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
Apologies for the long delay in producing this next chapter, but we got held up by problems with Dyce's computer and general RL stuff. Also apologies to those people whose reviews I didn't reply to, but at the moment it's difficult to find more than twenty minutes a week to write in, and I figured you'd probably prefer a new chapter to review-answers.
"Poppy tells my you actually managed to walk quite a long way through the castle before your legs folded, which is great news, leik - and that you've been bloody-well clawing at yourself again, which is a damned-sight less great."
Severus looked down and away, embarrassed by the concern in the younger man's eyes. "I was - disturbed, at the time, and Poppy is a damned gossip."
"Doctors' privilege" Adrian said, settling himself comfortably on the sofa and helping himself to Severus's brandy. "She misses spending time with you, you know."
"I'd have thought she would have seen enough of me to last her a lifetime, since...." He touched his fingertips - the real ones - briefly to the scar which sliced across his cheek.
"It wasn't just professional concern that brought her down here, you daft bugger - she's really fond of you."
"As strange as that may seem. Well, when I am a little more... practised at leaving my rooms, I've no doubt she has plenty of work for me to do in the infirmary. Horace is a competent brewer but he's too lazy to meet Poppy's exacting standards: she likes to have at least a month's-worth of supplies in hand."
"She's a tartar, isn't she?"
"A martinet of the first water," Severus agreed with a fleeting smile.
"I thought that was something to do with horses?" Neville said, emerging with an armload of cloth from what had been Severus's bedroom, Before, and still housed his wardrobe and chest of drawers.
Both men thought about this, frowning, before Adrian gestured widely with the glass in his hand. "I think you mean a martingale."
"That sounds like some sort of bird," Neville said doubtfully. He shook the pair of black trousers and the linen shirt out and performed a quick charm to remove any creases. "Here you are, sir."
"You'll have to help me get into them: I'm still not steady enough to stand on one leg, or deft enough with this" - he gestured vaguely with the prosthetic hand - "to manage buttons." The possibilities for error in using the prosthetic to do up his flies were wince-making, but he was determined to go to the formal house meeting formally dressed; not as-good-as-naked under his robes as he was when sitting around in his own rooms. He was dreading the meeting, frankly, but he found that the students lacked concentration after dinner, so Friday afternoon or a weekend it had to be. And tomorrow half the students would be disappearing off home for the two-week Easter holiday, although his own faithful team of carers and most of his guards would be staying.
As he propelled himself nearly-steadily to his feet, and did his best not to fall as Neville coaxed the trousers over said feet and up his mostly-unreal legs, a small, reminiscent smile tugged at the scarred corners of his mouth, as he remembered a pleasant evening spent demonstrating to Hermione that there were still some things he could perfectly-well manage to do one-handed.
Best not to think about it too - as it were - hard, since it wouldn't do to have an embarrassing reaction while Longbottom was practically eyeball to groin with him; because unfortunately dressing himself was not one of the things he could manage one-handed, even if - "Oh - damn! I don't bloody believe this."
"What is it?"
"Nothing," he muttered, colouring and refusing to meet Adrian's eyes.
"If there's a problem - "
"My bloody pants won't do up, OK? I've been lying around eating my bloody head off for six bloody months and now - it's not that bloody funny, Longbottom."
"You see," Adrian said with a grin, "I told you you needed more exercise."
Severus wondered if Draco had consulted with Hermione on the subject of champions.
When his bodyguard had escorted him into the Slytherin common-room, with Draco hovering at his side and rather obviously trying not to look as if he was poised to grab his godfather's elbow at the first hint of a stumble, he had found the desks and couches all moved to one side, where a small contingent - those he knew to be loyal to Voldemort - lounged with varying degrees of casualness. The rest stood in ranks, smallest to the front and the tallest behind, ranged in front of a small silvery cauldron that bubbled gently over a flickering magical fire burning on the bare stone of the floor - green fire, naturally, and the steam rising from the cauldron smelled of rosemary and dried hound's-tongue, which might be the early stage of any one of at least sixteen different potions. Horace Slughorn stood beside it, for once wearing simple robes instead of ornate velvets and bright colours, his hands folded and his expression positively funereal.
Behind the cauldron a sturdy, plain armchair stood on a circular rug that he hadn't seen before, in Slytherin green but decorated with a pattern of ferns rather than snakes. Draco steered him discreetly towards the chair and moved to stand at his right hand, drawing himself up and tucking his hands behind his back. When Severus looked to his left, Millicent Bulstrode had taken up exactly the same position, and when he turned his head a little further he saw Crabbe and Goyle moving into position behind him. He felt absurdly and touchingly like a feudal lord seated in state, with his loyal - and disloyal - followers come before him. The sensation only increased when Horace moved up to stand beside Draco, playing the Trusted Advisor to the hilt.
It helped, though his hand was still shaking and he had to work to keep his breathing steady. Being out of his rooms, even in a place he knew so well, was unsettling. But he was guarded, he was safe... and he was mortally embarrassed to realize that several of the smaller students (and a few older ones) were in tears, and trying to smile in spite of it, so he was confronted with a sea of small, wobbly, damp faces that were as far from frightening as anything could be just now, for him.
Pansy Parkinson stepped forward, out of the middle of the group, and he had to clear his throat of a bubbling mix of sentiment and laughter when he saw that she had decided to honour the occasion by wearing Muggle clothing, as Draco did. She hadn't gone so far as to don trousers, but the blue dress showed a lot more leg than any robe ever did, and her calves were the focus of some fairly intense interest among the fourth and fifth year boys.
She ignored them, folding her hands before her and standing very straight. "We are glad to see you, sir," she said quietly, inclining her head. Behind her, a soft murmur of assent rose, with the glares of the small faction of would-be Death Eaters a minor counterpoint at best. "We've missed you - not that Professor Slughorn isn't filling in quite well, of course."
"Well, that puts me in my place, doesn't it?" Horace said cheerfully. "Oh, don't worry, my dear, I quite understand. I'm a stranger to all of you, and of course you want your own Head of House back."
Severus gave him an alarmed look. "Horace, I am hardly in any position to resume - "
"Of course, of course... but they do favour you, dear boy." Horace showed brief signs of becoming sentimental, but thankfully he shook it off, turning brisk again. "Now. As I believe you know, Slytherin House is unfortunately divided at the moment. Miss Parkinson has... ah... volunteered to speak for the contingent who support you openly."
"She announced she was going to do it and nobody dared argue," Draco muttered out of the corner of his mouth. Draco was looking worryingly pleased with himself.
Pansy lifted her upturned nose slightly higher in the air, and Horace hurried on. "Miss Parkinson's group have expressed a firm allegiance to you personally, and are willing to be guided by your... political affiliations. Mr Zabini on the other hand has been asked to represent those who have so far refused to take sides. His faction is, I believe, in the majority at the moment."
Blaise Zabini stepped forward, as the ranks of students parted, so that the bulk were standing behind Blaise, with a clear gap between them and the "open supporters" who moved to stand behind Pansy. "Sir," Blaise said mildly, giving Severus a small nod.
"Mr Zabini." Not wanting to leave her out, since her greeting had been much the warmer, Severus nodded to Pansy as well. "Miss Parkinson."
"Mr Battersby has asked to represent those students who have always actively opposed He Who Must Not Be Named, and had never previously supported you because they believed your loyalties lay with that camp." Horace gestured. "Move along, there."
This group was even smaller than that of the would-be Death Eaters - about a dozen all told, mostly those whom Severus knew to be openly or secretly from mixed-blood families. Billy Battersby stepped forward, clearing his throat nervously. "Hello, sir," he whispered, not quite managing to look Severus in the eye.
"Mr Battersby." Severus took what he hoped would be a calming breath. It was, so far, going better than he'd hoped. There had been no shouting or accusations, and everything seemed quite... organized. He hadn't expected that.
"Those who choose to openly declare their allegiance to He Who Must Not Be Named have not yet agreed on a representative - "
"I'll do it." A tall sixth year stood and stepped forward. Liam Bennet, an icily reserved young man who had never opened up to his Head of House. "As the most senior, since Daphne was... lost to us."
The other three groups had moved up in silent support of their representatives. Bennet's back should by rights be bleeding, with all those knife-edged glares boring into it. He didn't greet Severus, just folded his arms and stared straight ahead.
"Er... would anyone like to go first?" Horace said, obviously realizing halfway through the sentence that offering that kind of opening to more than a hundred and fifty squabbling students was foolish in the extreme.
"Can I... um... say something?" Battersby spoke up quickly, while Pansy's mouth was still opening. "Please?"
Pansy blinked and nodded. "You may go first."
Severus saw Bennet's eyes narrow, and restrained his own nervous smirk. First point to Miss Parkinson, snatching control of the meeting neatly out of Horace's grasp.
"I wanted to... I mean, we wanted to...." Battersby shifted awkwardly, finally managing to look Severus in the eyes. "We want to say we're sorry, sir," he said in a small voice. "For... for not treating you very well. We didn't know, and we're all very sorry that you g-got hurt."
Severus cleared his throat. "I do understand, Mr Battersby," he said awkwardly. "No more need be said on the subject."
"Yes, sir." Battersby's nerve seemed to fail, and he stared at his shoes. Millicent Bulstrode was giving him a distinctly approving look, though.
"May I speak?" Zabini drawled, glancing at Pansy. An alliance there, if Severus was any judge. Zabini and Pansy had always got along reasonably well, and Zabini wasn't much of an organizer.
Pansy nodded. "By all means," she said sweetly, taking control of the meeting a little more firmly.
Zabini nodded. "We have our reasons for not choosing sides in this war," he said coolly. "I, for one, have no greater desire to see Dumbledore in power than He Who Must Not Be Named, nor do I want to be involved in this pointless struggle between two old men who should have died long ago."
Millicent snorted. "You never did have much in the way of balls, Zabini."
"That's all right, Bulstrode, you're man enough for both of us," Zabini sneered elegantly. "However, my political allegiance and my House allegiance are not the same thing. While I will not take a side in the war, as a member of House Slytherin I acknowledge Professor Snape as my Head of House. I will offer him the respect and loyalty due him as the holder of that worthy position." He quirked an eyebrow elegantly at Pansy. "In this I speak for the undecided. He is our Head of House, and in that capacity we will obey his wishes and offer him no threat or harm. Will that do?"
"Will you defend him against anyone else who will do him threat or harm?" Pansy asked, folding her arms and matching Zabini stare for stare.
"Some will, some won't." Zabini shrugged, glancing over at Bennet and his group. "But we won't interfere when you do, that we're all willing to agree on."
Bennet snorted. "You might at least try not to sound as if you've been rehearsing this," he said, contempt marring what might under other circumstances have been a handsome face.
Pansy smirked. "Honestly, Bennet, how do you expect to rise in the ranks of You-Know-Who's supporters if you can't even manage a simple manoeuvre like forming your alliances before the confrontation?"
"Well, to give him his due, it's not as if anyone was going to ally with them anyway," Zabini said mildly. "Still, you might have at least tried, Bennet. I would have listened to any offers you were willing to make. I wouldn't have taken them, of course, but I would have listened."
"And he calls himself a Slytherin." Pansy shook her head sadly. "Battersby?"
"Oh, we're with you, Miss Parkinson!" Battersby said quickly. "He's a hero, after all. Now that we know, we'll be proud to pledge our loyalty."
"Good boy." Pansy smirked, clearly enjoying the admiring "Miss Parkinson". "As for you, Bennet, your position is insecure, and getting more so by the minute."
He shrugged. "We don't really care. When the Dark Lord finally defeats Dumbledore and his precious Boy Who Lived, he'll know we were loyal."
An angry murmur rippled through the larger group, even Blaise giving Bennet a filthy look.
"Brave words, Mr Bennet," Severus said, trying to sound calm and controlled instead of desperately nervous. "For your sake, I hope that the Dark Lord never knows of your loyalty. It his nature to distrust loyalty, and to test it to breaking point." He gestured to himself, in all his ruined glory, and shrugged slightly. "And you know what he is capable of if one should fail those tests."
"I know what he is capable of if he is betrayed." Bennet's eyes never flickered.
Pansy had planned this carefully.
She'd approached Zabini with an offer as soon as she was sure the meeting would take place. She and Blaise had never been exactly close, but they'd known each other for a long time, well enough for a certain amount of trust between them. She trusted Blaise to carefully consider his own best interests, and he trusted her to be able to manipulate the situation in her favour.
Battersby had been easy. He was a sentimental kid, already all teary over how he'd misjudged Professor Snape. She'd offered him a chance to "make it up" to the Professor and he'd followed her lead as meek as a little lamb. She couldn't imagine how the kid ever got into Slytherin.
Now she watched Bennet, frowning a little. She hadn't even known who would eventually speak for the pro-Dark Lord faction, so she hadn't been able to make a proper plan for dealing with them. And she didn't like the way he was sneering at Professor Snape, who looked as if he was tired and strained and trying to hide it.
Millie obviously didn't like it, either. "Shut your face, Bennet," she snarled, shifting forward just a little.
Pansy's opinion of Bennet's intelligence dropped further when he completely failed to back off. No sane person would actually try to challenge Millie - especially when she was backed up by Crabbe and Goyle - without substantial backing of his own. But instead of retreating with appropriate caution, he actually lifted his chin defiantly. "Make me."
"I'll - "
"Miss Bulstrode," Professor Snape said quietly.
Millie shifted back to her place, still glaring at Bennet. On the Professor's other side, Draco had moved up as well, one hand hovering unobtrusively near the pocket holding his wand.
"What were you going to do?" Bennet ignored the Professor, looking Millie up and down with a sneer. "Beat me up? I'm sure you could. You look like you're at least part ogre - "
Millie scowled, and Crabbe actually growled. "That's enough, Bennet," Draco said frostily.
"Or what?" Bennet glared. "I don't think you quite understand the situation here, Malfoy. We see no reason to obey the traitor, and certainly not you. You may have us outnumbered, but what will you do to us? Send us to Coventry? We have no desire to speak with you anyway. Give us detentions or lines? We won't do them. Try to force us into line with curses?" He shook his head. "That ends in blood on the walls of the dormitories... or worse."
Severus drew a deep, unsteady breath, clutched hard at the arm of the chair and jerked himself to his feet. Ignoring Draco's anxious hover he took a step towards Bennet, and another, trying his damnedest to make his jerking gait look like an intimidating stalk instead of the imminent collapse it felt like. He could hear the drawn breaths as everyone in the room watched his progress in silent awe or unease, and his own sense of the dramatic rose up like a dark tide and steadied his shaking nerves.
It was Sod's Law that Bennet would be taller than him, so that he couldn't loom at him effectively, but he thrust his sharp face forwards and fixed the boy with his best gimlet-like, black-eyed stare. "Mr Bennet," he said softly, and was darkly pleased to see Bennet straining to hold himself as far away from him as he could get without actually taking a step back. "You have allied yourself openly with the forces of violence and murder, and those who live by the sword shall die by it. You cannot expect that your opponents will treat you with a restraint which your allies would not show to them, and you are greatly outnumbered. Your safety so far has depended on my authority, but in my current state of health I cannot guarantee to be able to continue to protect you. If it comes to blood on the walls, it will be yours."
Bennet opened his mouth to speak, then shut it again with an expression of mulish defiance. After a moment his eyes shifted aside uneasily. "Professor Slughorn - " he began.
"Oh, don't look at me," Horace replied in a suspiciously cheerful tone. "I'm just an old man who should have retired to a life of peaceful reminiscence long since: if it comes to open warfare I wouldn't know where to start."
Severus rubbed tiredly at the bridge of his nose, trying to push back the thumping headache which he could feel building up like a thundercloud. "We do have a duty to protect all the children, Horace," he said sternly: "even those of whose politics we disapprove." It was true, and it also had the added benefit of publicly downgrading Bennet from threat to threatened and from enemy to client.
"You're right, of course," Horace said chattily. "Ideally one would like to be able to protect all members of Slytherin House equally...."
"Ideal or not," Severus said shortly, intentionally ignoring Bennet as he turned about in a swish of robes that blew across the boy like a physical dismissal, and taking the three strides back to the chair in time to sit down before he fell down, "we are contractually and ethically obliged to do our best to protect all students, unless their conduct is so extreme as to make them the Ministry's problem rather than ours." He winced inwardly, thinking about Greengrass, surely on her way to a one-way ticket to Azkaban.
As he lowered himself carefully into the chair and turned back to face the students, he glowered at Bennet and the other Voldemort supporters. "Nevertheless, a sensible person doesn't push his luck."
Severus couldn't quite see what Nott was dropping into the cauldron, but he saw the sudden cloud of pale green steam, and heard the whispered chant. It wasn't a potion he was familiar with personally, but it struck him as familiar all the same. By the archaic Latin, something very old indeed....
He recognized it as Nott stepped away and Pansy took his place, wielding a slender silver needle. No potion he'd ever made, nor ever thought to - it wasn't so much a potion as a particularly complex ink, a component of a larger spell.
Draco stepped forward, giving Severus a reassuring smile as he let out a faint noise of protest. Draco held out his right hand, palm down, and cleared his throat. "Being a member of Slytherin House, and owning Professor Severus Snape as the true and rightful Head of that House, I hereby swear honour and fealty to him for so long as he may live."
Pansy dipped the needle into the boiling potion, and with one swift movement drove it into the back of his hand. Draco winced slightly, but he didn't move as Pansy withdrew the needle and dipped it in the potion again, adding Draco's blood to the mixture.
Draco moved back to his place, rubbing the back of his hand. As he assumed his position again, he turned the hand towards Severus. The green ink was still spreading under the skin, outlining a slender hound, the traditional representation of loyalty.
Severus felt the chill shock pass through him like a jolt of electricity. Automatic, unbidden, his hand - the real one - moved to grasp at the place on the prosthetic arm where the Dark Mark had once been, but a slight movement caught his eye and he looked up rather wildly to see Horace watching him with steady concern. As he caught the older man's eye, his former Head of House shook his head almost imperceptibly.
Deep breath, deep breath.... "The Fides Nota," Severus said quietly, dropping his gaze and forcing himself to speak normally through a suddenly dust-dry mouth as Millicent Bulstrode moved towards the cauldron.
"Yes," Draco said, looking embarrassed and very proud of himself. "After Greengrass, and the infighting... we wanted you to know, really know, who could be trusted and who couldn't. Longbottom got us the herbs and things."
The Fides Nota - literally, the Mark of Fidelity. It hadn't been in common use for centuries, and he was surprised that any of his students had ever heard of it. Containing as it did the blood of the person so marked, it could not be magically fooled. As long as the person wearing it held to his or her oath, whatever it might have been, the tattoo would bear witness. Any betrayal of that vow, and the mark would vanish forever. A proper Fides Nota couldn't be faked, and no two batches would produce exactly the same image. If any member of his guard violated their oath of fealty - and he really must have words with Hermione about giving Draco these feudal ideas! - it would be immediately apparent.
When his guard had made their oaths, Zabini stepped up next. He offered not his hand but his arm, sleeve rolled up to the elbow, glancing sidelong at Severus as he did so. "Being a member of Slytherin House, and acknowledging Professor Severus Snape as the duly appointed head of that noble House, I swear that I will offer him no injury nor offense, nor aid another in doing him harm, until such time as I leave this school and this House behind me."
Pansy nodded, not quite approvingly, and jabbed the needle into his lean forearm. Zabini turned to show the spreading lines of ink along his arm to Severus and his guard, and then stepped back to his group.
Battersby was next, holding out a chubby hand. "Being a member of Slytherin House, but very opposed to He Who Must Not Be Named and all his works, I do solemnly swear my loyalty to Professor Severus Snape, for so long as he opposes He Who Must Not Be Named in our great struggle," he said, with the kind of big-eyed sincerity that only the very young could do convincingly.
Then the three groups merged to form a line, each student approaching the cauldron in turn. Most repeated the oaths made by the leaders of their factions, some had variations of their own. When the twelfth attempted to approach, Pansy shook her head. "No Firsties, Daventry. I told you all that."
Daventry, a minuscule scrap with tufty blond hair, scowled. "But - "
"No. Out of the line."
He sighed and plodded over to one side, where the other first-years were gathering. They were mostly strangers to Severus, of course, but he recognized families in some of those small faces. Daventry, for example, had two older sisters. Perhaps they had told their brother some good of their ill-tempered head of house.
The thirty-first, a fourth-year girl with dark hair, made her oath and offered her forearm. Pansy plied her needle, and the girl stepped back... and then clutched her arm. "Ow!"
Crabbe stepped forward, taking hold of her arm and turning it ungently towards him. "It hasn't taken on this one," he reported after a moment. "Not a drop of green."
"Knew we'd get at least one," Pansy said smugly. "Nice try, Stroud. Over with the opposed."
Stroud glared at her, then spat out a curse and marched over to the small cluster of Voldemort's loyalists.
"Nice for us to all know where we stand, isn't it?" Pansy said sweetly. "Next!"
Excluding the first years, one hundred and seventeen students took their oaths of varying degrees of loyalty. Five more "failed"... three who took their places with the opposed, and two who refused, on the basis that while they were perfectly willing to sell their loyalty to the highest bidder, that bid had not yet been received.
When the last hand, forearm, shoulder or (in one case) nape had been suitably marked, Pansy dipped the needle one last time. "Being a member of Slytherin House, and owning Professor Severus Snape as the true and rightful Head of that House, I hereby swear honour and fealty to him for so long as he may live - and moreover, that any person who violates the oaths made this night will be dealt with as harshly as my abilities permit." She lifted one foot, and drove the needle firmly into her ankle. Green ink spread to outline a hound that Severus could have sworn looked pleased with itself, as it turned about on the spot and settled into position.
"There," she said, laying the needle carefully aside. "Now we all know where we stand."
"Yes." Severus blinked at them all, feeling heavy and troubled and lulled almost asleep by the sweet aromatic scent of rosemary - rosemary for remembrance. "The lines of alliance and allegiance have been drawn and made public. And for those of you who have chosen to ally yourselves with me, my - " command, but he wouldn't say command - "my instruction is that those lines are not to become lines of battle, and that means, Miss Bulstrode, no offensive hexes unless the other side hit you first." He looked at Bennet's offensively smug face, wavering in the heat haze from the cauldron, and thought about what a would-be Death Eater might be capable of on a first strike. "I leave it to your own judgement, however, to distinguish between offensive and defensive hexes. Within reason."
There: that should ensure that the blasted girl didn't actually maim anybody for life....
"Horace, I can't - I don't know if I can cope with this. Why - why did you agree to it?"
"Because I am at least as worried about your safety as you are, my boy - probably more so. And just because... Riddle uses a charmed mark to control his followers, doesn't mean all charmed marks are evil. He uses a wand but you aren't going to forego yours."
"That's not - not the point."
"Don't worry, godfa'," Draco said, giving the older man's arm a reassuring pat; "you don't have what it takes to be an Evil Overlord."
"Oh thanks. If I'd known what you were going to do I would have stopped you at once."
"That's why I didn't warn you in advance," his godson replied frankly. "I knew that once we'd got the thing started, you wouldn't undermine my authority within the student body by aligning yourself against me in front of them."
Severus raised both eyebrows. "Don't you mean, Miss Parkinson's authority?"
"I thought you should know," Filius said quietly, "that Miss Patil and Miss Greengrass have been remanded in custody in the Ministry holding cells until - until the Ministry decides what to do about a trial."
Severus nodded sourly. "I suppose it's an advance that they're actually planning to hold a trial, even though...."
Filius patted his knee gently. "I'm sure they'll be able to arrange for you to give evidence via mirror-talk, if - if they need you to."
"Yes." Severus could feel the shudder starting in his stomach, threatening to develop into a full-scale fit of the shakes. He remembered the holding cells, remembered rolling and scrabbling in the dust as smiling Aurors subjected him to round after round of Ministry-sanctioned Crucio, bruises and broken bones and the darkness and despair of Azkaban, waiting for weeks to see if Dumbledore would or could convince the Wizengamot to release him, as the spectre at the door forced him to relive every horror in his head over and over again. At least the Aurory no longer openly tortured suspects, and Azkaban was Dementor-free by default.
"Oh God, Filius, this wasn't - wasn't what we planned when we watched them being Sorted, was it? The parents - " Alexander and Roberta Greengrass might be Death Eater sympathisers but they were no worse than thousands of slightly stupid, slightly snobbish pureblood families and they had surely never planned to see their only daughter thrown into Azkaban at seventeen, there to linger for whatever remained of her life, where they would never even be allowed to visit her or speak to her ever again until she died, and their only hope for her would be that that death would come soon. "Stupid, stupid - !"
Filius shook his head wordlessly, his eyes brimming with tears, then cleared his throat. "Miss Patil - Parvati that is - I saw her yesterday and she'd hacked her hair off short with a knife I suppose she - she wants not to be like her sister either."
"All over me," Severus said bitterly, "and was it bloody worth it?"
"You mustn't blame yourself for what they chose to do to you, really you mustn't."
"Mustn't I? But Greengrass was right, I pretended to be on their side and all the time I was betraying them, it's not surprising that they should hate me, is it? If I had been more honest, not a, a creeping spy - "
"...then Harry and I and all the rest of them would have been killed at the Ministry," Luna said brightly, looking up from her essay on the uses of rongorongo in heavy-duty levitation spells. "We needed you to creep, really we did."
"And I suppose I've been bloody well-punished for it, haven't I?"
"Never, never think that you deserved what happened," Filius said soberly. "And I could wish that Padma's motives had been as serious-minded as Daphne's, but I'm afraid that to her you were just - a prop in her teenage rebellion."
"She always was rather a silly, vain girl," Luna said firmly. "Everybody was just a prop to her, or a mirror."
After practising Legilimency with him several times, Hermione found that she now had a "feel" for Severus all the time; could tell what he was feeling, at least to some extent. The slightest disturbance would wake her now, as attuned to his night-time terrors as she was, so it was no surprize when the sound of his soft, low, repeated cries roused her from half-sleep to find him turning his head restlessly, his eyes tightly shut and his lips skinned back from his teeth in his distress.
"Severus - love - come on. Wake up now...." But he seemed unable to hear her, and when she tentatively touched his shoulder he yelped and cowered away as if her touch had burned him.
"Severus," she tried again, pitching her voice low and soothing as she sat up and gazed anxiously down at him. "It's just a nightmare, love, it's all right, I'm here...." But her voice didn't seem to reach him, and she bit her lip, wondering if she should try touching him again.
Still apparently asleep he groaned and arched his back, trying to twist away from something. Hermione tried again, resting her fingers very lightly on his side, but he jumped and convulsed at even that slight contact and his eyes flew open, staring wildly at something only he could see.
Hermione summoned light with her wand, conjuring pink and blue flames as well as yellow ones to the candles near the bed. Light and colour were always worth a try, and at least his eyes were open now. "It's all right, Severus," she said gently. Instead of touching him, she tried hitching the blankets up around him, continuing to murmur comfort and reassurance in the hopes that some of it would get through. But he only shook his head, whether at her or at something in his mind's eye she couldn't tell, and gave a low wail; then abruptly arched up again as tight as a bow and screamed, shrilly, more like a child than a grown man. As he collapsed back out of the arc of pain his eyes focused on Hermione and for a moment she hoped that she had reached him, but in the next moment he struck out at her in panic: she jerked out of the path of the blow and he shrieked again and tried to scramble away from her, cringing, pressing himself against the head of the bed and shaking as tears of misery and terror ran down his face.
Hermione slid out of the bed hastily, biting her lip hard. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry... it's all right, it is, it's all right...." She whispered a charm, careful to keep the wand out of his sight, to warm the room. Warmth, light, colour... what else, what else, there had to be something else she could do. "You're safe, now, it's going to be all right...."
But nothing she could do or say seemed to make any difference, she could do nothing to break through his panic hysteria as he jumped convulsively again and overbalanced to lie sprawled on his side in a loose curl, as white as the pillow under him, his eyes wide-open but blinded as he shook and wept until he gasped for breath, jerking and whimpering under unseen remembered blows.
"It was - it was horrible Severus, I had to call Rinna and get her to fetch Madam Pomfrey to sedate you and even then you kept crying and crying and I just - couldn't help you, I was - " She gulped and looked down at the floor miserably. "I was useless. There just - you were so scared, and there wasn't anything I could do to help you. Nothing at all."
The object of her concern gazed at her wearily from what felt like a great distance - made all the fuzzier by the lingering effects of Poppy's sedative-of-choice. His own attempt to sedate himself with cowslip wine the night before had sent him to sleep all right, but to no easy rest.
He knew that in the dream-memory he had been sobbing with hunger and exhaustion as much as pain, that he had cried for sleep and been permitted none, and the warmth and safety of his own bed in his own room made him feel as if his bones had turned to water. Half his mind was taken up with wonder at the crisp lightness of the clean sheets which had replaced the sweat-soaked linen of the night, at the little bubble of physical and emotional comfort which had pushed the howling darkness aside for another day, but he drew an unsteady breath and dragged himself back into focus for her sake. "Listen to me, Hermione," he said softly. "Listen."
He reached out rather tentatively and tilted her chin up with his long fingers. "Having flashbacks is - dreadful, but sometimes what I remember is, is not so...." He paused and jerked his head in irritation, trying to jolt himself into clarity through the lingering haze of sedation.
"You know that when I was - there, in That Place, there was nothing of which I could be unaware. I wasn't permitted to miss a single bloody second of my own - piecemeal destruction, and when I was - when I was brought to the hospital wing I was still... agonizingly awake. Hyper-aware. I couldn't comprehend what was going on around me, but even so - even so, lying in the dark in that bloody storeroom for however long it was, I was mad with pain but at least there was nobody shouting, pawing, jeering, at least it was steady pain, I wasn't being hounded, driven into this insane panic any more and so when I - when they brought me to Poppy, even though I can't - can't - " His dark eyes had dilated into utter blackness, and Hermione felt the tremor in his fingers as he mastered himself again.
"Even though now, looking back," he went on quietly, after he had regained control of his breathing, "I can hardly comprehend how much it all hurt, and even though whatever I had left of a conscious mind was just - subsumed in suffering, still I wasn't completely panic-stricken any more and three things did manage to reach me. Three things I almost understood.
"The third thing was Adrian, touching me without hurting, easing the pain and that - ridiculous, comfortable Geordie accent telling me that I was still a man and not a thing and that everything would be all right. The second thing was Minerva, ordering me to keep breathing in that schoolmarm manner as if I was eleven again, and promising me that my agony had term and limit and would soon be over.
"But the first thing -" He took a deep breath and gave her the faintest and wryest of smiles. "The first thing was you, that - hard, aluminium-bright voice taking charge and the tone of it still set my teeth on edge, even after - but I thought Granger, Granger knows what she's doing, if she's got her bossy voice on then I'm in safe hands. That - strident, managing voice of yours was the first - the first shred of respite or comfort I'd had for four interminable months of agony and, and shame. You were my safety then, and now."
She sniffed, her lip quivering a little, and hugged him gently, cradling him lovingly close to her. "I was scared out of my wits," she admitted quietly. "You were so badly hurt, and nobody seemed to know what to do. But then I knew what needed to be done, even if I couldn't do it, so I... well, arranged it. It just... doesn't feel like enough now, though. I love you, and I want to help, and it drives me mad that there are things that can't just be fixed. I know they can't, and I understand why, but..." She managed a small laugh. "I'm used to being able to fix things, to understand them or at least explain them... lessons, homework, Neville's fears, Harry's ongoing problems with coping with people, that sort of thing... and it's so frustrating when something comes up that I can't fix or help, because I'm not used to it. And it's worse when it's something that hurts you, because I think I could honestly give up my own left hand if it would make things right for you, and yet all I can do is try to comfort you when the nightmares come, and I can't even do that always...."
He laughed against her shoulder, feeling himself held as closely as if he was something valuable. "Foolish girl - you do so much more than that." She felt him sigh and shiver in her arms. "The worst part - the worst thing in the nightmares isn't the pain it's the - knowing myself to be this worthless, dirty - just a, an empty thing for them to use - that way - without any rights over my own body, without any boundaries I can hold against them because if I try they'll just smash me in harder like a hollow porcelain doll when you hit it with a club which looks horribly - phallic - and it's staved in, it breaks into ten thousand worthless pieces that can never be whole and then I wake up and this - bright, brave girl half my age is holding me in her arms and I can't imagine what I ever did to deserve such a wonderful gift. And she wants me to want her as if - as if what I wanted or didn't want counted for something."
His voice dropped to a shaken whisper. "And when I'm awake - when I'm awake and everybody is treating me like a martyred hero and I know that I'm only faking being a man and really I'm just that crawling, violated thing and I always will be, you make me feel that maybe I'm wrong, that if somebody so - admirable still admires me then maybe I can be a real person again someday, and maybe struggling through the nightmares and trying to stay sane instead of giving in and being what they made me be isn't a totally pointless exercise - that there's some sound reason for keeping going, other than a bloody-minded determination to annoy Lucius. Not," he added, in a sharper and more composed voice, "that annoying Lucius isn't a worthwhile goal in itself, of course."
"A very worthwhile goal," she whispered, pressing her lips to the top of his head. "And oh, I have always believed that killing people was wrong but I will so gladly make an exception for that man if he is in my hands, that I promise you. For hurting you so, for making you believe that you could be tainted by someone so beneath you, so unworthy even to consider himself your equal!" She held him a little tighter, rocking the small, automatic rock that all mothers or nurses learn quickly. "I... don't know if you've thought of this, or if it's any comfort, but there is at least one part of you they could not touch or take away," she said softly. "I know they did hurt your mind as well as your body, it can't be otherwise... but your intellect is exactly as it always was. Your brilliance, your learning... that is yours and yours alone, untouched and undamaged." It would comfort her, she thought, and she wanted desperately to find something to make this less hurtful for him.
He made a small sound which was trying to be a laugh. "Oh, with Pettigrew, some of the others - especially Grab and Coil Senior! - while I still had enough mind left to be aware of anything except pain I could think - I did think - 'It doesn't matter what you do to me, you'll still be ignorant and thick and I'll still be better than you.' But Lucius - Lucius had me already undermined from long ago - he made sure I'd have no defences against him and he could just pick up where he - left off."
She smoothed his hair, kissing the top of his head again. "He is... oh, I don't know words bad enough for what he is," she said fiercely. "That pompous, selfish, cowardly poser.... You're worth a hundred of him, Severus, and when I think of him daring to think he had the right to hurt you...." She realized she might be holding on a bit too tightly, and relaxed her grip to hug him more gently, but still very close. "Oh, I wish I could show him to himself as he really is. That would be a fitting punishment... to know how small and petty and worthless he really is, and that everyone knows it but him." She made a thoughtful noise. "I'll go look in the library tomorrow, I'm sure there has to be some way to do it."
"That would be - poetic, if you can do it. But he thinks he has a right to hurt me because I gave him permission, long ago, and he knows he can break me like a bloody straw because he knows I know he knows I really am the fucking damned whore he says I am, because I sold myself to him when I was twelve for a pat on the head and the slim chance of some scrap of protection against bloody Black and bloody, bloody Potter."
Hermione tensed, leaning back to stare down at him in shock. "When you were twelve?" she whispered, horrified. "You mean... oh, no...." He tensed in turn, looking away from her with that dreadful guilty, shamed expression, and she hugged him close. "Oh, love, I'm so sorry..." she murmured, rocking him a little. "I knew it had been bad for you, but I didn't know it was that bad... but you were only twelve! You were so far below the age of consent that it's not funny, you can't have known what you were getting into.... I mean, I was twelve when I started hanging around with Harry and Ron, and bribing them to keep liking me by doing their homework for them, and do you think I deserved to be attacked by basilisks and three-headed dogs and giant chess-men and everything just because the only people I could find willing to look out for me were complete and utter twits?"
He laughed a little at that - he could never not laugh at somebody being rude about Potter. "In fairness Lucius was a child himself, or little more than - he was seventeen. And I did have at least some idea of what I was getting into: a lot of boys - a lot of boys had these sort of relationships, whether they grew up gay or straight, and it was just - it was just something you did, and I was just at that stupid age for getting same-sex crushes and he was - beautiful, and I was so amazed that anyone, let alone someone so - dazzling could find me remotely attractive that I let him turn me into his catamite - his creature."
"You are not," she said firmly. "Look at me!" When he did so she held his eyes and, as habit now, lowered her Occlumantic shields so that he might see the belief behind her words if he chose. "Seventeen is well old enough to know better - not even that - Cormac would go after someone that much younger. He tricked you, Severus, he took advantage of you, and that is not your fault. He just wanted you to think it was, because that's what they all do. It's a common trait, among abusers, especially those who abuse children. They do all they can to convince their victims that it's their fault, that they deserve it, because then they won't dare to tell anyone, and it can go on forever.
"And it's a lie, but like all the best lies, it has a tiny grain of truth in it... they can usually get the victim's consent for something, like your wanting protection, and then they twist it all around to make the poor kid think that that means they agreed to everything, which makes it their fault...." She trailed off, and smiled a bit ruefully. "I did some reading. Some research. My mum sent me some Muggle books about helping adult survivors of, erm, sexual assault, since wizards don't seem to want to admit things like this even exist, and they included a lot of stuff about child-abuse."
"Do I dare ask whether you told your mother why you wanted the books? Oh, don't worry - I suppose it doesn't matter. In some ways it's easier to have people know - then I don't have to keep pretending to be sane all the time when I don't feel it."
"Don't worry: I told mum there wasn't anything on the subject in the library, and that Madam Pomfrey was sure to need them sooner or later. Which was entirely true, and it's perfectly in character for me to decide that what we need around here is more books about anything and everything... and I don't like to worry her if I can avoid it. It's bad enough she knows there's a war on and I'm in the middle of it."
"But real life is so much messier than books. I did consent, more or less - I mean, I don't think I ever truly desired him, I wasn't old enough to know what desire felt like except in that dreamy, silly way you girls felt about Gilded-Boy, but I was just so flattered that he would take an interest in something like me."
He gave a sudden wild laugh which even he realized sounded slightly cracked. "And now his son has taken an oath of fealty - to me! - and that just feels so...." He could feel the laughter threatening to turn into something much darker, his mouth twisting into a bitter line as the old pain tried to claw its way out of his throat. "By the time I realized that what Lucius wanted was power, that I wasn't going to be given the option of refusing and that my trying to refuse just made him more determined to have me it was too late - I was too ashamed to tell anybody, because they all knew I had consented, at first. Him and his - friends that he let - They know that I consented. That was part of why they - they were angry that I wouldn't still.... That I refused them. As an adult. So they took...." He looked down, grimacing. "When they had the chance. Said-said it was all I was good for - all I'd ever been good for."
Hermione frowned in concentration and touched his cheek gently, coaxing him to look up. "Severus... I can imagine how you could. I was... miserable, in first year, and horribly lonely a lot of the time, and if someone had... had seemed to want me, even Lockhart, I don't know for certain that I would have refused. I didn't have anyone really after me, the way you did with Harry's dad, but still...." She shuddered. "God, that's a nasty thought. And of course, the one person I absolutely never would have dared to tell would have been you - I wanted so badly for you to approve of me, and I never, ever would have let you find out I'd done something so bloody stupid."
"I never wanted Lily to find out," he answered with the ghost of a sigh, "and she - didn't."
"If it had happened," Hermione said slowly, struck by a thought, "and you had found out, would you have blamed me? Thought less of me because I was lonely and unhappy and someone took advantage of it?"
He met her eyes then, frowning. "I would have thought that you had been, as you so kindly put it, 'bloody stupid' - but being bloody stupid is an occupational hazard at that age so no, I wouldn't have thought any less of you for it. And I would have made sure that the person who - 'took advantage' - was expelled immediately, and that their parents knew why.
"I can see what you're doing, you know," he said with a sigh, "and you're right - it probably isn't logical of me to blame myself for having been so - gormless. Twelve is a gormless age, especially in boys. But it's difficult when you - when everybody, all your life - nearly everybody, anyway - tells you you're bad and, and dirty, and 'you should be ashamed'. It's hard not to believe it. And - part of me might have blamed you, even though it would be stupid and irrational to do so - if I had seen myself in you."
He broke eye-contact very deliberately and looked down and to the side, speaking in a whisper. "I hated you, you know. It's a terrible admission, so - stupid and petty, to hate a child, for something that wasn't even her own doing. But you were so like me at that age in so many ways, and as I loathed myself so I loathed you. And although you were so like me, you had so many things I had never had and knew that I would never have - parents who loved you and who could afford to provide for you, friends, support - and you were turning into a swan as I watched, and I knew that I would never be anything except - ugly. I was eaten up with envy every time I looked at you. But you were such a little scrap of a thing, like a poodle-puppy - if somebody had actually physically hurt you I would have thought it was - disgraceful. In them, not in you. Contrary to popular belief, I am not an especially violent man - but I might have made an exception."
She sniffled, kissing the top of his head. "Thank you," she said softly. "I don't blame you, for hating me. I wish I'd known then that it wasn't my fault... I admired you so much, you see, and I wanted you to approve of me and you just wouldn't... but I don't blame you a bit. I don't like remembering my first year, either, and mine was far happier than yours.
"And... I've had a few daydreams, you know, about what it would have been like if we'd been at school together. I would have had a desperate crush on you the moment you put your hand up in class, you know - I've so rarely met someone who can actually keep up with me, immodest as that sounds. To find someone who actually enjoyed the reading as much as I did, who was a fellow scruffy little swot... I wish I had been there... although a scruffy Gryffindor following you around might not have helped much. But I might have been able to help, and you must have needed someone so badly." She touched his cheek, coaxing him to look at her. "I would have fallen just as hard for you then as I did now," she told him seriously. "And if I had known a tenth of what you were going through, I would have charged in to fight for you - probably whether you wanted me to or not. I'm not prone to acting without thinking, usually, but when someone I care about gets hurt...."
He gave her an affectionate squeeze, as far as he was able to with one hand, and then disengaged himself gently from her grasp and lowered himself awkwardly down to lie back against the pillows, gazing up at her seriously. Solemn and sad though he was, Hermione noted clinically that at least his eyes no longer had the dead, empty look which they had worn for as long as she had known him, and which she now knew - thanks to the books which her mother had so obligingly provided - was a known symptom of deep psychological trauma and stress.
"Thank you" he said quietly. "I did have... Lily, Potter's mother, she was my friend as you know, and a Gryffindor, but she was... I was her acolyte, I think, not her equal. Never her equal." Hermione opened her mouth to protest, to tell him that he was worthy, but he overrode her. "We were - she was my best friend but I'm not sure that I was hers, she had... other interests, other friends, she didn't - I couldn't depend on her support. And so I fell in with - with people I thought could protect me from the Marauders, but then there was nobody to protect me from them!"
He gave her the ghost of a smile. "I can't imagine how much better - how incredibly better my life would have been at that age if I'd had someone who really was reliably on my side, and wasn't just trying to use me, or barely tolerating me. And the idea of the twelve-year-old Brain of Gryffindor duffing up Lucius Malfoy is curiously attractive - especially as he never was much good in a duel. He's like Gilded-Boy - all hot air and bluster and Good Hair. You would probably have wiped the floor with him. I'd have done it myself if he hadn't got me so - cowed and hypnotized."
He sighed and pulled a dour face. "But if you had told me that you actually liked me I probably would have thought you were just winding me up - and what would you have done if I'd been - horrible to you?"
Severus blinked as if he was in danger of crying, and smiled a tight, self-mocking smile. "Once, when Potter and Black were being - especially cruel, Lily stepped in and tried to defend me. But I was a coward, I was afraid to have Rosier and that lot see a M - a Muggle-born save me when I couldn't save myself, they would have taken it out of my hide every bloody night, and besides I had developed this - tremendous, hopeless crush on her, and I was so angry and humiliated at having her see me stripped to my underwear and hung up like a - well, you're a bright girl, I'm sure you can imagine that after what Lucius and his cronies... my sense of my own dignity was very - touchy, and I lost my temper and was very horrible to her indeed" he finished, with a brittle false lightness of tone. "And that, as they say, was that as far as our friendship went - not that I think she would have put up with me for much longer anyway. Realistically."
"I would have utterly adored you, if you'd let me," Hermione said softly, touching his cheek and smiling down at him. "And if you'd been horrible.... I probably would have done what I usually do, which involves losing my temper, telling you at great length what an idiot you are and how stupid I obviously am to like you so much, then going off to cry. Which, I should hope, would have given you something of a clue that I actually meant it. And believe me, even a whiff of a hint at an apology and I would have forgiven you everything in a moment. I'm pitifully easy to appease, really, although Ron never did work that one out - he loathes apologizing." She kissed the tip of his nose gently.
"And I'm sorry, that you had to go through that... had I been there, I assure you, I would have made Potter and Black wish they'd never got up that morning, whether you were nasty to me about it or not. Especially Sirius, who I'm really glad I got the chance to kick in a sensitive place just once before he died. Which sounds horrible, but I REALLY disliked that man." She smiled ruefully. "I know it's silly, but I'm feeling rather jealous of Lily Evans, just now. I know how pretty she was... I probably wouldn't have been able to compete, had we all been at school at the same time."
"I did talk to Albus about Black - about why he was never punished for trying to kill me - and he confirmed what Minerva said about it: that they both believed Black to be seriously mentally ill, exacerbated by his breach with his family. Which is no proper excuse on Albus's part, since he neither explained this to me at the time nor did anything sensible to protect me or anyone else from what amounted to a homicidal maniac - but it does explain a great deal about Black himself, if true.
"And Lily - she was beautiful, and more than that she was nice, and we were joint top of the class in Potions and until that - ghastly day we had been good friends, even if - even if I always loved her a lot more than she loved me. She was somebody I could talk to. We met when we were just children, the only two wizarding children in town, and later....
"The four of us, Lily and me, James and Sirius, we were the four top students in our year and I thought, I thought when I was new and na´ve that maybe we could all.... That we could - discuss things. Potions, spells... but Potter and Black, they had brains of a sort but they got good marks in order to get good marks, you understand, not because they cared about what they were studying, and they thought that my desire to go on thinking about my studies outside the classroom was - ridiculous. Literally, to be ridiculed.
"But Lily - there was a spark in her. She wanted to know, as I did. But she was too.... She was my girl on a pedestal, you understand, to be worshipped and lusted after from afar even when I was standing next to her. Even though we were friends, apart from Potions we didn't really have much in common - the fact that she was nice should tell you that much! - and she was very - popular. A socialite." He said the word as if it referred to an embarrassing and probably illegal vice. "Even though she tried to stay friends for old times' sake, I knew I was just a sort of a, a stiff, black shadow among her rainbow of friends, always awkward, not fitting in.... Whereas you and I, I think, could have fitted in with each other and let the rest of the school go hang. You could have been what I always wanted and never got, just - somebody to have a laugh with, without worrying if I was doing it right. Somebody I could be open with, who wouldn't disapprove of me all the time. Maybe even someone who would invite me to stay with them during the holidays, and not expect me to pay for the privilege with sexual favours - unless I wanted to - which in your case, I probably would, of course."
"If I didn't know better, Severus Snape, I'd think you were being sweet on purpose." She lay down beside him and curled against him, sighing contentedly. "I would have been perfectly happy to let the rest of the world go hang, if it wished, if I'd had you. And we could have stood up for each other, whenever we were too afraid to stand up for ourselves. That would have been nice." She paused for a moment. "And... speaking of visits during the holidays," she said tentatively. "I can't actually invite you home, since I'm not allowed to go there either just now... but I would like you to meet my parents. It's going to come as a bit of a shock to them... they've almost given up on me dating... but I'd like them to meet you."
"And it will give them such a thrill, to find out that you've taken up with a, a scarred, maimed cripple twice your age, who was - far on the wrong side of plain to begin with. Oh yes, and who screams all bloody night unless someone holds him - and sometimes, even if they do. Won't this be fun?"
"Oh, the loss of limb won't bother them so much... I know Adrian mentioned it, it's a lot more common with Muggles. We're more prone to scarring, too, without healing potions and ointments and the like. They know there's a war on, and they know what war does to people... they'll be upset and concerned for you, but they won't... flinch the way wizards do. They'll be more concerned about you being my teacher so recently than anything else.... Wizards may not like to think about nasty things like an older person abusing the trust of a younger one, but it's a major concern to Muggles. Still, given your current condition, it's not as if you could have jumped me." She snuggled a bit more. "I'm not saying they'll be thrilled, but I love you, and I love them, and I want you to at least meet each other. And I do think you could all get to like each other, as long as neither you nor mum gets a fit of the sulks. She's worse than you about that."
"I can virtually guarantee that I could out-sulk your mother if I put my mind to it. But it would be... unusual, to be a guest in someone's home, outside of Hogwarts, and be welcome."
"They might be a bit wary, at first... but I've been telling them about you for years... about how you cruelly insist on making me do my very best, instead of letting me coast along on my intellect, and how you've always rescued us when we needed it, and everything. Aside from the potential sullying of their innocent daughter, they're going to be quite happy about meeting you. And if they find out that you actually don't want me to rush heedlessly into danger alongside Harry and Ron, I think they'll forgive you any sullying in fairly short order."
"If you've been telling them about me for years in that bouncy, bushy-tailed tone they probably worked out that you fancied me madly years ago, but were too polite to comment. Though why you should is still a mystery to me."
"Oh, god... they probably do know, don't they? I never thought... well, I suppose it'll come as less of a shock, then. Embarrassing though it bloody well is - I thought I hid it so well!" Although now that she thought about it, her parents had seemed oddly... cheerful about listening to her talk about her Potions classes. Good god, they'd probably thought it was cute. Well, seeing him would cure them of THAT, at least.
The object of her eccentric affection frowned at her, although he looked glumly thoughtful rather than annoyed. "What concerns me is - you said that you didn't tell them the real reason why you wanted books about... about the after-effects of - of what they - because you didn't want them to know how - unpleasant our private little wizard-war can get. And losing limbs, even the, the screaming could be the result of regular warfare rather than torture. But how do we explain these?" He raised his hand and touched one of the thin but still noticeable scars which ran from the corners of his mouth back to his jaw. "In the short term I could hide them with a glamour, or even grow a beard: but in the long term that would seem... deceitful."
"As far as the, the books and everything go, you don't have to tell them, if you don't want to. I certainly would never have told them without asking you first. If you'd rather they didn't know all of what happened to you, then that's your decision. But... in the long term, I think you're right. We shouldn't try to hide things from them. Have I mentioned that I love you beyond all sense and reason?" She kissed him, entirely unable to get rid of her silly smile any other way. Long term. That was a promising phrase....
"'Beyond all sense' is right" he muttered, kissing her back - "at least anyone looking at us will think that my own affections are more - explicable, and no-one will think I've taken leave of my senses for - loving - such a lovely - " and he covered his own embarrassment by kissing her again, slowly and with feeling although not, he thought distractedly, as much feeling as he would have liked, given that she was wearing a one-piece nightgown which resisted his attempt to slide his hand around her bare ribs. When he was done and they had both got their breath back he rolled over onto his back, staring at the ceiling.
"As for the rest of it, I'm not going to bloody-well walk in and announce 'By the way, I recently spent four months being - being gang-raped, so don't worry if you touch me unexpectedly and find me curled up in a sobbing ball at your feet', but if it comes up in conversation I'm not going to deny it, and I don't need you to do so. In a way, it's easier if people know and get over it, instead of feeling them bloody speculating behind my back every time someone touches me unexpectedly and I start shaking, and I'm trying hard to learn to behave as if - as if I wasn't ashamed of it. But I'm afraid they may be very - distressed to find out how very unpleasant the threat which you and they are facing is: and since they're already taking all possible precautions to protect themselves, and they can do nothing at all to protect you, it might be unkind to disturb them."
He sighed, turning to face her again and tucking his face down against her shoulder. "But the only way - in the long term - to protect them from such knowledge would either be to deceive them or never to go near them, and - I know 'Meet the parents' is supposed to be every boy's nightmare but it would be so nice to do something so, so normal and so social and not feel like a freak or an interloper."
"You'll be welcomed, I promise... even if my dad does have to have the obligatory 'if you hurt my daughter' warning talk. And... I'd like it, too. To do something normal, instead of swinging between fighting for my life, struggling with my homework, and trying to keep Harry from falling to bits or exploding - he's almost as nervy as you, sometimes. I'd like to do something... that's normal, and... and happy." She cuddled him against her, kissing the top of his head. "We'll see what happens, I suppose... if it comes up, we'll tell them. If not, maybe it can wait a while. We have time for you to build up to trusting them, if you want to."
She paused, and smiled against his untidy hair. "I'm lovely and beloved, am I?" she murmured. "That is... very nice to hear. Almost as nice as knowing you're considering the long term with me...."
"I thought I - hated you before," he said drowsily, "because you had everything I wanted and could never have. But now I have you, and all the rest of it - friendship, family, companionship - all that apparently comes with you. And it doesn't matter if I'm still - a bit of an ugly duckling, because you're a, a swan - or a very nice fluffy handsome grown-up brown duck - and you're beautiful enough for both of us. You're my circle of firelight, and I've come to warm myself in you."
Hermione's eyes filled up, and she swallowed hard and kissed him gently. "I love you," she whispered. "And I will always be here, to warm you and protect you... and I quite like being a duck, but if you ever tell anyone I got sentimental over it I'll be very annoyed."
"...wouldn't dream of it." He really did sound almost asleep, now. "I'll protect you too, when I'm well. It's a long time too late to worry about - about what happened when we were children, but there's still plenty of time to fit in with each other, and let the rest of the world go hang."
"Sounds wonderful to me." She kissed his forehead lightly as he drifted into sleep. "Sweet dreams, beloved."
A faint hope, still... but she always said it.
The title is from the song Venus in Furs by the group Velvet Underground. The song overall is rather unsuitable, as it is based on a famous S&M novel of the same name; but certain lines of it seemed to fit Snape in this story very well. I am tired, I am weary; // I could sleep for a thousand years. // A thousand dreams that would awake me: // Different colours made of tears.
The expression "of the first water", meaning "of the highest quality", is said to be derived from the gem trade, where "the first water" refers to diamonds of the greatest, most water-like clarity.
Rongorongo is a mysterious script used on Easter Island up until some time in the nineteenth century: Muggles have been unable to decipher it.
Lucius's behaviour as described here was definitely abusive, of course, but Severus hasn't got used to thinking of it that way yet.
We are not told exactly where Hermione kicked Sirius during the brawl in the Shrieking Shack in PoA - but we pointedly aren't told, and it made him let go of Harry and roll up, so it was probably somewhere painful.
Personally I (whitehound) think that Lily as revealed in DH was rather an unpleasant girl, but Severus hasn't realized that yet, and Hermione doesn't have enough information yet to form an opinion.
Well, there it is. The next couple of chapters are mostly already written, and should be out much faster, although the new canon background regarding the Deathly Hallows makes it even harder than it already was to work out how the progress of the war overlaps with Severus's private progress from horror back to health.
I must say, though, that I was a bit disturbed to find several of our regular and enthusiastic reviewers expressing equal enthusiasm about a story in which Snape himself briefly becomes a torturer (albeit with a lot of provocation), and saying how in character they thought Snape was in that particular incident. It did rather make me wonder how they could square agreeing with that version of Snape with, apparently, also agreeing with ours - and whether we were failing to get the point across. Torture is wrong whoever is doing it: it doesn't suddenly become OK if it's Our Side that's wielding the knife, or if the torturer had a justified grudge against their victim.
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