The Second Life of Hermione Granger
All good things must come to an end. All good lives must meet their close, and Hermione had watched Severus Snape slip away into the robes of Death for the second time, only this time as an old man, ready to greet him, ready to make his peace with the life he'd had, and the life he would leave behind.
Eventually it would be Hermione's turn. Eventually she would find herself fed up of loneliness, fed up of spending her twilit years running through memories alone, now that Dean, Snape, even Lily were gone. No one there to remind her, no one there to keep her thoughts in check.
One day it would catch up with her; one day Death would show up in the Spinner's End kitchen and stretch out a long-fingered hand.
One day Hermione, when she still had her voice, would hold her wrinkled fingers to her mouth, take the leather between her lips, and feel the hum of the stone against her teeth.
"I am ready to go back," she would tell the stone. The kitchen would be silent, with only Snape's favourite clock ticking, ticking away the time. "I am ready to return to the life I've forsaken." She would have felt it all day — the way the house seemed to shimmer around her, shudder, prepare to slide away. Her heart would stutter every so often, like the protests of an old, backfiring car.
But she would be calm.
She would be ready.
She would say, without hesitation, "I am ready to die."
And the world as she knew it would slip away as if behind a veil, and Death would carry Hermione swiftly, gently, oh-so-sweetly, to the other side.
2 May, 1998
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Hermione was breathing. Her heart was beating. Her body was tight, lithe, young, humming with electrons and neutrons and protons and all sorts of things she hadn't yet found out about, perhaps never would.
Not in this life. Not with a wand in her hand, a stone in the other.
Not in the Shrieking Shack.
"No!" Hermione shouted.
The Elder Wand went white-hot in her fingers and dropped to the floor. The cloak slid from her head and pooled on the ground in molten silver. She stuffed the stone back into her pocket.
She swore, and Ron said, worried, "Hermione?"
"Wait, hang on," Hermione said, scrambling for the wand she had just dropped. She was panicking, her mind racing, scrambling to keep itself blank, to keep itself from wanting, wishing, for something that was never meant to happen, not in this world….
"Disarm me," she said to Harry. "Get it away from me!"
"Hermione?" Ron said again, but Harry only pointed his wand at Hermione and said, "Expelliarmus."
The Elder Wand soared into his hand, clutched tight between his fingers. He shoved it back up his sleeve then frowned at Hermione while Ron looked at her with a mixed expression of admiration and disgust.
"Hermione?" he said again, as if he couldn't believe she was real.
She tugged hard on the skin of her wrist. Neither could she.
She stepped forward, started to say something, and trod in something sticky. She looked down and the world opened up beneath her feet.
She was still for one second, in one entire piece, blood spreading beneath the toe of her shoe.
Then she shattered. Her mind broke into a million pieces, her life a firework. She remembered. She remembered.
"Hermione?" Ron said again, and she wondered how many times she could bear hearing her own name.
"Severus," Hermione said, and kneeled in his blood. She felt for a pulse that didn't exist, the familiar skin that was firmer, years younger than she had known it in that other life, when they first met, pressed together, kissed.
And she wanted to do it again.
"Hermione?" Ron was still saying like a chant, but she couldn't hear him. The wood groaned beneath her knees. One hand stroked his lifeless face, slack in death. Her other found his fingers, wanting to do the impossible:
Bring him back.
"He's gone," Ron said, his voice careful, edging, but still too loud.
"I know," Hermione said.
"Just…what Harry said changed how you think about him that much, eh?" Ron said, and Harry gave a warning, "Ron."
Something was slinking away. Edging back through the darkness. If there was a folk tale to be written about this night, anything other than about the boy who gave his life so the world may live, it would have been about this man, this man on the floorboards, his black hair clotting with blood. His face pale, black eyes open wide. The tale would have no real ending, no real hero: it would only be a day-in-the-life of the Reaper, come to collect his due, come to harvest his promised soul with no permission granted to sup on the living, past or present. A cautionary tale: The Half-Blood Prince.
No promises made tonight. No bargaining. No unwitting jobs given to Death, to move through the world, to wipe them out before they had a chance to take first breath.
Was her chance over? Could she summon Him back, make this choice all over again? She could live that life over and over again, rush back into herself on that pavement in front of 12 Grimmauld Place, to the moment a dark figure appeared at her side and said, "You, too?"
To the moment she found him at King's Cross Station, right at the entry to Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters.
To the second she stood at the foot of his stairs and said, "Could I spent the night with you?"
To his tired eyes fixing on her in the dim light, to the dry whisper of Always.
"I want children," Hermione said aloud. Snape's hand felt so not-right in hers. So lifeless, so slack. No wryness in his grip, no pressure that was just on the lightest side of pain, trying to make her finally protest, to see if she was still there.
"Er," Ron said. He must have been blushing, but Hermione didn't look up to make certain. "Okay."
"Are you all right?" Harry asked, but tonight of all nights, ask anyone and it would have been the stupidest of questions.
"And potential," Hermione said. "I want the chance of another life."
"Look," Ron was saying. He was going to cry. His voice was thick with it, choked with tears. "Maybe it's not—"
Hermione wasn't listening. Everything had become so still. So serene. The pieces of her head had flown back together again, an explosion in reverse. Her tears were no longer falling. The cold of the shack could no longer bother her; her body could no longer bother her.
She was young again.
She was a witch again.
She had been right.
"We should go," Hermione said. Snape's hand fell from fell limply into the pool of blood. It was Harry who folded it back across Snape's stomach (if Hermione tore apart the buttons of his waistcoat, would she see the same scar wending its way across his ribcage?), and it was Ron who flicked his wand, and with the charm Hermione had taught him so many years ago, sent Snape hovering gently, silently, into the air.
"He's gone," Hermione said, because she had to.
"Yeah," Ron said.
His hand found hers, his thick fingers digging into hers (so young!), pressing hard into the tendons in her palm, as if he knew, as if to tell her, You're still here.
"Poor Snape," Ron said, and Hermione once more, despite her careful composure and her promise to herself that this was a moment to celebrate, not to mourn, found herself biting back another deluge of tears.
The hall was emptying, beds calling to the survivors, beckoning with feather pillows, plumped cushions, curtains that blocked out all light. A house elf greeted her in the corridor — she couldn't even remember her name — and told them that their beds were made up for them. They need only go up to Gryffindor Tower, and they would find everything to their liking.
There were a few remaining in the great hall. It was so odd, standing there flanked by two boys she felt like she didn't even know anymore. It felt awkward, wrong, like they were friends who had lost touch, deigned to meet up again and felt the pieces no longer quite fit. Hermione felt wholly out of place among them, terrified that the slightest mis-step would have her pegged as an imposter.
What if I'm frightened? she had asked him.
Be brave, he'd replied.
Dean was there, leafing through the day's already ragged copy of The Daily Prophet. She froze in the doorway, Ron already pushing through, Snape hovering in front and ready to join the line of the dead. Hermione watched him disappear behind a table; she couldn't will herself to move.
Dean gave Harry a sad little smile, a comrade's weary expression, and didn't acknowledge Hermione once.
"I need to go," Hermione said. "I need bed."
"Now she—" Ron began, but she didn't stay to hear the last of his sentence. She ran up the steps without them, every bit of her buzzing, alive. The sound of her footsteps seemed louder than life, echoing off the stone. Her shadows were darker, her breathing more pronounced. She felt full of oxygen. Her fingers tingled.
Her mind fixed on Snape.
He's not there, she reminded herself. That's not him.
They had talked of this. He didn't know her decision — she had never brought it up — but he must have thought of it. Given it its due consideration, when he thought of her life after he was gone, what actions she might take to make it bearable.
That she might write herself a letter, tell herself of the things she'd forgotten so she could read it when her life once more came to an end. Harry would do it if she asked — tap the Elder Wand against her temple and whisper Obliviate. Her old life would slip away and she'd be only eighteen again, only a girl — a girl who had seen too much, but a girl who could be contented with the one life she knew, with a husband, with the children she'd once longed for.
But she wouldn't think of it now. Not tonight, now that she was alone, the dormitory empty, even the portraits large stretches of blank canvas. Not even whispering in the dark.
Her old bed was made, empty, as though waiting for her, the curtains gaping at the very place she'd always climbed in. She slipped out of her dirty robes, slipped between the sheets. Leant back in her bed and gathered the curtains closed. The pocket of her trousers bulged, and she brought out the stone that she'd promised to keep secret, that she'd promised to keep safe, that she'd promised to bury, deep in the ground, in the morning.
She was so tired and yet her brain hummed, her vision blurred, ghosts clouding her line of sight. Lurking among her bedclothes, among her sheets, among the curtains that floated like wisps of smoke about her bed. Whispers unfurled in her ears. Longing unfolded on her tongue.
She licked her lips. The stone weighed heavy in her palm, seemed to grow warm, heavy, radiating a life she remembered but had never had.
Would he remember if he were here, if he were seeing, breathing, alive?
She placed the stone on her lifeline. Turned it over three times.
Her hand sank onto the bedding, into the hollow of her crossed legs. Held tight.
"Hello," she whispered, her eyes filling with tears.
"Hello," Severus Snape replied, and gave her the warmest and most secretive of smiles.
A/N: Thank you so much to everyone who has left a review, a kudos, or recommended my little fic to your friends. I've enjoyed every minute of writing this despite its entanglements and its turmoil, and I think I will always be proud of it. Thank you for helping me bring it into the world.
As a side-note, I know there still might be questions or curiosities and I'd love to have a little Q&A. Have a question? Leave a review and I'll answer on Facebook (see the link to my page in my profile). If on AO3, I'll answer in the comment threads.
Thank you all again, from the bottom of my heart.