Seventh Year: The Dark Lord
Hermione Granger raced back to the Great Hall where she'd last seen Snape. He'd been with a knot of his own Slytherins, students and alumni, who'd been doing their best to shield him as he cut a swathe through the Death Eater ranks.
She pushed to the back of her mind that she'd had to kill. She refused to think of those she'd seen fall. She filtered out the moans and weeping and sounds of retching. She ignored the stench of blood and the laceration on her cheek.
Ron was fine.
Harry was fine.
Voldemort was gone forever.
He had to be all right.
The night before, Snape had laughed bitterly at her profession that all would be well. "Is it like an Arithmancy equation for you then? Reduce the calculated numerical values of the vowels of a word to produce the Heart Number?"
"It can't all have been for nothing," she'd whispered back. Snape had taken such risks to protect people who only scorned him. He'd suffered being called a coward for the hardest thing any of them would ever have to do. Yet even after all the evidence Dumbledore had left to exonerate Snape, and after he'd been instrumental in finding the Horcruxes, he was still treated as a leper.
She'd rested her palm against his chest then to feel that steady heartbeat under her skin, her own heart racing with hope when he hadn't immediately pulled away, but had covered her hand with his for a moment before leaving.
Suddenly, she spotted the group of Slytherins she'd been looking for by the improvised white cloth bands worn by some on the sleeves of their black robes. They'd been among the ranks of Death Eaters only hours before. She hadn't been sure if they had turned because they'd calculated that Snape wouldn't be anywhere but the winning side or because they'd felt protective towards their old Head of House.
She knew many of the Slytherins had truly cared about Snape as soon as she saw their stricken faces. She ignored the bitter "Mudblood" and "Gryffindor bitch" hurled at her and tried to push her way past their solid mass, but was blocked until a raw-sounding voice commanded them to let her through. Draco Malfoy rose from a crouched position, and it took only an instant looking at his crumpled, tear-streaked face to tell her all she needed to know.
But then all she had eyes for was the very still, black-clad form. She cried out his first name, which she had never had the chance before to speak aloud. She knelt down and smoothed the hair back from his face with hands that shook. Facing the truth that both sides of the moral equation didn't balance this side of the veil, a low animal sound came from her throat.
Draco touched her arm, and she turned and hid her face against his shoulder. She felt him shudder then grab on tightly as if he'd hold on for life.
Hermione Granger stood in the Great Hall where Voldemort had been defeated. Held tightly by Crabbe and Goyle, she watched Snape cast a Sectumsempra on Harry.
Snape crouched down beside the dying boy, his hands folded, and spoke in his warm, friendly classroom tones.
"I thank you for your trust in me in retrieving the prophecy. Really, Harry, after all I taught you, did you think I could hear you were marked as his equal and let you live?"
Harry twisted his head from side to side in negation, not having strength for more.
I don't need a wand for this spell.
"Didn't you know revenge is a dish best served cold? Though by all rights, I should be grateful. Your father and his friends made me who I am, after all."
Or my voice. I have Moody to thank for his tutelage in non-verbal spells.
"Where would I have been all these years without their cries of 'Snivellus' driving me on? Without the memory of pity in your mother's eyes as they tilted me upside down?"
And Tonks for teaching me the Last-strike Spell.
He'd know the spell. Feel it pulling at him. He would be able to see the life returning to Harry's face. Snape knew his magic after all. It was akin to the last piece of magic Lily had performed. Hermione suspected Snape hadn't cast Avada Kedavra to avoid Voldemort's fate at Lily's hands.
It's an old spell. It takes time, and will, and deliberate calculation rather than a call of love and blood.
She felt the cone of power rise around her and push Crabbe and Goyle away from her, knew nothing but her will could stop this now.
He began to move towards her, a slow stalk.
It'll only cost my life.
"You don't want to do this, girl. Don't you realise what I can offer with a place by my side? I have the Philosopher's Stone. Do you realise what that can give? Without paying Riddle's price? Eternal youth, beauty, life, riches beyond your wildest dreams, and all the power that it can buy."
She felt her eyes widen, and he smirked in response. It was probably the most honest expression she'd ever seen from him. It all made sense now: the power he'd accumulated that had given him the ability to make the Ministry do his bidding and shape abominations like the Marriage Law; a face that had gained not one line, one grey hair, since she'd known him.
He laughed. "Yes? I always knew you were smart. You don't think I ever bought that pure-blood rubbish, did you? We're alike. Bright and dark both."
Shacklebolt even taught me Legilimency.
She could read in his eyes that he'd take his chances that he could win her over and wouldn't kill her out of hand, but life on his terms didn't tempt her.
She had the savage satisfaction of seeing fear replace desire in his eyes as she completed her last spell.
A/N I can't respond to reviews on site, and I prefer not to answer by email--that doesn't mean I don't greatly appreciate each and every review--even negative ones are food for thought. I greatly enjoyed everyone's speculations, reactions, comments, and criticisms. Thank you.