he did so. "What you must - bloody think of me, I'm s-sorry you lost your family because of me but, believe me, you're better off without them - Lucius, at any rate. But I'm sorry that all you have left is a, a stupid fucking weakling who can't even keep his own troubles to himself when you need him."
"You're not weak. You're the bravest person I know." Draco shook his head, squeezing his godfather's hand gently. "And I'm worried about my mother. The strain was getting to her before, and with me vanishing... but the rest are no bloody loss, I know that now. Knew it before, really, I just didn't want to know it, if you know what I mean. I'm not as brave as you are." He looked down at their joined hands. "And given what I know about Aunt Bellatrix's... predilections, and my father's, I think you probably have every reason to be a bit shaky still." He looked up slowly, knowing he'd see the truth of it in Snape's eyes and desperately not wanting to. He'd known for some time that his father sometimes did that, but he didn't want to think about it, especially not with his godfather.
Snape looked at him levelly for a moment, and then shut his eyes. "'A bit shaky' is a masterly understatement, Draco." He bit his lip, horribly embarrassed but wanting Lucius's son to understand that Lucius was something more complex than the straightforward, giggling sadist his sister-in-law was. "Luna, would you...?"
"Yes," she said, smiling faintly at the use of her given name, and gathered herself up and took herself beyond the limits of the Muffliato charm.
"Your - father," Snape said quietly, when she had gone, "the family wanted him to marry and get an heir, but he was never - never that interested in girls. Except Bellatrix, and that only because she was rather... masculine. But he thinks if he - if he takes what he wants by force, and it serves the Dark Lord's interests, then he isn't really being unfaithful, and so he - makes the most of his opportunities. When he can. And sharing a victim with Bellatrix is almost like... he can have her without really having her, you understand, and afterwards he can go home to your mother and think that he is honouring the marriage-bed and keeping himself pure."
He forced himself to look up again, meeting his godson's shadowed grey eyes. "But you shouldn't think that he - it wasn't just him, you understand. Really he was only doing - what they were nearly all bloody doing."
"You mean that all of them... to you?" Draco said quietly, and his godfather nodded tightly, wondering if the boy would recoil from him now he knew.
Draco looked away, shame making it hard to look his godfather in the eyes. "I should have done more. I knew you were there, I should have... have gone to Dumbledore, or got a message to him, or something. I could have, if I'd really tried. If I'd been less afraid of getting hurt." He swallowed hard. "I would have. If I'd known it was that, I wouldn't have tried to bargain with my father. I would have done anything to help you, even if I did get hurt. And I should have known and I'm really sorry that I was too much of a coward." He managed to meet Snape's eyes, his own tearing up a little as he saw the scars again. "You've always looked out for me, even when I was being a snotty little shit and didn't deserve it. I wish I'd been able to do something for you when you needed me."
There was a level of truth in what the boy was saying, Snape knew it - a level on which the child he had loved had abandoned him to misery and torment, rather than face even the possibility of danger to himself. But Draco had never been brave in the face of physical pain - a weakness which Lucius had sneered at, which had only made it worse.
"As I understand it," he said quietly, "you believed that your father had kept his promise to you and finished me within the first ten days, even if - even if to some extent you believed it because you wished to believe it. The dilemma facing you was whether to take what you believed to be a certainty of finishing me, at little risk to yourself, or a small chance of saving me at great risk to yourself, and at great risk of failing to save me and of leaving me still alive in their hands - and I would remind you that as your godfather and your Head of House it is my place to take risks for you, not yours for me." It was the honest truth - but at the same time he was drearily aware that nobody, when it came down to it, would ever think that he was worth taking a risk for.
"On the face of it, your choice was a rational one. Your failure lay in trusting your father to keep his word - a thing which he has never done if it suited him not to, except to your mother; and then only by tying the spirit of the law into a reef knot. It is moot whether alerting the Headmaster as to my whereabouts would have done any good, since most of the Dark Lord's prisons are Unplottable, and in any case you believed that you had - resolved the problem. It would have been more... Gryffindor to have risked your own life in an attempt to save me alive, instead of killing me, but you would have had little chance of success, and I do not see how the equation would have been changed by knowing that I was being...."
He jerked his head neurotically, his mouth tightening into a bitter line. "It's very... old-fashioned of you to suggest that you wouldn't have risked your own skin to save me from four months of bloody agony, but you would have to save me from - shame - "
"It's not just that. I thought it was... more of the same. There've always been those who - well, who probably didn't fail the Dark Lord, a lot of the time, but he thought they did. They were tortured with Cruciatus for a while, maybe a few other hexes too, and then the bodies left where someone would find them. I thought that it would be like that. Maybe for a little longer, because of who you are, but... the same. And that my father could end it a bit early, if I begged him, and make it seem like your heart gave out or something. That happens a lot, from what he's let slip at the dinner table."
Draco found himself stroking the thin hand in his absently, the same way he did when his mother was hurt and weepy and needed his comfort. "If I'd known it was going to be all... all that it was, torturing you and doing... that, for months and months, then nothing would have stopped me from trying to get to you. To save you or to... to end it, if I could. No matter what happened to me because of it." He smiled a sad, twisted smile. "Which isn't as brave as it sounds, because I know damned well my mother would have made sure that I wasn't made to suffer too much, one way or another. She loves me enough for that."
If worst came to worst, Narcissa was by no means incapable of poisoning her beloved son as well as herself, to take them beyond the reach of the Dark Lord's punishment. Draco hoped that she was all right - it would grieve her to know he'd been taken away by Dumbledore and his minions, but he hoped she'd realize that he was probably safer with the side who were morally opposed to torture at least some of the time.
Snape moved his hand in his godson's grasp, the lines of strain in his face easing a little. "I will - speak to the Headmaster about using the house-elf network to send a message to your mother to let her know that you are safe. And that I am, if you think that that will be of any interest to her."
"Thank you," Draco said quietly, sounding sad and subdued. "And... besides. It's not you who should feel ashamed. My father should, and all the others, for doing those things, but not you."
"Everybody says that," Snape said bitterly, "but nobody can suggest any way that I can stop feeling ashamed."
"Was that why you - why you asked Lovegood to leave - so she wouldn't find out...?"
Snape made a little "tsk"-ing noise. "I didn't think it would be - appropriate - to discuss your parents' marriage in front of an outsider and in your presence. But the rest of it, I assure you, she already knows - probably in graphic and unpleasant detail, although it's hard to remember what I have said when I was - not fully awake."
He sighed and shut his eyes for a moment, lifting his hand from Draco's grasp and absent-mindedly rubbing the heel of it across the scar which bisected his cheek. "I don't know if Granger told you, but I am - I am still weak enough that I need to spend a lot of time sleeping, during the day as well as at night, and sometimes when I wake I am - confused. Disoriented. I need to have someone with me at all times, to help me to - to recognize where I am if I should become - disoriented. Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall, Madam Pomfrey and - and Granger, Lovegood and Longbottom have been taking it in turns to sit with me, and as such they have been... when I have nightmares, which you will understand is a, a common occurrence, I tend to talk in my sleep, now, as well as - what you saw. So they are all well aware of what.... But it is still - difficult - to talk about it deliberately and in daylight, even to - to those who already know."
"Oh." Draco considered that, and nodded, making a bit of a face. "I'm glad you've had people looking after you properly, even if they had to be Gryffindors. Most of them, anyway. And you don't need to talk about it any more. Aunt Bellatrix has dropped enough little hints when Mother wouldn't hear for me to... uh... get the idea. Of what she does." Draco gave him a hopeful look. "Would I be able to help? To sit with you? I'm not bad at that - I mean, I've done it for Mother when she's not quite well, and she always seemed to like it." Lucius had disapproved thoroughly of that, naturally, but Draco had quite enjoyed the quiet times with Narcissa, even when she was fretful and out of temper.
Snape turned his face aside, colouring slightly. "It's not - that simple," he muttered. "I - often when I am - disoriented I... need to be held. Like a bloody - mewling fucking infant. And at night. But if you think that you...." He suddenly became aware of Lovegood still watching them through the open bedroom door. She seemed to be training the ball of surplus energy to do tricks; as he watched her she caught his eye and smiled at him approvingly.
"Oh." Granger's strangely protective attitude when she'd talked about him suddenly made rather more sense. She was inclined to fuss over people, from what he'd seen, and if she'd been holding and comforting his godfather all this time she was probably just as possessive of him as she was of Potter, by now. "I think I could do that. I mean, I've not had much practice at being comforting, but I'd try." The thought was a little embarrassing, but he would do it anyway. It would actually be rather pleasant to have an excuse to curl up with someone, now and then.
Snape smiled faintly, as at some private joke. "You could always offer me a peppermint and a clean handkerchief.... But if you think that you could - cope with me when I am dissociative or disturbed then you will be welcome to take your turn, once you are settled in; indeed, I shall insist on it. I don't know if Lucius arranged for a tutor for you while you were - detained, but even if he did, you are going to need a great deal of remedial coaching if you are to have any hope of sitting NEWTs this year, and the sooner we begin, the better."
"I thought you were dead," the boy said again, his voice muffled against his godfather's by now rather damp shoulder. "I couldn't stop seeing you - hung up like that, and I thought you were dead and that it was my word, my decision that killed you, because even that was better than…."
Snape patted his godson's back awkwardly. "In which case," he said lightly, "it's probably just as well I didn't send you a Christmas present."
"I would have wet myself," Draco admitted. "I nearly did when Granger told me you'd been asking after me, but I thought - I don't know what I thought. That you were… but ghosts don't send people presents."
"Not usually, no, although I sometimes think the Baron would if he could. He was Head of House, in his day, and he still takes a very… proprietary interest."
Strictly speaking, it shouldn't have been her shift until almost midnight, but Professor Dumbledore met her at the doorway and ushered her in, before taking himself off with a secret smile. Hermione shut the door behind her with a relieved sigh. That had been fun. In the way that wasn't. Thank goodness Madam Pomfrey had eventually chased everyone off so her leg could be bandaged and her burns dressed. She actually thought she'd come out rather well... a few minor burns and a fairly small steel spike through the thigh was a lot better than most people did when confronted with Death Eaters, especially when they'd been caught stealing something as valuable as a Malfoy. She was feeling a little proud of herself, and since Draco had presumably filled his godfather in during their reportedly sweet reunion, she could skip the explanations and move right along to the thanks and kisses.
Draco, unfortunately, had left the explanation at "Granger helped" and "she told me what happened", leaving his godfather with the comforting impression that the girl had hung around in the background, handling the shouting and letting the adult members of the Order do the fighting. He hadn't mentioned injuries. He certainly hadn't mentioned injuries too serious to be mended immediately. Hermione hobbled towards the very soft, inviting-looking bed, giving him a weary smile. "Hello," she said affectionately. "Room on there for two?"
Snape stared at her in some alarm. "Merlin, Hermione, what have you been doing to yourself? Come here and sit down at once."
"I thought Draco would have told you." She limped over and sat down on the bed, twining her fingers with his. "We went to rescue him. Well, steal him, to be more precise. I knew you were worried about him, and thought he'd had second thoughts, and seeing him under guard seemed to clinch it, so...." She shrugged. "It took me a little while to talk Hestia and Thomas into it, but I managed. And Madam Pomfrey says my leg will be all right in a day or two."
"You assumed Draco would have told me what? Draco told me that you saw that he was under guard and obviously some sort of prisoner, and alerted the Aurors. Which, I am starting to think, was somewhat less than transparently honest of the little fool. Exactly what did you do? And don't think I won't know if you lie about it."
"Oh. Well, it might have looked that way to him. They weren't Aurors, they were the Order people Professor Dumbledore sent with me as... bodyguards, of sorts. They wanted my parents and me to leave early because someone told them that Draco had been seen in the hotel, and when I found out he was under guard and looking upset - I've known him for years, I know that pinched little look on his face, it's how he looks just after someone's done something horrible to him and he's not sure how to retaliate - I decided we should rescue him."
"Yes, I do know the expression you mean. But you mean to stand - sit there - and tell me that you yourself took a direct part in this... escapade? Without even arranging for adequate backup?"
"I did!" she said defensively, and then paused. "Well... I arranged for backup. Which is more than Harry would have done. But only Kingsley could get there quickly, and we didn't know where Draco was going to be taken next, and I thought the moment had better be seized. So the other three concentrated on the guards, and I nobbled Draco - I wasn't sure if he WAS sorry, at all, so I thought I'd better disarm him and so on just in case, but without hurting him. I would have gotten away without a scratch if Macnair hadn't had a second wand in his boot."
"Dear God, do you mean to tell me that you went into a direct confrontation with Walden Macnair - and gave him a reason to bear you a personal grudge? Do you know what that man is? What the Hell were you thinking, you bloody little fool?" Albus had told him - in the brief interval between Draco's departure in search of a meal, a bath and bed and Hermione's somewhat unsteady entrance - that Amycus had been captured, but he hadn't mentioned the identity of The One That Got Away - a much bigger fish, indeed.
"Yes, I know what he is, I've encountered him before, at the Ministry in fifth year. Believe me, it was a personal pleasure to burn that sleazy little moustache right off his face." This was not going according to plan. Damn it. "I couldn't just leave Draco there with him, could I?" she asked, shifting tack. "If I'd waited about, they might have taken him off who knows where, and we might never have found him again."
"You encountered him at the Ministry - oh God. You have no fucking idea. Half the fucking nightmares I have are about Macnair - literally bloody 'fucking', or whips, knives - it was Macnair who cut my stomach open and then bloody - used me anyway." To her alarm and distress, he started to shake, glaring at her wildly. "Of course I care about Draco, I'm so - pleased to have him here safe from that bastard of a father of his but I value you too you idiot girl, and Draco wasn't actively in danger and you were. How do you think I would have felt if you'd been killed - or captured? Oh God. I would have had to have given myself up to them again to get you back."
She slid her arms around him, crooning wordlessly as she held him to her. "You would NEVER have to go back to them," she whispered fiercely. "Not for me, not for anyone. There were only two of them, and four of us, and Macnair is never at his best when he's surprised. And even if it had gone wrong, even if they had managed to capture me…." She shuddered at the thought, and hugged him a little tighter. "I wouldn't have been there long. I don't go anywhere without a knife anymore, poisoned and easy to reach. Even if they pushed a bezoar down my throat within seconds, it would still be too late."
He was shaking hard now, and she held him tighter. "I wouldn't want to, I do NOT want to have to do that, but I promise you, if it's that or being in Voldemort's hands... then I would make sure it ended quickly, and on my terms. I wouldn't let them hurt me, and I would NOT let them ever touch you again, I promise you." After seeing the state he was in, she'd taken steps to ensure that she wouldn't be caught without a means of killing herself quickly if the need arose... and she'd made sure Harry knew, so he wouldn't go charging off to rescue her if she was captured.
"Idiot!" he gasped. "You know what they did to me - they bound my soul to my body when I should have been already dead from septicaemia - if you didn't get the timing exactly right, they'd just do the same to you while they worked out the bloody antidote. And then bind you against killing yourself, like they bloody-well did me." He was still shuddering with panic. "I don't want to lose you, I don't want to lose you, but better that than you being in their hands! Ah, God, I don't want to have to think of them doing - those things - to you. Not to you."
"They won't. They won't, I promise!" She sighed, resting her forehead against his. "And I'm sorry, I'm not being very reassuring. I won't take any more foolish risks, I promise. I just... Draco looked so miserable, and so... uncertain. I couldn't leave him. And I knew you wanted him back."
"I did, I do - but I don't even want to think about having to - choose between you. If I'd gained him and lost you, how could I have kept myself from - hating him? And - you might not even get the chance to try it. I carry poison, but I never got the chance to use it - they stripped me bare in minutes and they watched me - all the time, watching me, every bloody minute of every day."
"Well, yes, but you're you. Slippery, devious, and much more powerful than most of them. I'm just a nasty little Mudblood." She rocked him, kissing him gently. "I'm sorry I scared you, I really am... and I was fine. We caught them by surprise, they were both down in moments, and aside from that one blast from Macnair, they hardly even had time to put up a fight. Shhhh... oh, love, it's all right...." She held him until the shaking eased a little, kissing him and making soothing noises.
"Draco didn't know, what they'd done to you," she said quietly, when he seemed a bit calmer. "He was sick, when I told him. I... didn't go into detail, but even the bare bones had him throwing up for some time. After that, he all but begged to be allowed to tell Professor Dumbledore everything he knew. Which I suspect is a lot more than Lucius knows that he knows... Draco eavesdrops."
"Draco is a sly, conniving little sneak - and I say this as one who has known him since he was in nappies. And you don't need to - to spare my blushes as regards the - sexual aspect, because he already worked that one out when he flung his arms round me without warning and I nearly jumped out of my bloody skin. Unlike you, he has a very good idea of what Macnair and his father and dear Aunt Bellatrix are capable of - even if he doesn't know about - about Pettigrew and his little penknife."
He shuddered again and sighed, and then broke away from her embrace to sit facing her, tilting her chin up with his fingers and giving her his sternest professorial look. "I suppose I should be proud that you acquitted yourself so well in a fight. But if you're going to take bloody stupid fool risks - without even being misled into them by the Idiot Boy - then I insist that you let me tutor you in duelling and Defence Against the Dark Arts myself. That is - when Filius gets off his backside long enough to get me off mine."
"You would? Really?" She beamed at him. "Absolutely. I accept. Will I get a treat every time I do something foolish? Because if I will, there are some Slytherins outside I could taunt."
"Don't think it's going to be a sinecure," he said darkly. "Potter will tell you that when it comes to teaching defence techniques I play rough - I don't think you can learn to defend yourself even half adequately without facing a realistic challenge. The best I can promise you is to try not to throw you against anything with sharp corners. And if you don't hit me back - hard - I'll throw you again. Draco may have a 'not-hitting-girls thing' but the Death Eaters don't - and therefore, I can't afford to."
She grinned at him. "Severus, you are trying to warn me, the Brain of Gryffindor, that you're going to be teaching me thoroughly. This is like telling an epicure that they're going to get a gourmet meal whether they like it or not." She twined her fingers with his. "Seriously... I think it's a good idea. Harry's done his best, but I know he's not really going to attack me. You... I know you wouldn't do any permanent damage, but you're not going to worry about every bump and bruise the way Harry would. And I want to learn as much as I can... just as usual." She paused. "I can do a corporeal Patronus... want to see?"
To her surprize he winced and dropped his eyes. "What is it, Severus?" she asked quietly, and then winced herself. "I know that - that it's a spell that even some very experienced and powerful wizards have problems with." A horrible suspicion was dawning that he truly had no good memories to draw on.
Severus shook his head tightly. "It's not that I can't do one but it - not really mine, as such. A copy of... one that belonged to a friend."
Hermione frowned. "Belonged... in the past tense?"
The same sharp, curtailed movement - a nod, this time. "She died. And we - we were no longer on good terms when she - died, and it was my fault." That was enough, surely? - he didn't have to say that her death was his fault too, that he had seen her die.... "I have no good memories, except of her friendship, or if I ever did have the Dementors sucked them out of me when I was in Azkaban. They didn't take my memories of her because they - hurt more than they healed, but by the same token the Patronus I generate in her memory can't save me from a Dementor either - it's too easy for them to twist it and make me remember her death, our quarrel" - my guilt, he added in the privacy of his own head. "And I've no other good memories that I could use to generate a Patronus of my own."
And he wasn't sure that he would if he could, that was part of the secret in his heart, that he prized his own penance, his own loyalty to a dead girl's memory, too much to want to give it up. He tried to push the thought aside, to concentrate on this other girl who might be his lover as Lily never was (even if he might not ever love her as completely as he had loved Lily), and flashed Hermione one of his dry, self-mocking smiles. "But yes - show me. 'I'll show you mine if you show me yours' - isn't that what little boys are supposed to say to little girls behind the garden shed? We need to be able to recognize each other's Patronuses even when there isn't an opportunity to sense the... the spirit that animates the image."
She leaned in to kiss him, and then felt guilty for it, knowing that it hadn't been solely for his comfort. The disguised pain in his voice when he spoke of his 'friend'... she'd have wagered there was more than friendship, at least for him, and he'd lost her and it still hurt him. It was horribly unfair to be jealous of her, whoever she was... but she couldn't bring herself to ask for a name, either. "Have you tried lately?" she asked, trying to sound as if she'd noticed nothing at all. "Because if I need to put more work into creating good memories for both of us, I think I can bear the sacrifice." She kissed him again, then sat back, pulling her wand out of her sleeve. "Expecto Patronum!"
A moment later, her silvery otter was swimming through the air around them, seeming intrigued by Severus and appearing almost to sniff him as it gambolled past. Hermione smiled fondly at it. "Look, it likes you!"
He reached out to touch it, fascinated. "Amazing. It looks almost solid - which is a lot more than mine did at your age. And - seriously, I'm all for - trying to build up a stock of good memories involving... but at the moment anything to do with sex, anything to do with feeling aroused, is still all tangled up with terror and pain and - shame. However much.... However - delightful carrying on with you may be, if I tried to use it to generate a Patronus in the presence of a real Dementor, it would be too easy for the mind-raper to twist and warp that connection and leave me - sobbing on the floor in a circle of Death Eaters again, waiting to see who'll be first. Not, however," he added lightly, "that that is any reason to desist from building up a stock of - pleasant memories having to do with sex. There are more important things in life than fooling around with a wand. Um - the wooden kind, that is."
He picked his new wand up off the bedside table and flourished it with self-mocking bravado. "Expecto Patronum!" The cloud of sparkling silver flowed together and formed itself into a delicate white doe, slender-legged and nervy and solemn-eyed, poised and tense as if to skitter away at a word.
"Oh, Severus," Hermione said softly; "she's - beautiful!"
"I wish I could claim that beauty for myself," he muttered, and thought that he meant it in more than one sense, for he had wished to have claimed Lily herself. "She was - beautiful, and the Patronus reflects the beauty in her, not in me." Did he still wish it? If Lily had loved him instead of James, things would have gone very differently but he would then have lost something valuable, a loving connection, as well as gained one.
Hermione gave him a troubled look, hating the way his gaze seemed to turn unhappily inwards on himself. "I don't think you could summon something so - so lovely, if you didn't have a bit of loveliness in you."
"Perhaps," he agreed, sounding sad and tired. "I've never been able to see any loveliness in myself, even before they.... And I always thought that if I were ever to grow a Patronus of my own, one that wasn't a copy of hers, it would still be a mere bloody copy, because it would be Fawkes, the same as Dumbledore's. Fawkes, you see, Fawkes has been my safety and cried for me when I was injured ever since I first became Dumbledore's man. Except the last time, of course, when - Riddle made sure that even a phoenix's magic could not heal me or ease my pain, and my survival depended, in the last resort, on Harry bloody Potter's pig-headed refusal to accept the inevitable. But I absolutely refuse to have Potter become my new Patronus!"
Hermione reached out, her fingers tracing the soft, mobile ears, the slender column of the neck which arched under her hand. "It's beautiful," she said again softly, and then she sighed. "And... before... I wasn't really referring to sex." Egotistical, to hope that being loved by her would constitute a memory good enough for a Patronus, and she forced jealousy away again. She was glad that there had been someone, even if she'd died eventually, that his life hadn't been quite as lonely as it might have been. And she'd keep telling herself that until it was so.
"I mean, waking up to find Professor McGonagall asleep on you with all her paws in the air, for example..." she added hastily, grinning at him. "Or Draco being safe, that could be a good one."
Her otter swam over to nose her cheek gently before fading away.
"I had the impression that you were referring specifically to the fact that you were kissing me when you said it" Snape said, rather stiffly. "But yes, I have many strikingly good memories from the last few months, most of them involving you or Minerva or - remarkably - Longbottom. I think you realize how... good for my ego it is to feel loved and wanted, whether or not I entirely believe in it.
"Even so, all these things to some extent spring out of having been tortured, and a Dementor could I am sure twist them against me. It would tell me, for example, that I was using you, imposing on your innocence as Lucius imposed on mine - and before you say it I know that you don't see it that way and in fact I don't, either. But I could be made to see it that way, if I were sufficiently undermined." Behind him the doe wavered in the air like a fading TV signal, and went out.
She took his hand, kissing the tips of his fingers lightly. "I wish I could make it better," she said wistfully. "But I know it's going to take a long time. We will build better memories for you, though. Ones that stand on their own. And in the meantime, I promise, there'll be at least one otter between you and any Dementor."
"Thank you" he said gravely, although having his hand fiddled with made the skin between his shoulders twitch. "It should work well, they're very - ebullient creatures. But - count this as your first lesson, and remember. I spent long enough in Azkaban to know that if there's any way that a Dementor can twist your memories and turn them against you, it will. You've heard the phrase 'You are your own worst enemy?' It's hard for anybody, I think, not just for me, to find a memory so purely good that it doesn't have some dark connections trailing off it like, like scraps of wool caught on a fence - so you need to generate your Patronus in a heartbeat, the instant you sense the Dementor and before it has a chance to twist you against yourself."
Hermione nodded. "I didn't know they could do that," she admitted, still clasping his hand gently. "I'll be careful... and I do have a few good memories which should be difficult to taint." She blushed. "One of the more effective ones I have is of the day I realized I could read all by myself. I'm a hopeless geek, you understand. But that should be difficult to... to twist against me."
"But, you foolish girl, your own words betray you. 'I'm a hopeless geek.' Part of you associates the mere fact that you were so proud of being able to read with being a social outsider, excluded - and there's your weakness, all laid bare and ready to be exploited."
She considered that, and made a face. "I hadn't thought of that. This is going to be a lot more complicated than Harry makes it sound, isn't it? Of course, pretty much everything is more complicated than Harry makes it sound.... He's a good teacher, though," she added hastily. "He taught us all a lot in the DA."
"The DA? Do you mean that... 'Dumbledore's Army' business? I thought that that was just some sort of - ad hoc council of war when Albus was exiled."
"Oh, no. We all got together every week or so and Harry taught us Defence Against the Dark Arts. Because he knew more than anyone else, and Umbridge was simply dreadful." She smiled brightly. "He got us all through our exams, he was really quite good at it."
"You mean you let that - that - suicidal lunatic who thinks that blind courage and trusting to dumb luck is an adequate substitute for skill and practice teach you the techniques your bloody lives may soon depend on? Already have bloody depended on, in some cases - including yours. What were you thinking? Were you thinking?"
"We were thinking that he was our best alternative... and he did it very well," Hermione said firmly. "He made sure we knew the basics, like Protego and Expelliarmus, and we got all the way to the Patronus before we got caught and had to stop. And I know you two don't get along, but he is a good teacher.... Neville actually got an A in his DADA O.W.L, did you know that? Not a single member of the DA failed, and God knows we would have if Umbridge had been our only teacher. Not to mention the fight at the Ministry...."
"I grant you he was probably a better teacher than Dolores Umbridge - there are things living under rocks that can teach better than dear Dolores. And - " He gritted his teeth. "If he enabled Longbottom to get decent marks in the practical exam, as well as in the theory, then I admit that he possibly does have some talent in that direction. But - you've seen him fight, apparently, and I haven't. On your honest opinion - and I trust you to give it - do you think that Neville has it in him to be a good duellist? I rather gathered, from his account, that his main contribution to the Ministry fiasco was to get his nose broken and to help carry you to safety which - for which I shall be exceedingly and eternally grateful, but which is more in the nature of a mediwizard's work. And if he is not suited to be a duellist, do you think that encouraging him to think that he is will make him more safe - or less so?"
"Neville is no duellist, nor will he ever be," Hermione admitted. "But that wasn't really the point. The DA was formed so we could learn to defend ourselves. Professor Umbridge was insisting that all we needed to know was the theory, that we were perfectly safe at the school... but we weren't, and we knew we weren't, and the idea of being helpless to defend ourselves against even the least threat...." She shuddered. "Lambs to the slaughter, we would have been, if she'd had her way. I know most of the DA couldn't have stood against a real attack by more than one or two Death Eaters, but at least they could probably have handled one."
"A valid point, I suppose - although in practice I gather that Longbottom did manage to inflict some damage on Macnair, using his wand - but he did so by poking him in the eye with it." Seeing her amused expression, he gave her a tight-lipped scowl. "You may think I'm trying to be funny - but this is lesson number two. The Death Eaters scorn Muggle ways, they think themselves above the hurly-burly of ordinary humanity, whether wizarding or otherwise. In their minds they bestride the world like a colossus, shaping fate with their vast magics - poke one in the eye, or better yet knee him in the groin, and they really don't have any counter to it, because that sort of thing is for plebs and they don't ever think of it in the same context as themselves."
Hermione smiled tentatively, but his expression was still grim. "And that's lesson number three, if you like. When you run up against a Dark wizard you won't have time to worry about whether you are 'doing it the right way', and in fact there is no right way - just hit him as hard as you can with whatever comes to hand, magical or otherwise, because maintaining a firm grip on the initiative is half the bloody battle. And trying to do it by the bloody book may get you killed - unless it was a very heavy book with sharp corners, and you throw it at him."
Hermione nodded. "Like self-defence classes," she agreed, and then he gave her a puzzled look and she realized. "Oh... in self-defence classes, you know, the ones that people - women, generally - take to learn how to cope with being attacked by a mugger or something. They tell you over and over that the most important thing is to fight as hard as you can. Don't worry about hurting them, don't worry about not being a Nice Girl, just claw his bloody eyeballs out if you have to. And then run. My mum made me go, last summer, when she realized I might actually be involved in some fighting. And this is like that... bite, kick, scratch, poke your wand into their eye, whatever it takes. And carry weapons, because if the lads at school are any indication, pure-bloods are fine with other people's blood, but will frequently go completely to pieces at the sight of their own."
"It's actually a general 'boy thing', I think. I find that males of all ages, and females before the onset of puberty, are apt to faint if they get a nosebleed, for example. After puberty, obviously, females... well, learn to adapt. Most people who are regularly confronted with their own blood do, which - well, you'll understand that I had to be used to my own blood from a very early age, and that stood me in good stead at Death Eater meetings. Now, though, I fear I may have been - pushed so far out I'm coming back. I wasn't too bad last week when Adrian cut himself, I suspect because the smell of haddock and vinegar and mushy peas was so powerful it masked the blood-smell; but when Longbottom tripped over the floor and broke a glass and gashed his knee I damn' near passed out, which was highly embarrassing. But fortunately sixteen years as House Master to a dungeonful of quarrelsome neurotics kicked in and I was able to get him cleaned up and healed before he passed out."
"Oh, dear... Neville's always doing that sort of thing, you'd think he'd be used to it by now." She shook her head ruefully. "I do see what you mean, though.... Harry is actually more bothered by other people's than his own... from which I suspect he's seen a lot more of his own than most people... but Ron goes green every time."
"Pea-green with red hair - that must be a sight to conjure with. But Potter - yes, I imagine he is well-used to his own blood. Judging from what I saw when I was teaching him Occlumency he spent a lot of his formative years being slapped around by that overweight baboon of a cousin of his. Nosebleeds must have been a weekly occurrence."
"I suspected. He never talks about living with the Dursleys, but I know he's horribly unhappy with them. He almost cries every year when he has to go back to them... Mrs Weasley wanted to have him come and live with them, but Professor Dumbledore said no." She gave him a thoughtful look. "I didn't know you knew about it, though. I would have thought... I don't know... that knowing he's had just as miserable a home-life as you had might go some way towards blunting the Potter-based animosity."
"But it wasn't, really. Not anything like as bad." He sighed and made a vague, dismissive gesture. "I don't want to sound like a bloody martyred victim but that's one of the things that annoys me, that he sees himself as that, that he thinks himself so hard done by, when really he has no idea how bad things can get.
"Don't misunderstand me - from what I saw his home life is immensely bleak and unloving, and the cousin and his cronies treated him about as badly as his bloody father and his cronies treated me - at least until he learned to terrorize the great, bullying oaf with the threat of magic. But they're not - he always knew that they're not his real family, that he once had loving parents, parents who loved him enough to bloody-well die for him. I didn't have that bloody luxury. And he thinks himself hard-done-by because if he cheeks his uncle his uncle sometimes wallops him round the ear, but he's never been whipped bloody just for existing, or had to work out how to splint his own arm because his family won't take him to the doctor in case the Social realize who broke it, or gone in constant fear that his father will one day keep his promise and kill him.
"Again, don't misunderstand me; judging from what little I saw, the Dursleys shouldn't be left in charge of a hat-stand. But Potter has no idea how much worse things could be, and not just - At least my family weren't - sexually abusive. Some of my poor little Slytherins... and there's almost nothing I can bloody-well do for them, because as you know there's no provision in wizarding law for taking a child from its parents, and even if there were doing so would have blown my cover. And yet Potter thought I should fall down on my knees and apologize for being nasty to him, because his family are... a bit neglectful, and make him do more chores than his cousin."
He sighed again. "All right Potter - very neglectful. But the business with the Pensieve was just the final bloody straw - knowing that he had watched me being so - degraded by his bloody father and godfather, and that the son and all his little cronies would be having a laugh over my public humiliation. As if it never had stopped, as if it would never end, as if I was still - hanging there. Not that it - not that it really matters now. Comparatively speaking."
"You may sound like a martyred victim as much as you like, love, if you wish." Hermione frowned. "You can do something about the Slytherins now, you know, since your cover's blown anyway... and I'm sure many of them would rather side with you than with Voldemort, given the choice... but what business with the Pensieve? Harry mentioned once that Professor Dumbledore has one, but I didn't know you...." The rest of what he'd said caught up, and she gave him a horrified look.
"He looked? At someone else's memories? I am going to give him such a screaming-at that he'll curse his own ears off to escape! He knows better than that! When was it... is that why he stopped taking Occlumency lessons? Oooh, I KNEW there was something he wasn't telling me!"
"Unfortunately, Potter doesn't regard me as 'someone else' - he seems completely unaware that I might be made of actual flesh and blood and feeling just like real people," he said bitterly. "And it was Albus's Pensieve. I used it when I was teaching Potter Occlumency, to take out the emotion from the worst memories I have of his father, so that I could at least deal with him as himself - infuriating though he may be in his own right - rather than all the time seeing James Potter's face jeering at me. I was called away to deal with a serious attack on one of my Slytherins, and when I returned I found Potter Junior with his smug face thrust into my memory - into my soul - watching me being publicly humiliated and degraded by his charming father and godfather. I made sure he would have told you and Weasley, at least, all about it - and no doubt had a delightful laugh at my expense."
"You did him an injustice, then," Hermione said quietly. "He was miserable about something, Ron and I could both tell, but he wouldn't tell us what it was, or why he wasn't studying Occlumency anymore. And we almost got expelled finding him a way to talk to Sirius, and he wouldn't tell us why about that, either, only that he had to do it... which, if he'd seen that, makes sense. He loved Sirius rather desperately... to have someone finally around who really wanted him, a grownup who could fill, however awkwardly, the place of a parent, meant a lot to him. But he would never, ever, have thought that was funny, Severus, and knowing that Sirius and his father did made him very unhappy."
She sighed. "And you're right... he doesn't really see you as a person. Well, he does NOW, but he didn't until you came back to us. You obviously hated him, right from the start, and... and he was allowed to hate you. He couldn't hate his parents for leaving him, because they were the only people, he thought, who had ever loved him, and he couldn't hate the Dursleys openly because he was afraid to, and then he came here and there you were, loathing him on sight, and there Draco was being an utter arsehole to everyone, and you were Slytherins and he was allowed to hate you, and to show it, encouraged to, even. Out of all the people who have hurt him and rejected him... you and Draco were the ones he was allowed to punish for it. I know it's not right, but he was only eleven when it started. And the more you hated him, the more... justified it seemed, I suppose."
"But I didn't loathe the brat on sight - he loathed me! I admit, the prospect of having to teach James Potter's son made my skin crawl, I expected him to despise me I suppose, but I was willing to bite my feelings back and make a try at it. But I'd barely even glimpsed him at the Sorting, I was just peacefully eating my dinner when I looked up and there was that face, his father's face, staring at me as if I was everything he'd ever hated. I'd never even spoken to him, and yet he hated me on sight. I had to assume that his family had brought him up to, to continue where his father left off. Which, actually, doesn't make sense, now I come to think about it, because his parents died before he could talk, and now that I know more about his background I don't believe the Dursleys ever talked to him about Hogwarts."
He frowned, biting his lip. "And you say he didn't - didn't make any capital out of having witnessed my public humiliation? That's... even so, whatever he said to Black, Black evidently convinced him that I deserved what I got, since he worships the bastard's memory, and I know when I - disappeared, last year, he was sure I'd returned to my Dark Master. Voluntarily, I mean. That's why he's crawling with guilt towards me now."
"The way Harry tells it, his scar twinged, he looked up, and you were sitting there giving him a filthy look," Hermione said gently. "He had no idea why, not for ages. Until he got his letter, he didn't even know magic existed, let alone about old family grudges. And then, of course, there was our first Potions lesson, where you were sneering at him in front of everyone, and that was more or less that. You hated him, therefore he would hate you too. Of course, the Weasleys filling his ears with tales of the evil of Slytherin didn't help a great deal, but that was only after he got here.
"As for Sirius convincing him that you'd deserved it somehow... I don't know. Maybe. Harry would have wanted desperately to believe it... Sirius loved him, and you'd always hated him, and the last thing he would have wanted is to have to side with you against Sirius. And then, of course, Sirius died, and Harry knows that he was largely to blame and that you'd been right all along. For which I doubt he ever would have forgiven you, if you hadn't been hurt so dreadfully badly. It's much harder to forgive someone for being right than for being wrong, sometimes."
"Oh. But I wasn't.... I mean, I only glared at him because he was glaring at me, I thought - I looked up, and there he was with that, that violent hatred on his face, on his father's face, so of course I glared back. But - now that I think about it, I was speaking to Quirrell at the time, which means that without knowing it I was within a few feet of - of Him. My master and tormentor. God, Potter was looking straight at the monster without knowing it, under Quirrell's bloody stupid hat - when his scar hurt he must have thought it was somehow to do with me, because I was the one facing him. Well, the one facing him that he could see.
"And later I - I didn't know he hadn't had any wizarding education, Albus didn't bloody-well tell us that, we all thought he would have been given at least a basic grounding, especially as - well, his mother was really a Potions prodigy, so in that first lesson I took a chance; even though That Face made me feel like curling up and hiding under my bloody desk I risked making a fool of myself in front of the whole fucking class by asking him about asphodel and wormwood, which... well, any child with any wizard training would know that the symbolic meaning is - what?"
"Death and bitter sorrow" she replied promptly.
"But an asphodel is also a lily... I thought he must understand my meaning, that I bitterly regretted his mother's death, that his mother and I had been friends even if his father and I had not, and when he brushed off the question - I didn't know he was so untaught, I thought he was just - slapping me down. And then I saved his bloody life when Quirrell tried to hex him off his broom and all he did was glower at me as if it was somehow my bloody fault, and then at the start of second year I stood behind him and the weasel and listened to them discussing how very much they both hated me, and how much they both hoped I'd been sacked, and - well, it was all pretty-much downhill from there, until I found the little shit - violating my memories. Gloating over my humiliation. Except that now you tell me that perhaps he... wasn't as delighted by it as I in my haste assumed."
"I'm sure he wasn't delighted at all - I'm surprised he didn't apologize at the time, but perhaps he was just... too shocked. Seeing his father and Sirius behaving like that."
"I'm afraid I didn't give him much chance to apologize" he replied, tight-lipped. "I was so.... I threw him across the room, and hurled a jar at his head. But he could have written to me afterwards, if he - you would think my reaction would have told him that I was - upset. But it would never occur to Perfect Potter to apologize for anything."
"It would never have occurred to him to write a note of apology... I doubt he's ever heard of such a thing," Hermione said wryly. "And even if it had, I think he would have assumed that you wouldn't accept an apology... he devoutly believes that you hate him and want to see him dead, or at least suffering some other horrible fate. Which seems dreadfully unfair, to him, since he'd done nothing at all to you when you started being nasty to him, and his father was... was such a cipher to him, then, that that connection seemed very vague. He never talks about it, but Hagrid told me once that he'd never even seen a picture of his parents, before Hagrid found him some, and that the Dursleys had told him they'd died in a car crash. I don't think he knew more about them than their names, before he came here... and I think that's one of the reasons he loathes Draco so much, actually. Draco was always boasting about his parents, about all the nice things they gave him and how important they were... and of course, Harry didn't know anything about them then, and he was almost as dreadfully jealous of Draco as he was of Ron. Having parents who were alive and could look after you, and who were wizards and wouldn't take your books and wand away when you went home...."
"Envying the Weasley boy is understandable - I've envied him myself, bitterly and for the same reason. But Draco... having Lucius for a father is like sharing a bath with an alligator, and Narcissa - she loves the boy, but she's a bit - fragile and, um, over-emotional, and more of a burden than a support. Not bad in bed, mind," he added, with a sudden wicked gleam, "but not what you want in a mother. Believe me, Potter is better off with the Dursleys - at least they're easier to ignore. And in fact Draco envies him, horribly.
"But Potter is even more of a fool than I thought he was, if he thinks I want to hurt him. The sight of him - the sight of That Face, coupled with the, the scorn and hatred he feels for me, which tastes like tin and lightning - makes me feel as if I'm fourteen again and that - bastard - is coming after me again, and I just want to curl up into a ball and cry: which is not a good state of mind for being especially patient in. Especially if one was never very patient to begin with. And hearing him going on and on about how wonderful his father was, and then the same about his bloody godfather, and making it clear that he thought - that he thought that I wasn't fully human, that the Headmaster had been right to treat my life as of no account - and don't pretend he didn't. You were there when he called me 'pathetic' for daring to mind the fact that Black was boasting about having tried to kill me, and expressing regret at having failed - just like his fucking father, who scrubbed my mouth out with soap in front of the whole fucking school for daring to swear at him when he tortured me - and it was fucking torture - "
He stopped as if he'd run into a brick wall, breathing hard, his eyes black and wild. After a second or two of visible struggle he got control of his breathing again and went on more quietly. "Before I realized how much danger he was in, I did nurture a faint hope of getting the brat expelled, just to get his face and his open disdain as far away from me as possible. But I would never have hurt him - he's a student, for God's sake, it's my job to keep him alive and safe and I've done everything in my power to do so, quite apart from the fact that his mother was a, a friend, and even though the bloody little fool seems hell-bent on throwing his life away on a whim. But an apology - an apology from him might have - mended something. Not just in the present."
She wrapped her arms around him, holding him protectively. "I do remember that night... I have regular nightmares about it, actually. I've never been so frightened as I was that night, not even at the Ministry." She gave him a rather pointed look. "And Harry wasn't the only one being a complete prat that night, you know. I tried to explain to you what was going on, more than once, and you kept screaming at me to shut up. Which probably did just as much to tick Harry off as you and Sirius loathing each other... he doesn't like it when people are rude to me."
He gave her a startled look, and she raised an eyebrow at him. It was entirely true... and a little gentle prodding mixed with the sympathy was a good idea, with him. "Not to mention you telling him that you should have just let him get himself killed, it would be no less than he deserved. I know you had every reason to be very upset, at that point... I don't think I'd be any less hysterical if someone dragged me back into that place... but I'm sure you can see how it might have given him the idea that you'd like to see him come to a sticky end." He opened his mouth with an indignant expression, and she nodded. "Yes, I know, you took an enormous risk trying to save us, and I, at least, was grateful. But from Harry's point of view, you appeared just when he was starting to understand, for the first time, what had actually happened to his family... and you screamed at us, told him he deserved to get killed, and then started making threats."
She sighed. "And while an apology is more of a possibility now... I don't know. It's hard to admit you've been quite that appallingly wrong about absolutely everything for the last seven years. He feels guilty for a lot of it now, but... imagine how you'd feel, if he'd turned out to be right all along and you had to apologize to him."
"I'm not asking the brat to apologize for his every bad opinion of me - at least half of which are probably justified anyway. Just for invading my bloody memories: an act which you yourself, I might point out, just said he deserved to have his ears screamed off for. And I wasn't... you don't understand what it was like, Hermione. Black - after years of bloody persecution he still managed to persuade me that he wanted to call a truce, and that if I would only take his dare and go where they went, they would let me join their bloody little Gang of Four. And I wanted so, so badly to believe, to think that I could be safe from them, to think that they would let me - me! - join the most popular, the most powerful -
"And I took his dare," he said quietly, "and I went down the tunnel, and there was nothing waiting for me there but death. I actually saw Lupin, changing - if he'd made the change even a few seconds earlier I would have been torn to bloody rags before Potter Senior got there but as it was it held him up a bit, but I saw him - twisting, distorting - and I knew what Black had bloody-well set me up for, and what was about to happen to me. I knew.
"So yes I was - fucking terrified, if you'll pardon my language, finding myself trapped in that place again with Black and Lupin, and I had already nerved myself up to find the three of you already - horribly dead. Seeing Weasley with his leg snapped was only a slight improvement. And it didn't matter what you were screaming at me, it didn't matter what Black had told Potter or that Potter thought Black could give him what he wanted because I knew, I knew that Black could charm the birds out of the trees and that he would tell Potter, or you, or Lupin whatever you most wanted to hear, and would be believed.
"And yes, as it happens, I was wrong, and if I had listened to Lupin's story about the map and the rat I would have realized that. But I was - overwrought, and I knew that Black was a killer - which he still was, in intention if not in fact, whether or not he was guilty of the Muggle deaths - and I had absolutely no reason to think that Potter's newfound trust in Black meant anything except that the murderer was up to his old tricks again, and had duped you lot as thoroughly and as skilfully as he duped me."
He made the bitter face Hermione was coming to know too well, as full of scorn for himself as for anyone else. "And yes, for one moment there I did think that Potter deserved to die for his - criminal stupidity, for his trust in the murderer. Why shouldn't I, when everybody seemed to think that I had deserved to die for mine? He had just told me that I was pathetic, for minding hearing Black gloating over how close he had come to killing me, so obviously he thought that I had deserved to die for my - gullibility: so why shouldn't he die for his?"
Hermione sighed, touching his cheek gently. "I'm sorry, love," she said softly. "For... everything. And I hate the thought of you being so alone and unhappy when you were in school. Sirius Black was... I never liked him much, you know. Harry was different, after he turned up. More reckless, less willing to listen to reason... and Black used to encourage him to be like James, which seemed to boil down to taking idiotic risks right, left and centre. It was hard enough trying to make Harry be sensible without that.
"You're right about Harry, too... he does owe you an apology for that, more than anything else - although there are plenty of other things he should apologize for, too. But he really didn't tell anyone - except possibly Sirius, asking for an explanation - and he would never, ever think something like that was funny, or... or acceptable behaviour, either.
"And... this ongoing you-hate-me-so-I'll-hate-you thing that you both have really has to stop. I know you both quite enjoy it, in a horrible sort of way, but it's destructive, especially when the pair of you might need to work together rather urgently one day... and it's horrible for me, because I love you both so much and I hate having to take sides. Harry's been like a brother to me for years... an annoying, insensitive little brother who I know loves me, even if he'll never actually say it, and who needs desperately to be looked after. And you... you mean more to me than I have words for. And I know, I'm being bossy and meddling but I just...." She bit her lip. "I love you, both of you, and I'm scared that one day I'm going to have to choose between you."
"The strange thing is," Snape replied seriously, "I do believe that Black really did care about Potter, he didn't intend to do him harm, but he had a tendency to be - reckless to a degree which went well beyond ordinary Gryffindor stupidity, and into outright insanity. As for Potter and me... to a certain extent it's another 'boy thing,' at least on my part - having someone to snipe at is a sort of masculine amusement, like billiards. But there is... real emotion there as well, and I don't know how to overcome that.
"I did try - I did try, for my part, to set aside my... conditioned reaction to James Potter's bloody smug, gloating face by stripping my memories out into the Pensieve for the duration of the Occlumency sessions - and you know how that turned out. I did my best to deal with Potter as just another student, to speak to him sensibly and give him such information as it was safe for him to know, instead of just keeping him in the dark the way Albus bloody-well does, but he just - threw it back in my face. His hatred and, and scorn for me was so intense that coming into contact with his mind was like a plunge into boiling water - and trust me that I know what that feels like. And he's so - damned - fucking rude, all the bloody time!
"I wouldn't mind if - I didn't really care if Lovegood or Longbottom, for example, forgot to call me 'Sir', even before they became my - carers, because I knew they were just being forgetful, or even friendly God help them. But you know, you know as well as I do that when Potter omits any formal mark of respect it's because he means me to know that he doesn't respect me. And that - constant slap in the face, coming from that face, feels as if - as if his bloody father is reaching down through his posterity to go on tormenting me. The bastard is dead and I still can't get free of him." He ran his fingers through his hair, a restless, nervous gesture of displacement. "But if it distresses you - the brat has been at least trying to be polite, since I was - and even though his pity and his guilt give me goosebumps, if it means so much to you I will try to talk to him in a civil manner. But I don't hold out much hope of it lasting - especially once he finds out that you and I are... involved."
She smoothed her fingers through his hair, following his, and nodded. "It sounds like the Occlumency lessons were just as horribly traumatic for you as they were for him," she said softly. "He was always a nervous wreck when he came back to the common room, afterwards, and Ron said he always had nightmares afterwards. The way he described it, you would attack him over and over again, without warning him or explaining to him what was going on, until you got tired of tormenting him and sent him away - and yes, I know that's probably not at all accurate, from your point of view, but that's how it seemed to him.
"I don't know if you've noticed, but one of Harry's few not-insanely-Gryffindor traits is a strong tendency towards paranoia. Which is reasonable enough, since there are quite a lot of people who are, in fact, out to get him." She sighed. "Severus, try to understand... he sees you the same way you saw his father. As someone who wants to hurt him without reason, who despises him for the sin of being himself. I don't think that's accurate, but how amenable would you have been to the idea that James Potter had a good side?"
She smiled ruefully. "As for how he'll take the knowledge that we're... involved; I very rarely use the 'if you love me you'll understand' approach, because it's shallow and manipulative, but I think this might be a good time for it."
"It isn't only Slytherins who are allowed to be manipulative - Albus is a past-master at it. And I did attack the little brute without warning, and more or less without quarter - I told you, when it comes to teaching defence I play rough. A fine teacher I'd be, wouldn't I, if I - mollycoddled him and made him think it was all easy, let him think that in a real situation he would have time to prepare himself, and got him killed by so doing. There are people out to get him - that's why I was bloody well trying to teach him to defend himself, but he didn't want to learn.
"I could hardly have been all sweetness and light to him, knowing that at any moment He - Riddle - could be looking out through the boy's eyes, but perhaps I could have spent more time in each lesson taking him through the, the meditation aspect, teaching him to close his mind before I attacked him and tried to open it again. But why should I have to waste valuable lesson time like that? I gave him the bloody homework which should have enabled him to defend himself against me, and it's not my fault if he was too fucking idle and feckless to do it. I suppose it was something he couldn't actually get you to do for him, so it didn't get done."
Hard lines settled in around his mouth, until he looked as if he had bitten on something bitter. "I don't despise him for being himself - I despise him for being lazy, for being slapdash, for not using the not inconsiderable talents he was born with, for freeloading on you - and it doesn't help him, Hermione, to keep doing so much of his work for him - it just makes him worse, and his laziness could get him killed. It could get the whole bloody wizarding world killed, if Albus's precious prophecy is true. It's already got Black killed - and much as I hated the bastard, I didn't really wish that on him. I despise Potter for just assuming that people will take potentially fatal risks to save him from the consequences of his own reckless stupidity, and then going all weepy about it afterwards but it still won't stop him doing it again, will it? His parents died for him, and he thinks their sacrifice of so little worth that he goes ahead and risks his stupid neck and gets his godfather killed as well.
"And I don't mean by charging into the Ministry, foolish though that was. Since he sincerely believed Black was being tortured that was understandable, if idiotic. But he knew that his mind was in danger from the, the Dark Lord and he preferred to lie to me and keep the, the continuing invasion of his dreams to himself, not even because he didn't trust me to know but just because he was curious about it. And curiosity, in this case, killed the dog. Thanks to Potter's determination to do every bloody stupid, dangerous thing he can think of without calling in adult assistance, Black is dead and I am - this." He gestured bitterly at the emptiness where his left arm and his legs should be. "Even if I can be something resembling whole in my body again, with Filius's help, I am never going to be whole in my mind - and all of it just to satisfy Potter's fucking curiosity."
"I did say it wasn't accurate, just that that's how he feels about it," Hermione said patiently. "And you are unfair to him. It wasn't just... curiosity." She pulled her knees up and rested her chin on them, gazing at him thoughtfully. "Imagine that you are Harry, for a moment. You know that You-Know-Who is back, and you've had to face him all alone. You tell people, and most of them don't believe it or actively punish you for telling the truth, over and over. Professor Dumbledore won't speak to you or even look at you directly. Nobody in the Order will tell you what's going on. The only news available is from the Daily Prophet, and it's all about you being crazy. You've never needed to be able to defend yourself more, and yet Dolores Umbridge is permitted to remain as the teacher of Defence and nobody else will teach you either. There's a bloody conspiracy to keep you in the dark, when there's an insane madman who wants to murder you and ignorance not only isn't bliss, it's practically murder.
"And then you find out that the nightmares you're having are real, that you actually know what Voldemort is doing sometimes. You know what he's thinking. You finally have a chance at knowing when he'll come after you, maybe even of knowing what he'll do, of not being a sacrificial bloody lamb when the wolf decides to pounce. And then the headmaster who won't even look at you and the teacher who you've never trusted tell you that you have to give that up. You have to go back to being a mushroom, kept in the dark. They want to make you even more helpless, even more ignorant, to keep you in a state of constant terror because you know something's going to happen, you know someone wants to hurt you, but nobody will tell you what's going on. Exactly how cooperative would you have been, at that point? Would you have given up the only way you had of knowing if You-Know-Who was going to come after you, because you were told to by people who you couldn't trust to warn you themselves?
"He was so angry with everyone in fifth year, even me and Ron. He was like a, a tiger in a box, knowing the hunters are outside and all but beating himself senseless against the walls trying to get out, but he couldn't, and nobody would tell him where they were or what was going on, and he just had to sit there and wait for them to get around to killing him...."
"I've spent most of my bloody life waiting for someone to get around to killing me" Snape replied sourly. "But I suppose that at least means I'm used to it. What do you think I was doing but trying to teach him to defend himself? But he refused to learn. Didn't he realize that the channel between himself and - Riddle - was a two-way street: one which the Dark Lord could at any moment come barrelling down like a - like a roaring torrent forcing itself down a brook? I tried to explain the situation to him, as far as Albus would permit, and as far as I dared do with the possibility of That listening in; and if he had only listened and been guided by me I could have taught him how to make that two-way channel one-way only, so that he could hear but not be heard. But he didn't listen to me - he never bloody does."
"Well, no, he doesn't," Hermione said, glad he'd finally got this. "No more than you ever listen to him, really. And of course he wouldn't have understood what you were trying to tell him, you were probably making it too subtle. Harry doesn't understand subtle. He needs things explained in simple terms or he gets confused. I know James was supposed to be some sort of prodigy, but Harry isn't - he really isn't - and you tend to make things too complicated for him. It's not that he's stupid," she added conscientiously. "He's just... uncomplicated. He might grow out of it. But no, I doubt it ever occurred to him that the connection might be two-way, or that there might be any reason besides the vague 'for everyone's safety' for shutting it down. He just doesn't think that way... and he wouldn't tell me most of what was going on, so I couldn't explain it to him."
"He may not be in his mother's league, but as you say, he's not stupid. Is he really just uncomplicated by nature - or is he just too idle to be anything else? Because idle he certainly is - and you don't help matters, Hermione, by spoon-feeding him. It would be different if you insisted on explaining things to him until he understood them, but seeing the remarkable similarity between some of your essays and his I'm sure that at least half the time you just give in and let him copy your work. And that laziness, that tendency to free-load and to look for the easy way out, is going to get him killed - and after spending six years and losing my bloody limbs trying to keep the little bastard alive, I'd take that as a personal affront, and you may tell him I said so. In fact you telling him what I have said might be - productive."
"Oh, believe me, I'll be having a word with him... quite a lot of words, actually, in my most strident tones. Although I won't tell him you said it, because then he'll pout and ignore me. I'll tell him what I think, and remind him precisely how often he's ignored me and been right... not once, as it happens. He'll take it better from me." She grinned ruefully. "He is fundamentally uncomplicated, though... he's been a bit less that way, this year, so I'm hoping it's just that he's a bit young for his age - which he is, he always has been. It can be rather sweet, but it certainly isn't helping to keep him in one piece.
"As for our essays... the similarities aren't always because I let him copy my work. Sometimes it's because he's coaxed me into checking it over for him, and of course I reference my research to correct his. He does at least try to do everything by himself now, though - I put my foot down about letting him and Ron see my work before they'd at least attempted to do it themselves in fourth year. You're right, though, I have to stop helping. It's just hard to resist when they're being cute and coaxy."
"I'm not asking you not to talk to him or the weasel about their homework at all, just - talk them through it and make as certain as you can that they actually understand what you tell them, instead of just nodding their heads and going 'Yeah, yeah Hermione' with that bloody glassy-eyed expression. Think of yourself as my teaching assistant, all right, and damned well teach them. And - I suppose that I sometimes forget that he is very young. He and Longbottom are almost the youngest in their year, just as you are almost the oldest, and sometimes I forget that Potter could as easily be a year lower - just as you could easily be a year higher. And that's not even to consider that adolescent boys tend to be a bit less... mature than their female counterparts in any case." He flashed her one of his there-and-gone smiles. "I know I was. At seventeen I fancied myself as - as some sort of darkly-brooding super-hero: and I suppose I still do!"
He coughed delicately, slightly embarrassed by his own honesty. "Also - I agree, it wouldn't be a good idea to tell him that I said he was lazy and feckless, nor that I blame him for Black's death and for reducing me to... because there's no profit in making him feel even more guilty and miserable than he already does. But I do think you should tell him that I've been bloody-well trying to keep him alive all these years, not to bloody-well kill him, and that it - that I am a real person, with feelings, and that it makes me - angry, to be constantly slapped in the face with his hatred and his scorn for trying to do the best I can for him."
He sighed and smiled at her again, wondering exactly what she found "cute and coaxy", and whether he could manage to do it himself. On him, it would probably just look sinister. "Anyway - what with poor Draco sobbing on my shoulder and the shock of seeing you injured I haven't even had a chance to ask you about the wedding yet."
We were able to do a very fast update on this one because we had most of it written already. Don't get spoilt: the next one will probably take a lot longer! But unless we both get run over by a bus it will be completed, and will run to around 27 chapters.
In fairness to Sirius, he did generally try to give Harry sensible advice and to keep him out of danger - it was only his own safety he was truly careless of. But it was a case of "Don't do as I do, do as I say" and he did rather encourage Harry to model himself on his father - who was nearly as reckless as Sirius himself.
As regards that first, fateful glance between Harry and Snape, if you go to the Artnatomy website and select "APPLICATION", "NATURALISTIC MODEL" and "LEVEL II", and then click on the facial expressions for pain and anger, you will see that they are very similar, except that anger results in a more open eye - but it is of course very difficult to assess the eyes of someone who is wearing glasses and who is some distance away.
I have gone back and made minor changes to chapters #05 (Stone Walls Do Not a Prison Make) and #08 (What Hermione Did Next), after realizing that I had omitted to mention a major Slytherin character. There's no need to go back and re-read the whole chapter (unless you really want to): the changes are as follows:
#05 (after the scene where Pansy and Goyle gatecrash Snape's quarters): The fifteenth visitor was the Bloody Baron, who had once been starved and tortured to death in a dungeon just along the corridor from these very rooms. He drifted through the wall, trailing his bloodstained robes, to hover in the corner, gazing down at his companion in misfortune, his expression unreadable. But then, it generally was.
#08 (during the Christmas scene): And he had always hated Christmas - had felt like the spectre at the feast, the eternal outsider, congenitally unable to unbend enough to join in the ridiculous jollifications, despite Albus's best efforts. Like the Bloody Baron, perhaps, a real spectre at the feast, dour, taciturn and empty-eyed where he hovered half in and half out of the wall - but he could hardly be an outsider at a party at which he was apparently both host and guest of honour
We are told that the Bloody Baron is pale, gaunt and silent with blank, staring eyes, and is dressed in bloodstained robes - but prior to Deathly Hallows we were never told whether it was his blood or someone else's. I think people usually vaguely assumed that he was "bloody" in the sense of "Bloody Jefferies", the infamous "hanging judge": but he seems on the whole to be a force for order and safety at Hogwarts, not a dangerous monster, and the fact that the Baron is given to "groaning and clanking" in the Astronomy Tower suggested to us that he died in pain and in chains, and that he was the victim of an atrocity instead of (or possibly as well as) the perpetrator. This explanation has now been somewhat canon-shafted, but we are fudging it by assuming that the Grey Lady was fantasizing when she said the Baron was her fatal lover.
I forgot to say, in the notes to the last chapter, that the idea that Salazar Slytherin's objection to Muggle-born students was that he thought the Founders were as much kidnapping them as rescuing them was inspired by the drabble Misunderstandings by unlikely2.
One of our readers has suggested that cognitive behavioural therapy would be useful for Snape, or anyone suffering from PTSD, in helping him to control flashbacks and irrational thoughts etc., and hence to feel more in command of himself; although it isn't as important as social support, which he's already got, and anyway it probably wouldn't be possible to arrange it in his case. I've spoken to a friend who is a PTSD expert and his quick response is that although CBT is the most effective treatment (although still not very effective), in his opinion CBT is really just fancy medical-speak for talking it through with somebody steady, with some sensible problem-solving included. I haven't been able to discuss it with him properly because his e-mail address has been "undergoing migration" and has only just come back up - more in-depth comments will have to wait for next time. But he thought that Snape was unlikely to think that he would get anything out of seeing a stranger, however experienced, that he wouldn't get out of talking to Hermione and Minerva in an evironment where he feels safe and comfortable.
[Which is not to say that people with PTSD shouldn't seek treatment, because many people don't have somebody really calm and unshockable to talk it through with, plus with a professional you don't have to feel guilty about imposing on them, because that's what they're paid for.]
This chapter has been re-edited to comply with the new backstory revealed in Deathly Hallows. The main change is that Snape's Patronus is now a solid-looking silver doe, rather than a wavering phoenix, and the conversation about Patronuses has had to be substantially re-written. Other than that, there is more emphasis on the fact that Harry's mother was Snape's friend, and a reference to Sirius having lured Snape to the Shrieking Shack after the underpants incident has been removed.
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