If the choice were mine to make

At the end of the day

"Then do it," Snape growled. He had got up again, swaying slightly but finally standing upright, his body rigid and his face composed. "You want to kill me. Fine. But let Hermione go, she has nothing to do with this."

"On the contrary," Livia said, calm again. "She's one of the Golden Trio, isn't she? Not a traitor like yourself, but certainly worth my revenge. And I know that your life means hardly anything to you. Otherwise you wouldn't have been able to do the things you've done. But her life, it matters to you…" She looked at him, an expression of hunger and excitement on her face. "And there is something else I want."

Snape stared at the elder woman, trying to divine how best to handle her. But he had to admit that he really didn't know. "What is it?"

"The money. The gold the Dark Lord had put away. Where is it?"

Disbelieving laugher broke out of Snape. "That's what this is all about? Money?"

Livia's eyes narrowed. "Oh no, it's still about you being a filthy traitor. But if anyone has a claim to this money, it's me."

Snape snorted. "You have about as much right to it as I had. But I'm afraid I have to disappoint you. I kept some for myself, but it's mostly spent. And the rest I reported to the ministry via Dumbledore. It's gone."

She stared at him very hard. "You wouldn't lie to me, Severus, would you?" Suddenly she turned towards Hermione and quietly said "Crucio."

Hermione gasped, first in surprise, then, as the curse hit her, in pain. I won't cry! Was the last conscious thought she had before everything became a blur of unbearable pain.

Snape stared at her helplessly as she fell to her knees. He saw how she bit her lower lip to keep herself from crying out, how her body writhed on the floor. It was terrible to look at, but she didn't make a sound.

"I've told you the truth," he said in a shaking voice, unable to turn his eyes away from Hermione. "There is no money left, apart from some I have. You can take it if you want."

Livia didn't react but still held Hermione under the curse.

"Haven't you heard?!" Snape cried out.

"Oh, I've heard well enough," the elder woman said in a strangely detached and friendly tone. "It seems your young friend is quite proud, too. What do you think? How long will it take until she cries out with pain?"

Livia gave Snape a piercing look and he realized that she was only waiting for him to lose his composure, to break down. He felt sick with helplessness but there was nothing he could do, nothing at all. Snape threw a quick glance to Constantine, but he was looking at Hermione as if she was something filthy. No, he wouldn't find any help there.

Suddenly Livia took her wand down. Hermione lay still for many seconds. Only slowly did the dark haze of pain clear from her mind. When it had gone she found that every cell of her body hurt with the dull pain she remembered so vividly from that time when she had been tortured by Bellatrix. Her breath was ragged and she was so afraid she could hardly think straight. But she hadn't survived so much to break down now in front of Voldemort's crazy ex-girlfriend. No, she hadn't broken when Bellatrix had tortured her and she wouldn't break now. Ron and Harry would be proud of her.

Slowly and very gingerly Hermione raised her head. She was shaking all over her body, but her face was set and her eyes were blazing. There were a few drops of blood running down from where she had bit her lip.

"Why don't you just kill us," she panted, meeting Livia's gaze unflinchingly. "Get it over with. Have your revenge."

"Oh no, luv," Livia said amiably. "That wouldn't be enough." She made a show of deliberating. "I could send you back to the void," she said slowly. "This time forever. How would you like that?"

A cold hand was gripping Hermione's heart. Her face was very white now. But she wouldn't beg, she never would.

"Or I could do what my good old friend Bellatrix did to the Longbottoms," Livia went on. "I have to say, she had a way of handling people. Let's see how long it takes until you beg. Or until you go insane." She raised her hand again. "Crucio!"

Snape stared in horror as Livia's curse hit Hermione and she broke down on the floor. "No," he shouted, "stop it! Stop it!" But Livia didn't take any heed of him, looking down on the writhing Hermione with a light smile on her face.

Snape was shaking hard. Once more he threw himself against the barrier, but was only pushed back. Hermione had been quiet at first, but after a few minutes she screamed out in pain, her voice hitting him like a knife.

"What do you want?!" he cried out, willing Livia to look away from Hermione and face him. "WHAT DO YOU WANT?"

Finally she turned towards him but didn't let go of Hermione. "But this is exactly what I want, Severus," she said softly. Her eyes were bright with happiness. "Exactly what I want."

Snape stared at her in horror. He didn't know how long it lasted, how long Hermione writhed on the floor, her screams increasingly unhuman. But suddenly she fell silent and didn't move anymore.

Even then Livia didn't lower her wand for some time. Only when there were no life signs whatsoever from Hermione did she finally stop. After looking down on her for a few seconds, Livia cast a spell to lift the barrier around Hermione, then cautiously stepped closer and touched her with her foot. Hermione didn't move.

Livia bent to check on Hermione's vitals. Snape stared at the elder witch, his heart hammering and his mind full of hatred and despair and pain. Suddenly he noticed that his face was wet.

"She's still alive," Livia pronounced in a matter of fact way.

Snape felt relief flood through him. It was only now that he noticed that Constantine was no longer in the room. Suddenly the door opened and he entered and immediately started to whisper to Livia.

Her face turned stony. "It seems someone is looking for you," she snarled. "We'll have to cut this short." She stared hard at Snape, then suddenly said, "I'll make you a very good offer. If you accept it, your Mudblood will live. If she survives this. If not, I'll kill her right now."

"What's your offer?" Snape asked, his voice hoarse.

Livia nodded towards Constantine who left the room again. Then she said with a large smile. "You'll drink the Morituri Potion."

Snape's heart skipped a beat. "I see," he said slowly. "So it will sooth your sense of revenge to know that I will die a slow and painful death?"

"Oh yes, it will. I would have preferred some other way, but as it is…"

He stared at her, his thoughts racing. "And if I take it you'll let Hermione alone? Now and in the future?"

"Yes. I promise."

Snape didn't trust her promise, but he didn't have much of a choice, really. He looked at Hermione who was still unconscious. Or perhaps she was already dead and this was one of Livia's cruel jokes? He didn't know, but if there was just a tiny chance that he could get Hermione out of this alive, he had to take it.

Suddenly his mind was absolutely clear. He didn't want to die, he realized that now. There had been times when death would have seemed like salvation to him, but those times were gone. But he knew with absolute clarity that he couldn't let Hermione die. It was because of him that she was here. She had always been good to him, had given him her trust and affection. And the only thing that really mattered now was to make sure that she would live.

"I will drink the potion," he said.

"Very well." Livia's mouth twisted into a disdainful smile. "How romantic."

The door opened and Constantine came in again, carrying a glass filled with a pale liquid. He put it down next to Snape and then stepped away again, raising his wand.

"Don't try anything," Livia said. "If you make as much as a move towards us, I'll kill first you and then her."

Snape nodded. They were both covering him from different corners of the room and were too far away for him to overwhelm them. No, there was nothing he could do.

Livia cast the spell to lower the barrier and Snape bowed down and took up the glass. The potion smelt not unpleasant, and a part of his brain was thinking of the recipe and how once, many years ago, he had had to brew it for Voldemort. He had seen how the victim had died. It had not been pleasant.

Snape met Livia's gaze unflinchingly, then raised the glass and downed the potion in one long draught. It had a fruity, pleasing taste. How strange that death tastes so sweet, he thought.

Livia's hungry eyes were riveted on his face. "Well, it's good-bye then, Severus," she said curtly. "Enjoy the rest of your life."

And without another word she and her brother disapparated.

Snape stood rooted to the spot, swaying slightly. The effect of the potion wouldn't set in immediately and he had to get out of here before it did. Had to get Hermione to safety.

He walked towards her, his heart beating fast with fear. But when he knelt down and felt at her throat he found a pulse, very low, but steady. A hoarse sob escaped him and he stared down on her for a few seconds. She would live. Merlin only knew if her mind had suffered, but at least she would live. He got up again and left the room, looking for his wand. He found it lying on a table in the next room, took it, went back to Hermione, gathered her up in his arms and disapparated to her rooms in Cambridge.

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