No Price He Would Not Pay
At last, Severus Snape watched the Boy Who Lived cast the Killing Curse at Lord Voldemort. Without the benefit of a single Horcrux left to call his own, the Dark Lord was finally and forever, irreversibly dead. The proof of it was in the disappearance of the Dark Mark from his own forearm. However climatic the moment was, though, Severus could not find relief yet. That would come when he knew she had survived as well.
He quickly scanned the battlefield. There were bodies everywhere, most of whom he recognized, Death Eater and Order of the Phoenix alike. The chaos did not worry him; he knew he would find her regardless. Like a moth drawn to a flame, his gaze found her, and once it did, he could see nothing else. In the few moments it had taken him to ensure that Potter had done what he was born to do, a curse had struck her, and she was now lying crumpled on the ground. Damn the boy!
Not caring anymore if anyone saw him or recognized him, for he was still wanted for Dumbledore's murder, he threw off his mask and ran to Hermione. He knelt down beside her, drawing the girl onto his lap. Her eyes were closed, but she was still breathing. A good sign. As he looked over her body to see if he could diagnose what kind of curse she had been hit with, her eyes fluttered open. He stiffened, uncertain how she would respond to seeing him, much less being held in his arms.
He saw momentary confusion, then recognition. Her next reaction surprised him so much he could have sworn his heart skipped a beat: she smiled.
"Professor Snape!" It was barely a whisper, but it meant she was alive and coherent, for now.
"Miss Granger," he replied with the all gentleness he had never been able to bestow upon her. Her smile widened.
"I always knew you were one of us. I told Harry, and I told Ron…" Her smile faltered then, and it seemed to Severus as if the sun had been hidden behind a cloud. She tried to sit up to look around, but her body failed her. "Where's Ron? Is he all right? Is he safe?" She became so agitated, he feared for her condition.
"Yes, he's fine. Look," he said, propping her up against him so that she could see her two best friends hugging one another in victory. He felt her relax against him; it was heaven.
"Good. I won't be needing this then," she said and released the flask she had been holding on to. It rolled a few inches away harmlessly. Curious, he retrieved it from the ground. Upon noticing the potion's strange appearance—it was an inky black but looked as if there was something glowing and alive within it—he became alarmed.
"Where did you get this?" he demanded, but there was no response. Her eyes had closed again. He shook her, gently at first, but then with increasing force. "Miss Granger!" He tried using the name he only dared to call her in his dreams. "Hermione!" Still nothing. Her breaths had grown so shallow, he could not see her chest rising or falling. Only the moisture condensing on the outside of the flask as he held it to her lips showed she was still alive.
Now he hoped against all hope that the draught was what he suspected it was—the Orpheus Potion. It was not known to many because of its close proximity to the Dark Arts. How she had managed to procure it or, even more disturbing, brew it herself, he did not know.
With one arm still cradling her and the other holding the bottle, he pulled the stopper out with his teeth. Immediately, the smell of dead flowers that erupted from the flask confirmed his hypothesis. He poured the contents into his mouth, being careful not to swallow it yet. Then he bent down over Hermione's lips, propping her head so that they parted. Without further decorum, he kissed her, allowing the fluid in his mouth to pass partially into hers.
Immediately, his vision blacked out, and it seemed as if he had been deprived of the rest of his senses as well. He was no longer kneeling on the ground holding Hermione but floating in an empty, vast blackness. Although he didn't know how he knew, for there was nothing to see nor feel, he sensed he was in motion. Something was pulling him. How long he was in the darkness, he couldn't fathom. It could have been mere moments or years. Then, his eyes caught a pinprick of light in the distance. It grew in aperture, slowly at first, but then exponentially larger, until all he could see was blinding, white light.
"Severus Snape," announced a loud, regal, and definitely female voice. He blinked several times, and finally a form began to take shape. Three forms, to be exact. The Maiden, the Matron, and the Crone. When they spoke, he saw all three speak in synchronization but heard only one voice.
"Why do you seek us?"
"I have come to plea for the life of an innocent."
"None are innocent. You, who are less innocent than most, should know this. We ask again, why do you truly seek us?"
Severus bowed his head and splayed his hands outwards, trying to appear as penitent as possible.
"I come for the life of my beloved."
Even if he had known to expect what came next, he could not have prepared himself for it. Not even the Dark Lord's Legilimency had been as brutal as this. Memories from his past were ripped from his head, from the first time he had seen her in his classroom to his first—and last—kiss with her. He cringed at the mental rape but used all his self-control to allow it to happen. There was no price he would not pay to save her.
Finally, he felt them leave his mind. Torn and raw, he tried to save what dignity he could like a shredded cloak about him.
"She may be your beloved, but you are not hers."
"It does not matter to me." He sensed them conferring with one another.
"We will grant you your wish, Severus Snape, but you must tell us what you offer in return."
This he had been prepared for. "I offer my soul," he said, knowing the usual penance that the Furies demanded. A harsh laugh was his answer.
"Your soul? Foolish mortal. You've already given that away! Twice!" The memory of his initiation to the Death Eaters and his begging of Dumbledore for redemption flickered in front of him.
"My heart, then." Another scoff.
"Given as well!" The reel of his life slowed down and paused on a single frame, showing the moment he had finally and fully given his heart to Hermione. It had come on receipt of the smile she had bestowed upon him earlier on the battlefield.
"My life!" he cried, desperately.
"Oh, we will have that in the end, eventually. Come, our patience is growing thin, and we must have something wholly yours to give."
Panic gripped him as he realized there was only one thing left he could offer them that would be worthy. But in the same instant, he released whatever sense of ownership he had, knowing the result would be worth the price.
"My mind, then."
"Accepted!" The three women instantly disappeared. Blackness encroached on his vision as the light shrank in a reversal of what had happened before. Soon, he was surrounded on all sides again by darkness. And soon, he would go mad.
Hermione woke with a start. She couldn't remember what she had just dreamed, but she knew it had been important. As the memories of the day came rushing back to her, she realized she was still on the battlefield and lying on top of someone. She rolled over, recognizing her former Potions professor.
"Professor Snape!" Suddenly she remembered her dream. Or had it been a dream? He had found her after she had been hit by a curse from Bellatrix. She hadn't recognized it, but it was slowly draining the life away from her. He had held her, and by the way he looked at her and said her name, she had known he had remained loyal to Dumbledore and was still on their side. Then he had shown her Ron and Harry, both very much alive, and then…and then… Oh God…
"Professor!" He was alive, and his eyes were open, but they did not see her, nor did he respond to her calling him. She looked down and saw that he was still clutching the flask that had contained the Orpheus Potion. But it only works if you loved the person you were following down to Hades' gates! How could he have...?
The obvious answer presented itself to her. He had loved her, and she had never known. She couldn't help it, tears started to form as she contemplated the man who had saved her life.
"Hermione!" Both Harry and Ron called to her as they ran over but stopped dead as they saw whom she was with.
"Snape!" Harry's voice was filled with loathing. He pointed his wand at the unarmed man, prepared to repeat the last spell he had cast.
"No!" screamed Hermione as she flung herself in between Harry and Snape.
"He deserves to die!"
"He saved my life, Harry! He's saved your life too, dozens of times. Please, look at him!" She indicated his prone, helpless state.
"Much as I hate to admit it, I think Hermione's right," Ron said. He stepped to Hermione's side and took her hand in his. "It's not worth it, Harry. There's been enough death today."
Harry continued to hold his wand with a tense grip, but eventually lowered it. Hermione stepped forward and embraced her friend. Ron followed in like, and the three of them held each other and cried to release all the tension they had been holding for so long.
Finally, when the last tear had been shed and the last sob wracked from their bodies, Hermione stepped out from the huddle.
"Professor Snape, he needs to go to St. Mungo's."
Harry took one last look at the man he had hated and nodded.
Hermione entered the familiar room and sat down in the chair next to his bed. He looked the same as he had since that day. His eyes were open but still unseeing. It didn't seem to bother her though, as it did most other people. She supposed she was used to it by now.
"It's been a year now, Professor. Today marks the one-year anniversary of Voldemort's death. And I…I wanted to let you know that the Ministry has finally pardoned you." She had worked hard the last twelve months, finding the evidence of his innocence and presenting it to the Wizengamot. "They also awarded you the Order of Merlin, First Class for your bravery and deeds as a spy." She took his hand in hers and placed the medal in it, closing his fingers around it. "I wanted to tell them how you saved my life too, but I didn't. I didn't think you'd want everyone knowing what I know." That you loved me.
"Hermione," called Ron from the doorway.
She turned over her shoulder and responded, "Just one more minute."
"I don't think I can ever thank you. When I wasn't working on your defense, I was looking for a way to cure you. But there's nothing. God knows I've tried; all the healers here at St. Mungo's have tried." She petted the hand she was holding.
"Professor, the only thing I can think to do to thank you is not to throw my life back in your face. I think…I hope you saved me so that I could not just live, but also be happy." As she said this, she felt the hands of her fiancé come to rest on her shoulders.
"Hermione," he repeated with a certain amount of impatience.
"Please, Ron, I owe him this, at least." His silence told her he consented, but he didn't remove his hands. She returned to Snape.
"I wanted to tell you that I'm going to marry Ronald Weasley in a few days." For a brief millisecond, Hermione thought she saw Snape cringe, but she blinked, and nothing had changed. She wasn't sure if she had imagined it or not. "I love him, and he loves me. I'm sure you knew that before…before this happened." There were so many words she wanted to say him, but she couldn't now, not with Ron standing right there. So she stood up, displacing Ron's possessive grip, and leaned over, placing a feather light kiss on Snape's forehead. "Thank you," she whispered, placing as much emotion as she could in the two words. Then she straightened and turned around, taking one of Ron's hands in hers.
"We can go now."
She never returned.
Thanks for reading! This was a one-shot, brought about by too much reading of Neil Gaiman and mixed with a bit of the Orpheus myth, The Little Mermaid, and The Phantom of the Opera. Sorry there's not much background as to how he started loving Hermione, but then, there are so many good stories out there that fulfill that need quite wonderfully.
I'll leave it up to you to determine why she never comes back—guilt, Ron, death…