This morning Draco had thought, his life could not get any shittier. That was before his mother and aunt Bella returned from their little excursion to his godfather’s house - an excursion that would probably cost all of them dearly. His mother explained to him what happened in hushed tones, while her sister had rushed into what had once been their ballroom to inform their master of their failure and, more importantly, Severus Snape’s betrayal. Draco could pinpoint the exact moment when the news was received as his master’s cold livid voice rang throughout the manor making the hairs on his arms stand up in alarm. A moment later a sharp burning of his Dark Mark signalled that he was called and with him probably every single Death Eater there was. It should not have been a surprise. Severus Snape had been one of the Dark Lord’s most trusted Death Eaters, a man whose loyalty had been almost a given. Losing him - or better realizing that it had all been an act - was something the Dark Lord would want to discuss and Draco didn’t mean in a nice way.
His legs felt heavy while he walked down towards the Throne Room, his meagre options presenting themselves before him with growing clarity. His task to get Albus fucking Dumbledore had just gotten even more impossible, not that it hadn't been difficult enough already. But now that his mother had gone blabbering about things she wasn’t even supposed to talk about - to a traitor nonetheless - Draco had another obstacle on his way. Severus Snape was aware of his task to kill the Headmaster and by now he had probably shared his knowledge with the man himself. If he had, it would be impossible for Draco to fulfil the task he had been given, as there was no way Albus Dumbledore would just stand by and watch him while he attempted to assassinate him - not that Draco had any experience in killing anybody, to begin with. He did not want to kill the Headmaster but Draco did not need to see the Dark Lord's livid face to fear for his family in case he turned his back on the Death Eaters or failed in his attempts. There would be no saving his mother and father from torture and death and the downfall of the Malfoy name would be an inevitable consequence. But if there was something Draco valued more than his own life, it was his family. He had to save his parents, no matter the costs. But how?
The key to this question was Severus Snape - the traitor, but also his godfather. His betrayal was both fortunate and unfortunate for him. If Draco attempted to kill Dumbledore, the man would be his worst nightmare and there was no way he could succeed. That left him with two options: Option A was to assess the man’s loyalty towards himself and his family. If there was any chance he could trust him, he could always seek out the man’s help. Because his godfather’s betrayal showed one thing: it was possible to betray the Dark Lord. Uncle Severus had done it for years after all. If there was someone understanding his situation and being able to help him out of this mess then it was Severus Snape. If Draco found he could not be trusted then there was always option B. Killing Dumbledore would not be possible for him as long as Snape had an eye on him. But maybe he did not have to, to save himself and his family from the Dark Lord’s wrath. Because there was another man Lord Voldemort wanted to see dead now quite desperately - Severus Snape. True, his chances for killing him weren’t much bigger than for killing Dumbledore but the man was his godfather and maybe still trusted him to a certain extent. And this was an advantage he could use - one way or the other.
When Draco finally entered the Throne Room most of the other Death Eaters were already assembled. His aunt Bella was lying at the Dark Lord’s feet shivering with what could be fear or delight - with her it was always difficult to tell. He took his place in the back of the room, right next to his father, who was only a shadow of his former self. Lucius Malfoy had once been a proud strong man but after disappointing his master in the Department of Mysteries his pride had been substituted by fear and submissiveness. Even though Draco was disgusted by his father’s sudden weakness he could understand as he had been there for most of his punishments. Draco kept seeing the images whenever he closed his eyes at night, kept hearing his screams and pleas whenever the room fell silent. Lord Voldemort had broken his father into pieces and no matter how thoroughly he was put together afterwards, the cuts and breaks would always stay visible for anybody watching closely enough.
“It has recently come to my attention that there was a traitor amongst ussss,” the Dark Lord’s cold voice rang through the room and brought him back to his current miserable situation. “Severus Snape has not only decided to turn his back on us, but he was also found to have betrayed us for years, while secretly being Dumbledore's dirty little spy. Tell me, how was it possible for him to do so without anyone but Dear Bella suspecting a thing?"
He looked at them all, small red eyes digging into their heads looking for answers. None of his followers dared to reply, each of them being aware that there was no right answer to their lord’s question and so Lord Voldemort finally continued: “Is it maybe because Severus Snape was not the only traitor amongst us? Who else of you is serving another master, secretly betraying everything we stand for?”
Distrustful red eyes roamed the room looking for any sign of betrayal or weakness. Draco knew he had to appear strong even though he could clearly see the tremors that started to run through his father's hand. Still, his master's eyes came to rest on him a moment later.
“Draco,” the Dark Lord said, staring at him calculatingly. “It has been brought to my attention that your mother decided to ignore my orders and seek out the traitor to ask for his help. How did that come to pass? Is it possible that your own mother does not believe in your abilities? Tell me Draco, are you able to do what I asked of you?”
There only was one possible answer for him here because the consequences of him negating the Dark Lord’s question were none he was willing to bring over his family. “Yes, my Lord,” he said, bowing his head respectfully. “My mother acted without my knowledge. She should not have worried as I already have a few ideas." He lied, keeping his eyes on the floor. “I will not disappoint you.”
“See that you don’t,” his master hissed. “Or you and your family will learn what it means to disappoint Lord Voldemort.”
Draco nodded even though his innards turned to ice at the man’s words. Luckily the Dark Lord seemed to be finished with him as his eyes returned to the woman lying at his feet.
"Now to you, Bella," he said, his voice suddenly sounding almost gentle. "You have done us a great service in exposing this dirty little traitor. As a reward, I give you the permission to hunt that dirty little Mudblood you told me about earlier. What was her name again?”
“Hermione Granger, Master.” His aunt said, much to Draco’s surprise. Hermione Granger? What had the mudblood done to gain his aunt’s interest?
“Ah, yes, Miss Granger. Do with her and her dirty Muggle-parents as you please, as long as they are dead afterwards." The snake-faced man said, an evil smile on his lips. “Play with them as long as you want, my Dear. You deserve to be rewarded for your services.”
"Yes Master, thank you, Master," Bellatrix replied, her voice sounding almost aroused. For a moment Draco felt almost sorry for the girl. Her death would not be a quick one that was for sure.
“Now to the rest of you,” the Dark Lord continued, his eyes travelling through the room. “I want that traitor, Severus Snape, dead. Whoever brings me his corpse will be greatly rewarded. Kill that bastard,” he hissed, his voice getting louder and more aggressive, “and bring me his remains. Whoever does so, will be granted a wish, any wish as long as it is in my abilities to fulfil it.”
Draco looked around the room and saw several Death Eaters murmur in excitement. He was sure that more than one of them already made plans on how to kill Severus Snape. How much time did he have to make up his mind about his own plans? Would the man ever still be alive when the new school year started? Draco didn’t know which meant he would have to be ready to quickly adjust his plans. For now, he would start reading up on several things, most importantly Occlumency. Because whatever path he chose in the end, this would be the skill he would need most in the year that followed.
Severus told the Headmaster about Bellatrix’s and Narcissa’s visit and relayed their conversation as carefully as possible to him. Dumbledore listened to his words silently and did not flinch or even comment when he told him of his decision to leave the Dark Lord’s ranks and therefore give up his position as Dumbledore’s spy. When Severus finally explained his decision to cut off his arm, Albus only nodded, his gaze understanding and yet disappointed. After the potions master finally finished his tale, he could hear the old man sigh and say:
“I understand your decisions, Severus. You found yourself on a crossroad in your life, as you now have something to live and fight for. After you decided to end your service for the Dark Lord, you were suddenly under a lot of pressure and ridding yourself from the Dark Mark most likely saved your life and sanity. But still… More than ever I now wish you had told the girl about the link between the both of you. She will have felt your pain and will not even have had any idea what happened to her."
Severus stared at the Headmaster with wide eyes. The man was right! Merlin, how could he have forgotten that not long ago he had felt Miss Granger being cursed, that he had felt her pain as if it had been his own? The pain he had inflicted on himself had been so much worse and she had probably felt it all. It hadn’t even needed Bellatrix to torture the girl, as he had already done so himself.
Severus looked at the Headmaster in desperation. “We have to find her, Albus. If she is still alive, we need to rescue her, get her back,” he said, fully aware how frantic he sounded. Severus did not care. He needed the man’s help and he needed it now.
Albus looked at him with calm, blue eyes. “Listen into yourself, Severus, concentrate. You have a connection with the girl. If she is indeed alive, you should be able to tell. Maybe you can even find her..."
He looked at the man with a sigh and did as he was told. But it was of no use. His senses were blurred by all the potions he had taken, rendering him unable to feel… Well, anything. Or was it because the girl was no longer alive? He shook his head, fear gripping his insides once more. Had fate been so cruel to take Miss Granger from him before he even had the chance to get to know her?
“It is of no use, Albus. Right now I can hardly feel my limbs, let alone someone who’s most likely hundreds of miles away,” he said gloomily. “Is there nothing else we can do?”
At that, Albus Dumbledore looked at him with blue, reassuring eyes, before he nodded. “Don’t worry, my boy. If your Miss Granger is still alive, Fawkes will find her,” he said and called for his phoenix. The majestic creature appeared between them a moment later and listened attentively to the words the headmaster whispered into his ear. Finally, the bird nodded and disappeared in a ball of flames and smoke, Severus’ heart beating heavily as he waited for any news - preferably good ones.
Fawkes reappeared in the office only minutes later. Severus watched him land on the Headmaster’s desk, standing proud and tall in front of the man, before he leaned his feathered head against the man’s forehead. Severus guessed that some sort of communication was going on, as he saw Albus close his eyes in concentration. It took all his willpower to remain seated instead of pacing the office, but doing so would have probably broken the man’s concentration. And that was the last thing he wanted.
Finally, after what felt like ages, he saw the man look up, his eyes looking at him in a way that gave him hope. "It appears Miss Granger and her parents are alive. Apparently, the girl is in a Muggle hospital. There do not seem to be any visible wounds, but she appeared to be unconscious,” he explained and immediately Severus jumped to his feet, causing the phoenix to jump in surprise.
“In a Muggle hospital, you say? Sweet Salazar, we have to get to her. Who knows what they will do to her? I've heard Muggle tend to cut people open…” Gruesome pictures appeared before his eyes and Severus found himself shudder in horror. He needed to get the girl out, safe her from whatever fate he had brought over her.
“Now, now, Severus,” Albus soothed him and carefully got up from his chair. “I am sure Miss Granger is not about to go into surgery,” he said and smiled knowingly. Severus wanted to choke him, but that probably would not be advisable, as he still needed the man to get him where he wanted to be. And somehow that was Hermione Granger’s side.
“That may be as it is, but we still need to get her out and into safety. They will keep looking for her and I am not going to lose her, too,” he urged the man and earned himself an inquiring look.
“So you admit it?” Albus asked him, a knowing smile on his lips.
“Admit what?” Severus asked, slowly losing his patience.
“That you care for her,” Dumbledore answered. Luckily the man did not expect his immediate answer, as his phoenix jumped from the table in this very moment and started to fly in front of them. His schoolmaster grabbed one of the bird’s legs and Severus hurried to do the same. Only a moment later they were gone, disappearing in a ball of fire and smoke.
It could have only been seconds until Severus and Professor Dumbledore appeared in a dimly lit hospital room, causing the elder Granger’s to jump from their chairs in surprise. Severus could not fault them, as it had most likely been the first time, somebody appeared in front of them out of thin air, travelling with a phoenix.
“What the… Professor Snape?” Severus heard Dan Granger say, before the man rushed towards him, a confused expression on his face.
“Mr Granger, Mrs Granger,” Severus greeted back, his eyes involuntarily travelling to the motionless girl on the bed. She looked pale but seemed to rest peacefully and Severus would feel relief, if she hadn’t been connected to several scary looking muggle devices, her mouth and nose covered by some sort of transparent mask. “The Headmaster and I were informed there was some sort of emergency concerning your daughter,” he stated and focused the girl’s father with a serious expression. “We came to see if we could be of any assistance.”
It wasn't a lie, he thought and from the corner of his eye, he already saw Dumbledore nod in confirmation. Good, at least the man was playing along.
Emma Granger nodded and looked at them full of wonder and relief. “Professor Dumbledore, Professor Snape," she greeted them, stepping closer. "We are so glad you are here. Maybe you can help her. The doctors… they don't know what's wrong with her, you see? Hermione suddenly experienced terrible pain in her left arm… she’s been frantic. I’ve never seen her like that. We did not know how to contact you so we did the only thing that came into our mind: we called an ambulance.”
Severus nodded, guilt flooding him. All of this was his fault. “But why is shy unconscious then? Couldn’t they just give her something for the pain?” he heard himself ask, staring numbly at the silicon tube disappearing in Miss Granger’s arm. Those Muggles were barbaric.
This time it was Dan Granger answering him, his voice sounding grave: “They did, at first. But somehow it did not help. She just kept screaming and tossing, no matter what they gave her. So they finally knocked her out. They did brain scans, you know? The pain receptors in her brain are reacting like crazy, but physically there seems nothing wrong with her. We are at a loss.”
Severus wasn't. He knew exactly what had happened to her. If they woke her now, she probably wouldn't feel a thing, as he was drunk with potions and therefore without pain. But for some reason, he didn't think it would be advisable to tell the Grangers that bit of information. Instead, he said: "The Headmaster and I believe that this might be a magical issue. You see, your home has recently been under the attack of a wizarding terrorist group that has recently resurfaced. We believe that Miss Granger might have fallen victim to one of their curses.”
The Muggles stared at him with wide eyes. “She is cursed?” her mother said, while her father at the same time exclaimed: “We were under attack?”
Severus nodded. “As it looks calling the…” be searched his brain for the right word “ambulance and leaving your home might have saved your lives.” It was a big, fat lie, of course. But he remembered Miss Granger’s words well and he didn’t plan on them taking her from him. This simply wasn’t an option.
The muggles looked at him with wide eyes, before Mrs Granger sagged on a chair, next to her daughter’s bed. “That is… what are we going to do now? Do we even have a home any longer?”
At that, the Headmaster moved forward and Severus silently prayed that the man would play along and not ruin the story, he had just sold them. Surely the man understood that they had to avoid causing a rift between those Muggles and the magical world, if they wanted the girl to stay in school?
“Your home can be easily restored with magic,” Albus Dumbledore said, his eyes looking at them with calm reassurance. "I will do so, as soon as Miss Granger is recovered and safe. I would advise moving her back to Hogwarts for the time being, as the castle has the strongest wards in wizarding Britain.”
Mr Granger looked at him with a doubtful expression on his face. “Do you think she might still be in danger?” he asked, looking back and forth between Severus and the Headmaster.
“As far as I know those… terrorists aim their aggression towards non-magical people such as you,” Severus said, staring at the elder Grangers meaningfully. “But as long as we have not found out what has caused her such an amount of pain, we can not be sure. I would recommend relocating yourself to another country, until this unfortunate situation can be resolved. Miss Granger could always visit you using an international port key, while being able to finish her education at Hogwarts.”
Miss Granger’s parents looked at each other, a lost expression on their face. It was obvious that they were overburdened by the amount of new information and decisions they had to make. Albus seemed to have reached the same conclusion, as he said: "There is no need to decide anything right away. For the time being, I would like to invite you and your daughter to stay with us at the castle. It is usually inaccessible for non-magical people such as you, but as the Headmaster of the school it is within my rights to make exceptions."
The muggles looked at each other and even though Severus was pretty sure that they were incapable of mind-speech, some sort of conversation seemed to be going on between them, even though no words were exchanged. Finally, the woman sighed and said: "Alright, take us and Hermione to the castle then. Even though I am not sure how we can leave the hospital without causing a ruckus. It’s not like we could cause people to forget about us and Hermione’s strange condition.”
Severus’ heart was feeling much lighter already. He looked towards them with a grim smile and said: “Well, actually we can.”