DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
- After the End -
He was dead.
She was standing next to his white and bloodless corpse in the Great Hall. They'd put him off by himself, not with the students and staff who had fallen; but not in the pile of Death Eaters, either. Lying on his back like that, his hair cleared off his face, highlighted how thin he was. Or maybe how thin he'd become, during that year. She hadn't actually seen him since that night, down in the dungeons, with Flitwick. His features were pinched. Harrowed. He looked old, at least as old as Voldemort. He was only thirty-eight.
It should mean that it was over. The curtain closed.
Why didn't she feel anything, then?
"Snape was on our side all along," Harry said quietly. She turned and stared at him. She hadn't heard him approaching. He knelt down beside the body. "I watched his memories. The ones he gave me. Him as a kid. Him and my mum. Him and Dumbledore."
Hermione got a creepy feeling in her stomach. She heard Harry as if from very far away.
"Did you know he was in love with my mum?" he asked softly.
The question didn't make sense to Hermione, so she didn't answer it. She kept staring at Snape's face, at his twisted, pained expression. Was he in Hell?
"Dumbledore arranged for him to kill him, too. Snape didn't want to do it, but Dumbledore insisted." He turned and looked up at her from where he was kneeling. "I think we were all wrong about him."
"What do you mean?" Hermione whispered, still unable to wrench her eyes away from Snape. What were they wrong about now? She'd thought so many times she was wrong about him. And then she'd tried for a long time not to think about him at all. His betrayal of Dumbledore had been the last blow that smashed once and for all any image of him that she'd tried to hold together with suppositions and hope. All through that last year at Hogwarts, in the aftermath of the rape, she'd tried to figure out where Snape stood, what his role was. It had been important to her. If he was working with Dumbledore, then the rape was a sacrifice on her part. For the good of the cause. If he wasn't, then he was a monster, every bit as sick and evil as Voldemort. So of course she'd twisted things around to make them make sense. But maybe he was a monster either way.
"Hermione?" It was Ron's voice. Hermione turned to see him and Ginny standing behind her. Ron's eyes were big, with dark shadows around them. Ginny's face was blotchy and puffed up from crying. She went to Harry as he stood up, and they put their hands around each other's waists and hugged.
"What are you doing over here?" Ron asked, moving closer to Hermione. He stopped short when he saw Snape's body. His eyes rose slowly to meet Hermione's. She felt as if she'd been caught in flagrante delicto.
"Come on," he said, jerking his head toward the door. "Mum and Dad are going home."
Ginny and Harry moved silently past them, but Hermione felt as if she were rooted to the spot.
"Hermione?" Ron prompted.
"I..." She fidgeted. She wanted Ron to go away, wanted to be alone... with Snape? When she thought about it, it didn't make any sense. She should leave. Yes. Go with the Weasleys. Snape was dead. It was all over.
She took one last, long look at the body, then allowed Ron to lead her out of the Great Hall.
The memorial service was held that weekend, at the shore of the lake, just like Dumbledore's had been. The weather wasn't as fine, however: it was cloudy, and there was a stiff breeze that made the House banners billow and snap on the poles they were mounted on at the bottom of the meadow.
It seemed like the entire British wizarding community had turned out. The crowd stretched back as far as the castle. As family members of one of the deceased, the Weasleys had seats in the front section. Hermione and Harry sat with them.
The coffins were lined up in front of the seats, all fifty-four of them. Hermione counted them several times during the course of the endless speeches and dedications. Each one was draped with a silk banner bearing the Hogwarts crest.
Snape's wasn't there.
Hermione knew that it wouldn't be. Harry had told her and the Weasleys about the discussions between himself, McGonagall and the Hogwarts governors. Even though they believed what Snape's memories showed, they had decided it would be too politically tricky to include him in the memorial service for Hogwarts' fallen. There were too many students who had suffered under his Headmastership. However, they agreed to allow him to be buried quietly in the Headmasters' plot, alongside Dumbledore, Phineas Nigellus Black, and Armando Dippet.
Harry was quite upset about the decision not to include him at the memorial. He'd become very protective of his former professor, now that he knew about his feelings for Lily. Hermione tried to stay out of it. She didn't know how she felt about it all. Yes, she'd sat down and listened to Harry one night, heard him tell about Snape's memories. But did it make a difference that Snape apparently had a capacity for love? Did that erase, or even balance, all the terrible things he'd done?
In the end, of course, he had given his life for Hogwarts, just as much as, and perhaps even more so than, any of the others whose bodies now lay before them, waiting to be returned to the earth. Because he hadn't just made a sacrifice of a moment, or an hour, but of an entire life. Was that noble? Or rather pathetic?
The sun was low in the sky by the time they were done. Everyone stood as the coffins of those whose families had taken the Governors up on their offer of a burial on Hogwarts' grounds, and of those who had no families left, were solemnly sunk into the ground. The remaining ones would be claimed by their relatives for burial in family plots. The Weasleys had opted for Fred to remain at Hogwarts.
As the crowd started to disperse, Hermione hung back. She mumbled something about needing a moment, and told the Weasleys and Harry she'd catch up with them. She waited until they were out of sight, then sidled over to the Headmasters' plot. It had been cordoned off, to keep the crowds from accidentally trampling over the graves. Hermione slipped under the rope and started searching the monuments and markers in the fading light.
There was Dumbledore's white marble tomb, glowing brilliantly white against the coming gloom. Beyond it, a weather-worn angel towered over the grave of a headmistress from the sixteen-hundreds. There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to the layout. The grave she was looking for could be anywhere. It suddenly occurred to her that they might not even have gotten around to putting up a marker yet. An urgency overcame her. She couldn't take too long: she didn't want anyone to come looking for her. Explanations would be awkward.
She decided it was better to go about things systematically, rather than stumble blindly around the graves. She headed for the nearest corner, thinking to walk the rows one by one. Her shoes clacked on what she took at first to be a border stone, marking the edge of the plot, but as she stepped off it to start down the row, she realized there was writing on it. She bent over:
Hogwarts Headmaster 1997-1998
That was it. A small, grey rectangle flush with the lawn. If the grass grew a bit longer, it would be obscured nearly completely.
Her heart was thudding wildly against her chest. Somehow, seeing the words chiseled in stone like that made it more real than seeing his lifeless body. He was really gone. Her first thought, oddly, was not that he would never hurt her, or anyone else, again. It was that his life had been wasted. That he'd never have a chance to live, freed from a crusade. To show what he truly was, rather than what someone else needed him to be.
She'd decided a while ago that what he'd done to her, hadn't come from him. He'd told her that he could never be forced to do anything, that he would do the same thing again, given the same situation. But she knew now, that was because he'd never known that he had a choice.
It is our choices that show what we truly are. Dumbledore told Harry that, back in second year, when Harry was afraid he was too much like Voldemort. If that was true, though, Snape had never been able to show what he truly was. And wasn't that what they were here for, on Earth? To discover who they were?
She didn't know exactly what she believed about the afterlife. She'd learned about Heaven from sporadic visits to church, growing up. Other faiths taught the doctrine of reincarnation. Harry said you went to a railway station.
Whatever it was, if there was something, she was pretty sure that most religions agreed that you fared the best if you were unburdened by guilt, sin, bad karma, or whatever you wanted to call it. She also knew that spirits tended to linger as ghosts, if they had unfinished business. She certainly didn't want to end up with the ghost of Severus Snape hanging around on Earth. She also needed to do this for herself. The fact that he was dead made it easier, but she knew she would have had to do it either way.
She bent down and placed her fingers on the corner of the polished stone.
"I forgive you," she whispered.
She waited a short while, maybe to see if anything would happen. If this had been a movie, the last rays of the setting sun would have broken through the clouds at this point and suffused her in their loving warmth. At the very least, a dove might have landed in front of her, then took off again.
Nothing. The sky remained dark and silent, and no wildlife appeared with messages of appeasement from beyond.
Hermione looked out across the lake. The water was leaden and oily, the surface dimpled with spikey ripples driven by the brisk breeze. On the far side was the forest, looming dark and unfathomable. She stood up and looked around. There were still clusters of robed figures dotting the lawn up toward the castle. She stepped back over the rope, and headed toward them.
She had a life to live.