Severus Snape sat beside Hermione's hospital bed. Her small hand held securely in his two larger hands; his long fingers soothingly stroking her knuckles. He watched her face as she slept. Last night her face was so broken and bloodied that it had been barely recognisable. She had taken so many curses and hexes, that the fact that she still breathed was nothing short of miraculous. She was beginning to stir, and Severus wondered how much he should tell her when she awakened.
He had spent the past several hours convincing Mad-eye Moody and his young eager partner that he was not the cause of his wife's injures. Minerva's foresight had won his argument. If she had not thought to destroy his wand they would most certainly have cast a Priori Incantatem. That would have revealed the Dark spells he had cast as he and Hermione were attacked. He had used the Dark spells as a protective measure, but that would have been irrelevant. The mere act of using Dark Magic, no matter the impetus or result, would have damned him.
He had to admit that he was impressed with Minerva's thoroughness. She had excused herself, and taken his wand with her. Later she had explained to him that she had removed the core, and incinerated the wand and core separately. The ashes from the wand, she had Longbottom scatter over a wide area to the far north; just as she had Potter scatter the ashes of the core over an even larger area to the south. No one would ever be able to trace his wand.
During his questioning, Minerva interrupted with a story of him returning without a wand; as he lost it while saving Hermione. This would be unchallengeable. However, the inability to test his wand had further incensed Moody. He had thought that Moody would never be finished questioning him. After Minerva finally suggested that they question him under Veritaserum, and he had agreed to this idea, Moody grudgingly accepted his innocence. He was finally allowed to return to Hermione's bedside. Severus was certain that Moody would keep investigating, but without his wand there was nothing unusual to be found. His version of the night's events was irrefutable, as it was the absolute truth; minus the minor detail of the Dark spells he cast.
Hermione's eyes began to flutter open and Severus reached one hand up to smooth her unruly hair away from her face. As she focused on him, a faint smile played about her lips.
"Severus," she said, in a voice that was a ghostly whisper.
"Yes?" he answered softly.
"They said Moody had you, I was so worried. I was afraid he would - " she had to pause as she did not have enough breath left to finish her statement.
"He tried, and failed. Rest, Hermione," Severus ordered sternly. "I will tell you what happened. He told her of Bill Weasley's accusation, although, she had remembered that bit. He told her of being questioned by Moody. He told her that in the end they had accepted his explanations of the night's events. He reassured her that no one knew he had used Dark Magic to save her. With his safety and freedom confirmed, she fell back into an exhausted sleep.
Hermione was released from the hospital wing a week later. She was sufficiently mended, and rested; unlike Severus who had slept nowhere but in a chair at her bedside. Hermione had tried to make him see sense, and sleep in their bed, but he had adamantly refused. Upon her release she insisted that Severus finally get some real sleep. However, the stubborn wizard would not even consider it until he finished the last batch of the Power Enhancing Potion. She helped him, and when they were finished she again insisted that he sleep. When he protested that he couldn't sleep she had bossed him into taking a sleeping potion. Once he was sleeping peacefully, she scratched out a quick note and left it on the pillow next to him; lest he awaken before she returned.
Diagon alley was crowded as Hermione made her way to Gringotts. She found an unoccupied goblin, and politely requested to see Bill Weasley. The goblin told her that Bill was just finishing up putting things in order before he left on two weeks holiday. After some arguments, and a little bribery, she was led to Bill's small office.
She knocked once briskly and let herself in. Bill Weasley sat behind a desk that was littered with parchments and odd looking gadgets.
He looked up and caught her eye. He rose and walked around his desk. Standing in front of her he extended his hand and smiled roguishly. "Hermione," he began with pleasant modesty, "you didn't need to come and thank me in person. I'm just glad you're safe from that monster."
His friendly overtures were met with a forceful slap to the face, the blow causing his head to snap to the side. He brought one hand up to his red swelling cheek and looked at Hermione with confusion evident in his eyes.
Hermione began to speak. "How dare you?" she hissed furiously. "You had no right. You have no business interfering in my life. You know nothing of my relationship with Severus. What have I ever done to you to deserve this disrespect. What have WE ever done to deserve the vile contemptible accusations you made against my husband and myself?"
"Hermione," Bill said, his confident voice taking on a slight pleading tone, "I didn't make any accusations against you. I was protecting you."
"Protecting me? Protecting me!" she exclaimed in outraged disbelief. "I don't need your protection. My husband protects me and - "
"I saw Snape bring you into the Three Broomsticks!" Bill interrupted vehemently. "I saw the condition you were in. I had to do something, I couldn't allow you to suffer such treatment. I haven't heard back from Alastor Moody, and I'm sorry Snape's in prison; but you'll be safe now. Moody will never let Snape see the light of day again, he's always known Snape wasn't trustworthy. You're safe now that he's in prison, Hermione."
"Are you completely mad?" Hermione spat. "My husband is not in prison. The only thing my husband did was save me from the three Death Eaters who had abducted me; the three Death Eaters who intended to kill me."
"Three Death Eaters?"
"Yes, three Death Eaters. Severus managed to get there in time. If it were not for him I would be dead, or worse."
"I - "
She didn't allow him time to make excuses or apologies. "You what? You took it upon yourself to jump to conclusions that naturally villanised Severus. You decided to step in where you were neither needed, nor wanted. You thought yourself to be a knight on a white charger?"
Quietly he responded, "I'm sorry, but I don't understand. I don't think - "
Hermione cut across him, "No, you don't think do you? You didn't think. Why? I want to know why. Why would you assume that Severus would do such a thing to me?"
"I, you see," he faltered, "well I'm not the only one who doesn't trust Snape," Bill said defensively. "Alastor Moody says that Snape - "
Hermione interrupted again, "I'm well aware of Alastor Moody's fanatical campaign against my husband. He has managed to convince some short-sighted, weak-minded people to agree with him. However, the question is, what are your reasons for mistrusting Severus?"
"Snape was a Death Eater, every Order member knows that. And I know what Death Eaters do, Alastor Moody has told me. No one knows just what it is that Death Eaters do better than he does. He says once you get a taste for that kind of depravity: that kind of sick, twisted, perverse violence; you always want it. Always. It's like a disease with no cure. So, how can Snape have changed?" Bill asked challengingly.
"That's it? You called Aurors because of Moody's insane ramblings? That's why you made those utterly unfounded accusations?"
"There are other reasons. I mean why would you, a lovely, intelligent, young woman tie herself to him. There must have been Dark Magic involved, he must have you under a spell or a potion."
Hermione cut him off, "Do not start that. It was proven to you, and everyone else, that I was under no magical influence."
"I realise that was the story you spread around. I never read your binding documents, but - "
"But nothing," she spat, "what is the matter with you? Tell me the truth, why did you do this?"
"Everyone thought that you would marry Ron, but you didn't want him - "
She cut him off again, and spoke with disgust, "Of course not, he's like a brother to me."
"Yes, I saw that. I saw that you turned everyone down; and when I saw that, I began to hope. I saw a lot. I saw you at the Burrow, at Headquarters, everywhere..." he trailed off and a wistful look crossed his face. "I saw your brilliance, your enthusiasm, your determination, your intelligence... I wanted you. I called it off with Fleur at the last minute, based on the hope that you would notice me one day. I had already decided to wait for you. I was older than you, and thought I should wait until you were older, as well. Then I would approach you, court you. But that ended when you came into Headquarters and announced that you had married that old Slytherin, that Death Eater, that bastard. What was I to think? I had cancelled on Fleur. I ..." he trailed off in thought. "But, I wanted you more than Fleur. Fleur is beautiful and cultured, but you have other things to offer. Things that even I can see are more substantial than beauty, popularity, and social standing. You are going places. One day you will make a name for yourself. I wanted to court you, I - "
"I never gave you any reason to think that I would be interested in you. I never encouraged you. Why, Bill? Why did you falsely accuse Severus?"
"I know you never encouraged me," Bill spat dejectedly. "Then when you announced your marriage, I just wanted to protect you, no matter what. I gave up the idea of courting you, I really did. All I wanted anymore was to protect you. I knew you would never be safe with that Death Eater. Then when he came into the Three Broomsticks carrying you; and it was so obvious that you'd been nearly beaten and cursed to death... " his voice dropped to a whisper, " ... what was I to think then?"
"You didn't think did you? You just foolishly acted. Why didn't you approach Severus and I? Discuss your concerns?" At his skeptical look she added, "You certainly could have talked to me about your concerns, and I would have told you the truth."
He took her words as encouragement. "Hermione," he urged, "leave that git. I'll protect you. I'll care for you. If you want marriage, I'll marry you, even after he's had you." He smiled. "Imagine it," he said with confidence, "I'm young, not hard on the eyes, I'm strong, virile," he winked cheekily, "I'm an Order member, who has always worked for the Light..."
Hermione looked at him, indignant disbelief radiating off her person. "Bill Weasley," she hissed, "you still aren't thinking. I believe that it is way past time for you to be taught some important lessons. Lessons that you seem to have missed." She whipped her wand out of her sleeve and incanted, "Accio, Bill Weasley's wand!"
The surprised wizard only looked on in astonishment as his wand flew from the top of his desk into Hermione's outstretched hand. His mouth dropped open as she smoothly followed this by pocketing his wand and turning. She effortlessly warded and silenced the office. "You need to realise that the world does not revolve around you. You, Bill Weasley, need to learn to think of someone other than yourself. You need to learn to think, full stop." Then without warning she advanced on him menacingly. She pressed her wand into his throat. He knew terror as he looked into her narrowed eyes.
On the way home, Hermione met with Hagrid and left her friend's pet Horklump with him. She explained that her friend was on holiday for two weeks, and really needed somewhere for 'Bill', her pet Horklump, to stay. After all, if he was left alone, he might be eaten by a gnome.
Hagrid had agreed readily. Hagrid went on to say that he had some lonely female Horklumps that he was sure would love Bill's company.
Hermione said she remembered Hagrid mentioning his lonely female Horklumps to her a couple of weeks ago. She told Hagrid that it was because she knew that Horklumps were enthusiastic breeders, that she thought that all those females would appreciate a male for company. So, when she found out that her friend was going on holiday for two weeks, it seemed only sensible to suggest that 'Bill' stay here.
Hagrid assured her that he would take good care of Bill.
Hermione thanked him, and said that she was sure that 'Bill' would thoroughly enjoy his stay. As she left she told Hagrid that she would be back for 'Bill' in two weeks. Then she made her way up to the castle with a triumphant smile firmly in place.
She found Severus pacing agitatedly before the fire.
He didn't take the time to greet her. He merely turned to her and said, "The Dark Lord wants to meet you. Now."
He handed Hermione a black hooded cloak. It wasn't a Death Eater robe, but it was close. She put it on and looked into Severus's eyes.
He saw her fear and touched her cheek. "Although it was my wish that this would never need come to pass; I will allow nothing to harm you."
"I know," she replied. "But," she continued in an insistent tone, "nothing must harm you either."
"We will be fine," he assured her.
Hermione cast the Disillusionment Charm on both of them and they quickly made their way off Hogwart's grounds. Once they were past the Castle's wards, Severus took Hermione's hand and drew her to him. He surprised her yet again, by wordlessly and wandlessly Apparating them both to the Dark Lord's current residence.
They popped into a drawing room, and saw Wormtail hovering in a corner, obviously waiting for their arrival. "I'll let him know you're here," he squeaked.
Hermione clasped Severus's hand convulsively. He held her hand firmly, giving her the only comfort he could under the circumstances.
Wormtail reappeared and muttered, "Follow me."
Severus and Hermione were lead into a drawing room. Voldemort sat on an ornate raised chair.
"Severus," he greeted.
Hermione suppressed a shudder at the sickly polite welcoming hiss of Voldemort's voice.
"My Lord," Severus responded as he genuflected.
"Severusss," Voldemort chastised, "there is no need for such between us. You are my right hand, and my hand does not bow to my body."
"Thank you, my Lord. May I present..."
In one fluid movement Hermione elegantly gathered her skirts and cloak to the side, lowered her head so that the back of her neck was exposed to Voldemort; and curtsied deeply.
"... Hermione Snape," Severus's deep voice intoned.
Seconds ticked by at an excruciatingly slow pace, but Hermione's stance never wavered. She remained in her deep bow, her eyes firmly focused on the floor. Finally the Dark Lord spoke, "Rise."
Hermione rose and brought her eyes up to meet Voldemort's. She felt him entering her mind. She projected random scenes transposed with intentional emotions.
She showed him meeting Ron on the Hogwart's Express. She projected the disgust she felt for the filth on Ron's face, at the same time skewing her feelings from that incident just a bit; making her disgust seem as though it were for Ron himself.
She showed Voldemort enhanced feelings of derision for Harry's whinging, railing, and swaggering.
She allowed Voldemort to believe that she remained friends with Harry and Ron, merely for the things the association would bring her.
She showed Voldemort glee at Remus's sacking, and satisfaction at Sirius's death.
She showed him entirely fabricated scenes where she envied the Slytherin girls.
Between these she interspersed real scenes and real feelings. There was anger at Draco for calling her names. Fury beyond bounds at Bill Weasley for accusing Severus of beating and hexing her; then triumph when Bill received retribution at her hands.
After these she pushed forward her loathing of Dumbledore's treatment of Severus and outrage at his attitude towards their marriage.
She allowed Voldemort to see all of her genuine love and devotion for Severus; as she openly displayed her hatred of Moody's persecution of Severus.
She felt Voldemort probing further and she finally showed him what she knew he wanted to see: her desire to please Severus. She showed him a need to please Severus in all things, and in any way possible; including giving Harry Potter to his Dark Lord.
She finally projected the idea that her deepest wish is serve the Dark Lord, despite the fact that she is a lowly Mudblood; as it would please Severus.
Voldemort left Hermione's mind and addressed her, "You are willing to lure Harry Potter to his demise?"
"Yes, Master," she responded in quiet tones of deep respect.
Voldemort looked into Hermione's eyes and said, "I am pleased that Bella and Draco failed in their plans to eliminate you."
"Draco, my Lord?" Severus asked.
"It was he who told Bella when you left the safety of Hogwarts," Voldemort hissed. "Bella hoped to gain your place with me Severus; and Draco hoped to gain your wife's place with you."
"I see," Severus said, fury emanating from his being.
"There will be time enough for revenge when Harry Potter is dead, and I take my rightful place as the leader of our world."
"Of course, my Lord," Severus said in a calm even tone.
The Dark Lord's regard returned to Hermione, "Not that you haven't had some vengeance of your own on those who have wronged you, already. Your retaliation was most... inventive; if not final."
"Master," she said deferentially, "how could my revenge be final while Albus Dumbledore still holds sway?"
"You think before you act," Voldemort's tone was clearly approving. "That is more than I can say for some of my valued Death Eaters; they would take their revenge without any thought as to how the consequences of their actions would effect future events."
"That, I would not do, Master," Hermione bowed her head. "It could interfere with your plans, and that would be unthinkable."
"It would seem that you and dear Severus hold that trait in common, if only more of my followers were as intelligent," he said almost wistfully. He looked into Severus's confused eyes and added with obvious amusement, "Sometime you should ask her what she did to the Weasley who accused you of her torture."
Severus gave Hermione a what seemed to be an approving look. She was the only one who could see see question and confusion in his eyes.
Voldemort turned back to Hermione. "What would you ask in return for providing access to Harry Potter," Voldemort spat Harry's name.
"Nothing. To serve you is enough, Master," Hermione whispered.
"You would have no reward for such a deed?" Voldemort's asked again.
"Pleasing Severus, will be my reward," she murmured.
"You are honest."
"I apologise, Master."
"It is true; forthrightness and honesty is not what I usually find in my followers. However, in you it amuses me."
"Thank you, Master," she murmured subserviently.
Voldemort turned to Severus, "You have trained her well, Severus."
Severus inclined his head and answered simply, "Thank you, my Lord."
"I will reward such faithfulness, respect, and..." Voldemort gave an indulgent laugh, it was a nauseating sound, "...honesty." He turned again to Hermione. "Ask, and when Harry Potter lies dead at my feet, it is yours."
"I thank you, Master. If it pleases you, I would have revenge on those who have injured Severus." Pure venom dripped from her voice as she continued, "I want Alastor Moody."
Voldemort gave a high cruel laugh and asked, "What will you do with this Auror?"
"If it pleases you Master, I will make him suffer. He will suffer for everything he has done to Severus. He will know pain for every moment he spent maligning Severus. For every person he tried to turn against Severus, he will slowly lose another precious body part. Then, I shall watch the life leave his eyes, drain from his body; and as it does he will know it is because of everything he has done to Severus over the years."
"You rival Bella." Voldemort smiled malevolently.
"I exceed that, when it is deserved, Master" Hermione said with surety.
"When you feel it is deserved, you thirst for it do you not?" Voldemort pressed, clearly pleased.
"Yes, I hunger for it. I burn for it," Hermione said vehemently, with a mad glint in her eyes. She was truely frightening in that moment.
Severus's long years as a spy made it easy for him to entirely mask his reaction, to what he hoped were Hermione's acting skills.
"All along you suspected that I would grant you this, in return for Harry Potter?"
"I admit to hoping, but I will gladly deliver him to you without reward, Master."
"To serve you, Master; pleases Severus," Hermione said simply.
"You will have the Auror," Voldemort said generously.
"Thank you, Master." Hermione bowed again.
Abruptly Voldemort declared, "I tire of waiting. The time for action is now! Today is the day Harry Potter will die by my hand. Take me to the place you have chosen, and we will set in motion the events that will bring down Harry Potter!"
A stunned Severus replied, "But of course." He turned to Hermione, and not wanting Voldemort to discover that he did not have a wand, he said, "Please, escourt us there."
She nodded and removed her wand from her sleeve. Much to her relief, Severus positioned himself in the middle of their odd Trio, so she was spared from having to physically touch Voldemort. Hermione concentrated, and Apparated with Severus and Voldemort to the abandoned building on the edge of the forest.
Severus Snape made a slow climb to consciousness. The first thing he realised was that there was an arm wrapped around him. At the same time he became aware of fuzzy hair itching his nose, he realised that he could smell his wife's distinct vanilla soap; and he could feel her even breathing on his neck. He smiled, and tightened his arms around her, hugging her even closer to him in his pre-waking state. He threw one of his long legs over hers drawing their entire bodies tightly together as he settled down to return to sleep. He heard voices and his pleasant relaxation was shattered as his semi-conscious brain realised that he shouldn't be able to hear voices while sleeping with his wife.
Instantly he opened his eyes, and saw that he was in St Mungo's. The memories of the day's events began to filter back to him. He remembered Voldemort, and Potter. He remembered that he and Hermione has been taken to the hospital; along with several others. He realised that sometime during the night Hermione must have made the trek across the ward from her bed, and crawled into his with him.
The voice of Albus Dumbledore rang through the ward. "Severus, I see that you're awake. Your Healer flatly refused to allow us to awaken you or ... Madam Snape."
Severus reluctantly looked in the direction Dumbledore's voice was coming from; and was stunned to find the entire Wizengamot crowded into the magically enlarged ward. Upon further perusal, everyone who had been there when Harry faced Voldemort was present, as well. Either in beds, or under their own power. He glared as he disentangled himself from Hermione.
"None of these good people will tell us what happened," The Minister for Magic said irritably, as he approached the bed that held Severus and Hermione. "Perhaps you would be so kind as to enlighten us."
Severus stroked Hermione's hair absently and said with quiet derision, "I have nothing to say. Ask Mr Potter when he wakes up."
"He's under a dreamless sleep, it will be hours - "
"Then I suggest you come back, or make yourselves comfortable. It is Mr Potter's tale to tell."
"Then it's true? He Who Must Not Be Named is gone?"
"I will assure you of that. He is gone. The Dark Lord: Voldemort; is dead. Inescapably and unquestionably so. There is no avenue left to him for continued life on this side. His," Severus laid a heavy and disdainful emphasis on the his next word, "true Death Eaters, are as you know, captured. Those that are not in your custody are dead. That is all the assurance I shall give you. As to the details of how these unexpected events came to pass," Severus said snidely, "I am sure Mr Potter will be thrilled to enlighten you. Now, unless myself or my wife is under arrest, please leave us in peace until such time as our lauded saviour is awake."
"Of course you're not under arrest," the Minister seemed genuinely shocked at the very thought. "From what we can piece together you are all heroes. We just want to know how it happened."
"I am sure Mr Potter will be happy to oblige you when he awakens."
Severus sat in his hospital bed, leaning comfortably on the magically-modified head of the bed. "The things you can get away with when the Wizengamot is in the ward," he had whispered to Hermione as he cast the spell. She had refused to return to her own bed, and she now sat between his thighs, resting back into his chest; held securely in his arms.
Quite a few people did a double-take when they noticed this pubic display of closeness between the couple; but they reasoned that the life-threatening circumstances of He Who Must No Be Named's demise was responsible.
The pair sat quietly listening to Harry Potter speak to the Minister of Magic and the Wizengamot.
"I got an owl from Hermione," he was saying. "The letter told me that she had been captured by Voldemort and that he would kill her if I didn't come ... alone. That was the owl we were expecting - "
"Expecting?" the Minister was shocked.
"Er, yes. You see, Snape, Hermione, and I - "
"Hermione Snape, you mean?"
"Yeah, Hermione Snape and Snape, er Professor Snape. Anyway, we thought that we needed a plan to trap Voldemort."
"You had this planned?" The Minister was the one asking all the questions, and making all the interruptions.
"Yes, Minister, but nothing went as planned. You see Hermione and Snape, er Professor Snape, they developed this Power Enhancing Potion. We were all taking it, in case the worst happened."
"Who is we?"
"Um, a bunch of us."
"Would this 'bunch', be in the room now?"
"Was there anyone else involved?"
Harry's voice took on a sad, tired tone, "Jennifer O'Neil and Wilhemina Grubbly-Plank. I didn't see it, but they died. They said Macnair killed Jennifer O'Neil without magic. Professor Grubbly-Plank died as well, Bellatrix Lestrange murdered her."
"Yes, well," the Minister began uncomfortably, "we will all miss them both, Harry."
It angered Harry that it was so very obvious that the Minister had never met either witch. Through clenched teeth he ground out, "Professor Grubbly-Plank was a very respected witch, she was wonderful with animals. She cared for Hedwig once."
"Did she?" the Minister responded with a nervous smile.
Harry went on as if he hadn't heard him. "I had only just met Jennifer O'Neil. However, I'm sure she had a family, people who loved her. As did Professor Grubbly-Plank "
"They both died serving the Light," Tonks interjected from where she sat. "Jennifer was brave and good. An honest credit to the Ministry."
"Yes," the Minister cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Now, Harry. This 'we'...?
"Everyone is here. Seated over there," Harry indicated the small group where Tonks sat, "or in one of these beds."
"I see. Thank you, please go on," the Minister said quietly.
"Then we decided that maybe now was a good time to try to trap Voldemort, before he found out about the Power Enhancing Potion and got some for himself. With Professor Dumbledore so ill, we decided to go ahead and not tell him. We didn't want him to get worse instead of better. So, we planned to have Professor Snape, who as you must know was a spy against Voldemort. He was a spy in Voldemort's inner circle. He, a spy for the Light, became the one Voldemort trusted more than anyone else. We all decided that he would convince Voldemort that he and Hermione wanted to lure me to him so he could kill me. Voldemort loved the plan, he was eager for the chance to get at me. He agreed, and they were to carry on with the plan in a couple of weeks. But, I guess Voldemort got anxious, and wanted to do things today?" Harry looked at Severus.
Severus addressed the Wizengamot, "The Dark Lord called me. He instructed me to bring Madam Snape to him." Severus still held Madam Snape in his arms. Arms that trembled with the aftereffects of the curses he took. Severus continued in a matter-of-fact tone, his voice unwavering "The Dark Lord wanted to see for himself that Madam Snape was sincere in her promise to deliver Harry Potter to him. He wanted to be sure that she would carry out her part of the plan; he wanted verification that she would willingly lure Potter to his demise. He questioned her. He came to believe in her. Then he announced that he did not wish to wait any longer. He said that we would proceed immediately, rather than wait for the previously agreed upon date." Severus nodded to Harry. No one seemed to notice that Severus was shaking throughout his explanation. When the attention turned from them, Hermione lovingly stroked Severus's quaking arms; even though she knew it wouldn't help the Cruciatus tremours.
Harry continued, "We had decided that when the time came I would be brought here." Harry rummaged on his bedside table and brought out a map. He handed it to the Minister. "We had it all planned. When the day came I would wait for the letter from Hermione. We all had places to be in, teams to work with, and we knew who we would be fighting. Hermione would co-ordinate our efforts with some Muggle technology. But, we didn't get to do any of that as planned. The owl came today, when we weren't expecting it. At least we were all under the influence of the Power Enhancing Potion. I don't think we would have done so well without it."
"If the letter came before you were expecting it, how did you know to take the potion?" the Minister asked.
"We were all, well all except Hermione, taking it regularly. We were practicing under it's influence whenever we could."
"Well, yes. Getting the hang of casting spells and such, with enhanced power."
"Yeah, you should see what a simple Petrificus Totalis can do when it's cast with enhanced power," Harry said enthusiastically.
"I hope to see that," the Minister said indulgently.
"We all wore an extra phial of the Power Enhancing Potion, as well. It's released over time, so if we take a dose and have this back-up dose, we're set for a week." Harry reached into his shirt and pulled out a phial that hung on a thong around his neck. "When the Snapes created it, they wanted to make sure that it wouldn't wear off before we got the job done."
"May I see that?"
"Sorry," Harry said in a voice that was anything but apologetic, "it's charmed for me. All of our phials are keyed to us specifically. So, they couldn't be used by Voldemort or one of his followers. If you touch it, it will disappear. If you want a sample of the potion, you'll have to go to the Snapes." Harry smiled.
"I'll do that, please continue," the Minister encouraged.
"I contacted Professor McGonagall and she helped me get in touch with everyone else. We gathered at ..." Harry looked at Severus who nodded imperceptibly, "... at Snape's house in Suffolk. Then we left to meet Voldemort. When we were all there, we just scattered. We couldn't follow our plan, because the Death Eaters wouldn't be sent into position by Professor Snape. You see, if Voldemort hadn't taken us by surprise; Professor Snape would have told each Death Eater where to appear, and we would have been waiting for them. But, that's not how it happened."
"I see," the Minister responded. "So, what did you do, when you got there?"
"We all got there before the Death Eaters did. I went into the building alone. I knew Voldemort would be in there. I found him in a room on the second floor with Hermione and Professor Snape. When I got there Voldemort began trying to bait me. He said that I must be very hurt to find that my best friend and my Professor had betrayed me. I heard Apparitions happening outside. Voldemort told me that his loyal Death Eaters were all joining us. He raised his wand and pointed it at me."
"Suddenly, Professor Snape called out to him." Harry smiled. "Professor Snape called him: 'Tom', that took his attention from me. When Voldemort turned to Professor Snape, the Professor cast wandless Power Enhanced Shields around Hermione and himself - I'd cast my shield before I went in. Then Professor Snape told Voldemort that he didn't think that his followers would make it into the room. He told Voldemort that the building and grounds were surrounded by our forces."
"Voldemort was enraged that Professor Snape had betrayed him instead of us. He turned to Hermione and cast the Cruciatus. He was, I don't know how to describe it... he just went crazy when his spell didn't make it through her shield. He cast the killing curse a few times and that eventually cracked Hermione's shield. The last one he cast at her didn't get her, because the Professor put himself between Voldemort and Hermione. Voldemort cast the killing curse at the Professor again, and again. I cast the curse on Voldemort while he was trying to kill the Professor and Hermione, but it didn't effect him. Then Voldemort's repeated curses began to weaken the Professor's shield. I kept casting, but nothing was happening; I couldn't stop him. I tried summoning all the hate I could, but my curse failed every time. Then I remembered what Professor Dumbledore has always tried to teach me; and I tried the curse while feeling all the love I could, instead of hate. But, that didn't do it either."
"Then before I knew it, both Hermione and the Professor were completely shield-less. Voldemort raised his wand again. They, Hermione and the Professor looked at each other and ..." Harry paused, "I really don't know what exactly happened... it all happened really fast. Hermione and the Professor both said something. I guess you could say that they called to each other. But it wasn't their names, it wasn't even words. It was more of a sound than any language I've ever heard of; it was melodious. There was a note to it, but it wasn't a song either. It was a sound ... it ... it was a sound... they just wordlessly called to each other. Then there was this incredible light. Professor Snape and Hermione were surrounded by a blinding light. Trying to look at either of them was like trying to look directly into the sun. The air was getting full of magic, and it was coming from this light, from them. There was a wind - and we were in a building, in a closed room. The candles blew, and the magic was flowing all around us, and through us in waves; and I felt ... I felt ... this wave of light and power hit me. It felt incredible. This thing, this energy entered me and I felt strong, capable; I felt invincible. I felt like I could do anything. Nothing could harm me. I felt such power, such ... conviction ... such love. Then I saw it pass through Voldemort, and I thought he was going to feel the power I felt, and we'd all be dead. But it effected him differently. He didn't seem to absorb it like I did. It didn't look like it was good for him at all. He was knocked to his knees. He dropped his wand. He was shaking and weak. I don't remember doing it, but the next thing I knew I was standing over him, and I was pointing my wand at him, and he was dead." Harry's voice dropped to a serious whisper, "I've seen death before, Quirrel ... others ..." Harry broke off in thought for a moment. "Anyway, I've never seen anything like this. It seemed like Voldemort was beyond death. I don't know what to tell you."
"You cast the killing curse Harry," Remus Lupin spoke up from where he sat on the edge of Gerard Waymouth's bed. "We all heard it. Even those of us that were outside heard it. It was reverberating all around. The very ground shook with the force of your voice Harry."
"Love," Albus Dumbledore said as he sat heavily in a chair. "the love your mother felt for you Harry was enough to keep you alive when you were a baby. Enough to make the killing curse fail, and rebound on Tom. But, I think that there may not have been enough of that left to end Tom's hate after all. It worked it's magic by saving you that time. Finishing Tom, that took new love. New love magic. Powerful,love magic created from; pure, love." The headmaster hung his head, and whispered, "How could I have been so wrong?"
"Well, whatever it was that Hermione and Professor Snape generated," Harry answered, "it was powerful. It was awesome."
Dumbledore addressed Harry, "It was their love for each other Harry. What they felt in the moment that they each thought they would lose the other... their love for the other, their need to protect the other... " Dumbledore trailed off and stroked his beard. "Selfless, pure love; that is what Severus and Hermione felt, that is what generated the wave of 'awesome power' that you described, Harry. Have no doubt, it was love that vanquished Tom Riddle's hate."
"Yes well," the Minister took back over, "How were Professor and Mrs Snape hurt?" The Minister was obviously put-out that Dumbledore had contributed.
Harry looked at the Minister. "Bellatrix Lestrange, came running in. She didn't go to her Master, she just cast the Cruciatus on the Professor. Before I could defend him, Macnair and Dolohov came in. Dolohov went for Hermione. He cast some curse I don't know, but the Professor managed to push Hermione out of the way; even though he was under the Cruciatus. The curse missed her. Macnair went for me, and then Wormtail came in and disarmed Macnair before he could get me." Harry paused and looked puzzled.
"Due to the Wizard's Debt, the Life Debt, he owed you, no doubt," Severus informed Harry, and subsequently the assembled.
Harry looked up and answered, "Yeah." He thought for a moment and then continued, "Bellatrix kept holding the Cruciatus on the Professor, and Dolohov hit Hermione with a stunner. Then Professor McGonagall, Neville, and Auror Shacklebolt came in. Professor McGonagall stunned Dolohov. Auror Shacklebolt stunned Bellatrix, and Neville used the Petrificus Totalus on Macnair. Auror Shacklebolt secured the Death Eaters. Then we, -Professor McGonagall, Auror Shacklebolt, and I- left Neville to watch over the Professor and Hermione; and we went outside to help those who were still fighting Voldemort's followers.
When we got outside it was pretty much over. As you know, it was too late to help Jennifer O'Neil and Professor Grubbly-Plank, they were both dead. I saw the Professor, she was just laying there, her eyes were open, but she was gone. James Adams was next to her, and it was obvious that he was seriously hurt. There were other injuries. The only other ones that looked really bad were Charlie and Mrs Weasley. As well as Professor Snape and Hermione of course."
The Minister looked around at the seriously injured. The bed next to the Snapes held a recuperating Gerard Waymouth. The next bed was hidden from view by several screens, but everyone knew that it held Molly Weasley; she was still unconscious but expected to make a full recovery. In the bed beside hers, was her son Charlie. He was propped up and looking at Harry as he listened to him speak. Two beds down from him the Minister could see a sliver of James Adams prone form through the crack in the hospital screens surrounding him. The rest of the injured had been treated, and were sitting or standing in a small group with the uninjured.
Harry was still speaking. "Those of us that were uninjured Apparated the injured here. I brought Mrs Weasley, but I guess when I got her here, I passed out."
"Yes Harry, your Healer says it was Magical Exhaustion," the Minister said sympathetically. "Thank you Harry, you should rest now, I think."
"Professor, and Mrs Snape," the Minister turned to them, "we'll need to know what happened before Harry got there. And the rest of you," the Minister addressed the room at large, "heroes all," he smiled, "we'll need to know what happened with each of you, as well. But, for now, I think we have enough. Rest, recuperate. We'll all meet again soon."
Severus and Hermione entered their chambers. They were both thoroughly aggravated. Hermione set her Medal on a side table, Severus passed her turned back, and threw his medal. It landed beside hers with a satisfying sound. Hermione sunk wearily down on the sofa while Severus continued on to the liquor cabinet. Hermione smiled as she heard him muttering something about bureaucrats and their indecencies.
"It wasn't that bad," she offered, as she smiled at Severus's back.
"Hmm," Severus grunted.
"You got an Order of Merlin."
"Hmm," he repeated.
He scowled at her.
"... that's a better class than Lockhart's." She giggled.
"Impudent witch," he turned and glared at her.
She smiled brilliantly back.
Severus drolled, "There were quite a few revelations this evening."
"There were," she replied thoughtfully. "I'm glad Minerva is back with Albus. As it's where she seems to want to be, although why I will never know." Her brow furrowed. "Still," she went on, "I felt terrible when she was working behind his back." Then she added earnestly, "Even though we did need all the support she gave us."
"She was most helpful, indeed," Severus intoned smoothly.
Hermione continued, "I somehow felt partially responsible for their separation."
Severus turned and spoke, his tone dark and sneering, "Oh, yes. You were entirely at fault. I wouldn't be surprised to discover that you had Minerva under the Imperious the entire time."
"I know." Hermione sighed. "Albus's actions were responsible for their separation." She amended resignedly, "In any case, I'm just glad that they seem to have worked out their differences."
Severus turned back away and pulled out a bottle of dark amber liquid.
Hermione ventured tentatively, "It was, unexpected; Albus apologising to us, that is."
"He will do what serves his immediate cause best," Severus returned. "It now serves him to be tolerant of us."
Severus sat beside Hermione and handed her a glass of milk he conjured, while he sipped his Firewhisky.
He soberly said, "I admit to being surprised when the Minister told us that Draco would have a trial so soon. You will want to attend, will you not?"
"I will, if you are with me."
"I shall be with you for almost all of it," he assured her.
She knew the answer, but asked anyway, "You'll have to testify, won't you?"
"What do you think they will do with him?"
"For the attempted murder of your parents he will serve time in Azkaban, of that there is no doubt. The only question is how long."
"That's what I thought."
They fell into a contemplative silence, as each sipped their drink.
"My parents will be out of hiding soon." Hermione's eyes took on a mischievous glint. "I can't wait to tell mum that I," Hermione shuddered in revulsion as she mimicked her mother, "'landed you for a husband'. I remember when you met them, that was all she talked about. How you seemed like you would be a good husband and father. Now you are one, and you'll soon be the other... " Hermione trailed off.
Several minutes passed in silence again. Both were lost in their own thoughts. When Hermione spoke again, her voice took on a serious tone. "So, here we are. You and I. No Dark Lord. No war."
"Your assessment of the situation is astounding, Mrs Snape," Severus said in his disdainful classroom tone.
"Severus," she began tentatively, "you do not wish that you were free do you?"
He looked at her quizzically. "I am free. Neither of my Masters have a hold on me any longer. The one is dead," he raised his glass and drank to the loss of Voldemort, "and at long last, my obligation to the other has been fulfilled." He finished his drink.
"I know," Hermione said quietly. "That's what I'm talking about. Do you wish, now that you are beholden to no Master, do you wish ..." she faltered, and looked down at her hands that were clasped tightly in her lap.
Severus looked at her and raised an eyebrow, "What is it, Hermione? Do I wish what?"
"Do you wish ... would it be better for you ... do you regret our binding?" She rushed on before he could reply, "I mean you could be really free, and here you are tied to me. We got bound during my orientation to the Order. We worked well together fighting Voldemort, but now would you like to be free of it all, even me?"
Severus laughed. A full deep laugh that stunned Hermione. She was beginning to get upset when he stopped and pulled her into his arms and onto his lap. Still smiling he said, "I did not bind myself to you as a comrade-in-arms Hermione. If that is what I wanted I think Neville Longbottom would have been a good candidate." He chuckled darkly at her shocked look; glad that his attempt to distract her had worked. "Hermione," he said seriously, "there is much more we can do together than merely fight a war."
He kissed her on the lips, he meant it to be a brief kiss. However, he found once he caught her lips with his, that it was difficult to pull himself away. He took the face that had come to mean so much to him in his hands, and continued to kiss her softly. He revelled in the feel of her lips, the taste of her response.
I want to thank everyone who has reviewed!
It's been "a long, strange trip",
(this fic just wouldn't go where I told it to)
thank you for taking the trip with me.