The story stands on its own without this epilogue; but I wanted to show a little of how the events of this story impacted the world of the books we all know so well. As a note, the epilogue does rely more heavily on having canon knowledge than the rest of the work does.
Hermione could never quite decide what had shocked her friends more: the fact that her magical map instantly revealed the location of all of the remaining Horcruxes, or the moment when Snape kissed her hard on the mouth immediately afterward.
"That was a hell of a way to announce it," she told him that night when they were alone again.
He smirked. "Thought Weasley was going to hex me where I stood."
She'd have called him a bastard, but his mouth was already on hers, and at any rate he knew perfectly well what he was.
Harry and Ron couldn't be too upset, though, as Hermione was clearly happy with the situation. Not to mention which, Snape was working openly for the Order now. "He's still a git, but he's our git now," Ron said, and nobody seemed inclined to disagree with him.
The next day, Hermione called Ron, Harry, and Snape over to the table where the map was laid out. "There's a problem," she said. "Look at the locations."
Ron and Harry stared down at the map. Ron read out, "Gringott's...Hogwarts, that one I didn't see coming...Malfoy Manor, that'll be the snake… And…" His brow furrowed.
Harry looked up at Hermione. "We're standing on top of one."
Snape, who had been watching the trio's faces rather than the map, cleared his throat. "I believe I know what the problem is," he said, enunciating carefully. "I was waiting only for confirmation, and now it would seem that we have it."
Hermione knew that tone of voice; her face went pale. Ron and Harry glanced worriedly at each other.
Snape said very softly, "Mr. Potter…I am sorry, but you have a choice to make."
Shortly thereafter, Snape retreated to the Grimmauld Place library, spending hours scrawling notes on scraps of parchment with ink-stained fingers. After the second day of this, Hermione quietly joined him.
"I know what you're doing," she said.
He glanced up from the table, his quill pausing over the parchment. "Of course you do," he said. "Start with the Heckel; it's next on my list."
Hermione found the book in question and opened it. Before long, she had even more notes stuck into the leaves of the book and stacked alongside it than Snape did. They worked together in silence for the rest of the day, only occasionally exchanging a word or a query.
The next day owls began arriving with thick, rolled-up scrolls, and a few days after that a package arrived bearing a return address that appeared to be in a different alphabet. Ron delivered it to the library and returned looking somewhat shell-shocked.
"They're honestly a bit scary," he confided to Harry after coming back downstairs.
Harry raised his eyebrows and nodded in agreement. "You're telling me. I went in there yesterday to drop off a scroll and they both looked up, looked at me, then looked at each other, perfectly simultaneously. It was like they had an entire conversation without actually saying anything."
Ron shook his head. "I can't even be angry. How am I supposed to compete with that?"
Harry shrugged. "You can't, Ron. Nobody could."
Fred and George Weasley showed up the following week. "We heard someone wants to break into Hogwarts?" one of them shouted cheerfully into the front hallway. Hermione leapt up from her desk, hurtled down the stairs, and launched herself into them for a giant group hug.
"You absolute bastards," she said, her arms around both boys. "You absolute great bloody wonderful bastards."
Fred glanced at George, who shrugged. "If this is what we get for being great bloody bastards—"
"—we'll take it," both of them finished together.
Hermione beamed up at them. "You aren't going to believe what you did," she said. "Sit down, I'll make tea."
Things began to happen very quickly. A late-night expedition to Hogwarts, organized by the Weasley twins, successfully retrieved Rowena Ravenclaw's diadem from the Room of Hidden Things. Fred and George were insufferable for days afterward.
"Found it right away, we did," Fred said.
"You wouldn't believe what's in that room," George chimed in. "Loads of stuff. Interesting stuff."
Fred grinned. "We're definitely going back."
A few days later, Hermione called Harry to the library. Snape looked tired but satisfied, and Hermione's eyes shone. "Harry," she said, "I think we've found a loophole. I don't think you have to die. I mean, I don't think you can die. Not yet, anyway."
Harry glanced from Hermione to Snape, whose mouth curved into a sardonic smile. "You will have to submit to the Killing Curse," he said. "Or die some other way, though I suspect the Killing Curse will be easier than throwing yourself off a building."
"No offense," Harry said carefully, looking from one to the other, "but this sounds like a terrible plan."
Hermione shook her head. "No, I'll show you," she said, turning pages to a marker she'd left in the book in front of her. "Look here. It makes sense. The only terrible part is that you can't tell anyone. Not even Ginny," she said, glancing at him.
His face clouded. "Hermione…"
"Not even Ginny," she repeated. "We can't take the chance. Everyone is going to have to be actually, genuinely surprised when it happens."
Harry sighed deeply. "All right," he said. "Tell me what I have to do."
Half an hour later, Harry's head hurt and his eyes were crossing. He'd understood little of what she said, but he'd got the gist—you can't die while You-Know-Who lives—and he felt optimistic for the first time in weeks that he might actually survive the confrontation with Voldemort. "Thanks, Hermione and, uh…Professor Snape. I mean, you didn't have to do this and...I appreciate it."
Snape, reclining in his chair wearing his customary black robes and looking as professorial as he ever had, said, "I believe you are no longer a Hogwarts student, Mr. Potter. You may call me Severus, if you like."
Harry's eyebrows looked as though they might try to crawl off his forehead. "Uh…thanks...Professor Snape. I'll, uh...keep that in mind."
He turned and practically ran. Faint giggling wafted from the room behind him.
Snape used what he vaguely referred to as "an old connection" to gain access to the Lestrange vault at Gringott's. He refused to allow anyone to come with him, including Hermione. She protested heatedly, but after a short but vehement argument in the closed library, she relented.
While he was gone, Ron and Harry traded theories about what he was doing. "Using Legilimency, mate," Ron offered. "You do what you're best at."
Harry considered this. "I bet it's potions, though. Same reason. He'll drug the Gringott's goblins."
"Or Imperius them," Ron said with a dark look.
"Will you two please shut up," Hermione said in a flat, irritable tone. She was on her fourth cup of tea and had nearly paced a groove into the sitting room floor.
"He'll be all right, Hermione," Harry said, seeing his friend's distress.
Ron nodded vigorously. "It's Snape. He's clever. If he said he can do it, he can do it."
Hermione expelled air through her mouth. "He's clever except when he's being a bloody idiot," she said. "Trust me. I've seen it."
Three hours later, the front door banged open and Snape swept through the threshold in a billow of black robes, his face like a thundercloud. He tossed Helga Hufflepuff's cup onto the kitchen table and immediately went to pour himself a stiff drink. He tossed back a Firewhiskey and only then looked around him. "Where is—" he began, but Hermione appeared at his side, having come as soon as she'd heard the door. He drew her into his arms.
"Did you?" she asked, and he wordlessly nodded at the cup on the table. She saw it and her eyes filled with tears. "One left," she whispered.
"My God, Hermione, I can't even imagine what we'd have had to do to find that cup without your spell," Harry told her over dinner the next evening. "Unless Bellatrix Lestrange decided to just tell us where it was for some reason."
Hermione laughed. "Not bloody likely."
Harry shook his head. "You're winning this war for us single-handed, I swear you are."
She lifted an eyebrow.
"You and Snape, of course," he amended.
His former Potions professor came into the room just then, having caught the tail end of the conversation. "She and Snape are what, exactly?" he asked.
"Winning the war for us," Harry said.
"Ah," Snape replied. "Well, it's a damned good thing someone is. You lot would still be wandering around in the forest hoping to trip over a Horcrux if we hadn't stepped in."
Harry shot Hermione a glance. "You're sure you're happy with this bloke?" he asked.
She smiled demurely. "Very."
It had been just over a month since Snape and Hermione had returned from their imprisonment, and Voldemort's familiar Nagini was the only Horcrux left, other than Harry himself.
Professor McGonagall had been busy at Hogwarts, as had Fred and George Weasley, who had a seemingly preternatural ability to evade detection and capture. The DA, which now constituted the majority of the student population at Hogwarts, was organized and ready to move at a moment's notice. Harry had been in contact with Aberforth at the Hog's Barrel, and the man had recruited quite a few people from Hogsmeade and surrounding environs. By Harry's rough count there were about a hundred and fifty people who were willing to fight on their side.
"How many Death Eaters will he have?" Harry asked, going over his lists of names again at the writing desk in the drawing room.
Snape reclined on the sofa, legs crossed and arms stretched out languorously along the back. "On the premises? Far less than that," Snape said. "Available within half an hour's notice via the Dark Mark, considerably more. Perhaps three hundred."
Harry tapped the quill against his lower lip. "All right," he said. "Call the Order. I want to talk to everyone. Here. Tonight."
Hermione, Snape, Ron, Harry, Tonks, Lupin, most of the rest of the Weasleys, Professor McGonagall, and Kingsley Shacklebolt assembled in the sitting room of Grimmauld Place, standing around the sides of the room, sitting in chairs, or in Tonks' case, folded up cross-legged on the floor. All eyes were on Harry, who stood near the center.
"I don't think we should delay any longer," he said. "We're as prepared as we can be. We've destroyed every Horcrux that we can without going directly to him, and every day that we delay is a day that he grows stronger."
Snape inclined his head in agreement. "Riddle anticipates a battle at Hogwarts. He has spent months, if not years, preparing for it. If we take the battle to him instead, we will remove that advantage entirely. He is powerful now, but not as powerful as he will be in two months' time. We should move."
Professor McGonagall's eyes fixed sharp and bright on her former colleague. "Are you sure, Severus?" she asked.
He nodded once.
"Does anyone disagree?" she asked, sweeping her gaze across the room. No one spoke; no one even blinked.
She exhaled deeply. "Then I will begin preparations at Hogwarts."
"Can you be ready tomorrow night?" Harry asked.
She nodded firmly. "Tomorrow after the dinner hour, I will...disable the Carrows," she said, her mouth turning upward into a grim smile. "And the students and staff will move outside the anti-Apparition wards. We have portkeys as well, for those who cannot Apparate or be taken via Side-Along. You are quite sure that You-Know-Who is still at Malfoy Manor?"
"What's left of it," Snape said. "Part of the building remains intact, and that is where he is headquartered. He cares little for physical comfort."
She nodded. "Then that is where we shall next meet," she said.
"Thank you, Minerva," he told her. "And...best of luck."
"To you as well," she said. "And to you, Harry." Harry nodded in acknowledgment.
"Oh, and Severus?" she said, the lines on her face easing ever so slightly.
He raised an eyebrow.
"I expect an invitation to the handfasting," she said, and swept out of the room. Harry and Ron shared a smirk, and Hermione had the good grace to blush slightly.
Snape merely looked insufferably smug.
The Battle of Malfoy Manor took place the following night. As predicted, Voldemort was poorly prepared for a frontal assault. The first wave of Order members brought down the anti-Apparition wards within minutes. Once more began freely Apparating directly onto the grounds, the rest of the wards fell just as quickly. The handful of surprised Death Eaters on the premises mounted a disorganized and ineffective resistance, running outside the mansion to be picked off one by one. After several minutes of this, someone must have managed to raise an alarm because more began streaming in, but they arrived in small groups. The Order, well-trained and prepared, was more than able to handle them as they came.
With the outer grounds under control, the Order forces divided into halves, one half staying to fight off incoming Death Eaters and the other half mounting an expeditionary force through the manor to find and kill first Nagini, then Voldemort.
Hermione and Snape both stayed with the outside group. Snape's Dark Mark left him too susceptible to control by Voldemort. As well, Hermione would not leave his side—nor did she particularly wish to visit the inside of Malfoy Manor ever again.
Decades after the battle, many of the participants would recount one of their most vivid memories as being the sight of Severus Snape and Hermione Granger, backs to each other and wands extended, firing off spells so rapidly that they looked like a great firework going off. They moved like a single person, fluid and deadly, Death Eaters falling around them like moths that flew too close to a flame.
An hour into the battle, Snape crouched to cast a low Leg-Locker Curse at a short and stout Death Eater halfway across the field, and Hermione spun to send a Stunner flying over Snape's head at another Death Eater about to curse him. The Death Eater fell bonelessly to the ground. "Another one down," she muttered, using the sleeve of her robe to wipe a sheen of sweat from her brow.
Just then, a blinding flash of green light came from inside the manor. Everyone's heads turned as a piercing scream of, "Harry, no!" reverberated across the grounds. Hermione exchanged a glance with Snape.
"Ginny," he said, and she nodded.
"Now we wait," she said.
"Now we wait," he agreed. And with a "Confringo!" he turned back to the battle.
Half an hour later, Neville Longbottom staggered out of the front doors of Malfoy Manor, covered in green ichor and carrying what appeared to be…
"My God, that's Godric Gryffindor's sword," shouted Remus Lupin from across the field. "Neville, how—"
But then a bruised and exhausted-looking Harry Potter emerged from the doors of Malfoy Manor, supported by Ron Weasley on one side and Ginny Weasley on the other. A great shout went up, though it was nothing compared to the riotous celebration that erupted when Ron cried out, "He's dead! Voldemort's dead! Harry killed him! I saw it! And Neville killed the snake!"
The grounds filled with the popcorn-popping sound of dozens of Death Eaters Disapparating at once. We've won, Hermione thought, a great wave of emotion cresting in her chest. She ran across the muddied field to Harry and enveloped him in a crushing hug. "Harry, you did it," she said through her tears. "You really did it."
"Yeah," he managed, with a crooked grin. "Got the wand, too."
Severus arrived at Hermione's side, flushed and sweaty with exertion but otherwise unmarked from the battle. "Well done, Harry," he said, sounding genuinely pleased enough that Ron's jaw dropped. "Well done indeed. I believe that your parents would have been proud. I know that your mother would have been." His voice was low but did not falter or break.
Harry swallowed hard. "Thanks...thank you, Severus," he said.
Hermione looked up to Snape, with a questioning expression on her face. He lifted his hand to cradle her face.
"Sometime soon I have many things to tell you," he told her, "but for now, suffice it to say that many things have been laid to rest this evening." He smiled and the lines in his face almost disappeared, looking like a man who has at last set down a long-burdensome weight. The simple joy that welled up from Hermione's heart felt almost too much to bear.
"Look," she said, turning with him to look over the wreckage of Malfoy Manor and the battlefield littered with dead and injured Death Eaters. Fred Weasley leaned on George's shoulder; Ginny Weasley and Harry were deep in an embrace; Neville sat heavily on the ground staring dumbfounded at the Sword of Gryffindor still balanced over his knees; and Tonks was tending to a nasty wound on Remus Lupin's head.
No one had fallen. The entirety of the Order had survived.
"It's over," Hermione said. "It's really, truly over."
"It is a night of endings," Severus said, wrapping an arm around her. "But also, I think, of beginnings." Hermione rested her head on his shoulder, content in his embrace.
Severus Snape watched the joyful chaos surrounding them and thought of falling, and flying, and had no more confusion over which was which.
This work was begun in July 2016 and finished in December 2017. It began with an idea for what I thought would be a short story that I could dash off in a few days, but it quickly grew into much more than that. I cannot express enough how grateful I am for all the reviews you've left me. Having supportive readers really makes all the difference on those late nights struggling to work out thorny plot problems.
I've learned from past experience not to make any claims about what comes next, but I suspect I do have more Severus and Hermione stories to tell. Until then, my lovely readers.