Still Life

By Imhilien

Disclaimer: I do not own anything to do with Harry Potter.

A/N: I got this particular one--shot plot bunny from yet another watching of Prisoner of Azkaban and noting how alive the portraits seemed to be...and how alive exactly were they? My speculation led to this story and there is a character death warning for it. Though I usually don't write these kinds of stories the plot bunny refused to go away...

Love was not an emotion that Severus Snape expected or wanted to become acquainted with, and indeed would sneer to himself if someone brought up the subject in his hearing.

Besides, there was a war going on and the Potions Master had no time for such infantile rubbish.

Love was certainly the last thing on his mind when Hermione Granger returned to Hogwarts.

She and her other idiotic, glory--seeking friends had graduated the previous year and as the war had intensified, it had been necessary for them and the other members of the Order to reside at Hogwarts for their very safety in the end, with schooling halted for the time being. Dumbledore directed Hermione to assist Snape in making potions useful for the war effort and the Slytherin inwardly fumed at this turn of events – was there no way he could be finally free of her know--it--all presence, her incessant questions? Even if she had come at the top of her class in Potions – his face had been sour when he had awarded her final papers this honour.

Miss Granger's behaviour when they first started working together was exemplary though, a fact that Snape grudgingly admitted to himself. Her manner was brisk and professional but in working in such close quarters he became aware...far too aware of the way candle light fell lovingly upon her hair, the intent way her brown eyes looked at everything as if she could soak up all knowledge that way...the enticing scent of her perfume, feminine yet practical. She was no longer a student, not quite a grown woman and he found himself unable to mentally put her into an appropriate category in his mind. She had become an intriguing Other and he couldn't stop thinking about her when he was alone.

In compensating for this unwanted weakness Snape was more ill--tempered than usual to her one day, snapping at her at one point for something inconsequential.

To his shock Miss Granger – no, Hermione – snapped back at him, Snape realising too late that she wasn't a student anymore and was entitled to talk back if she wished to.

Nevertheless he snarled back at Hermione for her disrespectful attitude toward her betters, furious sparks in his black eyes.

An incensed Hermione retorted that if he was her better then right now she had yet to see proof of this fact, an angry look in her brown eyes.

Matters quickly deteriorated from there with their tempers now fully unleashed, until Snape sought to resolve the situation in the mature, reasoned way of seizing her arms and swooping down to crush and silence her mouth with his own one. It was a furious kiss that sought only to punish, until fury was burned away by a raw and desperate hunger he showed that laid underneath for her. An initially furious Hermione found herself being shaken inside by the transformation of the anger between them into a passion that she was suddenly returning for the arrogant, brilliant Potions Master. His angry grip upon her person had become an embrace that he really had no right to give...but nevertheless it was somehow wonderful...

Then they both wrenched themselves apart from each other, looks of shock on their faces and a trace of…something else that both saw in the eyes of the other. Nothing as clichéd as love, of course. But nevertheless it was the spark, the seed of something potentially quite special that deserved further exploration...and both found themselves wishing that if only they were both far away from the war.

But there was a war on, and working toward the triumph of their side over the Dark Lord was more important than what they felt (or what they told themselves firmly that they didn't really feel).

Nevertheless a tentative truce was between them now as the weeks went by, and though they were both determined now not to say or do anything...of a certain nature toward the other, the way Hermione would occasionally glance at Snape (when she thought he wasn't looking) would send an odd feeling of joy through his heart. As for Hermione, the time when Snape gruffly allowed her access to his private library by his office said more to her than any flowery words could convey.

But all of this came to nothing in the end on the day of the last battle…a battle of heroism and powerful spells cast on the field outside Hogwarts...a day of blood, sacrifice and death.

Hermione had been responsible for the deaths of many of the Deatheaters...but never saw the deadly attack from a Ravenclaw traitor within her own ranks until it was too late. A flash of red light…searing pain in her chest…a sense of wasn't fair, I hadn't…I wanted…

Everything turned black.

From his position on the field Snape saw as if in slow motion the sudden attack upon Hermione and her body falling onto the ground in death...for in his horror and a sudden unbearable anguish he knew it was in death that she fell…a furious Potter and Weasley rushing to avenge their friend. The pain in his was breaking…he was breaking…

Snape stood frozen, his magic faltering inside and did not know, and then did not care when the killing curse from a Deatheater (who saw his lucky chance against the Traitor) struck him. His last thought was of Hermione as he followed her down into darkness.

Their bodies and those of others who had fallen in battle were laid to rest in the graveyard at Hogwarts. With the war over and the side of Light victorious, the bodies of Voldemort and his Deatheaters were merely reduced to ash by magic and flung to the four winds.

Hermione's grave was graced by a beautifully carved marble angel, erected by her grieving friends who had pooled their money together to buy it.

In a quiet corner of the graveyard it was a simply inscribed black headstone that marked where Professor Snape rested, only a few people truly mourning the passing of the acid--tongued Potions Master.

To the end Professor Snape and Hermione had successfully hidden the way they had begun to feel toward the other, and so it was that no one had thought or wished to bury Hermione and Professor Snape side by side.

It was an idea of a grieving Dumbledore afterwards to have the current resident artist of Hogwarts (who was responsible for the painting and upkeep of portraits) to paint individual portraits of those who had given their lives in the war. Because the portraits would be based on real life subjects, the artist would use a special, separate brush for each one. In each brush a single and specially charmed strand of hair obtained from the hairbrush or comb of the deceased was placed so as to give the artist the power to accurately portray the owner of the hair.

"This way their sacrifice will be remembered by everyone who walks through these halls," a sad--eyed Dumbledore said, for he had taken the death of Severus Snape quite hard. Although he had never said it, the Potions Master had almost come to be like a loved (if stubborn and ill--tempered at times) son to Dumbledore.

Peter Weatherfield, a short, round wizard with bright blue eyes was the wizard who currently held the position of Hogwarts Artist. His magical talent had combined satisfactorily with his painting ability to produce realistic living paintings that he felt had little equal elsewhere. He had produced many paintings that currently hung on the walls at Hogwarts, and he also took care in maintaining the work of his predecessors.

Nevertheless his bright eyes held a sad look as he undertook the request of the Headmaster to paint portraits of those from Hogwarts who had fallen in battle. Although the death toll on their side had been fairly small in the end, the loss of those such as Hermione Granger had hit Gryffindor House quite hard. Peter did not imagine though that many tears would be shed for Professor Snape, though it was said that the dungeons now seemed strangely quiet without his sarcasm.

The fact that Professor Snape had been the Head of his house though made Peter feel obliged to work on his portrait first. As always when he undertook projects of this nature the brush took on a life of its own, moving swiftly across the canvass to create the image and appropriate surroundings of the person whose strand of hair graced his brush. Perhaps it was his imagination but there seemed to be a sense of impatience radiating from the brush for Professor Snape, a lingering trace of true personality still present.

Peter found himself painting the professor in his dungeon classroom, standing black--robed (and with an almost intimidating air about him) near his blackboard and a table that was covered in a variety of beakers filled with mysterious liquids. There was a shelf of books nearby and the suggestion of a door in a corner, and rays of sunshine that had managed to find their way through a small round window lent a soft glow to everything.

Although the portrait was not living as yet, once the sallow face of Professor Snape had been fully painted Peter felt that the black eyes were implacably watching him and that there was a faint curl to his thin mouth. When the final brushstroke was done and the spell cast to enable the portrait to have the life that they all did, Peter stood back and saw the liquids in the beakers to start gently simmering, the smell of potions and chalk dust almost present in the air. There was a look of disorientation and confusion in Professor Snape's eyes, and then an angry rage before the eyes became shuttered. Without a single word uttered Professor Snape tightened his mouth and stalked over to the blackboard, effectively turning his back on the painter.

Peter shook his head ruefully. He would adjust. They all did eventually, and once he was connected to the network of paintings in Hogwarts (and beyond at times) there would be life of a kind for him.

Snape had suddenly found himself in a portrait – a goddamned painting of all things! He was alive…and yet he wasn't alive. He could eat, breathe or other things if he wanted to but there was no point, was there. His memory was hazy but things were starting to return...he had never liked the Hogwarts painter, the smug bastard. The last thing Snape remembered was irritably brushing his hair and knowing that the battle was coming, if not that day then the next one. The battle was over then…they had won…but he was in a portrait of his classroom for eternity…and he was dead, for there were few portraits of wizards created while they lived. Hermione...there was so much he should have done, things that he should have said to her when he was alive. He gazed at the blackboard and it started to swim in his sight. Surely there must be something in his eyes for he refused to weep for what he could not have…

Peter left the portrait of young Hermione to the last and he found himself using from his supplies his finest canvass, the most expensive of paints for the fallen Gryffindor. Poor girl, Peter found himself thinking as he started to paint Hermione with 'her' brush. She had had her whole life ahead of her and it had been brutally cut short. But seeing that she still existed in some form and manner would hopefully help to ease the grief of those who knew her.

Peter painted her standing in the library in front of a long desk that was covered with a cheerful clutter of books and writing materials. Her cat Crookshanks was nearby – her friends would not have forgiven him if he hadn't included her cat, who in reality had wailed without ceasing for days after the death of his mistress. Hermione had been on the verge of becoming a woman, and although no beauty her form would hold the eyes for more than a second. Her brown gaze was clear and direct with a faint smile on the features of her face, the sun shining through a nearby diamond--paned window making bronze glints appear in her long, bushy brown hair. Because she had completed her education Peter portrayed her in a robe of rich burgundy velvet that gave her a sense of maturity and clung gently to her form. Or perhaps it was what she wanted.

When her portrait was complete there was a look of disorientation in Hermione's eyes before she shuddered and went to pick up her cat with a sigh that Peter could almost hear. She blinked at Peter and then offered him a tentative smile, but did not speak a word.

Oh, Crookshanks, what has happened? Why are we in a painting?

But there's no use fooling myself...if I'm somehow in a painting then the battle is over and...and I'm dead. They wouldn't make a portrait of me otherwise. How can it be that I still feel so alive? Voldemort would not have commissioned this portrait of me if he had won. It's not fair...there was so much ahead of me. Who told my parents? Did Harry and Ron survive? Did Professor Snape survive? What would I say if he came to look at me, a woman trapped in a portrait forever! I can't touch him, or hold him. Or kiss him. Ever. Severus…

From hard experience Peter had found it best if each drying painting was kept in seclusion until they were all made part of the painting network and could then travel into any other painting they wanted to. Sometimes the experience of seeing other portraits at the beginning but being unable to visit them had nearly driven some of them mad in the past, and this way it also gave them time to adjust to their new existence.

When the time came for the portraits to be placed in their assigned areas on the walls near the moving staircases, the faculty and many of the students were present for the occasion, their faces solemn as they stood on the (unmoving) staircases. The portrait of Hermione by popular vote was put near the entrance to the Gryffindor common room. It was at the suggestion of Dumbledore that the portrait of Professor Snape (he still had his back implacably to viewers) was placed on a sparsely occupied wall by one of the rarely used staircases so that he would have some privacy. Some people had privately wanted his portrait to be put down on the dungeon walls instead but Dumbledore had demurred. Whatever his faults, Severus had died as a wizard working for the Light and his portrait deserved to be given some respect.

All the other paintings were almost eerily silent as they watched and waited within their frames for the young ones to be added, then a sigh seemed to run through them all as Dumbledore gravely intoned a spell that sent a network of dancing golden lines radiating from the newly added portraits to start connecting with all the others.

It was done.

Dumbledore found himself smiling and there was almost a tear in his eye when he saw Harry and Ron crowding around the portrait of Hermione, the three of them laughing and even wiping tears away from their eyes as they were reunited in this strange way. Dumbledore glanced up at the portrait of Severus Snape and there was a sad look in his eyes as he went to stand in front of it. It seemed that even in his own painting the Potions Master with his back to everyone was determined to keep his distance from the world as he had at times in life. There were still a few golden flickers dancing over the paintings that then faded as the final connections were made. Then Dumbledore saw Snape stiffen in his own painting and tilt his dark head to one side for a moment as if concentrating.

Snape then spoke in a tone of shock and disbelief. "Miss Granger?" She was here as a portrait too...

His voice though was loud and seemed to echo amongst the staircases.

Conversation halted and there was an uneasy silence. Harry and Ron tensed and stood almost protectively in front of the portrait of Hermione, as if Snape was someone to be equally wary of in a painting as he had been in life. But Hermione was a person who did what she felt was best no matter what form she was in.

"Professor Snape? You're here too?" she called out, and her friends had equal expressions of shock on their faces at the sudden gladness in her voice.

"Where are you?" Hermione continued, for although she now felt a joyful connection, a unity of sorts to each painting in Hogwarts and all who inhabited them, she was still getting used to 'knowing' where individual portraits were. She was filled with a mixture of sadness that Professor Snape had died as well (for Harry and Ron had not initially thought to tell her) as well as a sense of joy that he was here too in his own way like her. She was not alone…

"Do not move," Snape snapped from where he was, her portrait now a beacon that tugged at him. Moving from painting to painting was something that he now intuitively knew what to do and with his black robes flying about him he stalked from his frame into the next portrait. Hermione…

"Out of my way!" he hissed at a group of clowns that he found himself amongst, pushing them aside as he stalked to the next painting, his journey from picture to picture something that was heard rather than seen at times by others. "Move!" "Get out of my way, you imbecile…"

Hermione was more polite to the residents of the other paintings as she ignored Snape's instructions, picking up the skirts of her robe and travelling unerringly through the paintings, sensing the fast--moving presence of Snape coming toward her like a dark, implacable arrow. "Excuse me." "Pardon me..."

Then she was in a painting where the occupants had hastily exited with grins on their faces to another painting and he was there…

"Hermione!" the familiar baritone voice of Professor Snape said in a tone she had never heard before, an expression of pain and joy on his familiar, sallow face and then she was swept up in his arms for an embrace that seemed to go on forever.

"Severus…" she whispered as she clung to him in turn. "You're here!"

In her tone Snape heard gladness, joy, and love and surely he had a heart for it was singing inside. He knew that most of Hogwarts were gaping in shock at them both but he didn't care. In fact, he felt quite happy thinking of the expressions on the faces of Potter and Weasley. Trust them to survive…

"Yes. Yes," he whispered in return as he bent his head to press kisses upon her face that she had upturned gladly to his. In his tone and in his kisses that she welcomed she heard his unspoken words of...I love you.

She was here. He was here. They were not truly alive but nevertheless they still lived in this fashion…and they loved. That was all the two of them needed to know for now and always.

Dumbledore had felt his jaw drop open like many of the others, but now felt himself smiling. "Dear boy," he murmured to himself. "Well done. Both of you…"

There was a nearby 'thump' and people turned to see that Ron had fainted from the shock of it all.

And so it was that although Professor Snape and Hermione had not had the chance to be truly together in life, their painted selves nevertheless found happiness of a kind together from then on amongst the vast community of paintings. The door that was in the portrait that Snape inhabited was mysteriously found to lead to spacious chambers safe from prying eyes, and afterwards it was seen that Dumbledore would sometimes have an unusual twinkle in his eyes.

It was at Dumbledore's quiet insistence though that the grave of Professor Snape be moved and placed next to that of Hermione's. One day the old wizard came to place some flowers on both of their graves, and when he stood it seemed that for a moment he smelt the scent of potions ingredients wafting around him, heard the laughter of a woman…then the Headmaster was left alone again.

But there was a smile on his face as he turned and left the graveyard to its peace.