A Matter of Timing
The plan was perfect, really. Snape was surprised he hadn't thought of it sooner. For a boy with a near legendary reputation, he was absurdly easy to kill. A potion, beautiful in its simplicity. It would appear that the boy had overdosed, killed himself after a night of overindulgence and under-appreciation. The key here was timing, ensuring that the death did not come too soon after the vanquishing of the Dark Lord, nor too late. One could never be too careful in timing.
Several days later, the Prophet ran the obituary. Snape read it over his morning tea, sipping the bitter liquid carefully, and smirking to himself. The boy was really the only thing that had stood in his way. The redheaded child would stand aside, and the girl would be beautiful in her grief. He imagined it now, tears running down pale cheeks, face half obscured by the bushy fluff of her hair. She would wear black dress robes to the funeral, perhaps at most a small badge proclaiming her house allegiance. Silly now that they were all grown-up – or at least they were to be considered adults. Snape wasn't entirely certain he would ever consider the Weasley boys to be men. Hermione, at least, had the potential to be considered a woman some day.
The funeral was precisely how he had pictured it. The attendees were more numerous than anyone would have had a right to hope for. It was as if the entire Wizarding world had turned out – or perhaps all of Britain. Snape made certain to always be near enough to the girl in case she should break down in tears in the middle of the service; he would be on hand to comfort her. To his surprise and secret pride, she did not. Face impassive and stoic, she merely took a moment at the funeral pyre to stare hard at the young man laying upon it, then took the blade proffered by the officiant to cut a lock of her bushy mane to be burned with the boy. She hurried off afterwards, not looking back. Snape excused himself gruffly to follow after her, only slowing enough to ensure that he, himself, was not being followed, and that the two would not be seen leaving together.
He tracked her through Diagon Alley, then into Muggle London. He paused only long enough to strip off his robes and cast a glamour to give his clothes the appearance of a Muggle suit. She seemed not to care where she was going, wandering aimlessly up and down random streets. She never looked back, rarely stopped, except to avoid traffic. She slowed her hasty pace to a sedate walk, occasionally brushing her slender fingers against a wall, or over a flowering bush. Past store fronts and houses she meandered, until finally she stopped at a wooden door with only a single sign over it. No words, only a beer stein was pictured in faded paint.
Timing was key. Snape waited an hour, thought about entering, decided against it. He stood against the wall next to the door with a disillusionment over himself. Another hour passed and he ambled up and down the street, always keeping an eye on the door. The third and fourth hours passed uneventfully, and then he entered.
The pub was dimly lit, but she was easy to find. She sat at a table, her back amazingly straight for the line of empty pints that stood in a row in front of her. She signaled for another as she finished off the one she had in her hands, and one obligingly appeared from the hands of a greasy man with a stained apron and a scowl.
Snape crossed the pub in a few steps, expertly hooked a nearby chair with a foot and spun it around to sit across from her. "Hermione."
She looked up from her pint with baleful, red-rimmed eyes. "What do you want?"
"This isn't the way to remember a friend," he said gently, schooling his expression to one that he hoped was sympathetic.
She belched loudly and tittered shrilly. "I don't want to remember. I want to forget. I want to forget him, and Ron, and Hogwarts, and Dumbledore, and… and…" she trailed off, hanging her head. "I want to forget everything that happened."
"Everything?" he asked, allowing his voice to go a little hoarse. He hoped it wasn't too soon. Timing was everything.
She narrowed her eyes. "What d'you mean?" she asked, her words slurring slightly.
"Come," he said, standing. "Come with me. You don't want to remember him like this, and I don't want to remember you like this." He fished around in his pockets for money, recalled that Muggles used different currency. Surreptitiously, he transfigured some pocket lint into a few notes and left them on the table. Grabbing the girl under her arms, he hauled her to her feet. He thought she might try to fight him, but in the end she relented to his grasp, and he guided her out the door.
"Can you apparate?" he asked.
She swayed on her feet, shook her head. "I do not think that I should." She enunciated her words carefully, as if she examined each one before letting it loose into the world. Of course, she would, irritating, beautiful thing that she was.
"No matter. We'll go back to Diagon Alley and Floo back. Come along." He tried to be gentle, to not scare her, but he had an inkling that it would take more than gruff words to scare her at this point. He put gentle pressure on her arm, and she moved obligingly in the direction he indicated, back the way they came.
It was a short matter to get to Diagon Alley; he took a more direct route than the one she had taken from the alley, and entered the Leaky Cauldron with the sole desire to use their fireplace. He ignored the stares and the whispers, took a bit of Floo powder in hand and stepped through to Spinners End, taking the girl with him.
They stumbled through on the other end, the girl vomiting once she was through. The smell of her sick was enough to turn his own stomach. He took his wand from his pocket and cleaned it up with a quick flick, then guided her through to the bedroom.
"Where are we?" She was still enunciating carefully. A greenish tint had been added to her pallor, not at all becoming.
He wrinkled his nose. "You're safe." He prodded her carefully to the bed, navigating her to a sitting position. She fell backwards. He knelt and started taking off her shoes, taking advantage of her inebriation.
"Harry said that you had killed Dumbledore, no matter what the Wizengamot said."
"I wouldn't give too much credence to what he said." He started on the second shoe.
"Have you killed many people?" she asked.
Snape sat back on his heels and considered the question. "Some might think so." He debated on whether to take off her clothing, decided to leave it on. All in the timing. Instead, he maneuvered her to one side of the bed, then went around to the other to cover her with a blanket.
"It's hard to kill someone," she said thoughtfully.
"I'm glad that you have come to that conclusion. Now sleep. You'll have a terrible headache in the morning." He lay down next to her and listened until her breathing became even.
When Snape awoke, she was gone from the bed. He sat bolt upright, though he reasoned she probably hadn't gone far. He took the time to change robes and pull a comb through his hair before searching the house. A quick glance in the mirror told him that he might have wanted to take advantage of things last night rather than wait until the cold light of morning. The morning and sobriety would not improve her opinion of him. With that thought, he rummaged in a drawer to find a phial he knew she would appreciate.
He found her in the kitchen reading a book at the table. Her forehead was cradled in one hand and a cup of tea occupied the other. Her hair was matted on one side, and her cheeks were still streaked with dried tears. Despite it, she was still lovely.
"How's your head?"
She looked up, the expression in her eyes warring between embarrassment and outrage. "Fine."
"Then you'll not want this, I suppose?" He held out the phial of hangover potion.
"What is it?" she asked suspiciously.
"Only a potion for your headache."
She didn't debate it, but plucked the phial out of his hand. She sniffed it, found the contents to not be entirely awful and downed it expertly, tilting her head back so the liquid would miss as much of her tongue as possible.
"Why did you come after me?" she asked, only when the potion appeared to have taken effect.
Snape scowled. "As much as it pains me, I have a certain amount of sympathy for your current situation. It would be unfortunate if one of the saviors of the Wizarding World were to turn up dead so soon after her compatriot's death."
Her eyes widened. "How did you find me?"
A question he was prepared for. He schooled his expression and tone to one of disdain. "It wasn't difficult. You weren't truly trying to hide. A child could have found you."
He poured himself a cup of tea, and sat down next to her, glancing at her choice of reading material. A Survey of Arithmancy in the 16th Century. He frowned. Not his first choice of reading material with a hangover.
"Is this your home?" she asked, looking around. For the first time Snape felt defensive about the house with its the poky hallway and dingy floors.
"I grew up here, yes." Bringing her here was a mistake. It was too soon. He had misjudged the timing.
"It's…" she trailed off.
"What?" he demanded shortly.
Big brown eyes looked at his, and they softened for a moment. She gave a small smile, just the corners of her lips turning upwards. "Cozy."
He allowed his expression to soften and open just a touch. "There's a bathroom through the bedroom if you'd like to freshen up. You can Floo back whenever you're ready."
She rewarded him with a large, grateful smile before heading to the bathroom. Later, when she had left, he allowed himself to smile. He hadn't misjudged his timing after all.
It was a waiting game. He had to wait for her to approach him, but be sufficiently available for her to do so easily, naturally. Preferably, she would come to him and think that it was her idea.
He attended Ministry functions, lurked in Flourish and Blotts. Eventually, they were seated next to each other at a Ministry dinner. She smiled at him, and he was not unfriendly. Halfway through dinner, she leaned in close, and he could smell the spicy scent of her hair.
"I never thanked you for what you did after the funeral."
He shook his head, hoping she would interpret it as bashfulness, a gesture of 'think nothing of it.'
She put a hand on his arm and he froze, flinching away slightly. A look of abashed horror flickered across her features and she took her hand away as if it had been burned.
"No, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have been so familiar with you. I understand if you want nothing to do with me, but…" she trailed off mid-sentence. Snape sat stiffly, staring at his plate, hoping she would take the opportunity his silence afforded her.
"I'm terribly sorry, I've embarrassed us both. I just wanted you to know that I hold you in the highest regard, and that…"
Here he looked at her out of the corner of his eye, never raising his head to look at her directly, not quite making eye contact.
"What I mean to say is… well… I've found a book on geomantic principles, and perhaps you'd like to come by my flat to have a look?"
Snape allowed himself to smile inwardly, while outwardly he nodded. "I'd like that," he said softly.
Much, much later, months after their cautious courtship had begun and their relationship had been consumated in the bedroom, they lay awake in bed. He read a book, and she curled up next to him, an arm draped gracefully over his chest.
"Do you ever think about what would have happened if Harry hadn't died?" she asked him suddenly.
He marked his page and set the book aside on the nightstand. "Whatever do you mean?" he said cautiously, uneasily.
"Just that I don't think we would have found each other had he not died. I wouldn't have had the need to go drink myself into a stupor, and you wouldn't have come and found me."
He nodded, placed a careful hand on her head, stroking the hair. He pleaded silently to whomever might have been listening to not let her follow the train of thought to its conclusion.
"I feel awful," she continued. "Promise me that you'll not think less of me for it?"
"For what?" he demanded, his voice harsher than he intended it to be.
She sat up then, shrugging away his hands. Her hair cascaded over her shoulders, covering her breasts in false modesty. "I killed him," she whispered.
"What? What do you mean?" He was bewildered. For a moment he ran back the memory in his head, and assured himself that it was indeed his hand that had placed the potion in the boy's medicine chest.
"I killed him with my indifference. Had I been more attentive, had I loved him more, he wouldn't have died. He wouldn't have killed himself." She crossed her hands over her chest, started crying. "And the worst part of it is, if losing him meant gaining you, I'd choose to let him die!"
Snape breathed a sigh of relief, gathered the sobbing girl in his arms. "Shh, shh. Don't be ridiculous. You did no such thing. His death wasn't your fault." He said it with conviction, knowing the truth, knowing that he had her. He rocked her gently against him, let her tears run their course. She was his now, and she would never let him go, as long as she never found out his hand in the matter. In this, his timing had been perfect.
A/N: This is all vanityfair's fault. It started as a humorous comment on WIKTT that the way to maintain excellent Snapey-Hermione relations in the wake of HBP was to kill off Harry. And less than 24 hours later, I have a one-shot that does just that. If you've made it to the end, you are doubtlessly aware that this has not been beta'd. A Beta'd version will be going up in the nearish future, and then posted in other, less forgiving archives.