Darkness reigns. It penetrates. It permeates. It sings. And the man who would plug his ears to that siren’s song, that suffering scream, finds himself taking solace in the drink. He must drink it down in a single swallow, let it slither down his throat like a snake…
Drop by drop, the drink dulls, dulls the memories of the blood shed yesterday, today, tomorrow. And the taste of the alcohol upon the tongue, bitter as the earth itself, is a portal of forgetfulness. Of haze. Of death…
And it is night here, in the dead headmaster’s chamber. And the man sitting in his chair now feels himself losing himself. For has he not lost all that he ever was, all that he ever clung to? All to control a monster…but the monster is now beyond his control…and he fears the monster within himself rising, preparing to pull him under.
Images mesh with drink, of corpses in the Great Hall, and the dying children hung up as a warning, with the flesh stripped mostly off them, or the air choked out of them. And he wishes he might take a knife to end their suffering again…but no, no, he thinks…not enough courage…not anymore…can’t bare it again, can’t, can’t…
Are not his hands red enough already? Yes, yes…and never to be washed out. They are jungle red, unicorn red. They are red that melts into purple that melts into black like the dimming twilight of the spirit. And the stars are swallowed up…
It is this night…this night of all nights…when they say the veil is thinnest, and the man died, and the woman died, and their child was scarred, and the nursery of a young family was penetrated, was permeated, was slashed. It is Samhain, the feast of All Hallows, and the planting of a blood-Lily in the heart of a tortured soul…
Is that the wind or the door? Yes – the door. Who would disturb him now?
Oh, God, no…
“The Dark Lord brings you a gift for the night.”
Bloodshot eyes meet bloodshot eyes, a man’s to a girl’s, and the door closes, and they are alone together. And there is silence. For he knows her…though she seems so different. He knows without knowing. Tortured. Defiled. And the Dark Lord expects him…to do the same…
Dark voice. Drunken voice. Silky turning slurred.
Hiss of a serpent, in the shadows, like an ancient word of ill.
He stands, slowly, from his desk. “My…gift, hmm?”
She tears open her shirt, starts pulling off the brassiere…
“Take all of me if you like! Put your filthy hands all over me, touch me, kiss me, hold me down and force yourself into me, like they all do! You can rape my body, but you can’t rape me!”
“Put back…your clothes…”
“No, you’ll tear them off, you’ll tear them up, and I’ll kill you if you do, I will, I will…” She lunges in an insane frenzy, pushing him off kilter, and digging her nails into his chest, his face.
It is instinct. Defensive instinct. He is a survivor, and he will do anything to maintain that title. It is a thing deeper than thought. It is his hand across her face, making her stagger back.
The strike is harder than intended, and she is shaking as the blood trickles out of her nose. She is breathing panicked and she clutches her belly.
Something instinctive inside him knows – knows without knowing – and he blurts out, “Pregnant.” A pause, a shudder. “You’re pregnant…”
She stares at him, but her eyes seem empty, and she falls. And he catches her up against him, his hand against the back of her head.
“No…no, I…I didn’t mean to…” His breathing wobbles from sheer guilt. “I didn’t…”
She is soon on his bed, with him drunkenly bending over her, brokenly wiping the blood off her nose with a handkerchief.
She opens her eyes and stares up at him, breathing like a hunted animal, like a doe full with fawn at the onset of winter.
“You…” Her voice is like a rock, deathly, dying.
“Is…is it his…his child?” he demands.
She swallows, vulnerability taking over her features. “And if it is?”
“I can…remove it for you…”
He trembles, nods. “I know…a spell…”
She closes her eyes, and the tears come down.
“You don’t want it done, do you?” he rasps.
She shakes her head, no.
“You think…his child deserves life?”
The bitterness in his voice makes Hermione open her eyes wide.
“It’s…a child.” She clenched both fists. “That’s what matters…”
A child. How many of those had he seen die now? At seventeen, she is not much more than a child herself…
“We all were children…once,” he says darkly. “It ends, and then…and then they become…evil…”
“Like you?” Her voice is harsh, clawing.
“Like me…” His voice drifts.
“Are you going to…?” she starts to ask, waiting for the torturous feel of hands without feeling crawling over her body.
“No.” He may be many things, but he will damn himself if he is that…
She watches him silently as he drunkenly lists into the bed alongside her, but makes no attempt to touch her. “No…”
She reaches out, and pulls a sheet up over her body. “I think he’s going to kill me…soon…”
“I think…you’re wrong…”
“Why do you say that?”
“You have his child…in you…”
“A child who might…rival him.” She touches her belly again. “You should know better than anyone…how he thinks. As soon as he knows, he…he will kill me…”
“Then let me kill the little monster inside you,” he growls.
She eyes him, trying to understand. “Why would you even care?”
“You were my student…once…”
“And there have been many students you have watched die, Headmaster.”
The title, and the way she spits it out makes him wince.
“I couldn’t help…” He struggles against a flood of horrific memories. “Couldn’t stop…”
“You’ve killed,” she condemns him. “Watched life drain away as your wand sang, as your knife cut. You did it to a headmaster, and to those whose lives were already draining away. Would you do it to a baby now? Because of what the father is?”
Oh…oh, did she have to say that? Did she have to harrow up his soul, from a path worn down within him on another hallowed night?
“It might…save your life…”
“Can I truly live, at the price of my child’s death?”
“You could have…another child,” he whispers. “After this is all over. This one doesn’t matter…it could be…replaced…”
“Could you replace this one’s life, once taken?”
“If…if he kills you…he kills you both…”
“Then we would have died together…” There are tears, silent tears, robbing her voice.
“I cannot…stop him…you know that.” He sounds so defeated. But it is the truth. He has outlived his usefulness in this game. Now he simply waits for the madman to turn on him and tear him to pieces as well…
“What…what would you have me do?” The words bleed out of him now, like a drunken song.
Her breathing is labored, like sobbing. “H-hold me.”
“I said…hold me.”
He knows what that meant. And it frightens him. “But…you are…my student…”
“We lost such identities…a long time ago,” she counters.
“You are a child!”
“I think…I have had to grow up rather fast, don’t you?” she says, bitterly.
“But you hate me…” He closes his eyes tight. “You hate the evil inside me…”
“But I want someone to touch me…before I die…I want to…wash his touch off of me…and you are the only one left to do it.”
The only one left…oh.
The alcohol has weakened all his resolve, and made him stupid enough to scoop her up and roll her in his arms. She buries her face softly in his chest while she cries, and he runs his cold hands through her hair. Then they begin…to touch. He has not had a female act this intimate with him since he was young, and even then it had never been like this. She is barely clothed, and he senses that if he wanted, he might make be able to make this broken child go with him wherever he chose to take her.
But he will not do that.
No, he lets her play at it, and him play back, with light fondling, caressing, a strange mutually forced kiss, just to blank out all the bitterness of bodily and mental abuse. But he will not take it further than that. He just curls her tighter against his chest, and whispers sweet nothings to her until she falls asleep.
They sleep fitfully, in a forgetful intoxication of who or what they are, but he wants to protect her with his body. It’s some strange instinct, and in these hours, it’s forged strong and bound tight. And she seems to want his body close to her. His touch is not hurting her. It’s not as harsh as she imagined it would be. It’s tender towards her body, her skin.
“I wish…you were its father,” she whispers just before the dawn.
He blinks in disbelief. “Why…do you say that?”
“Because…children deserve to be conceived from a kinder touch…than I have known.”
“And yet…you believe the child is worth something, even bred in violence?”
“Storms still can carry flower seeds,” she reminds him. “Shall we…pull up a flower, crush a bulb…to spite the storm?”
“Oh,” he exhales. “You see the good. I cannot…see it anymore, in anything.”
“Then why are gentle with me?”
He lets his hand glide down the parting of her shirt down to her bare belly, and holds it there. “You make me wish…I could…wash away his touch. For he ravaged me in spirit, and I lost my innocence…so very long ago.”
“Perhaps there are storms in every soul,” she remarks, then adds, “but some carry…seeds…of flowers…”
He meets her eyes. “We’re…we’re going to die, I think…very soon.”
She nods her head.
“May I…kiss you again? May I kiss you like…like I mean it?”
She nods again, and his lips slide onto hers. It’s very warm. And God, his breath catches onto hers, and he thinks he might cry in his drunken, broken wretchedness. How could he be letting himself play games of make-believe like this?
“I’m sorry,” he apologizes. “I shouldn’t…shouldn’t have done that, I know…I have had too much drink…”
“We can both close our eyes and think about it when they’re killing us,” she tells him. “We can…pretend we meant it.”
“Did we mean it…at all?”
Now there is something like pity in her eyes and her hand touches his face at the confusion in his voice.
“It’s a hard thing,” she whispers, “being human. A hard and beautiful thing, like a diamond…”
The sun is up. And there’s a knock at the door. They’ve come back for her.
Now on a true-born impulse, she flings her arms around his middle and squeezes tight. “I wish my baby was born, and I’d nursed with my breasts, and taught her how to walk and talk,” she rambles. “I wish she’d grown up in a different whole world, I wish…”
His hand clumsily caresses her exposed breasts and his lips brush her neck, and he feels her vein throb there, and he breaths the word “courage” in her ear.
And then they come. And they take her away.
When next the night falls, he walks the halls like a ghostly sentinel, longing for her face to take shape in his eyes, and enter his mind, and ease his heart. He knows too much and feels too little, as if he has been injected by anesthesia. There is tightness where there should be pain…
He hears screaming.
It’s coming from the Great Hall of corpses.
He knows who it is even before he enters, before he sees her there, stretched out beneath the door, being crushed to death. He knows how Voldemort does it; he will have put a spike beneath her back, and as the weight becomes heavier, the point pierces deeper through flesh, through lungs, scraping bones, breaking life…
He wishes he could turn a blind eye, turn and leave himself to his sickness, and her to her death. But he cannot. She shattered something in him the night before, pulled away his mask in those alcohol drenched moments. And he knows they were real, yes, realer than real, in spite of the intoxication. And he goes down on his knees next to her and he touches her face.
Her mouth hangs half open, as if to scream, but she doesn’t. She gazes into his eyes, and there in something like compassion in his, and something like guilt in hers.
“Was it evil…what we did last night? Was it…perverse?”
“To touch…? To caress, to kiss…?” He shudders. “I…I don’t know…I…was drunk…”
She looks overwhelmed with a hurt deeper than the physical kind now, and he adds quickly, “But…it felt…clean, do you know? The cleanest thing I have done…in a long time. For all that was wrong with it, it was…human. Not like beasts, like people…and I thought I had forgotten what that even meant…”
He sees her eyes drifting, thinks she might be dying, and blurts, “Child, if my touch hurt you, if my lips hurt you, forgive me…”
She snaps out of the haze and jerks in pain.
“I would have gone …all the way…with you,” she gasps.
“I…would have, too,” he confesses.
“Why didn’t you?”
“Because I…would not…play with you, like a toy, like…he did. I would not give you a body…that was not even my own…that had not foresworn itself…to you, always.”
“Even if…we were going to die?”
He nods. “Even so.”
“Then…there is nothing to forgive.” She shivers. “He gifted me to other death-eaters before you,” she tells him listlessly. “They…weren’t like you. Not at all. They took me each in turn, and pressed me down on my belly…when they pushed themselves inside me, I screamed…I begged them not to, I knew I was pregnant…they didn’t care, they pressed harder and harder on me till I thought I might burst open inside…” She shuts her eyes and tears run down her face. “I’ve burst inside now…and my…my child…has run down my legs in blood…bits of my own…you will find soaking me…”
She gasps at the horror of the retelling, sick and nauseous and overwhelmed, and then she feels him cradle the right side of her cheek and jaw with his hand.
“You’ll be with your child,” he whispers, and thumbs away the trickle of saltwater from her cheek, and the trickle of blood from her mouth. “You’ll see, you will…”
She looks at him with intensity, as if he is the only human being she has ever seen, and it is a strange and beautiful thing. Then her eyes dim and she chokes, “Kill me.”
His breath wavers. “No…”
“You’ve done it before…to end pain.”
Yes, she is tragically right. He had been drawn down here to the Great Hall several times before, and heard half-dead tortured children gasping and screaming. And not knowing what else could be done, he had taken it upon himself…to end their pain. No one else would do it. And he decided he was too far gone to salvage his own soul, anyway.
Now he wishes he could forget what he had done. But he remembers each one too clearly, dearly as spilt blood. They had all been too far gone to be saved by muggle or magic medicine, he knew that. But it made it no less disturbing to have to sever the last strand of their lives.
There was the fourteen-year-old boy cursed from magic, swollen and seasick green, staring out into nothingness, wheezing on the floor. He barely reacted when Snape’s knife had cleaved his throat. The twelve-year-old girl on the other hand, lying not far away, covered in her own blood from the torture sessions, had screamed till she was hoarse. He’d had to hold her against him, in some strange embrace until she’d calmed, for he could not bring himself to put an end to her in such a state. Feeling her still twitching from the pain, though run out of the will to fight, he’d whispered a plea for forgiveness as he eased the blade across her throat and she’d bled out over his shoulder.
Then there were those Voldemort had hung up as examples, cords around their necks to choke them, a death which sometimes took hours or even days depending how light the child’s weight was. If Snape heard them gasping in the dark, saw them twitching the dance of death in the air, he would grasp them by the legs and yank down, tightening the cord to cut off their windpipe and intensify the agony only to shorten it. They would choke and gurgle and die, and he would feel their spirits go through him. One little girl he remembers squeaking like a dying mouse as he pulled down on her, until her neck bone snapped, her frame shuddered down through her spine, and she went limp. But at least he knew she was out of pain. At least they are all out of pain.
But that is not enough to still the haunting of his own bloodstained conscience. Who else could have ended those children’s lives, but a monster such as himself? Surely, they weigh against whatever shred of himself is still his own. And now before him is Hermione Granger, whose fate bound to him in a single night of vulnerability, and he is terrified to do as she asks. For in killing her, he knows he will be killing the very last vestige of himself he has found.
“Do it,” she begs, fighting against a convulsion as the spike presses deeper into her back. “End it…”
“I can’t,” he rasps.
“Why not? You did it for others…”
“And…it was wrong.” He bites his lip in shame. “For all my intentions, I still robbed life…even pain is not excuse enough for it. My hands have robbed me of my soul.”
She twitches again. “Please…this could last…for days…please…”
He shudders. “I…I finally touched someone…with tenderness…you…you made me a man, not just a killer, in the midst of so much horror…how can I…kill you?”
She eyes him, and her eyes say everything:
If you love me, show me.
It is a test turned on its head, and he dreads that he is not strong enough to either resist it or endure it. Finally, something starts to break, and he draws the knife from his inner cloak. He brings it up against her throat and pauses…and his hand starts to shake.
“I – can’t,” he chokes. “Not again…”
She swallows, she blinks, she whispers, “Kiss me…”
“I want to die like that…while I can feel you…kissing me…”
Now he swallows, now he shuts his eyes, now he lowers his mouth to hers, and his lips are tightly pressing against hers…and her tongue is warm inside his mouth…and he can feel she is crying…
“Do you mean it?” she sobs, breaking to breathe, then returning to the kiss.
“Then do it…now…”
He presses tighter.
Mouth to mouth.
Knife to neck.
And he feels her shudder, and her tongue grows limp, and her mouth loses its suction, as he presses…and slits her swan-white throat open, letting her breath dissolve into eternity, like her soul. Is there a moan, a swan’s song released into his mouth with the blood, as her hand touches his face in a fluttering instinct of the dying, the frightened, broken dying?
And then she is still.
But he cannot stop.
Something has snapped inside himself, and he cannot stop, not the kissing, nor the cutting. He has reached the edge of the precipice of his own psyche, and cannot pull himself back from it of his own power. He goes over the edge, losing track of the moments passing or the blood spilling, welling up in a stream, pouring over the edge of her lips and into his mouth. He shudders at the taste, but cannot pull away…
Suddenly, he shocks himself with the realization there is nothing left to cut. He has severed her head from her body, flesh, veins, and bone, all slit through. And the blood pours from the stump of her neck, and her head rolls over detached, shielding her empty eyes in the tangle of her long loose hair…
He does not remember the steps taken after that culminating moment of horror, but he finds himself in the old chapel, long since left unused from medieval days, and he is prostrate on the ground, and he is shaking convulsively, and sobbing, and remembering an old prayer to the Virgin, to the Star of the Sea, he learned in his childhood but later grew too proud to ever say:
Et regina caelorum…”
The words form without thought, for it is dark, and he needs a star. He wishes himself dead, and yet fears death, and everything is sightless, and he asks for sight, pleads for sight. He is powerless to save himself, to grace himself, and harder he has tried, the harder he has fallen. He is at his lowest point, the belly of his inner beast. And he calls to her:
“Save me, star of sea, lady queen enthroned…guide of the sailors when all other lights are dimmed…”
He pulls out his knife with trembling hands, preparing to thrust it through his own neck.
“Forgive me, lady, for all that is severed within and without…still sail me home…”
Then he blinks to see a thing in front of him, a think he cannot banish from his sight.
It is wine, or blood, or both.
It is in a chalice, a ghostly vessel, he thinks, perhaps a mirage.
But a voice tells him to drink.
Drink, Severus. Put down the knife and drink.
“No,” he refuses.
“I know it to be sacred. And I am unworthy of anything but death.”
The worthy are the unworthy, and the unworthy made worthy by a word. Drink the wine, and the blood, and the word. It will wipe away all evil, for it is the wine of love, which the vast expanses of evil can never quench…and there you may find life even in death.
“Might I see her…and her child?”
His face feels drained of blood and his lips cold as he takes the drink, the phantom substance the tastes so very real, and comes to him like water to a man lost in the desert.
And he salutes the lady he cannot see for her grace.
And he falls asleep there, and there is peace about it.
But though he has not slain himself, it cannot last for long.
When he goes to the dinner of the death-eaters that following night, presided over by the dark lord himself, he is served a cut of pie. A meat pie. Bellatrix said she helped prepare it…
He eats several bites, and the hearty meat separates from the flaky crust, and sticks to the roof of his mouth. It is hard to swallow, yet tastes…strange. Shockingly familiar, somehow.
And then she recites a nursery rhyme: “Stick-stock, stone dead…”
And he knows. And he knows too well.
“You eat of the heart, Severus,” the dark lord tells him. “Her heart, and her liver, and her lungs…”
Snape reacts on instinct, on overwhelming nausea and disgust at what he has been tricked into doing, and tries to cough up what he has consumed. He feels overcome by the notion of her body within him, in this perverse atrocity.
But it is too late. Bellatrix is behind him, knife drawn. She presses it up against his neck and cackles. The game is up.
“You have been a good and faithful servant, Severus, but you have too many attachments. You have become…compromised in your devotion.”
He turns his eyes up as the cord holding him to earth is slit, the flesh stringy, the blood seeping. He lets his vision fade slowly, slowly, and the darkness soak him up, and he falls forward, and his life’s blood flows into the half-eaten pie before him, into the heart of the girl he had kissed in one sparkling moment of humanity before her own cord was cut.
The last thing he hears in this world is the Dark Lord asking for the pie to be passed to him, for him to eat, even with Snape’s blood on it…
And he will eat of it, heart cut and blood mingled.
And the blood will be as wine, chalice drunk.
And he will choke upon it.
Yes, choke himself to death…
And even death will die…
But in the shadowlands…
There are eyes upon eyes…
And souls upon souls…
Which hold each other…