Epilogue: Nettie

A/N: Sorry for the delay in getting this up – I seem to have misplaced Rissa, my wonderful beta, and finally got help from elsewhere in the betaing department in order to make this post-worthy. So, special thanks go out to the marvelous Goblynn, who stepped in at the last moment and whipped this puppy into shape. It's actually been written since the end of December. I trust you'll all forgive me the delay and if you prefer the way this story ended in the last chapter, feel free to delete this one from your mind.

They've been here over four years now, and he comes to see them every day.

Some days are worse for him than others, but as time passes it seems the wounds are healing, although even I was unsure they ever would. I honestly can't decide what he regrets more: letting her go, or not trying harder to stay with her – to stay with them and fight with them, for their freedom.

It had been hard for Harry, leaving Hermione behind.

It's been hard on all of us.

Don't mind me, dearie, if I dab at my eyes once and a while well we talk. You see, I've always loved a good tragic romance and this one – well, it ranks right up there at the top.

I can still picture that last day, in Hermione's rooms, perfectly. Albus – dear, dear, Albus – his worry for Severus evident on his face, tears in his eyes, as he said goodbye to the younger man he had come to love like his own son. I think he knew even then that Severus would not be returning to us.

Harry – Mr. Potter then but no longer – barely able to restrain his excitement at the thought of having his friend back with him, even though his smile seemed a bit dark, like he knew something the rest of us didn't.

Sybill, of course, for once looking focused behind her bottle-thick glasses, as she studied the three of them with an electric intensity as they drank the potion and fought to free Hermione. Her voice had been sure and steady as she had described the gray; where it was, what it was doing…

Excuse me dear, while I clear my throat and dab my eyes again. Mind if I have a sip of tea before I continue? I used to believe a hot cup of tea cured all ills but I know better now. Still, the warmth of it is settling and the tingle of sugar on my tongue gives me something else to focus on for a moment.

Severus looks good, don't you think? Those last few days, before…well, he's no longer quite so spare, is he? We take good care of him here. I daresay, he's even gained a couple stone since they arrived three years ago. Hermione looks the same as she ever did – such a beautiful girl - woman now. I think they make a lovely couple, don't you?

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes. That day.


Severus was in good spirits that morning, kissing my cheek and even teasing me about my choice of reading material, if you can imagine! He told me he had to come back, because he didn't want to be subject to me reading him Victorian romances if he didn't. I've kept that in mind, as I'm sure you've noted the stack of James Bond novels on the end table there. I figured I need to read them something after all and I think Severus and Hermione both would appreciate the irony of reading spy novels to the greatest double agent of our times.

Anyway, Severus just seemed – peaceful – that morning. I thought it was because he knew that he would soon have Hermione freed and they would be able to get on with their lives together but it wasn't that at all. He was content because he knew it was the end, you see. Don't get me wrong – I don't think he purposely gave up or anything. I truly believe he had every intention of making it out with Hermione if he could. Failing that, however, he knew he could get her out without him and he was willing to sacrifice himself for her.

Some days, I find myself quite upset that Hermione didn't come out with Harry like Severus had intended – that he sacrificed himself for nothing and now both are lost – but my anger never holds. I would hate for him to be alone – he was always so alone in the outside world as it was.

None of us were really expecting Harry to return, you see, in the spectacular fashion he did. One minute, he had been standing there, tears leaking silently from his eyes as he gripped Severus' hand, and the next he was practically thrown across the room, his tenuous connection to them broken.

I had rushed to his side when I heard the sharp click of his skull against the wall but before I had reached him he had jumped to his feet and rushed back to Severus, his hands reaching out grabbing the older man's face as he looked into his eyes.

'Snape,' he choked out, 'Snape! She wouldn't come with me…can you hear me? She wouldn't come!'

Severus' beetle-black eyes were wide and dead, the color flat and lifeless. Albus stepped forward after a few moments and pulled Harry away with shaking hands.

'What happened, Harry? What happened?' his voice was old; shaky, the blue eyes clouded with tears.

'She wouldn't leave him,' Harry cried out. 'I could have saved her…I could have…'

'But what happened, Harry?' Albus demanded again, his vice a little more strident than before.

It took a while, but young Potter managed to get out his story – stumbling as he told us of the empty foyer they had first entered, how Professor Severus had gone looking for Hermione, leaving Potter alone. He told us of their sudden emergence from a hallway, how the curse was screaming after them, how the very air congealed around them as they tried to run. 'I swear, Albus, the curse had a thousand voices…and they all sounded like Lucius Malfoy….'

Harry told us about the golden dagger that had cut their link; how Hermione had practically flown into his arms; Severus suddenly able to run towards them hollering for them to get out.

His green eyes refracted like emeralds behind his tears as he recounted Hermione begging him to put her down and let her go back for Severus, even as Severus offered himself to the curse if only it would let both he and Hermione free. 'He loves her,' he cried, 'loves her enough to die for her! And I let him down – he made me promise to bring her out no matter what…but I just – I couldn't do it. She needs him. Gods forgive me, but I've failed them and now they're both lost!' He had thrown himself into my arms after that, his thin arms wrapping around my waist as he sobbed into my apron. It was the first time I had ever allowed myself to see that the hero of the Wizarding world was really just a little boy who needed a mother.

'Shh,' I had murmured, even as tears leaked from my own eyes, stroking his back and his hair, 'shh.'

Albus, of course, tried legilimens within moments of Potter telling us what had happened but he was unable to find anything at all.

'It's like a wall has gone up,' he murmured sadly. 'Before I could at least enter her mind – but now…' It was hard not to notice the way his hands shook as he reached out and gently pushed Professor Severus' hair from his face. We had managed to get him beside Miss Granger on the bed, never once allowing their hands to separate.'…I fear we've lost them both.' His wrinkled fingers continued to stroke Severus' lanky hair with a shaky hand. 'My boy,' he was murmuring, 'dear, dear boy…'

It was absolutely heart breaking.

None of us knew what to do, really. I made tea – just gave myself busy-work to keep from collapsing in tears. Harry had grabbed Hermione's hand and sat to one side of her bed, alternately murmuring 'You promised me, Hermione…you promised me…' and 'Snape…I'm sorry. She wouldn't leave.'

Albus, of course, was on the other side of the bed, which had been charmed wider when we placed Severus on it beside Hermione. Sybill – who had said nothing since Harry's return – stood at the end of the bed staring at the two prone forms, barely allowing herself to blink.

The four of us kept vigil for hours, waiting and hoping that somehow Hermione and Severus would break free. Minerva McGonagall came to see what was happening when no one showed up in the Great Hall for dinner. She had been so confident that Severus and Hermione would be joining everyone at dinner time she had spent the entire day in the kitchens, overseeing a feast of momentous proportions.

When it was explained to her quietly, by me, that the retrieval had been less than successful she had joined us, standing behind Albus and offering him much needed support.

Finally – around midnight that evening – Sybill finally broke her silence. 'The grey is defeated,' she whispered. 'Their auras have returned.'

Harry smiled brilliantly when she said this, gripping Hermione's hand even tighter in his own, 'I knew you could do it, Hermione! You've always been brilliant.'

If we were expecting them to wake up, though, we were left waiting. Three days after Sybill's pronouncement there was still no change to their condition. According to Sybill, their aura colors remained strong, with no hints of gray, but neither Hermione nor Severus so much as blinked.

Albus had left after the first 36 hours at Minerva's insistence but Harry had remained. 'It's my fault,' he had cried the second afternoon, 'I could have saved her and I chose not to.'

'It sounds like the decision was hers,' I replied gently, handing him a thick ham sandwich and hot tea. 'It wouldn't have done, to force her to leave him against her will.'

'I know,' he had sighed then, brokenly, 'I know. But I promised Snape – Severus – that I would bring her out and I failed him. The only thing he ever asked me to do for him…'

I didn't say anything to that, because how could I respond? Instead, I sat on the other side of the bed and tried to eat my sandwich. After a short period of time, Harry broke the silence.

'You know, the other day when you asked me why it was Snape I ran too about Hermione's hair and the day you told me she was dying…I didn't know how to respond to that.' His eyes darted from Hermione's face, to Severus', to mine. 'It wasn't something I'd ever consciously thought about. I mean, why DID I go to Snape, and not Albus?'

His thumb traced idly against the back of Hermione's hand as he spoke, speaking so softly I had to strain to hear him.

'I never liked him, you know. He was always so…nasty…to me. Calling me names. Being sarcastic and cruel. Yet – over and over he would save my life, and Hermione's and Ron's…everybody's really. I'm sure it was never pleasant, being a spy.'

His voice trailed off again; his thumb stilling on the back of Hermione's hand. 'I knew when I went to him about Hermione that he would do something about it…he was always doing things. Always rescuing us, despite the way he felt. And after the war – when everyone was fawning over me, and treating me like I was the best thing to ever happen to the Wizarding world…he never changed. He still treated me just the same as always. Just like Hermione would have treated me, if she hadn't been struck down by this curse. I would have been just the same old Harry to her; not Harry the boy who defeated Voldemort; Harry the hero – just Harry.'

'You liked him,' I murmured, nodding when he looked up and blinked back his tears. 'You didn't want to, but you did.'

'I suppose, in a way, I did like him. At the very least, I admired his ability to hate me no matter what.' We both chuckled a little bit at that sentiment.

'They're not coming back, are they?' he asked sadly.

'I don't think so,' I replied.

A week later, during Albus' evening visit, Harry suddenly asked what would happen if we knowingly broke the link between Hermione and Snape.

'Sybill has said their aura's are strong…what if it's the fact they're still linked physically that's keeping them from returning to us?' he had asked, seemingly out of the blue. 'Maybe all we need to do to fully defeat the curse is to break their link.'

Albus had looked up at this, eyes suddenly narrowed in thought. 'I don't know if that would work.'

'We don't know that it wouldn't,' Harry rebutted. 'If the gray is gone, they're obviously still alive…still together in Hermione's mind…we should break the link."

'What if breaking the link doesn't help them?' I asked, 'What if breaking the link actually damages them in some way?'

'How could it damage them?' Harry shook his head at me as he spoke, as if banishing my words from the room, 'What could be worse than never being able to wake up?'

'I think it's obvious they're together in their minds,' I replied. 'If they weren't, Professor Severus wouldn't be looking better now than he did when he was still with us and Miss Granger would be deteriorating, much as she did the last time they were separated. But that's not happened, has it? She looks better than ever! If you break their physical link, what's to say you won't be breaking their mental link as well?'

'What's to say we will be?'

I turned to look at Albus, who was studying the pair on the bed intently. 'We need Sybill before we do anything. Nettie has a point – separating them could cause irreparable damage. She needs to be here to tell us what's going on with their colors.'

Harry grinned at this. 'I'll go get her right now!'

I didn't say anything as he rushed from the room, waiting until he had disappeared before saying, 'I think this idea needs to be thought out a bit more. I know you miss Professor Severus, Albus – I do too – but I think this idea is extremely ill-advised. If he were here, Professor Severus would never allow this to be done – not without researching it first.'

The Headmaster had taken Potter's recently vacated seat, his sad blue eyes barely looking at me. 'It's the only thing that might work, Nettie. If the gray is gone they should be able to wake up.'

'What if they already think they are awake?' I retorted, 'What then? If you take them away from each other….' My voice trailed off and I could feel tears filling my eyes. 'Breaking the link could kill them!'

Albus, however, refused to listen to me. When Harry returned via flu network with Sybill, I turned to him.

'I know you want Hermione back, Harry – but think about what you are going to do here. When Professor Severus broke his link to you, you came back to us like you were supposed to because you were the anchor. You're not in there with them anymore – what happens if, when you break the link between them, they loose each other? What if they can't find their way back to us without an anchor to show them the way? What then?'

Harry listened to me, chewing his lip thoughtfully. 'If it looks like it's not going to work, we can join their hands again, Nettie,' he finally answered. 'But I think this will work.'

I could say nothing more. Sybill took her place at the foot of the large bed, with Albus and Harry on either side. At Harry's nod, Albus took Professor Severus' hand and gently pried his fingers from Hermione's. Harry, who was holding onto Hermione's wrist easily slid her hand free once Severus' fingers were open.

The result of breaking the connection was almost instantaneous. I watched in abject horror as the pair seemed to start disintegrating before my very eyes. Within minutes, Hermione looked like she had when Snape had stopped visiting her. Her skin seemed too tight, her body curled in on itself in a fetal position; her hair became brittle and broken.

Severus looked even worse – it was as if, without her touch to keep him whole – his body just collapsed in on itself. The flesh that had so recently started filling out and looking healthier quickly became sallow again, before turning an alarming gray. It was as if the very muscles under the skin had melted away, leaving not only his face gaunt and sickly, but his frame as well. Where Albus was holding his hand, I could easily make out the tendons on his fingers and around his wrist.

Sybill was so horrified by what she was seeing that it took her a few moments to find her voice, but when she did she was crying – 'Put them back, put them back – they're dying.'

I jumped forward and wrenched Professor Severus' hand away from Albus, wincing as I heard the bones in his wrist snap as if they were twigs. 'Harry,' I hollered, 'you're killing them! Give me Hermione's hand!'

Potter stood there staring at me for a few minutes, before thrusting Hermione's hand towards me, helping me align the fingers with Severus' as I urged them to touch each other again.

'It's okay,' I was murmuring, 'it's okay. You're together again.' I was frantically rubbing their hands against each other, urging them to feel their connection, but it didn't seem to be working. I was practically straddling Severus now, folding my hand around his, forcing his fingers to close around Hermione's. 'Feel her. She's right here, Severus, FEEL her!'

Harry was murmuring too. He had managed to get in behind Hermione, his chest cradling her back as he whispered urgently in her ear, 'He's there, Hermione. Find him. You have to find him! I promise, you'll never have to be apart again…I swear…'

After what seemed like hours, Severus' slack hand finally held Hermione's on its own. The sudden disintegration of their physical selves slowed to a stop, but it was several days before they started looking healthy again, and Severus' wrist never did heal properly.

Harry had been beside himself when he realized what breaking their connection had almost done to them. Albus himself was devastated when he realized how close they had come to killing them, and it was weeks before he could look at the two of them without allowing his guilt to show on his face.

Albus was there a few days later when Potter came for his daily visit. Both men had talked quietly for a few moments, before Harry had turned to me, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a beautiful white binding ribbon.

'You were right, Nettie,' he said, 'We should have never tried to separate them. We need to make sure it doesn't happen again, because I don't think they could survive it.'

I nodded at him, 'They need each other to survive. I don't know what happened, or how it happened, but I'm sure they're together and happy wherever they are.'

Behind Harry, Albus cleared his throat. 'Harry's brought a binding ribbon,' he stated.

'I can see that,' I replied. 'It's beautiful.'

'Molly Weasley helped me pick it out,' Harry replied, handing me one end before handing the other end to Albus. He let go of the ribbon and reached between the pair on the bed, lifting their hands gently and placing them on top of the ribbon.

I moved closer to the bed, and began winding my half through Hermione's fingers, helping Albus lace his half of the ribbon through Severus', before we traded ends and repeated the process, tying their hands together.

Harry watched us, tears streaming down his face, as Albus and I completed the elaborate knot at the bottom around their wrists. Finally, after several minutes of silence, Albus intoned, 'Hand to hand, heart to heart. Their lives are one.'

'Their lives are one,' Harry and I both agreed.

'Take good care of my friend, Snape,' Harry added. 'She loves you.'

They haven't been separated since.

What else would you like to know? There's not much more to tell. I stayed at Hogwarts to look after them for several more months. Harry became the new 'temporary' Potions Master, until a replacement could be found. Eventually, when it could no longer be avoided, Albus broke the wards on Professor Severus' chambers and he, Harry and Minerva entered his rooms to see if Severus had left them anything.

That picture of Hermione, hanging on the wall over there – you see it? Professor Severus drew it. He also left her a letter, which I've tucked away in the pocket of her robe. No, I haven't read it – no one has. And no one ever will – I've charmed it so that only she will be able to open it up.

That terrible Skeeter woman snuck in once and tried to steal it. She claimed she was writing an 'unofficial' biography about Professor Severus and Miss Granger, but that didn't help her in the end. I don't believe she's a journalist anymore, actually.

I eventually came back to St. Mungo's with my two charges. I couldn't stay at Hogwarts forever, nor could they. In his will, Professor Snape left a large sum of money to St. Mungo's for a new ward – one for terminal cases; victims of incurable curses – with the stipulation that I be the ward administrator and that he be the first permanent resident. He also made sure that the Longbottoms would be transferred to my care as well. I try to make all of my patients feel like this is a home – we've done away with the hospital beds and the generic rooms. Instead, each room is decorated with pictures and items from the patients own home, in the hopes that this will help them feel more comfortable and relaxed.

Albus comes to visit as often as he can. The loss of Severus was a hard one for him – he retired as Headmaster the end of the school year, saying his heart wasn't in it anymore, and he's stopped eating lemon drops altogether. He lives in a small cottage just outside of Hogsmeade.

Harry never really left Hogwarts. He's not teaching Potions anymore, something for which he says Snape would be enormously pleased. Instead, he teaches Defense Against the Dark Arts. He's married to Ginny Weasley and seems to be generally content. They just had their first child a few months ago, a sweet little girl he and Ginny named Jane, in honor of Hermione.

I suppose life goes on. As for me, I miss Professor Severus more than I could possibly say. In the short time I knew him it became obvious to me that there was more to the man then even he was aware of. Prickly, stubborn – cuttingly sarcastic. Gentle, loving and willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of a love he never thought he'd find.

And how do I know this? He did leave a letter for Albus, you know. And Albus was kind enough to provide me with a replicant of the letter, which I keep with me always. It helps me to remember exactly who Professor Severus was, and why the world will never be the same without him in it.

"My dear friend - and yes, it does seem odd to be addressing a letter this way – if you are in possession of this letter, I have failed to return with Hermione and Potter. You will find several notes in my suite and instructions on the breakdown of my estate.

Are you surprised I am so prepared?

Albus, I regret that I did not accept more lemon drops from you when they were offered. I understand now that it wasn't just candies you were offering me, but companionship and guidance. I shall miss your twinkling and your outlandish robes, but most of all I shall miss talking with you. You have ever and always been a friend before anything else – I regret that I seem to have failed you in this.

Please tell Minerva to go easy on my Slytherins – they're not as bad as she may think, and they are going to need someone with the brave heart of Gryffindor behind them to bring them back into the fold of Hogwarts. I fear that the scar Voldemort has left on the Wizarding world is more deeply felt in my house, where so many parents and friends were supporters. I know Minerva will champion those remaining in my absence, as she has always favored the underdog.

I would also ask that you tell Nettie how much I have come to admire her loyalty and friendship. She is not old enough to be my mother, but I do wish I had had a sister like her growing up. If I had, I doubt the paths I chose would have led me to the place I am now. I am sure my life would have been far happier with her no-nonsense guidance to keep me on the straight and narrow.

There is a leather folder in the middle drawer of my desk I would like you to give to Sybill. She had been wanting to do a joint paper on auras and potions, and I trust the notes I have left for her will be sufficient in this endeavor. However, tell her I want top billing on the thesis, else I will appear to have gone soft.

As for Potter – I know he will be blaming himself for not getting both me and Hermione out. He has to realize it was always my choice. I was not willing to sacrifice either of them to this curse and if the only way to ensure their freedom was to stay, how can the fault be his? Besides, I needed to free Hermione and she needs someone to take care of her – who better than the boy wonder? He might not be my favorite person in the world, but I do respect him and I know he loves her. That's good enough for me.

Please make sure Hermione receives all my books – even the Dark Art ones. I know she will treat them with the respect they deserve and they are the only things of value I have that I believe she would enjoy. If there is anything else in my rooms she wants, please ensure she gets it. I daresay her Gryffindor heart will need a momento of some sort. I recommend offering her the job as Potions Professor in my absence, as she truly is a remarkable and gifted witch. You can tell her I said so.

It's rather odd that I should find myself regretting, more than anything else in my misspent life, the loss of friends and the loss of Hermione, when – until that final battle, when Hermione saved my from Malfoy's curse, I didn't realize I could have either. I have thought for quite some time now that it would be almost impossible to free Hermione and make it out myself in the process. It seems Lucius was smarter than I ever gave him credit for – this curse of his is rather brilliant.

I want you to know, regardless of anything, I wouldn't change these last two years. Without them, I would never have known the joys of friendship and the limitless bounds of love. Not so long ago, the idea of being trapped in my mind would have terrified me, but no longer. I now understand there are people in this world that will always care for me -

I shall never be truly alone again.

Severus Snape

The End

IF - Bread

If a picture paints a thousand words,
Then why can't I paint you?
The words will never show the you I've come to know.
If a face could launch a thousand ships,
Then where am I to go?
There's no one home but you,
You're all that's left me too.
And when my love for life is running dry,
You come and pour yourself on me.

If a man could be two places at one time,
I'd be with you.
Tomorrow and today, beside you all the way.
If the world should stop revolving spinning slowly down to die,
I'd spend the end with you.
And when the world was through,
Then one by one the stars would all go out,
Then you and I would simply fly away

AN Redux: Okay – I hope I haven't made anyone out there too angry. This is the original ending to the story as I envisioned it back from the first chapter. Many of you have asked in reviews if there was anything else coming because I never indicated the story was finished, so here you have it.

For those of you who don't like this ending, feel free to pretend it doesn't exist – it will not hurt my feelings in the least. If you go back through the course of the story, you will hopefully find hints and clues as to this final outcome. Feel free to email me if you want a specific list – I believe I've kept the one I made as I was writing this. I consider it a sad-happy ending, as opposed to a happy-happy ending, because they are still together.

Also, the story idea actually stems from real life, in a way. When I was a little girl, my Oma died rather suddenly, shortly before my grandparents 50th wedding anniversary. Within days after the funeral, my Opa stopped talking to anyone, unless he thought he was talking to her. Eventually, the doctor said he had Alzheimers, but I never believed it – I think he retreated to a place in his mind where they could be together always. When he finally died, eight years later, I dreamed about them walking together in a field full of flowers, and my Opa was happy again. This dream and this belief of mind has always stayed with me – despite everything, love prevails.

I actually admit I almost didn't post this ending at all. However, several of you have also commented on the rushed feel of the ending of the last chapter and this chapter would be the reason for it. Thank you all so much for the wonderful reviews and the concrit – I hope that I will be able to take everything you have all commented on and make my next large story better.