Disclaimer: All publicly recognisable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended. In other words, I don’t own J.K.R.’s characters. Please don’t sue me; I’m not worth it anyway. Once I’m done, I’ll buy them dinner, several good bottles of wine and put them back where I found them.
AN. For the purpose of this story I have let Dolohov escape after DH.
Many thanks, as always, to simply the best beta mtnwmgirl.
Walking With Monsters
She has noticed that he does not often look into mirrors and that when he does it is a cursory glance, nothing more. Sometimes, she wonders why. Is it because he is fearful of one day seeing the reflection of a monster of his own creation staring maliciously back; a Dorian Grey reflection of his soul? Is he fearful that the rank poison of Voldemort’s brand has bled through his skin to rage and batten its caustic passage through his body, like some awful carrion beast of mythology, feasting on his soul and leaving only corruption in its wake.
Weary to the bone, she sighs heavily and sits back in her chair. She closes her eyes and breaths deeply, trying to quell the churning unease that grasps her tightly. She presses the glass of whisky to her sore eyes, and the chill from the ice soothes the sickly pain that is starting to throb behind them.
Dolohov was kissed today. They both stood as witnesses to the fulfilment of the sentence of law. The tall thin man beside her was so still, so quiet; he could have been a statue. His face was void of emotion, shuttered against any such display, and closed even to her keen, concerned scrutiny.
It had been a terrible thing to witness the deliberate taking of a living being’s soul, even the soul of one of nature’s rare, true monsters like Dolohov.
It had taken five years to catch him. His trail across the world had been etched by his particular brand of savagery. She had learnt a lot of things about Dolohov in those five years, things she wishes she could scrub from her mind. He was not a manufactured monster, twisted by neglect or formed by cruelty. Rather he was a man born with some essential part absent from his soul: the part that is the essence of humanity, compassion, fellow feeling. Define it as you would, it was utterly lacking in Dolohov.
She had caught his eye just before the Dementor took him. He had grinned at her, predatory and sharp, and then he had licked his lips. She had seen him mouth something at her and through the glass she lip-read the words.
‘Mudblood whore, I would have enjoyed fucking you, bitch. I would…’
There had been more, but the Dementor had bent to him and the words were lost in a scream audible through the glass. A scream not of terror but of pure rage.
Afterwards, on the mainland away from the cloying, foetid atmosphere of the prison they stood, briefly, side by side gazing at the clean, fresh sea that stretched out and away from them. Briefly, his fingertips grazed against her hand. Then he turned and walked away from her, craving solitude. She knew better than to chase after him. Helpless to help him, she stood and watched him walk stiffly away from her.
She prayed silently that he would be all right.
She swallows the whisky in one go and refills the glass. She glances at the clock that loudly slices the time away. As the seconds fall into the heavy silence, each tick is a small stab of worry. She picks up The Prophet, which is lying on the table, and scans the headlines, trying to distract herself from her dark thoughts.
‘Last of Voldemort’s Monsters Exposed!’ Screams the banner headline. Underneath is a picture of a terrified, mouse of a wizard being dragged into the Ministry by two burly Aurors. Underneath the picture she reads, ‘Lionel Struther, (27) who this paper revealed to be one of Voldemort’s creatures…’ Disgusted, she hurls the newspaper to the side.
Struther was nothing more than a terrified, weak man who had stayed in his ministry job and processed forms for Umbridge. He was hardly a monster just a small man scared into his petty evils by fear. She wonders how many more will never face questioning, as to their actions during the war, because they are fortunate enough to have the right connections or because they have not been ‘exposed’ by the witch-hunt The Prophet has conducted.
Witch-hunt, what an ironic term she thinks and snorts. Half the bloody wizarding world, including many of the newspapers own staff, would be locked up if The Prophet’s accusations were true.
How conveniently comforting it must be to see the label ‘monster’ attached to such a normal man. That way, he is set apart from all those who let the smaller monsters of their own souls come babbling out during Voldemort’s ascendancy. By cataloguing Struther in this fashion, those same good readers of The Prophet, whose consciences might otherwise disturb their sleep, can rest peacefully knowing such a label could never be applied to themselves. Better if the simple truth of a terrified man scared into compliance had been told. Then more people might examine their own actions and such things might never happen again.
No, Struther was not a true monster and calling him one trivialised the crimes of those individuals who hungrily took the Mark. Those who for power, sadistic enjoyment, financial gain, hate or belief willingly embraced Voldemort and all he embodied. These people are the ones who Hermione has come to think of as the real monsters.
People who walked and talked, laughed and loved, yet were so twisted in their beliefs that the petty and gross barbarities they committed were right and justified to them. ‘A necessary cleansing.’ She had heard one of them say, as if all those they had hurt were no more than an infestation of ants, to be casually exterminated.
Undoubtedly, some initially attracted by Voldemort’s promises regretted their decision. Hermione has a list of their names in her desk. Appended to each is the nature of their deaths and, where possible, the Death Eater who was responsible. The price of doubt was death. Voldemort was not a forgiving being.
Voldemort. Tom Riddle, an unwanted, unloved child possessed of the gift of tremendous power and the curse of enjoying the cruel exercise of it. His understanding of the world defined by what he could seize and hold, dominate and subjugate. Believing absolutely in his right to make the world into his image of what it should be, if he could but crush it in the palm of his hand. So fractured in his sanity that he willingly shattered his soul for a horrible travesty of immortality.
She glances at the clock again in the dimming autumn light. Five hours and he has not come home. She pours another glass and tries to clamp down on the anxiety gnawing at her, for her own beloved ‘monster.’
For so some will always regard him, despite his trial and the testimonies of many who, whilst not liking the man, wanted his courage to be recorded. He is not an easy man to like; he is sharp and abrasive with a rapier mind and an equally cutting wit. Not many have ever seen the private man that is, with practised ease, hidden from the world. She is the only person, excepting Dumbledore, to see him howl when the demons that haunt him gnaw at his soul like a dog would a bone. But today her comfort was not enough and he shut even her out.
No one knew Riddle’s favourites as well as Severus. He walked with them, talked with them, eat and laughed with them possessing enough of a monster in himself to convince them he was, truly, one of their own kind. Later, when the price for his new power was laid bare before him, when he howled out his despair and guilt and self-loathing for the first time; he turned against his master. He knew exactly what retribution would be visited on him, were he ever discovered, and perhaps part of him would have welcomed such an agonising payment to the Fates.
After the war, he continued to help by using his knowledge of Voldemort’s elite to hunt them. He forged an unusual partnership with Granger. It had taken two years before he called her by her first name. Another year passed before he had tentatively kissed her and then apologised for having done so.
Hermione remembers a phrase she has read. ‘He who saves a single life saves the world entire.’ If that is true then surely he has done enough now. Surely he will realise his own life has value. But Dolohov was the last of Riddle’s elite, and her greatest fear now is that he will think the only monster that remains to be dealt with is himself.
It is fully dark now. The fear that has been battering at her since she watched him walk away races through her. She prays that what they have found together will be enough to tilt the scales of his balance, enough to make a difference in his choice.
All pretence of other activity is gone. She listens as the oppressive silence ticks its way on and on. Her heart grows heavier with every beat. Suddenly furious, she blasts the clock into pieces. The silence that follows is worse; it sucks at her, pulling her down. She can stand it no longer. She must try and find him.
Then she feels the wards drop, and she hears his familiar tread stop just inside the door.
‘Lumos,’ he says in an exhausted voice, and a low light skitters around the room.
Hardly daring to believe it, she turns slowly. He stands half in shadow, half in light regarding her. He looks awful and wonderful. Without a word he opens his arms to her and simply says, ‘Hermione.’
She rushes to him, hugging him so tightly he can hardly breath. He wraps his arms around her, crushing her to him, saying with his embrace what he cannot say with words.
‘Hermione,’ he breathes again and every syllable is a caress and a promise of the future they will share, together.