There was no light, no sound, no voice. The world had completely fallen away. A deep, frigid void leaving nothing behind but pain and the stench of blood.
Hermione had lost all sense of time as she lay motionless. Her greyed curse scarred eyes staring half-lidded into the world above. Waiting, waiting for the hands that came to defile her. She had long lost the ability to fight. Her body weakened by countless days without food or water. Her only sustenance, a thick salty liquid given to her as a 'reward' after the hands had retreated.
She had learned quickly, conserving her strength to survive just one more torturous night. Her throat long since broken by a fist during one of the first nights when she'd believed herself stronger than her captors, preventing her pleas for mercy—for death, from passing her lips.
A fever had taken her hearing. Left inside a cage exposed to the elements of the forest to which she had been taken. Or so she could assume by the smell and sound that had accompanied her beginning days. Infection had quickly set in on the long gashes around her sides and over her stomach and legs, left to fester.
She'd almost believed it to be a relief as she didn't have to hear the mournful desperate pleas of the others that had surely been taken. None of them had spoken to her, their voices young and high as they begged to go home—begged for the hands to stop.
Her sight had been what felled her. Attacked just as she was leaving behind her family. Stolen away, in broad daylight. She had hoped she had run far enough away before she had taken her fall, sparing the lives of her parents but that hope had been quickly extinguished.
The hands came like clockwork, or so she could assume. Her body constantly floating in and out of the silent reality that had become her waking world. Slowly opening her legs, running up her bruised knees to what they sought between. Forcing her release, time and again. Her body no longer had the strength to express her shame, her mind having merely shut off in a last attempt to shield her sanity.
Her clothes were nothing but shredded wisps of thread, caked in her life essence. The long unhealed wounds of countless slicing hexes having seen to their departure. Her jeans had been taken after her first escape attempt. Three days after she'd been taken. She'd made it fairly far given that she'd been unable to see. Though ultimately she'd wound up getting turned around and was caught just outside the wards that she'd set off.
It had only been after the fever had taken her hearing that she'd been given a meager blanket to shield her from the elements. The fabric was barely enough to keep her decently covered let alone provide any actual protection. The best it was good for was keeping the feeling of bugs crawling over her from reaching her skin. It helped in the evening as well when the sun would burn her face. The top of her present prison didn't have bars at the top. Another privilege she'd lost.
It had been a month into her capture, when she still had mind enough to track the sun through the sky. She'd been left tied to a tree by her ankle, under the belief that she'd exhausted all her will to escape. She hadn't though, she'd been merely conserving her strength. Waiting for the right moment. Listening, waiting, counting. She'd memorized all their names and their schedules. When they would leave and who they'd leave behind.
She'd taken to holding a girl smaller than her in her arms, both for the warmth and the simple comfort of another human being. The girl's name had been Alicia, a muggle-born witch in her second year, Hufflepuff house. She, like Hermione, had been stolen away in the brazen daylight while her parents had been at work.
It had been during the night when Alicia had managed to use a nail she'd found in the dirt to widdle away their ropes. They'd laid still, until the one left behind had come to feed them—he'd never known what hit him. Hermione had launched herself full force at the man, cracking their skulls together. He'd gone down instantly.
Alicia had pulled Hermione to her feet dragging her along until her hand had slipped. Hermione had desperately screamed out for her to run, pressing the wand she'd stolen from the snatcher into her hands before a chain had wrapped around her middle dragging her to the dirt.
She didn't know if Alicia had made it.
That night, they'd fed her a potion that made her insides burn and had tied her to a board. The torture had nearly stolen every last ounce of mental acuity she'd had left. So many hands tore at her flesh, forcing her—for hours—to find pleasure in their pain. The only thing she could remember was waking up in a cage barely large enough to hold her shrinking frame, with a heavy collar wrapped around her neck and a bar shackled to her ankles.
A soft gut churning smell began to waft beneath her nose and she knew—the hands had come again. Still, she did not move. Her eyes permanently fixed, half-lidded, in an obscure direction to the right. They no longer moved, trying in vain to track the movements of those around her.
A small twitch was the only response her body gave when the soft thump against the wooden floor jolted her prison. When she had been able, she had discovered that she had been placed inside a cage of sorts. A steal almost coffin-like box. It had barred sides, a wooden base and a low ceiling that prevented her from sitting up, not that she could any longer.
It had been excessively panic-inducing, the claustrophobic design had been maddening at first. Though now, it brought an odd sort of comfort Hermione could not even begin to understand. She had reached through the bars at times, merely exploring the world around her with what was left of her senses. The feel of dirt, grass and leaves helping to keep her otherwise under-stimulated mind focused.
Another soft thump rounded her consciousness and she knew what was to come. Her nose twitched when the horrid smell came closer but she'd long since learned not to express her disgust.
Gradually, one large rough sausage finger-like hand reached under her arm pulling her heavy body forward into a seated position. They dragged her body backward until she felt the cold steal of her cage pressing into the bumps of her spine.
Her own hands rose then, trembling from the effort as they reached forward. She knew what was expected, there was no sense in fighting a battle she had no chance of winning. Rough fabric grazed under her finger tips as she forced her hands higher. With forced practice, she found the cold metal separating her and the man who waited expectantly.
Just as she'd made to take hold, the man suddenly jerked away out of her reach. Her brow furrowed with confusion before she felt a large gust of wind followed by a heavy thud just to the side of her hip.
A heavy calm settled into the surrounding air and her hands lowered heavily back into her lap. She waited, waited for anything new to greet her but nothing ever came. Her body shivered involuntarily before she no longer found the strength to keep her head up.
Her body heavily slouched down to the side as her head came to rest against the top of the bars. What was left of her senses went numb as her body fell into the blissful state of unconsciousness.
Severus lowered his wand looking out over the decimated rogue snatcher camp. He had been given strict orders to eliminate anyone who dared to hide their depravity from the Dark Lord. His mission had been clear, retrieve the mudbloods and blood traitors and bring them to the ministry to be handled accordingly.
A small group of the snatchers had gotten the brilliant idea to sell the children they'd captured for higher coin than what the Dark Lord had offered. Selling them off to lower level death eaters with even lower morals seen as betrayal. Severus and a few other more trusted members of the inner circle had been sent as a warning to those who would see their glory and fame outside of the Dark Lord's merciful ways.
His eyes turned down to the prone body of the man who had supposedly been within the inner circle. His beady eyes wide with the stunning spell that had felled him. When Severus' eyes raised up, he felt a bile burning in the back of his throat.
There had been many faces that day, countless bodies of children laying dead in the camp. Muggle and magical alike. Some as young as 11, some still in their pajamas as though they'd been stolen in the dead of night. Severus hadn't known their names but he would never forget their faces.
This was the side of war that no one wanted to speak of, no one wanted to acknowledge. The countless innocent lives stolen from the world. Families torn to pieces with no hope of ever becoming whole again.
His eyes turned over the cages, bodies still, ashen grey skin. It had appeared as though the rogue snatchers had been tipped off and had killed all of their captives with ruthless efficiency. His lip curled as he turned his eye back down to the man collapsed at his feet. He would take great pleasure in taking the worm to face his punishment.
Severus leaned down to take hold of the man's shoulder when small frail fingers brushed against the back of his hand. His eyes snapped to the broken body inside of the open cage, his dark eyes wide with disbelief. This face, was not unknown. No, he knew it very well. He swallowed thickly slowly releasing Peter's shoulder to lean in just a bit closer.
Dark sightless eyes didn't move, the cursed band of flesh over them the only color on her pallor face. Her hair was a mess of leaves and other unnameable debris pulled back in a ponytail that had long since lost its usefulness. Her throat was thin, far to thin to possibly be able to support her head. A heavy steal collar that had surely been tight at one time, laid heavily against the bone of her exposed shoulder keeping her head partially aloft against the edge of the cage. Was she dead?
The blanket that had been given to cover her reeked of stale blood and humidity. It made Severus ill just to be as close as he was. Another soft whispering touch snapped his eyes down to where a frail hand laid partially pressed through the thick iron bars, bruised and possibly infected by the numerous little cuts that covered each digit with dark red almost black scabs.
He held his breath though still listened out for his other 'companions' who had aided him on this discovery. A sharp intake of breath betrayed his disbelief when the fingers moved again, this time curling weakly around the bar. It was impossible, how was it possible?
The dark haired man ground his teeth before pushing himself up, a small flick of his hand covered the girl's frail form from view before he reached down hulling Wormtail up from his stunned stupor.
"Here!" Severus half-dragged the barely conscious man around to be seen by the others.
The cages had been kept in the back part of the camp, partially obscured by cursed trees. If Severus hadn't followed after Wormtail he'd never would have thought to look there himself.
"I think I know who tipped off the rogue snatchers." Severus brought the man around to the center of the camp before tossing him hard onto the heated earth.
Lucius rose an eyebrow at the simpering man, "Well that is curious..." Lucious waved for Narcissa to join them, she'd just finished magically binding one of two snatchers they actually managed to wrangle before the lot apparated away.
"I'll give you the honors." Severus flicked his wand down sharply, binding the man who had attempted to crawl away as though the two of them were so easily distracted. "I'll return once I've looked for clues. I have a feeling that the Dark Lord will be wanting answers."
"Right..." Lucius made a small face keeping his wand trained on Wormtail before looking out at the camp, "I'll tell the Dark Lord."
Lucius flicked his head and Narcissa who turned her wand in her palm, there was a small pop before the entire lot had gone via portkey leaving behind only Snape in the now deserted woods. A deep sigh passed his throat as he started to cast the protections he would need to ensure his work would be done in secrecy.
Taking to the tent nearest him, he stepped inside. His nose curling at the deplorable conditions the men had chosen to live in. Dirty unmade cots lined the walls with a variety of bags or trunks placed at their ends. It looked like a barracks of sorts. At least 7 cots were there meaning they still had five more rogues to catch.
Severus wasted little time, moving towards one of the trunks and flipped the lid with a flick of his wand. A cursory glance told him nothing of value laid inside and turned his wand toward the bag next to it. A smart flick of his wand cleared the contents of anything without value and placed any books, or scrolls inside the trunk.
He worked with a stoic calm, clearing away everything. When he'd made it to the far end of the tent his apathy started to turn, a dirty Hogwarts patch laid in the dirt under one of the last bags. When he called it up for his inspection he realized it was a new student's patch, no house colors or emblem.
His eyes lowered and a small pain threatened his heart but he pushed it away with a sharp snarl. A sharp flick burned away the patch. His jaw hurt from the strength in which he held it shut. It would do him no good to mourn. It was done, over. Nothing more to be done.
Turning back towards the entrance, he closed and locked the trunk shrinking it down to fit inside his pocket. The musty air of the forest smelled like heaven compared to the stench of male virility. He took a moment to just clear his sense before setting the entire tent to flames, an implosion of sorts, the fire burned inward, unnaturally. Wiping away everything inside.
The next tent held a shower of sorts, if one could have called a rusted tub and some hard soap a shower. It was impossible to believe that the wizards they had captured were even remotely on the same playing field as the rest of the world. How one could possibly live in such conditions was beyond him. Sure, he had expected something of the sort for their prisoners but not for their own use as well. It was just needlessly barbaric.
It took him no time to dispose of the poor excuse of a tent. His dark eyes flickering in the flames as he meticulously delayed what he knew needed to be done. Sightless eyes looked back at him inside his mind. Dark, souless—helpless, eyes of someone too young to have died this way.
Moving onto the last of the three tents, his stomach started to roil. When he stepped through he was sure his meager lunch was about to make an appearance. He had never understood the allure of such twisted carnal pleasures and he certainly never understood why one would ever wish to have an unwilling partner.
A thick swallow kept his lunch in his stomach but the sight of a young girl—no more than 15—laying dead upon a modified rack of sorts, would forever be imprinted on his inner eye. Her skin was raw and bruised in nearly every place imaginable. Her exposed body like nothing more than a living doll to be used for it's owners pleasure. Her arms and legs held her body in a star pattern, leaving her without any possibility of resistance. Her eyes were wide open, starring unseeing into the ether.
Severus was a strong man, he had experienced many things to make him strong but even he had his limits on human depravity. A sharp spell released her from her binds, another transfigured his own handkerchief into a small robe; the high-quality fabric wrapping up her frail body, safe from the outside world. Only when her body had been reverently shielded from view did he pick her up, carrying her out of the tent.
He walked as far as he could within the wards and laid her inside a shallow grave, one of the many he would have to build. As the dirt obscured the sins of her captors his eyes rose again towards the thicket of trees. How could he possibly continue this way? How could so many be so oblivious to the deplorable depreciation of their fellow wizards?
A slow turn on his heel brought his line of sight back into the thicket of trees. He knew he had to at least bury them. It would be impossible to reunite them with their families, if they even had any left. No, there was no one to come looking for them. Bar one.
Could he possibly be able to deliver her to the Order without compromising his position? Could he send an owl, a Patronus? Could he safely move her someplace where she could be found and laid to rest in peace? Should he bury her along side the others?
All these questions and more cycled through Severus' mind as he turned his course to the thicket of trees. His eyes turned down, a slow crawling cold running up his spine. True, he'd never much cared for the girl but he'd ever wished for this. No one deserved to die this way. Except those perhaps who had done this.
As Severus grew closer, his brow ticked, surely his eyes had deceived him. He'd turned his keen eye towards the burlap sack that had been cut to make a poor excuse for a blanket. Kneeling down into the dirt, he held his breath watching with unwavering concentration.
Something, something ticked away at his thoughts like small pebbles on a glass window pane. His gaze shifted towards the scarred, half-lidded gaze that looked obscurely over his shoulder. A light, barely hidden in the dark depths was shining, a final beacon, a life struggling to hang on.
No, it wasn't possible.
"Miss Granger?" His voice wavered with his disbelief. Slowly, as though approaching a wounded animal, Severus' palm rested gently on her pallor cheek.
His own heartbeat sounded too loud, her skin was so cold and coarse. His eyes turned back down towards her chest, and in that brief moment, he felt the smallest wisps of breath over his thumb that rested just below her bottom lip.
His intense glare snapped up, his hand recoiling back as though burnt from her tongue that had slowly come to press against his calloused thumb. His eyes widened even further when a soft shuddering breath rattled in the stale air between them, softer than fabric rustling in the breeze.