Fic: To The Brink (SS/HG) Title: To The Brink Author: Irena Candy Pairing: SS/HG Word Count: 3860 Rating: G Summary: Hermione finds Severus Snape near death. Can she save him? Disclaimer: Anything that you recognize is the property of J.K. Rowling. Everything else is the product of this fan's imagination. No money is being made from this piece of fiction and no copyright infringement is intended. Warning(s): DH spoilers. A/N: Written because I didn't like the Epilogue.
TO THE BRINK
"He's dead," Harry said dumbly, staring down at the limp body of Severus Snape where it lay on the blood-stained floor of the Shrieking Shack. The man had been mangled by Voldemort's great snake, at the Dark Lord's orders. Clutching the flask of Snape's memories, offered to him before the man passed out, Harry stood there immobile, somehow unable to react.
"He's unconscious!" Hermione corrected him in a hurried whisper, half afraid that some of Voldemort's henchmen might still be close enough to hear them. She shouldered Harry out of the way and knelt down on the floor next to Snape. "He's going to BE dead if we don't do something fast! He's lost an awful lot of blood."
She cast a swift healing spell--the same one that she'd once used when Ron Splinched himself in the forest--to staunch the flow of blood from the unconscious man and seal the gashes in his flesh left by the snake's fangs. The pool of blood was frighteningly large, and she prayed that she was not too late.
Hermione glanced over her shoulder at Harry. He was obviously stunned at the way that Lord Voldemort had coldly set Nagini on Snape and then calmly swept away and left his trusted servant to die.
"Hermione, have you gone mad?" he blurted out finally. "Snape's a murderer! I saw what he did, and now you're trying to save his life?"
She rocked back on her heels and considered him. "Harry, I believe that there was more to what you saw than you understood. Professor Snape gave you his memories for a reason. You need to find a Pensieve and look at them. You need to look at them now!"
"I don't want to leave you. What if You-Know-Who comes back?"
"We won't be here. Don't worry, I know what to do," she said with false confidence, hoping that it wasn't a lie.
"But where will you go, where will you take him?"
"Harry, just GO!" she said, knowing that she was close to breaking down altogether, and that his presence was not helping.
Harry nodded jerkily and ran out of the door. She could hear his rapid footsteps on the stairs as he headed for the underground exit.
Left alone with the unresponsive form of her ex-teacher, in the desolate and dirty Shrieking Shack with its boarded-up windows, Hermione willed herself to rationality, forcing her shaking hands into a semblance of calm. She closed her eyes for a brief moment and took several long breaths. Then, laying her wand across the palm of her hand, she whispered, "Point Me!"
The wand swung around obediently, its tip indicating north.
Making a swift calculation as to which side of the Shrieking Shack faced Hogsmeade, Hermione went to the opposite side of the room, where the window faced the surrounding hills, and used a simple levitation spell to remove the nails holding the window boards in place. Forcing herself to perform the spell carefully and methodically, nail by nail, she caught the boards before they fell to the ground and eased them cautiously inside through the glassless window frame.
Behind her, she caught the rattling sigh of a labored breath. She lowered the board she was holding to the floor and ran to Snape's side. His eyes were closed now, shuttering his mind, but the weak pulse at the side of his throat was still faintly beating. After casting a quick Disillusionment Charm on both of them, Hermione levitated Snape out of the window, remembering with a catch in her throat the last time Snape's helpless form had been moved out of the Shack. That time he had been unconscious because of the spells that she, Ron, and Harry had cast on him. She remembered the way Prof. Lupin had maneuvered him along the secret tunnel, Snape's head banging occasionally against the low ceiling. It had been funny then; now it made her want to cry.
Holding her wand between her teeth, Hermione carefully lowered herself out of the window, hanging on by her fingertips and then dropping to the ground. She could have Apparated, like Fred and George had done between the floors of the house at Grimmauld Place--just to prove that they could do it--but she was afraid that her moment of non-existence between house and ground might break the Levicorpus spell and send Snape's helpless body crashing down.
Standing at the back of the Shack, with Snape floating next to her, she listened intently. There were no unusual sounds and no voices. More important, she did not feel that horrible sense of unnatural cold that the Dementors brought with them. Of course, she thought with dismal realization. They have all gone to the castle, and I need to go there too.
As rapidly as she dared, she moved Snape away from the Shack, down the slope and over the fence, which she was forced to climb. Then it was along the lane and through the back alleys, past a collection of ash cans, until she reached the side door of The Hog's Head. She lifted her hand to knock on the door--and froze at the sound of men's voices.
"I thought I saw something coming down the alley."
"I don't see anything. Probably just shadows."
"Maybe, but I want to check down here to be sure."
The sound of purposeful footsteps clattered on the cobbles, coming closer. Hermione flattened herself against the rough stone wall and pulled Snape's floating form in next to her, holding her breath and hoping that the strangers would not hear the thunder of her heart.
A sudden rattle of metal and a loud CLANG! interrupted the footfalls, and a streak of brownish color zoomed down the alley past Hermione and out into the main street.
One of the men swore loudly.
"Damned stray kneazle rummaging around the ash cans!"
Another man laughed. "Forget it. We are supposed to be up at the school and I don't want to be late. He has a habit of punishing latecomers!"
The footsteps receded, and Hermione breathed a little easier. A sudden picture of her own half-kneazle pet, Crookshanks, flashed into her mind and she wondered if he was missing her after these months. She'd left him at the Burrow, with the Weasleys, so surely he was okay. Surely.
Dragging her thoughts back to the present moment, she rapped lightly on the door, not daring to make too much noise and praying that the innkeeper would hear her before some other person ventured out into the deserted streets of the village.
There was a grating sound of bolts being drawn back, and the heavy door pulled back a few inches. A bright blue eye peered out at her.
"Who is it?"
"Me! I mean, I was here with... with... " she began, remembering that the innkeeper probably didn't know her by name, and barely managing not to squeak. "Please, I have someone here who's badly hurt. He needs a safe place to stay."
The door opened a bit further and Alberforth Dumbledore stared out at her.
"Nice charm," he said. "I wish you kids would decide which way you're coming or going. This ain't a damned railway station."
He stepped out far enough to look both ways before swinging the door open wide and helping Hermione to move Snape inside, then closing the door behind them and rebolting it.
She canceled the Disillusionment Charm and Alberforth looked at Snape and then back at her.
"You're covered with blood, and he's a Death Eater," he said with distaste.
"The blood is his and he's an Ex-Death Eater," Hermione said, her eyes brimming with tears. "You-Know-Who set that loathsome snake of his on Professor Snape. He's lost a lot of blood."
"I'm surprised that he's not dead," Alberforth said frankly. "I've heard from quite a few people about You-Know-Who's poisonous snake. Bring him upstairs and we'll put him on my couch for the time being. I don't want him in any of the guest rooms, in case someone comes snooping around."
"Professor Snape is a Potions Master. He's a very good Potions Master," Hermione said, aware that she was babbling because she couldn't stand the silence from the helpless man drifting along by her side. "Maybe he was taking some kind of preventative potion. That's what I'd do, if I'd had to be around a maniac with a poisonous pet for very long."
"Very likely," Alberforth said, leading the way up the inn stairs.
They went into the innkeeper's sitting room and Hermione lowered Snape's body onto the couch. He was still breathing. Raggedly and shallowly, but he was breathing.
"He needs some Blood-Replenishing Potion," she said desperately. "But I'll have to go up to the castle and see Madam Pomfrey to get any, and there are Death Eaters all over the place."
Alberforth rubbed his chin. "Might have something downstairs. "Wait a minute."
He left the room. Hermione sank down onto the floor next to the couch, shivering as if she had been chilled. She reached out to brush the lank black hair off of Snape's icy forehead, fingers lingering over the smooth skin, now more blue-white than sallow. One of his arms hung over the edge of the couch, lax fingers brushing the floor, and she lifted it and laid it gently next to his body, her fingers lingering over the long tapered fingers that she had watched with fascination so many times in class.
She had always admired him. Even when his comments were cruel enough to send her running out of his classroom in tears, she had admired his intellect and his ability. When Harry reported that Professor Snape had killed Dumbledore, something inside of her had died a little as well. That had to be more to Dumbledore's death than simple murder. There had to be.
When Alberforth came back he was carrying a small dented tin box. He set it down on a table and flipped it open. It was filled with an assortment of little bottles, plus a few cloth pads and strips.
"I keep it behind the bar," he said, selecting one bottle out of the collection. "Sometimes I have to patch up a few of the customers after they get a little quarrelsome." He held the bottle up to the light. "Not much left, but enough for a couple of doses, I guess."
"It's got to be better than nothing!"
Alberforth shrugged. "Hold his head."
Between them, they managed to get some of the Blood-Replenishing Potion down Snape's throat. Hermione watched his convulsive swallows and realized that her hands were wet with nervous perspiration. She wiped them on her clothes, which were stiff and splotched with his blood.
"Will he live?" she asked.
"Who knows? He's alive now, and that's definitely a point in his favor," Alberforth said, stowing the bottle back in the box.
"I've got to go," Hermione said, getting awkwardly to her feet. "I don't know when I'll be back." Or even if I'll be back at all, she thought to herself.
"Never mind. I'll look after him for you. I'll give him another dose of the stuff in an hour or so."
"If he wakes up," Hermione began.
"If he wakes up, I'll tell him that a bossy bushy-haired girl brought him here, and I'll try to get a little soup down him. But when you come back, you better bring that school matron with you. I'm running a pub, not a damned damage ward."
She nodded and, after a last lingering look at the unconscious man on the couch, left the room with the innkeeper following close behind her. He opened the side door to let her out, and she heard him bolt it again behind her.
She Apparated back to the desolate room in the Shrieking Shack, where Snape's drying blood had colored the floor with a broad mahogany stain. Trying not to look at that ominous blot, she fled the room, ran downstairs, and hurried through the underground passage back to the Hogwarts grounds and whatever awaited her there.
* * *
Hermione leaned back against the cool comforting stone walls of Hogwarts' Great Hall. She was bruised, cut, dirty and weary beyond comprehension. Her right arm hung at her side, limp fingers barely holding onto her wand.
It was over. It was finally over.
The Great Hall was filled with the huddled shapes of the wounded and the silent rows of the dead. There was an eerie silence over the scene, as if people were too shocked to show any response. She understood that. It was too early for her to begin mourning the lost. That would come later. For now, she was merely slightly astonished to be alive.
Across the hall, through the lingering haze of dust and smoke, she saw a shock of red hair and realized after a while that it was Ron with his arms wrapped protectively around Lavender Brown, who was sobbing against his chest. He looked up for a brief moment and his eyes caught Hermione's.
There was a slightly odd look on his face. Guilt, maybe? Or perhaps it was regret. She was too tired to care. She nodded slightly and managed a weak smile.
Someone stumbled over to join her, in her solitary spot against the wall. It wasn't until he spoke her name that she looked around and saw that it was Harry, looking drained, burned, and battered after all that he had been through.
"Well, the Good Guys won," she said tiredly.
"We should be happy, but we lost so many, Harry. So many!" Her voice quavered as she added, "All I feel is numb."
"I don't know what I feel," her companion said helplessly. "It's hard to come to the end of everything like this. Voldemort..." He stopped, cleared his throat and began again. "Voldemort has been the villain in my life for all these years and now he's finally gone. It's like pushing against a door that's stuck, and suddenly it flies open and you stumble and lose your balance because you didn't expect it. I guess that's how I feel, like I've lost my balance."
Hermione took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "What are you going to do now?"
"I don't know. I can't even think about that yet. There's going to be so much to do, repairing all of the damage that's been done."
"I mean, what about yourself?"
He shook his head. "I don't know that either. It's not that I ever had much of a life, what with trying not to get killed most of the time and living with the Dursleys the rest of the time. How about you?"
"I'm going to put my life back together again," she said with firm conviction. "I guess the first step is to retrieve my parents from Australia and restore their memories so they'll know that they have a daughter." Her lips quirked with a wry smile. "I was kind of high-handed about sending them away, and they'll probably be sort of put out, but at least they've been safe. After I do that, I'm going to come back to Hogwarts when it reopens and complete my seventh year. I want to go to college too, and..." Her voice suddenly gained strength, and a look of horror covered her face. "Migod, I need to study for my N.E.W.T.S!"
Harry quivered next to her, and she knew that he was laughing. "You are the only one I know who can stand around while the smoke of battle is still settling and worry about her school work. What about Ron?"
"I think Ron has changed his mind again."
"No, it's all right. Don't worry about it. I think I've changed my mind too. Not everyone marries their high school sweetheart, you know. I have to face the fact that a lot of what there was between Ron and me was simply from being so close together for such a long time. Propinquity, that's all."
They were silent for a while, watching the triage going on around them and trying not to focus on it with too much emotion.
"I looked at the memories," Harry said abruptly. "Snape's memories."
"He was Dumbledore's man, through and through." Harry wiped a hand across his dirty face. "He was in love with my mum, too. Really in love with her. I guess he's spent half a lifetime trying to make up for getting her killed." Harry turned to look full at Hermione. "Is he going to live?"
"I don't know. I hope so. I left him at the Hog's Head. Alberforth Dumbledore gave him some old Blood-Replenishing Potion that he had in a first aid box."
"I owe Snape an apology."
"I hope you'll be able to tell him that in person." Hermione brushed her fingers lightly along a livid burn on her left forearm that she was just beginning to feel. "I need to talk to Madam Pomfrey." With that, she pushed herself away from the wall and started across the crowded room.
When she made her request, the over-worked matron shook her head decisively. "No, I can't possibly leave. There are too many people here who need help. I've already sent an owl to St. Mungo's, telling them what happened and asking them to send Healers. It's either that, or we start Apparating patients to them, and they'll be swamped if we do that!"
"But Professor Snape needs help!" Hermione said desperately. "He's had some Blood-Replenishing Potion that's probably outdated, and he needs something for a poisonous snake bite."
"The Headmaster, is it?" Madam Pomfrey paused in the middle of spreading burn salve over Neville Longbottom's scorched head. "You're looking for help for him, after what he did?"
"He had good reasons for what he did," Hermione said, forcing her voice to a calm rational level, when what she wanted to do was scream. "Even Harry Potter admits that now."
"That's weird," Neville volunteered, toying with a half-burnt fragment of felt that he was twisting between his fingers. "I'll have to talk to him about that. Harry, I mean. Not Headmaster Snape, definitely not!"
"All right, I haven't got time to argue with you, Miss Granger," the matron said. "Go to my office in the Hospital Wing. You'll find the Blood-Replenishing Potion on the third shelf on the left side. The password is Lazarus."
"What about the snake bite?"
"De-toxifier, back wall, top shelf," Madam Pomfrey said promptly, turning her attention back to Neville's burned head. "It ought to work. I've used it often enough after students strayed into the Forbidden Forest!"
When Hermione left the castle a few minutes later, she had a full bottle of fresh Blood-Replenishing Potion plus a vial of some vile green concoction which was supposed to detoxify the blood and whose label claimed it was very good for venomous-creature bites and stings.
She started down the path toward the gate, when something about the feel of the place caught her attention. There was a difference that she could not place for a moment, and then she had it. Voldemort had broken the wards. There were no longer any magical charms or spells protecting the castle and grounds. For the first time in centuries, one could Apparate in and out of Hogwarts. Turning on her heel, Hermione vanished.
* * *
"You're alone," Alberforth observed, as she walked in through the front door of the pub, "and you look awful."
"Madam Pomfrey can't come," Hermione said, ignoring the last part of his statement. "She has the entire school to look after."
"A lot of casualties, were there? How did it end up?"
"We won," Hermione said simply. "How is Professor Snape?"
Hermione trudged up the stairs. She did not have the strength left to run. When she pushed open the door her eyes flew to the couch. She looked into a pair of obsidian eyes set in a waxy face so drawn that it seemed as though the cheek bones might pierce through the pallid skin.
"The bossy, bushy-haired, interfering know-it-all Miss Granger," a familiar, but very weak, voice said.
"That's right, Professor," Hermione said, with relief that she couldn't begin to express. "Welcome back from the brink."
NINETEEN YEARS LATER
"Behave yourselves on the train, because if you don't, you know what your father will have to say about it," Hermione said.
"Mum, did we ever tell you... "
"What a pain in the rear it is... "
"To go to a school where your dad is Headmaster?" the Snape boys finished in chorus.
"Too many times," their mother said, "so just save your breath."
She kissed them both and they clambered into the carriage, dragging their school trunks along with them.
As Hermione turned away, a half-smile still lingering on her lips, she spotted a familiar redhead with a receding hairline, on the platform some distance away.
"Ron! Ron!" she called out.
Ronald Weasley looked around and waved, as she threaded her way toward him and the redheaded brood surrounding him.
When she reached them he caught her up, swung her around as well he could on the crowded platform, and planted a hearty kiss on her cheek--much to the giggling amusement of his children.
"Haven't seen you in months!" he said.
"Lavender isn't here?" Hermione asked breathlessly, as he set her down.
"Nope. Morning sickness. She'll be over it in another couple of weeks," he added hastily, as Hermione grimaced in sympathy. "She always is! So, how's Muggle Studies?"
"Just fine. But now that I've been teaching for a few years, I understand just what Severus means by dunderheads!"
"And how is the Headmaster?"
"Snarky as usual," Hermione said cheerfully. "He says that he sees no infernal reason why I should Apparate our boys all the way south to King's Cross merely so that they can get on the infernal train and come back to where they started from."
Ron grinned appreciatively. "I can see his point."
"But think of all the fun that we had on the Hogwarts Express, Ron! And my two only have half the pleasure anyway, because they just walk down to Hogsmeade when the year is over instead of coming back to King's Cross on the Express."
"So," he said with a shrug, "move down to London."
"Not a chance!" She scanned the platform. "Look, there's Harry and Ginny and the kids!" She stood on tiptoe to wave, and then she and Ron linked hands and went to join the Potters, rejoicing in their firm friendship and in a lifetime's worth of happiness that they had never expected to have.