Disclaimer: It all belongs to JKR. No JK, no Snape, and that would be a bad thing. Yes, it would.
AN: Many extra special thanks to Ariadne, who did her beta magic for me while I was somewhere 35,000 feet above her. Go on, figure that one out. ;-)
"Severus? What do you think happened to Draco?" Hermione asked, nudging him awake. She had gone by the library on her way to his rooms and was using the bed as a cluttered desk.
Squinting against the morning sun, Severus opened his eyes and pushed a book off of his leg. He found her in the process of rubbing healing balm on his stitches and reading a book balanced in her lap.
"Must you multi-task using me as a desk? What time is it? How long have you been here?" he said irritably.
"Late enough and you haven't answered my question," she said as she turned a page.
Sighing, he said, "A host of things could have happened. There are several fairly destructive spells that can cause physical injuries such as those; however, it could simply be a curse."
Severus closed his eyes as the weight of the previous day's events caught up to him. His nagging mind reminded him that the Hufflepuff cup's destruction was still required. As much as he disliked Moody, he had confidence that he could manage to keep the cup safe - for now. First, he needed to escort Narcissa to the gates and send her on her "mission."
"What do you think it is?" Hermione asked, flipping through some sort of large, unwieldy spell book.
Woman can't stay out of a book, he thought to himself.
"Whether curse or spell, Hermione, you're not going to find anything of Voldemort's doing in a Hogwart's library book," he muttered, absently tracing a hand across the stitches. They were already starting to drive him mad with itching. His back wasn't much better.
Closing the book, she said, "You think it's a dark curse then?"
"Hermione, why do you care?" he said letting his hand drop impatiently. "The wretched brat did nothing but antagonize you."
"Because no one deserves this, that's why," she said angrily. "It's the right thing to do."
"The right thing to do?" he said, exasperated. "Hermione, have you completely lost your mind? Have you forgotten what Draco did? He's fortunate to be alive and deserves the hell he's in. Nothing less is appropriate."
Hermione's face darkened, and she moved to look him in the eyes. "So, what you are telling me is that you don't believe in second chances?"
Severus glared at her.
"A little young to be passing judgment - aren't we?" he said without emotion. The tone of his voice to Hermione was worse than if he was yelling. It was a tone of controlled anger.
"I wasn't aware that morals had anything to do with age," she said, not backing down. "The mark of a true man is the ability to forgive, Severus."
Severus snorted, "Something from one of your books?"
Severus scowled at her, then closed his eyes and nodded slightly as if yielding a point in a match.
Sighing, he rose from the bed and left the room in silence. When Hermione reached the doorway, she watched as he went to the wall where the Dark Arts library was hidden, muttered a spell, and opened the door.
Severus called over his shoulder, "I don't think I need to warn you to stay outside, Hermione. The books, as you know, find young flesh... appetizing."
Hermione stopped and crossed her arms. "Then you shouldn't have any trouble at all, since you're so mature," she said with a trace of a grin.
He turned as he lit the candle and scowled at her before pointing at the door to slam it shut.
He ran his hand through his hair, yawning as he moved inside, staring up at the books. The same musty, dead air hung in the atmosphere, a reminder of the weight of the information held within the pages surrounding him. Severus lit the lantern, barely reattached to its chain. The spell pushed it into a swinging motion, rocking high shadows across the writhing occupants of the shelves. The chains rattled loudly as the books shifted towards their shelf's edge, threatening, putting on a show.
"You may cease the impressive display of menacing power now; she's safely outside," he muttered, unchaining a shelf and pulling down a book to check the contents. He took a seat at the table and skimmed a few pages, ignoring the protesting residents.
"If you should even consider attacking me, I shall quite happily copy all of your contents and then turn you into owl cage lining," he said without looking up.
Most of the rattling ceased, with the exception of some from the larger books, which were closest to where Severus sat, lazily turning another page.
"Then again, there is always fire."
Silence fell with one last rattle of disappointment.
Satisfied, he snapped the book closed and rose to leave.
Opening the door, Severus handed Hermione the book and warned, "This one holds counter-curse information; however, do not remove it from this room. It's possible that the curse could be anything from a prevention of healing to permanent disfigurement. Do not attempt anything without me. This magic is extremely dangerous, and I am by no means being trivial, understood?"
Hermione nodded as she took the book from him, flinching when it squirmed and tried to open.
They both watched the book as it seemed to contemplate biting Hermione's arm.
"It's harmless. Lord over it as you wish," Severus advised.
Hermione smiled and clamped the book under her arm, trying to ignore its struggle.
"If you find something..." he said with a look of resignation, "I will perform whatever is necessary."
Hermione smiled and leaned in to kiss him. "That would be very nice of you."
Scowling, he said, "I am not nice."
Ignoring the sounds of Hermione's laughter, Severus stalked back into the bedroom.
"Pleasant to see you two are not conjoined this morning," Severus taunted, walking into the rooms where Draco and Narcissa were being held.
"You could knock you know, Severus," Remus said, rising from the couch where he and Tonks were eating breakfast.
"Oh, I had no idea you and Miss Tonks here were playing house," Severus said with a smirk.
"No more than you are," Remus said in a low voice before noticing Hermione behind him. "Oh, good morning, Hermione."
Hermione nodded at Remus and took a seat next to Tonks on the couch. While Severus and Remus traded insults masked as politeness, Hermione said, "Do they ever grow up?"
Tonks, chewing on some toast, rolled her eyes. "No. At least not these two. The body makes up for the deficiency of the mind though," she said with a grin as she gazed approvingly at Remus.
Hermione snorted as Severus made another smart remark about fleas.
Tonks then gestured with her toast at Severus, saying, "Give yours a lobotomy and he wouldn't be half bad."
Hermione couldn't help but laugh, covering her mouth to avoid them from hearing.
"...at least it's nice to see you in love again, Severus," Remus said, trying to break the sparring match.
"What do you mean - 'again'?" Severus asked, eying him suspiciously.
"Well - of course - as you said before - with Lily," Remus said hesitantly.
"That was never public knowledge," Severus said slowly, looking uncertain as to whether he should be angry or defensive, or both.
Remus sighed, "Severus, I knew. I saw you two in the library all that time and knew you weren't just studying."
Severus' eyes shifted, but he remained silent.
Hermione and Tonks stopped chatting and stared up at the two of them. The tension in the air seemed to demand silence.
"If that is true why didn't you run straight to your friends?" Severus said with a look of disgust.
"Because, I never had anything against you, Severus. I had nothing to do with what Sirius tried to do to you, I swear," Remus said with sincerity. He was watching Severus trying to process just how someone would pass up a genuine opportunity to ruin something for him. Once that is imprinted on someone's soul it can never be taken away.
"In fact - " Tonks said, standing. "Remus is being modest," she said, placing an arm around Remus' shoulder. He turned and took a few steps away.
Severus' eyes tracked him for a time, then snapped back to Tonks in irritated confusion.
Hermione sat watching the exchange in silence.
"Severus, Remus had feelings for Lily too. Not only did he say nothing when he saw you two together, he kept Sirius and James away. To give you a chance," Tonks said, daring to place a hand on Severus' shoulder.
Severus' face held genuine confusion and shock. Never in his young life had anyone ever done anything to help him in any way. He looked at Hermione and saw her moving her eyes towards Lupin, giving him a “Go speak to him” signal.
Taking a deep breath, Severus moved over to where Remus was standing with his back to him, and said reluctantly, "I suppose I should at least thank you for doing that. I had no idea."
Remus turned, genuinely stunned that Severus Snape had not only managed to complete a sentence without an insult, but had actually thanked him.
"It - It needed to be done," Remus said, shrugging and staring at the floor. He had known that given his condition he had no chance with Lily, but it hadn't made the loss any less painful.
Severus shifted uneasily, still trying to absorb what Lupin had done.
The atmosphere in the room was on edge. Severus and Remus had never passed more than a few words without some form of hostility. Remus looked like he had something significant to say, as if he was going to apologize for everything on behalf of the dead.
Before Remus could respond, Severus startled everyone out of their thoughts by yelling loudly towards the bedroom door, "Narcissa!"
The bedroom door opened and Narcissa appeared, looking irritated at being called in such a way. "I am not an elf, Severus."
"And yet you came like one," he said, sneering at her. "Are you prepared?"
"Yes," she said contemptuously.
"Excellent then. Come with me," he said, and swept from the room.
"Draco?" Hermione asked, opening the bedroom door. She saw him sitting in an armchair on the far side of the room He hastily threw his hood up.
"What do you want?" he said moodily.
"I don't want anything. I just wanted to ask you a question," Hermione said, moving towards him.
Remus stood in the doorway, his heart going out to Draco. He knew exactly how it felt to be an outcast.
When Draco didn't respond, she said, "Draco, what did Voldemort say when this happened to you?"
"Why would you care?" he said angrily, trying to hide a flinch at the name.
"Draco, Hermione would like to help," Remus said.
Silence stretched out as Draco sat, unmoving.
Hermione was gathering her thoughts to offer an argument when he said in a voice full of failure, "He said I was a coward. A failure like my father. That although I would be given a chance to redeem myself by spying, I still needed to be punished."
Hermione noticed his shoulders shook slightly before he said, "Then he said 'Informis manentia' and... this happened."
Sighing deeply, he turned towards her and pushed back his hood. For the first time, Hermione was faced with the sight that had shaken even Severus. Draco's face looked as if acid had been poured on it from above. All of his features were shifted downward and to a right angle, with severe blistering. One eye was swollen shut, but the other one was untouched. Hermione could see the immense pain and regret in his eye.
Hermione fought the urge to look away, and, instead, reached out and took his hand. Draco flinched, and an expression of revulsion crossed his face for a moment before it was replaced by defeat and indifference.
"Come with me." Glancing at Remus and Tonks she added, "We're going back to Severus' rooms to do a little research."
"Narcissa, I don't believe I need to warn you about crossing me. Besides, I have something valuable of yours, yes?" Severus said, his senses heightened by the noises from the rising winds. A storm was approaching, hurrying clouds across the sky at an alarming pace. They stood just outside of the castle gates, each of them keeping their voices low.
"Yes, Severus, I'm well aware of that, thank you," Narcissa said sarcastically, glaring at him as he handed her wand to her.
"I'm pleased that we understand each other," he purred, taunting her. "Now, the password at Spinner's End is 'lemon drops.'"
At the odd look on her face, he sneered, "Would you have guessed it?"
Concealing a grin, she replied, "No, I suppose not."
"Excellent, you know what to do. I am leaving an owl here to wait so you may send notice of your return. Do this and I will remove both your and Draco's Marks. You will be safe with us," Severus said, and swiftly turned to leave.
"Why can't you simply grant me access to pass into the grounds on my own?" she asked.
Severus stopped and, without turning, said over his shoulder, "Because trust is a fragile thing, Narcissa. Something you've not much hope of earning with me for a long time."
Scowling, Narcissa Apparated without a word.
Severus Snape's home on Spinner's End provided the perfect location for just about anything of a non-respectable nature. The disheveled state of the neighborhood spoke of a collection of residents who would not give a second glance at any strange goings on, Muggle or magical. When Narcissa stood at the back door of the house, muttering "lemon drops" loudly, no one who might have overheard from the crowded nearby houses stirred. Lately, all sorts of odd people came and went from the house at all hours of the night, some seemingly dropping out of the sky.
Wormtail had long ago stopped going by the name of Peter Pettigrew. The personality flaw that led him to follow anyone in authority stripped his need for a proper name. Now he only sniveled at the Dark Lord's feet, performing whatever undesirable task was set before him. Since the traitor Snape was no longer in need of his home, Wormtail had moved in, having been told to prepare it to be the new base. Soon he would cast a strong Concealing Charm on the house. No one would miss such a wretched place, and the Order would certainly think twice before launching an attack in the middle of a Muggle neighborhood.
He was upstairs watching when she arrived. Part of him was surprised to see her come there, of all places. Word of her and Draco's treachery had reached the Dark Lord's ears, and the word “furious” did not come close to describing his reaction. When they found Bella, he had completely lost his composure, lashing out at anyone within range for her death.
Four Horcruxes had been lost, and now the Dark Lord's obsession with preserving his immortality had become fanatical in nature.
No matter; delivering her to the Dark Lord would earn him much praise. Yes, much praise indeed. Without Lucius or Bella, it was entirely possible to rise to a higher position. He had no illusions about Narcissa, though. Her sister obviously didn't go quietly, so he expected the same from her. To capture her alive, though, would take stealth.
When he heard the back door open, Wormtail transformed and expertly leaped from the window sill.
Opening the door to the Room of Requirement, Severus was met with an impressive display of security. Alastor Moody was no one to be trifled with in terms of security, and this was a masterpiece. Not only was the door charmed to only himself and Severus, the room also had transformed itself into quite a stronghold.
As Severus moved into the room, the door disappeared behind him. He found the cup held high in the air, shielded by a bubble of magic. The charm turning the cup black was gone, leaving the golden color to shine brightly through the swirling magic. Severus muttered a spell, releasing the shield, and lowered the cup gently to the floor. Even the floor was protected, a light layer of padding stretching from wall to wall.
Waving his hand towards the Horcrux, Severus watched as its color moved through a wide array of hues before settling on a tarnished silver. When he lowered his hand, it returned to its golden color once more. While pacing a few laps, he thought he recognized the type of magic, but wasn't sure.
This seems to have more of a destructive nature. Voldemort must have been more accomplished at the Dark Arts when creating this one, he thought, staring at the cup lying innocently on the floor. He did know one thing: anyone daring to touch it would die almost immediately from the curse.
Taking a deep breath, Severus raised his wand and began to mutter a long, complex incantation, much like when he had destroyed the locket. Based on the cup's reaction he would simply adjust.
At least, that was the plan.
The cup rose from the floor and tipped slowly end-over-end. It lifted above his line of sight, calmly obeying his instructions. He circled his right hand around and a protective cyclone formed around cup. Again, it calmly turned over and floated harmlessly within its boundaries, controlled, purposeful.
Performing the complex wand movements required him to hold his arms up, sending searing pain across his chest and back. Severus' wand hand shook slightly while the cup continued to rotate calmly, awaiting the next stage. As expected, the color became more intense, but then it suddenly drained into an intense blackness, rapidly becoming a living darkness. A force reverberated, a strange power in the room, rising, reaching out, droning seductively, murmuring soft promises of terrifying strength.
Severus stepped back as the cup started to vibrate violently, its rotation increasing in speed. It began to waver, shifting wildly to the top of the swirling magical field and threatening to escape. Severus, cursing under his breath, concentrated on forcing it down, hoping to hold it so he could quickly cast the final destruction spell.
The light's intensity became blinding, obliterating all detail in the room with pure, blood-red light. Severus could no longer see the cup and blindly cast the destruction spell, staggering backwards as violent energy overtook all of his senses.
As Severus' spell hit its mark, the cup rose to the top of the magical field, spiraled over on itself, and shot downward with such force it blasted through the floor. More explosions echoed upward as the cup shot through seven more floors into the dungeons below, ending in a ground-shaking boom.
As floorboards and bits of padding landed all around him, Severus gathered himself and moved to the edge of the ragged hole. Daring to look down, he could see remnants of the library, hospital wing, broken pipes spouting misdirected water, and several members of the quite startled Weasley family peering up at him.
Severus scowled as he heard Ronald Weasley's distinctive voice exclaim, "Bloody hell!"
Before he could leave to confirm that the cup was destroyed, another face moved into the tunnel of broken wood and stone.
"Severus?" Minerva's strained voice called, "A word? Please? NOW?"
Moving to rise, Severus muttered to himself, "Bloody hell, indeed."
Narcissa quietly entered the dingy kitchen, listening for any sign of Wormtail. The only sounds she could discern were the faraway cry of a tomcat, a water spout dripping rhythmically, and a slight scratching noise. She was sure she had been watched as she approached the house, but she could see nothing. Even in the daytime, the gray sky lent no light to the interior.
Entering silently into the sitting room, Narcissa's memory recalled when she was last there, begging Snape to intervene to save her son. Remembering the wall from which Wormtail had appeared, she shifted to the side, keeping her wand pointed in that direction. She heard a faint alternating thump and scratching sound that were approaching slowly. As the wall jerked slightly and then began to move aside, Narcissa crouched down behind a couch. A stray cat hissed at her from under an armchair. At first, she moved to silently kill it should it give her away, but then thought better of it.
Instead, an evil grin spread on her face as she reached her wand towards the cat, finding it by its shining eyes.
Wormtail dropped down each stair riser towards the concealed door. Once in the sitting room, he would transform, deliver a binding spell and then happily take her to the Dark Lord. With each step, he scrambled slightly, and then dropped with a thump. Even in his Animagus form, he was on the round and clumsy side. Touching the lever to slide open the wall, he couldn't help but squeak in anticipation. Surely tonight he would be enjoying high praise in the inner circle with the Dark Lord.
Wormtail scampered out into the sitting room and peered around, fully expecting to find her close by. Scanning the floor, he did not see any trace of her. Setting up on his haunches, he twisted around, searching with growing disappointment.
Smelling the air, his animal instinct suddenly cried out for his attention. Before he could react, he was snatched up, and he watched helplessly as the dimly lit sitting room swung violently from side to side. He was then thrown forcefully to the floor. Something was pressing on his tail. He rose and tried frantically to run - squealing.
Again, he was picked up and thrown, bouncing off of what must be one of the legs of a chair. Twisting to get to his feet, Wormtail hopped a few feet before he was deftly lifted once more. His fur was wet and he almost fainted with fright to find he was clamped inside of a cat's mouth. The room moved in a soft bounce as he was carried across the room. A set of robes appeared and as he moved his head up, he saw none other than Narcissa. She was grinning down at him while waving her wand at the cat, who was obviously under the Imperius Curse.
Narcissa laughed softly, enjoying the sheer panic in Wormtail's small eyes as he struggled in the cat's mouth.
"Now, now, Wormtail. Don't struggle. We wouldn't want the kitty to close his jaws on you - would we?" she purred, and with a wave of her wand, the cat's mouth began to slowly close.
Satisfied at the sounds of him squealing madly, she lifted the curse and took the struggling rat by the tail. She held him up, threw him in the air and cast a revealing spell, forcing him to transform.
"Narcissa!" Wormtail cried, as if she had just arrived for tea. "It's you! I'm so glad to see you! Draco is doing well I hope-" Wormtail said, rising from the floor. His posture as a human was nothing more than a permanent crouch, forever looking subservient to anyone before him.
"Silence!" Narcissa snarled. "If you think for a moment I am swayed by your insipid babbling, you are sadly mistaken."
Wormtail stared at her in silence, then flicked his eyes to where his wand laid. As Narcissa brought her wand up, he lunged for it and turned. Before he could utter a spell, the wand was cleanly flicked out of his fingers and flew to Narcissa's waiting hand.
Casually, she walked over to him as he put his hands up in surrender.
"Giving up so soon, Wormtail? Pity. You were never good for anything other than being a pet or a sniveling servant."
Wormtail only watched her, fully expecting the Killing Curse. His hands were plastered to his face, worrying his lip.
Feigning sadness, she said in a calming voice tinged with amusement, "Don't fret now. You are about to serve a different master."
A devious grin spread on her face as she raised her wand again. "IMPERIO!"
"An explanation?" Minerva said, trying her best to keep her calm as Severus entered her office. She was still brushing bits of debris from her robes. All I wanted was to have a simple tea with the Weasleys in peace...
Waving his hand dismissively, Severus took a seat in front of her desk. In his lap he held the mangled Hufflepuff cup. "It got away from me, Minerva. That is all."
"Got away from you? Got away? Severus! What am I to do with you?" she said to the ceiling, as if searching for patience.
Severus grinned and looked up at her. "Do with me? Seriously, Minerva, you're speaking to me as if I were a student again."
She fixed him with a look that said that he was not acting much better than one.
"It was an accident, I assure you," he offered, holding the cup closer.
"An accident? Severus how-" Minerva started, but then was distracted as an owl pecked at her window. As she opened the window, the owl hopped onto Severus' leg and presented a torn bit of parchment.
As Severus read the note, Minerva said, mostly to herself, "At least another Horcrux has been destroyed. Let us hope that a portion of the castle doesn't need to be sacrificed each time."
Severus shooed the owl away, saying, "If there is nothing else, I need to go meet Narcissa at the gates. She has been successful."
"Successful? Successful at what?" Minerva asked, flustered.
"Come. Take a walk with me," Severus said, glad to have her distracted. He set the battered cup on her desk and rose.
AN: Informis manentia: Latin translation = Deform permanent