The rough fabric of the hood that covered his head was wrenched away and his eyes burned under the brightness of the light. He heard an ugly laugh in the darkness. He'd heard that laugh before; it always came before the pain. Again and again, he wished he was dead.
"Crucio!" The pain was instant and excruciating. His body spasmed, his face a frozen rictus of pain.
The torture seemed endless, but no matter how many times he lost consciousness, they dutifully revived him and then started anew. They crushed his lungs, then forced healing potions down his throat. They Scourgified his face, and he screamed as his eyes were scoured by invisible bristles and soap. They blackened his eyes and lashed him with leather until welts rose like furrows on his torso. Again, he was healed. Then again he was broken.
They asked no questions. He knew that he was not there to explain himself. It would not matter if he tried.
It never did.
As his eyes began to adjust to the light, he looked up at the faces of those who had taken him to this secret place to do unspeakable things to him. He soon realized that their faces were obscured. They wore golden-beaked masks that hid everything except for their mouths. Their scarlet robes were that of Aurors, but there were few other identifying markers. They had disguised their voices with some sort of charm.
"Oi, lads, I want a moment with 'im. Alone." They left him bleeding and stinking in a corner and conferred in a group while he whimpered in pain and struggled pitifully against the iron shackles on his wrists and ankles.
The others finally nodded and left the room, leaving him alone with only one of the robed figures.
"They wanted us to be anonymous, but it's just you and me now, so I'm going to do this face-to-face like a man. Unlike you." With a grunt, the man undid his mask and threw it to the ground, then shook his head so that his hood fell away from his face.
"Weasley," he growled from the floor. He spat blood and teeth onto the ground beside him, breathing shallowly.
"That's right," Ron said, grinning horribly. "Looks like we haven't broken you badly enough if you still recognize me. Now that pleasantries are over, I think it's high time I paid you back for what you did to my brother, you bastard."
The slicing hex to his ear was nearly unbearable, but that wasn't the end of it.
"Now we're going to reenact a little punishment one of your little Carrow toadies used on my dear sister under your watch," Ron said, pulling something sharp and black from his pocket. "Let's see how loudly you can squeal, shall we?"
As Ron heated the iron poker, Severus Snape vowed that he would get his revenge...that is, if he survived.
It was a drizzly April morning when Severus was released from prison with a bag containing his wand, three galleons, some random donated clothing in shabby condition, and a voucher for a bed in a flea-bitten boarding house in Knockturn Alley.
It had been a rough five years. Even with the good word of Harry Potter and the evidence from the pensieve, Severus had not been fully pardoned. He had hated the horrible guilty look on the bespectacled boy's face as he'd been led from the courtroom. If only he had died...the thought came to him again and again, but just as he was too cowardly to fight back, so too was he too cowardly to end his life by his own hand.
Luckily, the current administration had done away with the dementors, and instead of Azkaban, Severus had been kept in a musty old cell beneath the Ministry during the day and forced to clean the entire building top to bottom without magic at night. Along with a few other prisoners, none of whom liked him, Severus spent his sentence being as silent and small as possible. He was still mistreated, but it was the sort of mistreatment he was used to receiving.
He hadn't forgotten Ron Weasley, not by a long shot. Five years was a long time to think of how best to hurt the man. He'd seen the wedding photo on the man's desk while cleaning out rubbish bins and covered in charmed manacles that would give him a nasty shock if he touched anything that hadn't been attuned to his restraints. He knew from the various awards attached to Ron's desk that the man was still prideful about his image.
'Good,' he thought. 'It's easier when a man has something to lose.'
Hermione woke up with a pronounced crick in her neck. She groaned as she realized that she'd fallen asleep at her desk with her nose in a book yet again. A glance at the clock told her that her first class of the day wouldn't be starting for another few hours, but she realized that it was about time for Ron to get up or he'd be late for work.
Grumbling under her breath, she stumbled into their bedroom and pulled open the shades.
"Griffon's teeth, that's bright! Just ten more minutes!" Ron complained.
"Oh no you don't!" Hermione said, twisting her wand and pulling the covers off of the bed. Ron rolled about, blindly groping for the sheets, and rolled off the bed with a thud.
"Fine! I'm getting ready!" Ron pulled himself up from the floor and made his way to the bathroom to wash up.
Hermione rolled her eyes and used her wand to make the bed, then hurried to the kitchen to make breakfast. Ron came down the stairs soon after and buried his nose in the Daily Prophet.
"I didn't hear you come in last night," Hermione said as she mixed Ron's morning tea.
"Had to work late. Big case, you know," Ron said flatly from behind the paper.
"Ah, I see," Hermione said slowly. "So, I was wondering, there's a big event for the Potioneer's Guild in October and I'd love it if you could come. I'm receiving a distinguished award."
Ron dropped the newspaper irritably. "It seems like all you ever talk about is school, school, school! We've been married nearly seven years now and you've still got your head in a book! You keep saying that we'll start a family, but at this point it just seems like you're intentionally putting it off!"
"That's not true!" Hermione retorted, her voice growing shrill.
"Oh?" Ron asked, giving her a shrewd look. "Then maybe you wouldn't be adverse to trying to start a family now."
"Right now? Don't be silly. You're nearly late for work." Hermione crossed her arms.
"Then when I come home. Mione, you promised to be my wife, and part of being married is having a family. It's proper. It's what's done. Even Seamus has a kid now. Compared to the rest of them, I look like a fool whose wife is having an affair with the library!"
"I am not having an affair with the library!" Hermione fumed, her hands on her hips.
Ron looked at the clock over the sink and wrapped the rest of his toast in his napkin. "Shite! Gotta run! We'll talk more this evening."
He pecked her on the cheek and rushed towards the fireplace to floo to work. Hermione sighed deeply and cleaned up the mess he'd left behind. It was only then as she looked down at the crumpled newspaper that she saw the article about Snape's release from prison. The picture on the front was grainy, but she could tell that the man was horribly gaunt and scowling at whoever had taken the photo.
"No wonder Ron's in a foul mood," she murmured, shaking her head.
He'd fought hard to ensure that Snape was given a life sentence. During the trial, he and Harry had nearly stopped being friends. Later, after the sentence had been decided, they'd finally made amends, but Hermione knew it would forever be a sore spot.
She knew that Ron would not drop the subject of children, but her apprenticeship had already taken longer than it should have because Ron had insisted that a husband and wife should live under the same roof, so she was trapped playing dutiful housewife for part of her day instead of dedicating all of her time to her field of study.
'At least Snape has served his time,' she thought darkly as she began scrubbing the dishes.
It took Severus some time to get back into the habit of using his wand. In fact, he'd gotten so skilled in managing without it, that he didn't even have to use a Notice Me Not charm while he tailed Weasley on his daily rounds in the city. At first, nothing seemed amiss; Weasley's daily routine was actually rather boring. Later that afternoon, however, Severus followed Ron to Knockturn Alley. To his surprise, Severus watched Ron demand money from a few of the more disreputable shop owners.
"Without my protection, you'd be out of business by the end of the week," Ron said as he pulled a pouch from his pocket and opened it to receive the money he'd demanded. There was a fair amount of grumbling, but the shopkeepers relented.
Ron moved on towards a small side alleyway that was tinted with red lights and Severus could hear the giggling of women from where he stood in the shadows. He peeked around the corner to see Ron in the arms of several giggling witches who were wearing very little.
"A man has got to have his pleasures…" Ron was saying, but Severus couldn't bear it any longer. He fled in shadow until he reached the streets of Muggle London.
He leaned forward, trying to stop his head from spinning, and tried to quiet his stomach, which was threatening to spill its meager contents. That look...that look on Weasley's face was the exact smug, sadistic expression from when…
He couldn't even think it. He ran to a nearby hedge and vomited, then walked briskly on with his collar up to his chin. His thoughts of revenge were all that held him together, yet from what he'd seen he was certain that there were few ways that he could truly break Weasley in a way that would actually matter to the man.
'His wife,' he thought suddenly. "Does she even know? Not likely! She's probably so engrossed in her books that she has no idea."
A wicked grin twisted his lips and he set off in a different direction.
He had some inquiries to make.
Hermione had chosen a Potions apprenticeship because, in her opinion, it was the most flexible and practical subject. She'd hoped to go in to Magical Law Enforcement eventually, and being familiar with potions used for crimes as well as the off chance that she'd need to brew something to heal herself or a loved one would pay off in spades. Once she'd gotten her mastery, she would even be qualified to sell her potions on the side to the local apothecaries and build up a little savings as well.
She was backing around a corner with a stack of scrolls and her portfolio of research notes stacked precariously when she found herself tripping on a lump in the carpet.
"Ah!" she yelped, stopping short and losing her balance. She fell backwards, paper flying wildly around her.
Suddenly, it seemed as though everything was moving in slow motion. A scroll unfurled over her head and she suddenly found herself being caught by a pair of dark-sleeved arms.
"Careful, Miss Granger," said an eerily familiar voice and Hermione felt her stomach swoop.
She looked up into the unreadable face of Severus Snape and let out a tiny noise of surprise.
"Are you quite all right, Miss Granger?" he asked, tilting his head slightly to one side.
"A-actually, it's Weasley now," she corrected.
"Ah, yes. My mistake." He helped her get to her feet and she realized that the paper was still hanging, frozen, in the air. He twisted his wand in a certain way and the papers flew over to a nearby study table and magically stacked in the correct order. "Good afternoon, Mrs. Weasley."
For some reason, this made Hermione feel uncomfortable. "Hermione's fine, Sir."
"I am no Sir, I assure you," he replied, with a tiny twitch of a smirk. "Severus is fine, from one Potions Master to another."
"I'm not—" Hermione was cut off as he held up a hand.
"A little birdie told me that you're very close, but I must admit I was surprised to find that it's taken you so long."
"Well, I wouldn't have, but my husband..." Hermione suddenly felt silly.
"Ah yes, he must be very proud of you," Severus remarked.
"Well, I guess he is...in his own way." Hermione stared at her shoes, embarrassment coursing through her.
"Well, it has been nice chatting, but I must go. I have a very interesting book on transfiguring potions to read." Then he was around the corner of a bookcase and was gone.
Hermione was left with her heart beating rapidly in her chest.
Had Severus Snape just been...nice to her?
Hermione woke with a start on Friday, a wild panic growing in her chest. Her book on Properly Pungent Potions! She fell from her chair (where she'd fallen asleep again) and floundered in a toppled stack of old rolls of parchment before finally righting herself and grabbing the book from where it sat under three magazines and an empty plate from her evening meal from the night before.
Tucking it under her arm, she ran to pull up the shades and practically pulled Ron out of bed. He snorted, broke wind and then batted away her arm. "Merlin, Mione!" he groused, "Where's the fire?"
"BOOK! DUE! LATE!" Hermione shouted back, already halfway towards the door, her rumpled robes and snarl of sleep-tangled hair a fright.
"Ugh, books again," Ron sneered, his lip curling with disgust. "One day, Mione, I'm going to make you choose between the books and me!"
But Hermione had already slammed the door behind her.
The library wouldn't open until nine in the morning, and Hermione knew that if she only made it to the overnight drop box before they had a chance to receive the books in the morning, she might have a chance at avoiding a fine. She'd already rounded the corner with her eyes down at her feet to ensure she didn't trip when she found herself barreling into something solid and warm.
"OOF!" she said, jarred out of her single minded approach as a pair of familiar hands grabbed her by the shoulders to keep her from falling backwards.
"Fancy running into you again," Severus said as she looked up, a curious look almost like a smirk on his lips.
"O..of course…" Hermione stared, then looked away, embarrassed for having stared at him, but there was a warmth, a heat in his expression that drew her eyes and she couldn't help it.
"Are you here to return a late book as well?" He held up a thin volume that Hermione had read earlier that year on the medicinal qualities of dragon skin.
Hermione shook her head to clear her mind and then nodded.
"Well? Was that a yes or a no?" Severus asked, obviously amused.
"What? I mean, no, er, yes!" Hermione took a reluctant step back and Severus released her shoulders.
They walked the rest of the short distance to the drop box and deposited their books together.
"Well, then, I suppose this is goodbye again," Severus said, turning to go.
"Wait!" Hermione wasn't sure who was more surprised when she grabbed his sleeve.
"Yes?" He looked at her, his features unreadable.
Hermione racked her brain for anything to say. "Did you find that the chapter on the usage for Chinese Fireballs to be a bit lacking?" she said, finally.
His eyes widened just a bit at the question, but she could see his eyes working out an answer almost immediately. "You know, it's interesting that you mention that, because I was of the exact same opinion."
Even though the morning air was cold and Hermione was vaguely aware that she looked rumpled beyond belief, they sat and chatted on one of the nearby benches, eventually getting into an argument about whether there was a third use for a Fireball's egg that made Hermione forget she hadn't eaten anything all day. When her belly gurgled loudly for the second time, Severus held up a hand to silence her.
"You need to eat or you're going to pass out," he said. "You need to take care of yourself if you want to complete your apprenticeship in one piece. I should know, I've been in your exact situation before, and it led to...an avoidable disaster."
Hermione nodded and stood. "I have a bad habit of forgetting to eat. Ron refuses to cook, so it's always up to me to fix something for myself."
"Well then, remind me to pack you a lunch next time we run into each other. Can't have you collapsing in the middle of the library. The librarians would have a conniption," he replied silkily, and Hermione felt her heart flip-flop in her chest again.
She swallowed the lump that had been building in her throat and tried to smile more confidently than she felt. "I guess I'd better be off to the coffee shop, then."
"If you mean Bellissimo's, I'm headed in the same direction, but I need to turn off about a block before we get there. Meeting with Master Ellwyn, you see, and he doesn't like it when I'm late. If you wouldn't mind, I can accompany you and we can finish our discussion," Severus offered.
"That would be brilliant!" Hermione exclaimed, her voice getting squeaky with excitement, and she clapped her hands over her cheeks to hide the flush that was spreading uncontrollably over her cheeks.
The conversation was as brilliant as she'd hoped, and they parted ways with the assertion that more research was needed before ruling out a third use for the eggs in question.
Still, Hermione had the feeling for the rest of the day that none of what they'd said had mattered as much as the things that they hadn't spoken aloud.
Over the next few weeks, Hermione found herself looking for Severus every time she visited the library. Sometimes, he'd merely raise his hand in a silent wave and continue on with what he was doing, and other times, he'd stop and chat with her, often offering reading material for her to look into. Hermione often thought of things to ask him about before visiting. Sometimes they would get to talking for hours, or at least until Hermione had to dash off to her next lecture.
Things with Ron continued to be strained whenever they ate together at breakfast, and Hermione was grateful that he was working late so often. She began waking herself up far earlier than usual and heading out to her apprenticeship before Ron got up in the morning, leaving a Muggle alarm clock to do the dirty work of waking him up. She felt a vague sense of guilt that she was relieved when she didn't have to spend time with him, but she also knew that it would just be another fight she didn't want to have. Had they always fought like this, and if so, why was it only bothering her now? Hermione thought deeply, but no answers seemed forthcoming.
But perhaps most maddeningly of all were the dreams where long arms draped in black curled around her from behind and long, slim fingers deftly found their way under her robes until she cried out in pleasure and waking her with a need that could not be sated.
One afternoon, Hermione stopped off at a cafe after grabbing her newest library rental and found Severus sitting near the back of the shop with an espresso and a Muggle newspaper. There was something about the way he sat with a soft-looking scarf wrapped around his thin neck several times that made Hermione feel a deep sense of nostalgia. She slowly made her way to where he sat, and from the way that his shoulders tensed as she approached, she could tell that he'd noticed her coming his way despite the fact that he'd kept his head buried in the paper. Again she was struck by the thought that he'd planned to be there somehow, despite the fact that she knew he'd already been there when she'd walked in.
"Hello, Severus," Hermione said, smiling nervously. "Hope I'm not disturbing you."
"Not at all," Severus replied, gesturing to the empty chair across from him. "Please, feel free to join me."
Hermione sat. She'd only meant to wait until her drink was ready, but she ended up staying there long after she'd finished it. The topic of conversation soon turned to the event looming on horizon.
"But surely he will be accompanying you to the Annual Awards Dinner," Severus said, his full attention focused on her.
"He...he's got work that night," Hermione finished lamely.
"Oh? I'd heard that there were going to be some rather fascinating presentations by noted Potions Masters from around the world," Severus said, his voice slightly filled with longing. "Oh, to be a fly on that wall…"
There was something in his face that reminded Hermione of how she looked when she talked about her own special interests, and she found herself blurting, "Why don't you come with me, then? I have an extra ticket."
"Would you? I wouldn't want to impose," Severus replied silkily.
"Truth be told, I'd much rather have you in the audience than Ron. He just doesn't understand the draw of potioneering, and I doubt he ever will." Hermione sighed deeply. "Sorry, I know I shouldn't air my dirty laundry. I know it's going to sound absolutely mad, but you're the first person I've really been able to talk comfortably to in ages."
A dark flicker seemed to pass over his eyes for a moment, but he blinked and Hermione was certain it had to be a trick of the light.
"How about this?" Severus clapped his hands together, startling her. "Why don't we make an evening of it? We can get something to eat, go to the award ceremony, and then afterwards, stop off at a late-night diner for a treat. I happen to know just the one, too."
"That sure sounds fun," Hermione mused. "Well, I doubt that Ron will know the difference. He works so late every night. And I haven't really been out in ages…"
"There will be no potions talk too dry or too boring for me," Severus quipped. "I promise."
Hermione snickered at that. "Ok, Severus. You've got yourself a date!"
On a whim as she was leaving, Hermione stepped around the table and gave Severus a quick, friendly hug. He seemed a bit flustered as she pulled away, and Hermione could feel her heart hammering in her chest as though she'd just come off a roller coaster, but she flashed a brilliant smile and bid him farewell.
She did not see the man in Auror robes watching them from the ice cream shop across the way.
Severus had the perfect plan. Now that he had gained Hermione's trust, he could easily steer her to the right place at the right time on their "date" to "accidentally" catch Ron red-handed walking out of his weekly "appointment" at the local brothel. He knew it would hurt her to find out the truth of all of his late nights, but it was for the best. At first, Severus had silently disparaged Hermione for being such a poor judge of character when it came to Ron Weasley, but now he knew better. Ron had changed for the worse after the war and had flaunted his war hero status for his own benefit, while Hermione had merely retreated further into her studies to avoid the limelight. She was practically working herself to the bone, her nose in a book when she wasn't waiting on Ron Weasley hand and foot, and for what? It was a waste of her energy and talent, of that he was certain. She deserved better—much better than to be entangled in Weasley's dubious life choices by virtue of the ring on her finger.
She deserves someone better, someone who shares her interests, someone with a blasted brain in their head...someone like me. Severus thought back to her embrace, and his cheeks grew hot. Something fluttered in his chest, and he supposed it must be his heart stuttering to life after so many years of frozen resignation.
"Shite." He swore under his breath.
He had planned for everything, but this.
"Mione!" Ron called out, pushing the door to her study open, "Are you in here?"
"What is it?" Hermione called back, toweling her hair dry as she stepped up to the foggy mirror in their bathroom.
"Oh, now this is much better," Ron said approvingly, as he stuck his head into the bathroom, looking Hermione's body up and down with a rather hungry expression on his face.
"Shut the door! You're letting in a draft!" Hermione called back, annoyed.
"Fine," Ron said, pulling the door open, stepping inside, and closing it behind him.
Hermione rolled her eyes when he made a big show of chastely kissing her cheek, then stood behind her, his hands on her damp shoulders, his kisses growing slower and more languid as he began to trace down the curve of her neck with his lips. The mirror was still mostly fogged up, but their faces appeared fuzzily in the center and Ron leaned forward, his lips at Hermione's ear.
"You know," he whispered, his fingers growing tighter on her shoulders, "we could do it now. Right here."
Hermione stiffened under him as she felt him press against the back of her, his intentions overly clear.
"I don't have my wand. I can't cast the contraceptive charm," she said.
"I don't want you to," he whispered back, one hand tightening on her left shoulder, while the other dropped and began fiddling with his trousers. "Come on, Mione. Seven years is enough. Make a baby with me."
"No!" Hermione jerked away, her belly pressing uncomfortably into the counter, and she rounded on him, clutching her towel over her chest. Ron reached forward and tore the towel away, his hand grabbing hungrily at her breast as he stepped forward, practically pinning her against the counter. "Stop it, Ron! You're scaring me!"
"It would be so easy to knock you up," he whispered up her neck, prompting terrified goosebumps to form on her skin. "I promise, you'd love it too, every second. I know just how to make you...moan…"
His tongue darted out, and he licked swiftly across the lobe of her ear, eliciting a tiny cry of terror from Hermione's lips.
"Please…" Hermione's eyes had grown watery with tears. "Please stop…"
Ron's eyes narrowed and he pushed away from her, re-fastening his belt with a growl. "I'm not a rapist, Mione. But a husband has his needs, and you're being incredibly unfair by shirking on your duties. If you don't do your part, you can hardly blame me for being upset."
He left the room in a huff, slamming the door behind him, and Hermione felt herself sink down onto the plush bathroom rug, her hands shaking as she tried to wipe away the tears that were falling freely down her cheeks. With a horrible, shaking gasp, Hermione stared blankly at the bathroom door, waiting until she heard the front door to their house slam shut before she dared to move.
"No," she said, her voice low but steady. "You may not be a rapist, but you obviously don't care about scaring your wife to death."
And just like that, all the small things that had bothered her those past months (and years, really) of their relationship fell into place and Hermione had a single, dark, traitorous thought.
I don't love him.
Severus paced back and forth under the ornate park clock, smoothing the folds of his best robes down for the hundredth time.
Shit, she's late. He hated the nervous butterflies that were steadfastly fluttering in his belly. There was so much he wanted to do, but he knew that it was hopeless. This was the last time he was going to see her eyes looking at him with such warmth, of her radiant smile and joyful surprise each time she saw him. He'd tried to remind himself of this fact countless times only to dream of her sun-kissed skin against his and the taste of her lips on his tongue.
"But once she sees that it was all means to an end, she'll want nothing to do with me," he muttered, trying to force his stupid heart to listen.
"Sorry I'm late! We'll have to skip dinner!" Hermione appeared, breathless and stumbling in mid-air as she apparated almost on top of him.
"Got you!" Severus threw his arms out and caught her deftly in his arms, stumbling back only slightly and half-spinning her in his arms before setting her down to the ground. "There you go, then."
"Oh! Sorry, Severus!" Hermione said with a dopey grin, her hair flying wildly around her face. "You know, though, that was almost like dancing."
"I must admit that not many witches make a habit of Apparating into my arms, nor do they tend to dance with a scrawny specimen such as myself, so I can neither confirm nor deny that this is the case," Severus replied with a shrug.
"You really should dance," Hermione said, smiling bashfully. "I think you'd be brilliant."
"Only because you haven't had your toes mangled by my size thirteen dragonhide boots," Severus quipped.
"Oh, don't worry about that," Hermione said with a laugh, "Ron dances like a mountain troll, but I'm too quick for him."
"Indeed," Severus said under his breath.
"I've got the portkey here somewhere," Hermione rummaged in her purse, finally pulling out an old tap handle and holding out her hand. "You ready?"
Severus couldn't help but smile ever so slightly as he reached out, his fingers entwining in hers as she touched her ticket to the portkey, activating it.
They sped away in a twist of light and sound just as a group of red-clad figures materialized in a circle where they'd been standing.
The awards ceremony and presentation went off perfectly. Both Severus and Hermione sat in rapt silence as each Potions Master took the stage and brought to light all manner of new wonders in their chosen field. Hermione especially seemed excited about the leaps and bounds that Master Prewett had made in perfecting a Mind Restoration Drought that could work with Cruciatus victims. Hermione's thoughts turned to Neville's parents, who were still in permanent residence at St Mungo's.
At the end, Hermione was called up with three other highly achieving apprentices to receive a special honors pin and certificate for their hard work. Hermione knew that there were at least a hundred people in the audience, but she blushed a deep red when she saw Severus stand, applauding harder than he'd done at any of the moments earlier in the evening.
After, there was a little reception, and Hermione went to thank her Master for the honor, then helped herself to the little hors d'oeuvres that were passed around by house elves to take the edge off her hunger.
"Hermione, I am fairly certain that if you eat one more olive, you may very well brine yourself. Might I suggest that diner instead?" Severus had appeared at her side, his expression warm in a way she'd only seen glimpses of before. She thought she could detect a hint of sadness there, but then her stomach growled loudly and she squeaked with embarrassment.
"Only if there's pie," she said, her stomach growling in agreement.
"Obviously," he said, shaking his head. "I would not dare to suggest this diner unless it had a hearty selection of pie."
"Let's go, then," Hermione said, fixing him with a grin and taking his hand once more.
She did not seem to notice when he tightened his grip on her hand and squeezed it gently.
They Apparated away with a pop.
"Just around the corner, I promise it's not much further!" Severus said giddily.
Hermione was giggling behind him, her hand tightly in his as he led her along. It was obvious that her hunger and the late hour had made her rather silly. In his head, Severus had begun trying to figure ways out of the meticulous plan he'd been dreaming about putting into place for years.
I can just take her to the diner, then home. No need to break her heart. I can find another way to get even with Weasley.
He stiffened when he heard the telltale crack of multiple people Apparating.
"Hermione, let's—NO!" He turned and saw a jet of red light flying towards her back and jumped forward, pushing her down to the ground underneath him.
The stunner missed, and Severus had his wand out immediately. "Lumos Maxima!" he shouted, squeezing his eyes shut and covering Hermione's eyes with his free hand. The spell lit up the dark street and he could hear at least four voices cry out in pain.
"Oh no you don't, you worm." That voice.
Severus' body froze in terror, and he found that no matter what he did, he couldn't force himself to move, to fight back.
"Look at the coward," the voice continued, and Severus felt a foot pressing painfully against his back. Hermione struggled under Severus' weight, her hand trying to reach her wand sheath. The figure cast a Full Body Bind on Severus, and he went unnaturally rigid. The figure then kicked Severus off of Hermione and pointed a lit wand tip at Hermione's face. "And the whore."
Another red jet shot from the point of the wand, but Hermione had already raised a Shield Charm, and the stunner bounced off of it, rebounding and nearly hitting the figure in scarlet that wore a golden bird mask.
"Who the hell are you?" Hermione asked, her voice fierce.
"You don't deserve to know! Cheating Slag! Harlot!" The figure spat from behind the mask.
Hermione could hear the footfalls of several others behind her, but didn't dare to turn. "You're not making sense! We were just on our way to get some food before going home!"
"A likely story," the figure said, pacing in front of her with their wand still trained on her. "I'd suspected that maybe you were stepping out, but seriously? With Snape, of all people? I could have imagined him harming you to get back at me, but to think that you willingly participated? Frankly, I'm disgusted."
"What the fuck are you on about?! Oh, never mind! Petrificus Totalus!" Hermione shouted, shooting the spell at the figure, who just raised a shield charm and laughed.
"If that's how you want to play it, then how about this?" The figure made a gesture with a gloved hand, and Hermione felt two spells hit her in the back before everything went black.
"I could get behind giving Snape his comeuppance, but come on, mate! This is wrong!"
Hermione's head was swimming, but she could hear fierce whispers coming from the darkness on the other side of her eyelids. She wanted to open them, but it occurred to her that whatever she might see would then alert her captors that she was awake. Without opening her eyes, she tried subtly moving her body. It seemed as though she was restrained at the wrists in some manner. She suspected some sort of metal due to how cold it felt when she moved her wrists to a part that she hadn't been touching before and how it did not give against her movements. She could feel a breeze around her body, but she was lying on her back on something soft and surprisingly comfortable. Her wand was nowhere to be found, but that was expected. Slowly, she cracked one eye open and found that she was in a dimly lit room on what appeared to be a bed of some sort. She had to control an exclamation of disgust when she realized that she was wearing little more than her bra and knickers. In the corner, she could see a slumped figure attached to the wall with manacles on his wrists and around his neck.
"I see you're awake," An augmented voice, probably due to a charm of some sort, spoke. "Don't try to pretend that you're not. I can tell."
Hermione shivered. Modulation charm aside, the voice was icy cold, and full of fury, but she had no idea what she'd done wrong. "I don't even know who you are!" she said angrily.
"Oh, but you do," the figure said, and began to loosen the golden mask.
"Stop!" one of the other hooded figures yelled. "It's not right, what you're doing!"
"You know what I got on ya," the main figure said, "but if this offends your delicate sensibilities, I suggest that you leave. In fact, I suggest that all of you leave."
"We can't let you do this, mate! You're going too far!" Another figure had come up behind the first, and placed a gloved hand on their shoulder.
"Shut up! I have the right! Wizarding law says as much!" snapped the first figure, rounding on the others. "Or do you want people to know all of your dirty secrets? I could tell her, you know, then let her go and you just watch—this goody two-shoes little bitch will toddle right off to the Ministry and let everyone know. Do you want that? Or do you want to leave and spare yourself any misplaced guilt for witnessing my righteous course of action?"
Some of them muttered, their body language looking unsure, but one of them finally placed a hand on the main figure's shoulder and said, "Mate, you know this is wrong. We'll go, but if you can only have ten minutes and you know the rules of the room. No killing."
"I should think that this should be the opposite of killing," the main figure said with a sniff.
The others seemed reluctant, but they went, leaving Hermione with the single figure. Severus had begun to stir, but Hermione's focus was on their assailant.
"Where was I? Oh, yes," the figure loosened the golden mask, dropping it to the floor with a muted clang and threw back the scarlet hood.
"Ron?!" Hermione shouted in shock.
"Honestly, I thought you would have figured it out realier, you being so bright and everything," Ron said with a sneer, "but I suppose ol' Ron just didn't matter enough to you. Well, now, I bet that this has got your attention."
He undid his robes, and Hermione could see that he was shirtless underneath. He loosened his trousers and dropped them to the floor, leaving himself in a pair of briefs, his obvious arousal pressing against the cotton fabric. He pulled a small vial of potion from his pocket and walked it over to Hermione.
"Now," he said, "be a good girl and tell me what this potion says."
Hermione had to turn her neck a bit to read it. "No," she said, "but that's...fertility potion? What are you using that for?"
"Daft bird," Ron said, clucking his tongue, "Imperio."
Hermione felt her head go fuzzy.
"Now then, be a good girl and open your mouth," Ron crooned. "You'll need your medicine if you're going to get good and pregnant tonight."
Hermione opened her mouth obediently.
"Stick out your tongue and beg me for it," he commanded, sucking in a sharp breath as his arousal twitched against her shoulder.
"Please...please...Ron…" her mouth said. "Give me my medicine!"
He poured it into her mouth with a moan. Hermione dutifully swallowed it down and could almost instantly feel warmth in her lower belly as it did its magic.
"Tell me how much you want my baby," Ron said, his voice growing husky. "Tell me how you want...how you want a baby pumped inside of you while Snape is forced to watch."
"I want…" She hesitated, fighting the pleasant haze. "No...I...I want...a...ba...baby…"
Severus had finally awakened and was struggling against his bonds, his eyes focused on Hermione with a look of pure desperation and horror.
"Oh god, Mione, I can't wait any longer." Ron was caressing her breasts and sucking on her nipples, then moved around the foot of the bed and crawled up towards her, his eager expression focused on her. He placed a hand on her belly. "Mine. Mine to do what I will because I am your husband. You're going to be the mother of my children, Mione, it's only proper. It's my right. Just imagine how I felt when I found out that you've been denying me all this time because of him!"
Severus growled and fought against his manacles, but it became obvious that his mouth was covered with some sort of gag.
"Oh," Ron whined, as he finally slid out of his underwear, "I'm not going to last long inside of you, I hope you know that."
Hermione moaned underneath him, her fear and her false arousal somehow one and the same.
He pulled out another vial from the side drawer. "This one is for me. Any guess as to what it does?"
Hermione took one whiff and tried to strain against her bonds, but the Imperius curse was still partially working on her. She recognized that smell. A virility potion. They were not strictly banned, but it was hard to get ahold of one, especially since one was supposed to get a prescription beforehand.
"Only the best for my wife!" Ron said smugly. "My soon to be pregnant wife!"
Hermione could feel herself getting very wet indeed, and she knew that there was little she could do. Part of her head was still swooping with a daft pleasure at the thought of being impregnated by this power-hungry, unhinged man, even as her rational mind tried to fight it off.
Ron pressed his wand against her neck. "I think we can do better than this. I want to hear more begging from you, Mione. Beg me to fill you. Beg me to knock you up. Beg me to fuck you and fill you with my seed and get you pregnant."
"Please, Ron," Hermione bit out, her mind fracturing between what he wanted her to say and what she wanted to say. "Please f...fill—you."
"What?" Ron leaned forward, his erection pressing against the core of her panties like a hot, pulsing promise. "C'mon, wife, don't stutter, now."
"I said," Hermione whispered, "Fuck. You."
She lunged forward before Ron could react and grabbed his wand in her teeth. The force of her rage combined with his wand blew him backwards against the wall with a heavy thud. Hermione's hair crackled around her with energy, giving off tiny blue sparks and without a word, the locks clicked open on her restraints. She hurried over to Severus, freeing him as well, then summoned ropes around her unconscious husband. Summoning her patronus, she sent it to fetch Harry, and then she blew open the doors to the secret room, incapacitating any of the figures she could catch on the other side and then wrapped Severus' arm around her shoulder, walking him gingerly over to rest on the bed. One of his eyes was swelling up, but he didn't appear to have any broken bones, and most of his cuts and abrasions were easy for Hermione to heal.
"I'm so sorry," she kept saying over and over again.
"It's not your fault," Severus said hoarsely. "I...I didn't know this would happen."
"I saw how you reacted to his voice," she said, "before, in the alley. He did something to you, didn't he?"
"I...I don't want to talk about it," Severus muttered.
"He hurt you." It was a statement, not a question.
Severus nodded silently "He also hurt you."
"I'm fine," Hermione said, trying to reassure him.
"I could not bear it," he ground out. "I felt like I was going mad watching him hurting you...controlling you…"
"Shhh," Hermione wrapped her arms around him as he began to rock back and forth, "It's ok, now. We're free."
"No, Hermione," he said, "you don't understand. We're never free. I'm never free. He'll always be there, in my mind, with the...implement that he used. Laughing."
"There are ways, Severus," Hermione said. "Muggle ways. They help. I promise."
"I...I just wanted revenge," Severus said brokenly, "but I managed to muck that up too. And I almost got you…"
"Shhh," Hermione shushed him, hugging him tightly. "Ron chose to do these things. It is not your fault."
"Not another word, Severus."
Harry Potter and his Auror squad found Hermione sitting next to Severus and comforting him as he rocked and muttered to himself, Ron lying naked in a corner trussed up with magical ropes with a gag over his mouth as he seethed silently.
The other four red-robed accomplices were eventually unmasked. Apparently Seamus, Eddie, Lavender, and Gregory had been roped into covering Ron's taste for revenge. All four had secrets that Ron had been holding over their head for years. Out of the four, only Gregory Goyle was sent to prison for six months for casting two extra-strength stunners on Hermione, who was neither identified as a suspect nor evading arrest. The others were stripped of their titles and jobs and given a year of probation.
Hermione waited for a month to finish her Potions mastery before she finally filed for divorce.
And as for Ron, he was originally only given a few years for his crimes against Hermione, but as the investigation wore on, it became obvious that Ron had been up to multiple illicit behaviors, which eventually led to him being convicted of multiple serious crimes and sentenced to seventy five years in prison.
True to her word, Hermione recommended a Muggle therapist that specialized in PTSD and sexual assault. Severus protested, but Hermione was firm in her offer to cover the cost.
Eventually, he confessed to her his original plot, to try and expose Ron and ruin him using her as a pawn. Hermione was taken aback, but after a few weeks of thinking it over and talking to her own therapist, she forgave him.
"I understand why, but don't ever do it again," she said, throwing her arms around him as he sighed deeply with relief.
"You have my word," he said. "But there is only one more thing I would like to ask."
"Yes?" she looked up at him, and she could have sworn she heard it before he spoke the words.
"Hermione, may I kiss you?"
"I thought you'd never ask," she murmured, pressing her lips against his.
...Three years later…
"I look ridiculous, Severus!"
"No, you look radiant."
"That remains to be seen."
"Says you, the person who cannot look at herself."
Hermione laughed, her voice filled with a joy that Severus would never tire of hearing, and placed a hand on her rather distended belly. "I'm so glad that it's nearly over."
"Oh, but it's only just begun," Severus replied, arching an eyebrow, "There's nappies, and feedings, and plenty of not sleeping. Remember the book?"
"How could I forget the book?" Hermione asked, her voice growing exasperated, "It nearly gave me a heart attack by listing everything that can go wrong!"
"I know. It's obviously rubbish and we're going to be perfect parents," Severus replied, deadpan.
They walked past a frozen fountain, their bodies bundled up for the cold with a warming charm over them both for good measure. A group of prisoners in marked suits with charmed shackles were emptying rubbish bins and shoveling snow. Severus hurriedly ushered his heavily pregnant wife in the opposite direction, but not before he noticed a shaggy red-haired inmate with a shovel and a look of utter devastation and fury on his face.
"Let's get warm, my love," he said, taking her hand, "I know just the pace to go, too. Do you trust me?"
She wrapped her arms around him tightly and with a twist of his wand, they Apparated away together, their future bright and full of new beginnings as the source of their past trauma swore impotently, his body wrapped securely in the iron consequences of his own making.