Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable 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 donít own J.K.R.ís characters. Please donít sue me; Iím not worth it anyway. Once Iím done, Iíll buy them dinner, several good bottles of wine and put them back where I found them.
AN: A little angst, but with the promise of hope. This story is set after the war. Snape has survived. How can Severus and Hermione, both damaged by their experiences, find comfort and peace. Please note, though not overly explicit, the characters in this story are Severus and Hermione. My thanks to my beta, agnes_grey.
Comfort Of Strangers
Snape had lived and that was his curse. He was a shadow man, a shade of his former self.
To outer show (and he had always so excelled at outer show) he remained the same carefully-honed, severe, blade of a man he had always appeared. Each morning he carefully constructed his armour, piece of black cloth by piece of black cloth, until his faÁade was once again assembled. But, if one could endure the hollow emptiness deep in his eyes, then one could see that shadows, ghosts and shades were the sum of him now.
He had lived, and he thought it a bitter punishment. Torn away from the numb, gentle, painless dark, he had been flung again into the agony that was breath and blood and life. Their white-hot needles had pierced his soul through, skewering him to this world on a warped Yggdrasil tree, no matter how he begged for release.
He lived: a shattered man. The aspects of his personality were too long partitioned from each other for easy re-unification, in an apartheid of survival, induced by manipulation, cruel conspirators and far crueller circumstance.
He was all broken-mirror pieces. Each aspect of him reflected yet separate and each so, so, alone. The jagged shards sliced him deeper still, if he tried to meld them together. They howled out their despair from the long established trenches and razor wire of his mind. The pain of the familiar far less than the pain of becoming whole again.
So Snape lived, an island, cut off, splitting apart the strong currents of life that surged anew. Their brightness, lifeís circular answer to such dark times (all the more valued because of the knowledge of what the darkness could steal) passed him by. He remained untouched, alone amid the company of others.
Hermione had survived, when so many others had not. She had survived and should have been able to feel the joy in that hard-won victory, and, at first, she had felt the crushing weight lift from her shoulders. But memory and loss and the bitter ghosts of all that she had endured stalked her, wolf like, in her mind and dreams.
Shadows taunted her. The dead, both friend and foe, twisted in her mind. Their accusing voices joined in a litany of bitter grief that she had lived, and they had not. They ripped away chunks of her with keen, cruel teeth, leaving raw wounds that would not heal.
The light of morning faded their chorus, but the wounds remained. She felt guilty when she laughed. Then the rage would come, a rage that overwhelmed her with it suddenness and its all-consuming burn. A rage that made her turn her face away from her friends, lest they see the inferno engulfing her soul.
The comfort of friends, of those who had shared in all the bitterness, was a temporary balm. Transient: for they too carried scars seared into their flesh and minds and sought their own solace.
And at night the sharp, gleaming teeth would be waiting, and the dreams would come again and again and again.
Hermione had survived, a heroine, a role model, one of societies golden examples. But, the platitudes and milk-white mouthings of politicians provoked a cold fury that left her speechless at their words, with the harsh taste of bile fresh on her tongue.
The memorial to the lost became a fulcrum for many peopleís grief, but not for her. Her memorial was the field and the earth, where so many of her friends had fallen.
Many years after, some, who had sworn that they would always mark the anniversary of the warís end, faded from their promise, but the field never faded. Every year its colour and life was an annual tribute, as if the earth itself bled its many colours in their memory. Each flower a memorial far more eloquent than a quarry full of dead marble.
Hermione had survived, but her world had been heaved off its axis. She was a wounded, damaged thing, and thought never to be whole again.
Their isolated, well-trodden orbits had crossed in that same field. Both were avoiding the crush and noise that accompanied the visit of some self-important dignitary.
When Snape first glimpsed her, in the field that he had come to think of as his sanctuary, he felt a flash of irrational anger at her intrusion. The familiar, flaying comment that would drive her away stilled on his lips as he saw her expression.
Hermioneís face echoed the demons that howled in his mind, and he thought it foul that her young face should be so marred.
For her part, she saw his harsh face softened by an emotion she could not name, but in his eyes she thought she glimpsed the ghost of understanding.
For the next three hours they had sat, side by side. The summer sounds of skylarks and the bees and the faint breeze stirring the leaves to a whispered susurration their only communication. At some point their hands had come to rest each upon the other, the simple action supplying what words could not.
In so many ways complete strangers, yet they had found a tenuous link that neither could explain, but that each clung to, as a man dying of thirst craves water. They found comfort in the othersí presence and gained some heartsease, a breath of peace in their damaged lives.
Their unspoken bond strengthened and grew in faltering half steps, each taking and giving, hurting and healing. Unconventional, inconceivable, un-natural some, with knives under their tongues, called it. Unbreakable it became.
Hermione came to know all of his mirror pieces. She snatched at each jagged shard, fitting it to its neighbour. Her blood and breath and soul became the strong glue that fused each together, until the day the howling stopped and he felt whole and, with that knowledge, he knew that without her he would never again feel complete.
Severus provoked her rage and hurt, driving the demons into the light, and for the first time she screamed their full soul-excoriating torture out to another. He took them for his own, forcing them into the light, where they dissipated into dust motes and she felt their tenacious, knifing-grip slip and loose.
In her dreams he laid the ghosts of her erroneous guilt, guiding her from nightmare landscapes into softer dreams, of their field in summer and peace.
She felt his soft mind touch and pulled it to her, melded it to her. Its soft, velvety touch became her solace and wound itself into her heartís strong core.
They bound themselves each to the other, body and soul, and the world could fly to perdition for all they cared of the opinion of fools who scorned such a union. For they had found each other, healed each other, loved each other, completed each other and that was enough to make the universe dance within them.