The splashes of rainfall falling from a heavy slate sky were suddenly illuminated by a terrible arc of red light. Wandless and out of breath, Hermione clattered to a halt just as her friend's furiously screamed curse hit the sodden black shadow diving to reach for his wand.
She was too late.
The man's horrible shriek cut through her. His outstretched arm went stiff and clawlike as the hex of a hundred knives sliced mercilessly into his body.
Hermione cried out in horror, and made to start forward only to be pulled roughly back by a strong grip on her arm. She looked back at her friend for a moment. His face was twisted in hatred and loathing, his eyes bright and terrible. It frightened her to see him like this. Her friend, Harry Potter, the boy who had just rid the world of the Dark Lord. A hero, technically.
He was a free man as from tonight, the scar had vanished, his duty accomplished. But still Harry thought he had a final score to settle. An old score; to settle years of bullying, and avenge his parents, Sirius, and Dumbledore…
Behind them the man was still writhing on the ground, although more sluggishly. He was almost certainly bleeding to death.
His mouth twisting, Harry went to raise his wand again.
"No Harry! Stop!" she shrilled, frantically grabbing at his arm. "Please - there's no need for this. It's over. It's all over!"
"GERROFF ME HERMIONE!"
It happened in a second. She would regret it later, but being wandless it was the only thing she could think of doing.
Harry bellowed with pain as his friend kneed him hard, and he doubled over hissing, wilting to the ground.
In a few seconds Hermione had snatched his wand and had thrown herself beside the fallen man. He had stopped moving now, and lay on his back, his eyes shut and expression vacant. For a horrible moment Hermione froze as she thought she was too late, until he suddenly drew another gasping breath, and began shuddering again.
This seemed to bring her out of her shock. With a trembling hand she flung back the torn robes to reveal a shredded white undershirt that was almost completely sodden and red. Holding back a gasp of dismay she tore it open.
She stared, wide-eyed and unblinking at the damage to his torso, her face tinging sickly pale with horror. She pulled the shirt back further, only to have more hot blood leak out onto her hand.
It was the warmth of the blood that made her feel suddenly so cold, heat from a man who they had always assumed to have veins of ice. It was almost like a bitter irony, the walking contradiction that he was. Biting her lip she shakingly raised the wand, and hoped to hell she could remember the whole of the healing incantation.
"I call upon the
healing power of nature to heal thee,
I call upon the healing power of nature to lessen thy pain,
I call upon the healing power of nature to mend thy bones,
I call upon the healing power of nature to restore thy vigor,
I call upon the healing power of nature to close thy wound,
By the healing power of nature thou art healed."
She sang it again and again and again, repeatedly tracing the wand down his body, her gaze never once leaving his face. She noted he had stopped shuddering but his skin was steadily turning greyer and more ashen.
The rain was still falling from the skies, a dank and miserable Winter afternoon, colourless. The rain fell directly on the injured man's face, rolling over his nose and running across his cheeks like tears. He did not notice. It soaked through Hermione's hair, plastering it in strings down each side of her face. She did not notice.
After a while the terrible gashes shrank to cuts, and weren't closing any further. Hermione paused to cast a cleaning spell, her breath pluming out in the cold air.
Just then there was a horrible shuddering gasp. Snape's head jerked back, and his eyes snapped open. Hermione jolted and watched with wide-eyed shock as the man's entire body shuddered in a powerful spasm, and then just as suddenly and abruptly relaxed into deathly stillness.
Severus Snape had stopped breathing.
All inhibitions lost now, Hermione leaned forwards over him, her hands gripping his shoulders in desperation, her eyes frantically searching his ashen face for evidence of life.
"He shouldn't have invented the fucking curse if he didn't want anyone to use it on him!" snarled a voice from behind her.
Hermione cried out again, the first sob of pure anguish breaking free.
"I want my wand back too, now he's dead," added Harry coldly.
Hermione was aware of Harry's hand pulling at her arm, and she was at once on the defensive. Whipping round with a cry of rage she pointed Harry's own wand directly at him.
"Don't you dare touch me, or him!" she shrilled, eyes flashing wildly, a cornered animal.
Harry blinked and stepped back in alarm, his hands up. "Woah. Hermione, what's the bloody matter with you!?!"
Hermione let out a bitter, almost hysterical laugh. "Oh Harry, can't you guess? Haven't you ever even thought…!?"
Harry stared back at his friend numbly, his hands slowly lowering back to his sides.
"I…I, knew you used to defend him a lot, always believed he was good. But…"
Harry watched as pain twisted Hermione's features again, and she turned away. He watched as she knelt over Snape, watched her as she gently swept back his rain-soaked fringe with a trembling hand.
And then, Harry watched with a thrill of pure horror as his friend gingerly lowered her face and pressed her lips to the older mans' ashen forehead.
It had to be the trauma of losing Ron. It must be due to losing Ron, thought Harry repeatedly over and over, trying to convince himself.
She couldn't really have...Could she?