By Avellina Ballestri
Word Count: 1672
Rating: PG (Minor swearing and depiction of suicidal thoughts)
Summary: Snape survives Voldemort’s attack, but is left partially paralized. All he wants is to die, but one Miss Hermione Granger gives him hope.
The snake. It was so large, and it slithered subtly, slowly, and it snapped down through flesh and gorged on blood. It made him sick to his stomach and ate out his heart. Oh, oh, it kept coming back in his tortured dreams, his shattered thoughts…
That Severus Snape had been acquitted of the charges laid against him was not enough. There was still hatred for him, infecting everyone and everything, it seemed, in the war-scarred school. He was still a murderer to them, still the one who inflicted or allowed for the pain of others, still the symbol of evil personified. And now he was at their mercy.
He was bad off since the poison entered him. Everyone knew he was doomed to live out the rest of his miserable life a cripple, something people gawked at, and waited for him to snap at them futilely, like a chained dog, strapped into a rickety old chair with wheels. And they could see how far he might be pushed, until he cracked inside and bled himself all over. He couldn’t fight back now, everyone knew it. No one wanted him; there was nowhere for him to go…
The snake. It came to him sometimes, when he was awake, it came to him in his twisted mind and hissed within his head, and he growled at it to go away. But it wouldn’t go away, it just tightened its coils on him, and the cruelty of laughter was on its tongue, the laughter of students, who could watch him shrivel up, bit by bit in side…a petty vengeance…
He had to get out…get away, somehow…he had to get home. Alright, he had no real home, he knew that. He never had been able to possess anything even vaguely like a home in all his years. Perhaps you can’t possess a home. You can only possess a house. And that was where he had to go back to, his house…his wheelchair was awful, but he would just have to manage about with it…he didn’t want help; hell, it wasn’t like anyone was offering…
No one except…Potter. Damn, was the muddle-headed boy serious? Young, inexperienced, and soon to be married, the Golden Boy was just spitting out contemptible pity, and Snape rightly hated it. And his future-wife, had he not thought of her at all, in his miserable offer to house the man? What of Miss Granger? What would she think of having the teacher who treated her so horribly all those years living in her new home, infringing on her newfound family and happiness? No, no…it would never work.
But then…he couldn’t very well stay where he was. Especially after…the snake…
It was late in the evening when it happened. The house elf had brought him his soup. It was in a bowl, with a cover on it. He still was having a hard time keeping his hands from shaking, and inevitably dropped the spoon, struggled to pick it up from his wheelchair. He had to wheel it forward carefully, with one arm, so he could reach it right. He cursed as his ribs ached, struggling to retrieve it. He didn’t know why he was near tears when he clutched the spoon, but he was. He felt like biting down on the metal, to take away the pain inside…
He reached for the bowl…fumbled with the cover…heard a sound…like his nightmares, hissing, always hissing…he flung it on the floor…and something long slithered out…
The snake. It was here! It was real! It was back again! And the sound of laughter outside the door, down the hall…a student’s prank…and panic, and terror, and a snake on the floor making eye contact with him, and him shrinking back against his chair, a cry half-strangled in his throat. Oh, stop, stop the torture…stop, just let it come and drink its fill of blood, and drain the lingering life away…
The words jolted him, like the electric shock of an old memory. There was Hermione Granger in the doorway, wand extended, incinerating the snake as Snape had taught them many years before.
Granger. Foolish little girl. She had come to visit him several times since the trial. They were always brief visits, for he would insult and yell at her until she went away. He thought it was his best defense against pity. But now…he felt too far gone for any of that. He just looked at her blankly, his face white as a ghost.
“Professor Snape, are you alright?”
He couldn’t answer, just continued staring, frozen, at the ashes for the reptile that had just slithered in front of him.
“It…it wasn’t poisonous,” she tried to tell him. “It was only the kind from the garden…”
“How…noble…of them,” he ground out, and his shattered mental state was audible.
“I’m sorry,” she apologized. “I’m so sorry. It was the cruelest thing they could have done.”
“No, it’s all good…good for laughs…” He shuddered and was silent for a long time. “Broth of Venom,” he whispered. “I wish…they’d make it for me… I’d drink it down and get it done, no matter how bitter it was…or how it…it hurt…”
Hermione noticed the look in his eyes, and felt unnerved by it. It was as if he was experiencing a waking nightmare. When he spoke again, he sounded more than a little disoriented.
“Where…am I?” he panted, pressing his hand against his forehead.
“In your room at Hogwarts, sir,” she answered gently.
“No, I meant…where am I?” He swallowed hard. “Am I my body? That’s no good anymore. Am I my mind? It’s…it’s fraying…strand by strand…oh, where am I? Have I lost…lost myself?”
Hermione looked at him sorrowfully. “No, you haven’t,” she whispered. “You are…the measure of your heart.”
“I don’t have…any such thing,” he snarled, but it came out more hurt than threatening.
“We all have hearts, professor,” she stated. “Some just show them half as much. Yet feel them beating twice as hard, twice as warm.”
“Is not heart…of the body?”
“No,” she countered. “It’s of the soul.”
“Does not that…come forth from the body? An accident…of the brain? If I cannot think, what…what am I?”
She blinked. “You’re loved.”
“Loved? No, never foolish girl…”
“Yes, loved,” she insisted. “Loved for that which is you, shot through and through.”
“I am…what I have done,” he blurted.
“No, you are what you are. You’re a man. It’s a grace.”
“A cruel grace then.” He shivered. “I am…broken down…bit…by bit…”
“You’re whole on the inside, even if you can’t think a blessed thought,” she assured, tears coming to her eyes. “You’re still…you.”
“I…I’m hated…not loved…” Now his voice cracked. “They want to see…to see me…scared. Damn it, I am…I am scared…”
“Shh, shh,” she quieted him, kneeling next to his chair and laying a hand on his arm.
But he just ranted on. “Why…must they always…torture me? They…they want to see my…reaction…and I can’t control it…anymore…”
“You don’t have to,” she whispered. “The war’s over; you don’t have to keep it all pent up. You can…let it out.”
“I…just want…want to leave this place…to go home…” He twitched. “I mean…to my house. I…I can be myself there…and no one will…hurt me…” He tried hard to make eye contact with her, hoping, it seemed, to make his eyes fill in whatever his words, or even his mind, could not put together. “H-help me…I need…to go back…but need…help…” He shut his eyes tight.
Hermione swallowed. “You can’t live alone again,” she told him quietly. “You do need help…everyday, you’ll need help.”
“Help…?” His eyes again flashed at her disoriented, helpless. “In…institution? No, I…” He was shaking again. “Just…just leave me…at…house…”
She looked into those desperate eyes, and blurted painfully, “You can’t walk…you’ll never walk or be able to use your arm again. And you’re…in shock. You need time to recover.”
“Don’t need…to recover,” he croaked. “Need…to die…”
“No,” she refused him, shaking her head.
“Yes…” he insisted. “I…am n-nothing…but nerves…and they are all…t-torn up…” He shuddered convulsively, and seemed decidedly unable to continue, but managed to look at her again, and brokenly pleaded, “Miss…Gr-Granger…I…I can’t…please…” His voice gave out on him again, and his breath heaved, labored, panicked.
Hermione could no longer hold back, and found herself impulsively pressing herself up against her ex-teacher and crushing him in a meaningful embrace. He tightened at first, then squirmed a little, but ultimately stopped trying to fight it. He couldn’t talk, couldn’t even think, yet he could allow himself to be overwhelmed by the sensory experience of loving touch, no matter how much it might have rankled his one-time rational self.
She kept squeezing until she felt his breathing relax a little, and his heart ease up from its pounding. “I promise,” she murmured, “you’ll have a home, and you’ll get out of this place…I promise you won’t be left behind…”
He inhaled sharply. “Where…will I go?”
“Where I’ll be.”
He shut his eyes. He didn’t know why, but the girl he had always treated so disparagingly was suddenly drenching him with a flood of comfort, and the idea of being where she was enough for him. Instinctively, he knew she wouldn’t hurt him. He knew he’d be safe with her, not tortured. But he knew how he would be…
“I’m…I’m a bastard…”
“I…I am…always have been. I’m not a nice man…I…I’ll…be miserable…”
“I can give as good as I get,” she assured.
“You’ll regret…helping. You’ll wish…I died…” He blinked. “I don’t…don’t want…that…”
She took his trembling hand in hers. “I’m going to read your palm.” She smiled teasingly, and turned his hand over. “Yes, it does seem that you’re not always particularly nice,” she said, tracing the lines in his hand. “But…but maybe, just maybe, you’ll learn to like having a home anyway.”
He gazed into her eyes, almost in disbelief, almost in some half-strangled hope. Then he murmured, “Would you…h-help me…pack?”
And so Hermione did.