A/N: I want to give a HUGE thank-you to my beta RenitaLeandra who did so much work on this chapter. I shudder to think how terrible it would have been without all her work.
The day of Ron Weasley's funeral was, without a doubt, the longest and most miserable day of Hermione Granger's life; longer, even, than the day he died, which had seemed to stretch on for an eternity. But on this day, when she would look at him for the last time, there was no relief from the misery and depression. From the moment she woke up until the moment she collapsed into a heap at the end of the day, there was nothing but sadness, despair and confusion. Each minute seemed to stretch on for a year.
She sat through the funeral with Harry on one side and Molly and Arthur on the other listening to their cries; Harry's intermittent sniffles, Arthur's silent tears streaming down his face, and Molly's sobs. But she could do nothing but sit and stare at the coffin in front of her, feeling her throat close up every time she tried to get within five feet of it. When she had first seen it, she had immediately become hysterical Runningaway until Harry had finally come to find her minutes before the funeral started. She had seen dead bodies before, her grandmother when she was a young child, Cedric Diggory, Dumbledore and various unfortunate Order members since then. But somehow this was not the same. This was Ron.
When the funeral was over, she finally found the courage to actually look at him with Harry at her side. She then wandered away to the far side of the lake, where she wouldn't have to look at the coffin anymore and suddenly found herself completely alone. Arthur had taken Molly back to the Burrow to rest and the remaining Weasleys had followed. Many of the other people present were Ministry officials who had never really known him. There had been some of Ron's friends present but they had all gone inside to cool off from the hot day. Harry, she knew, was somewhere close by waiting for when she would be ready to face someone.
Ron was being buried at Hogwarts, next to Dumbledore, hailed as a hero of the same level as the former Headmaster himself. He had bravely given his life for the cause, allowing Harry the time to escape when it was clear Voldemort had him in his grasp.
It amazed Hermione, when she thought of it, that it had been less than a week since this nightmare had started. A week ago they had been looking for the fourth Horcrux, Helga Hufflepuff's cup. Although it had been more than a year since they had begun their search, the locket was the only item that they had successfully found and destroyed. Since that time they had been chasing down lead after lead looking for the cup. Then one day they had got an anonymous request to meet at an old warehouse in Muggle London. Harry had been convinced it would be something important for their search.
The three had immediately headed there without stopping to think of the consequences. It was a mistake that would cost them dearly. It had been a trap. Not long after arriving at the rendezvous, they had been ambushed by Death Eaters. Although Ron and Hermione escaped, Harry was captured and taken to Voldemort.
Hermione and Ron had immediately gone back to Order Headquarters demanding that they form a rescue party. Complete chaos and mayhem erupted as soon as they had managed to explain what had happened to everyone. Mad Eye was charging about, bellowing orders; Ginny was sobbing; Tonks' appearance was changing every few seconds; and Remus had been in his werewolf state and completely unable to help.
In a relatively short amount of time, considering everyone's state, they had managed to form a rescue party; Hermione, Ron, Kingsley, Tonks and Mad Eye. Ginny had been desperate to go, but Molly had forced her to stay back. Their current intelligence told them that Voldemort and the Death Eaters were headquartered at Riddle Manor and they had quickly formulated a plan hoping that Voldemort would be expecting a much larger group of Order members; perhaps a smaller group would go further without being noticed. They Apparated to just outside Little Hangleton using all the available invisibility cloaks they could find. When they reached Riddle Manor, they had been surprised to see that there were no wards and only two guards standing outside.
In retrospect, this should have alarmed them. Mad Eye, at the least, should have been suspicious. But all anyone could think about was getting Harry back, hoping that perhaps it would not be too late. And so, with two quick stunning spells courtesy of Tonks and Kingsley, they were inside Death Eater Headquarters.
And then they realized their mistake.
Inside the main hall they had seen Harry, tortured and chained but still amazingly alive. But they also saw the entire mass of Death Eaters and Voldemort, wands drawn. Before anyone had been able to react, Voldemort spoke in his high cold voice.
"So you see, Harry, you are going to have the pleasure of watching your friends die before I kill you. I'm just disappointed there aren't more of them. Perhaps you aren't as well loved as I had thought."
As he spoke, Hermione had taken a quick glance around the room, hoping for some sort of inspiration; some way out of this hellish situation they had just found themselves in. And that was when her eyes had fallen on him. Severus Snape. Traitor, murderer and Death Eater, standing just feet from Harry with Bellatrix Lestrange next to him. The fury that had swept through Hermione, seeing the proof of his betrayal with her own eyes, had almost been incapacitating. He had looked so… smug, so proud standing there, with a horrible half smile on his face. She'd desperately wanted to curse him.
Before she had time to react, however, the Death Eaters had started firing curses and she hadn't enough time to do anything but defend herself, all the while hoping that they could figure out a way to get to Harry.
Kingsley had been the first to fall, hit in the back by Antonin Dolohov. Hermione remembered how the Death Eater had nearly killed her at the Department of Mysteries two years before. Not long after that Mad Eye hadn't been able to move fast enough for MacNair, who stunned him. Hermione had refused to look as she heard Mad Eye's screams when a group of Death Eaters surrounded him intent upon getting revenge. She had glanced to her left and was shocked to realize that Ron had managed to get within feet of Harry and was fighting off Bellatrix Lestrange. How had he reached him so quickly? Hermione wondered as she had run to him.
"You go free Harry," she'd gasped taking her place next to him, "and I'll continue here."
She had continued her fight with Bellatrix, barely able to stay on her feet while Ron cast a severing spell on the chains that were holding Harry. Bellatrix had looked behind Hermione and, when she realized what was going on, immediately moved her attention to the two boys.
"Avada Kedavra," she'd screamed, aiming for Harry hoping to end it all and gain Voldemort's favour all at once. At the same moment Hermione had felt a push to her back and a spell shot past her. When she looked up, Ron had given Harry a push yelling at him to run, while at the same time stepping into the line of fire from Bellatrix's spell.
She remembered screaming his name and trying to crawl toward him when Tonks had suddenly grabbed her hand and pulled her the rest of the way. Somehow she had managed to hold on to both of them, while pulling something out of her pocket.
"Portkey," she'd whispered to Hermione. "Harry's out, we need to go."
Hermione had felt the familiar tugging sensation as she activated the portkey, and the next thing she saw was the Great Hall. Because it was summer, the Order had also been using Hogwarts as a base and Minerva McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey were standing near by, clearly waiting for them. The two women rushed over to them.
"Where are the rest?" Professor McGonagall asked while Madam Pomfrey had begun checking the two women for injuries. One look at Ron told her he was beyond her help.
"Harry escaped and he should be on his way," Tonks had gasped. "Kingsley and Mad Eye… there…there wasn't enough to bring back. Ron was the only one we could get to."
Hermione had covered her mouth and willed herself not to wretch at the thought of what had happened to the two left behind. At that moment Harry burst through the door running over to them and Hermione lost any amount of self control she had. The two sat sobbing over Ron's body, oblivious to any attempts from the others to remove them from the side of their lost friend.
The rest of the day had been a blur to Hermione and would remain that way until the day she died. The rest of the Order had been notified, including all the Weasleys. Harry was furious that he was forced to remain in the hospital ward to repair his numerous wounds and several broken bones. The story of the events at Riddle Manor was relayed by Harry, Hermione and Tonks and all their stories were the same. The only thing they couldn't figure out was how Harry had managed to get free so easily. By rights, none of them should have lived given the number of Death Eaters they were up against.
As the day had passed into evening and Hermione thought back to the events at Riddle Manor, something strange also occurred to her. She'd mentioned it to McGonagall who had asked her for her account of the events.
"You know," she said pausing halfway through her story, "I saw Prof… I saw Snape when we first arrived. He was standing right by Harry. But I never saw him actually hit anyone with a curse. I don't even remember seeing him except once. What was he doing I wonder?"
"Well, we can be grateful that things went our way, it seems," Professor McGonagall said, avoiding the question. Hermione thought her voice sounded a little strange, strained perhaps, but she had been too exhausted to think much about it.
As Hermione looked back across the lake, thinking of those events, just three days ago, she heard a faint rustling behind her, in the trees. She turned quickly, pulling her wand out of her robes. They were expecting some sort of retaliation from Voldemort, but everyone assumed the wards around Hogwarts made it an unlikely target. Still, there were many creatures in the Forbidden Forest that she wouldn't want to face unarmed.
"Who's there?" she called holding her wand out, ready to hex the first person she saw. It was quiet for a moment and she thought perhaps it had been her imagination. But then, just as she began to put her wand down, she heard it again, this time louder and closer.
As she raised her wand again, and before she could react, she heard someone hiss "Petrificus Totalus".
She fell to the ground as if she were a rock. To her horror she watched Severus Snape appear out of the forest, looking as if he was doing nothing more interesting than going for a stroll. He walked over to her, until he was towering above her, wand in hand and his cold black eyes staring down at her.