Running, running, always running through the darkness; Hermione couldn't remember a time when she wasn't running. She was so tired of constantly putting one foot in front of the other. She wanted to stop, to feel her feet side by side for once, but He wouldn't let her.

A light appeared in the solid darkness, and Hermione ran to it. She caught a glimpse of a black-haired boy sobbing in a crib and an equally black-haired man looming over him. She could hear the man screaming at the child in a drunken fury, but she couldn't make out what he was bellowing. She moved closer, not paying attention to the quicksand dotting the area.

iHe/i appeared, robes and hair flying even though she could feel no wind. His dark eyes bore into hers, and he swooped at her like a giant bat. "Run from here, little girl."

Hermione froze in panic, unaware that she had finally stopped running. The dark-eyed man bared his double fangs as he lunged for her, and when he was he was so close she could feel his cold breathe in her face, he brandished a monstrous cock and growled, "Flee from this place before I rape you to death."

The man lunged once more, and Hermione took off like a shot, her panic exploding. She ran as hard as she could; her lungs worked like a bellows in her chest as adrenalin fueled her pace. A stitch crept over her left side, but she ignored it as best she could. He flew away as soon as she had cleared the quicksand.

The air around her grew thick after a time, and it was becoming harder to run. The darkness coalesced into a swirling mass around Hermione's feet, tripping her. She flew forward, her momentum carrying her through the dark.

Up, down, left, right; these words lost their meaning as Hermione sailed through the darkness. Areas of grey light appeared on either side of her along with vignettes of a black-haired child.

After a while, the scenes began to include a red-haired girl, and the black-haired boy was obviously smitten with her. Hermione didn't recognize her, but she hated her just the same. She hated her perfect hair, her perfect skin, her perfect eyes, her perfect form, and her perfect laugh.

A soft voice whispered out of the darkness. "Why do you hate her?"

Hermione jumped. She had been so distracted with hating the red-haired girl that she'd not been paying attention. "Who are you?"

"A friend."

"Not good enough." Constant vigilance! "Show yourself!"

The voice sighed gently, sounding almost like a hiss. "My form was taken from me."

Hermione, ever the swot, couldn't resist a mystery. "Who took it from you?"

A slight breeze, no stronger than a puff of air, slid up her left arm. "The son of that red-haired girl took it."

Hermione instantly felt a twinge of sympathy; she hated that red-haired girl's cruel perfection, and she must have passed some of that cruelty down to her son. She made a small sound of pity. "That terrible girl. It was all her fault, wasn't it?"

She felt the darkness around her nod in agreement. "Yes, it all started with her. She was awful to that poor little black-haired boy, and then her son was mean to me."

The more Hermione spoke with her new friend the slower her pace, and she was glad of it. She was tired of running, tired of moving, and to stand still in one area was all she wanted. She slowed to a stop, and the presence that had accompanied her came to rest beside her.

Now that Hermione was still, the images were no longer simply fleeting impressions. The images surrounded her; the red-haired girl loomed in front of Hermione as if on a movie screen. Hate blossomed in Hermione's heart, and blackness poured down from her chest to the underside of her left arm.

Her new friend took form, and Hermione looked into the face of what had been a man but now resembled more of a snake. He had slits where his nostrils should be, and his eyes were red as blood. She gasped and reached out for him. "What did her son ido/i to you?"

Shaking his head, her newly-visible companion sighed in despair. "It is too long a tale, and I wish to speak of other things." He stepped closer, looking down at her with his ruby eyes. "I am not the only one who has been hurt."

After a pause Hermione choked out, "Me?"

Her friend nodded sadly. "The red-haired girl has hurt you as well."

"Oh yes, I hate her," she said, and then tilted her head. "Though I'm not sure what I hate her for."

He leaned in and whispered conspiratorially. "The black-haired boy sent you away because of her."

Her brow furrowed in puzzlement. "Sent me away?" She backed away from her new friend's grasp. "Whatever do you mean?"

His red eyes flashed. "You loved him, but he did not love you. He always loved the red-haired girl. Always. He could never love another, especially one as plain as you."

Hermione squared her chest in indignation. "I am not plain!"

The man shook his head sadly. "My dear, isn't it obvious?" He reached forward and touched the pooled darkness on the underside of her left forearm; a sickly green light began to emanate from it. "She is so perfect, so beautiful. Just look at her!"

The green energy traveled up her arm and into her chest. Tears poured down Hermione's face as she glanced at the images of the red-haired girl. "She's so pretty…"

"He sent you away because you could never compare to her. Oh, it's not your fault, love," he said kindly, wiping away her tears. "No one could compete against such an evil woman!"

She sniffed and wiped her face with her left arm, unconsciously smearing green-tinged darkness across her face. "She's evil?"

Her friend smiled a toothy grin that would have made her nervous had he not hated the red-haired girl as much as she did. "Of course she's evil! Think about it: she bewitched the man you loved and made him Obliviate you; she made herself so perfect that every woman paled in comparison; and she taught her son to be just as cruel." He held his arms open wide. "Just look what he did to me!"

Darkness gushed forth once more from Hermione's chest and began to arrange itself in a design on the underside of her left forearm. "The hateful thing!" she hissed. "I simply had my heart broken, but you, iyou/i were physically hurt!" She puffed out her chest. "None of her family or friends will ever hurt you again!"

Her friends smiled widely. "Do you promise?"

Hermione nodded. "Oh yes, my friend, I sw—"


"NO!" Her new friend's face contorted with rage. "I almost had her you fucking traitor!"

Four translucent hands reached out from the darkness and wrapped themselves around Hermione, and she screamed as they pulled her upward. Faster and faster they flew until Hermione could barely hear for the roaring wind in her ears.

Her speed increased constantly until she felt herself nearly coming apart. As she neared what could only be described as critical mass, the four hands released her, stretching her essence out into a thin sheet.

She suddenly felt connected at the base of her spine, and the feeling crawled up as the hands continued their work. When they reached the top of her head the universe exploded; her world consisted of light, heat, and endless energy. She felt her awareness expand at a frightening rate until she was nearly undone yet again, and it was only then that she became aware of her eyelids and decided to open them.

She became aware of two things simultaneously: a pair of black eyes was staring at her intently; and she could never in a million years measure up to the perfection that was Severus's memory of Lily Evans.

Severus first became aware of his wife's distress when she kicked him in the back. He whirled around in the sheets, wand in his hand, when he saw that Hermione's face was contorted in a grimace. He immediately put his wand back on the nightstand and walked over to Hermione's side of the bed.

He didn't have much experience with nightmares; usually it was Hermione bringing him back from the depths of Hades, but her sleep had been uncharacteristically troubled as of late. She had adamantly refused to tell him what her dreams consisted of, and she had taken her typical Gryffindor I'll-take-care-of-it-myself-because-I-don't-want-t o-be-a-burden attitude, but it was to the point now that something had to be done.

Murmuring the spell Hermione used for when she had to clean his eyes, Severus immobilized his wife and then gently pried open one eye.

"Legilimens," he whispered, making sure Hermione was still asleep.

He was staggered by the depth of her emotion. Even after all this time, she still truly felt she could never measure up to Lily. She had seen how perfect Severus had painted Lily in his memories, but Hermione had never gotten to see herself through his eyes, how radiant he had painted her in his mind.

He left her mind and crawled into bed behind her, releasing the binding spell so he could cradle her in his arms. He vowed to himself that he would come up with a plan the next day to show her just how much she really meant to him, and he fell asleep with possibilities whirling in his head.