IN THE LIGHT
Disclaimer: This is a non-profit tribute to the works of JK Rowling who created and, together with her publishers and licensees, owns the characters and settings elaborated herein.
A/N: Spoilers, character death. Thanks to all my reviewers and especially to my previewers, Bellegeste and Cecelle.
So much blood. It came out, gushing, from two small wounds in the white neck, and Hermione knew immediately that this was a much worse bite than Harry's had been – and that had been hard enough to heal.
Did she have any dittany left? No, she'd used the last of it on Neville's face in a futile attempt to heal the old scars. Idiot! She should have known she'd need it elsewhere. Oh, why hadn't she asked the Room for some more before they left, or for some Blood-Replenishing Potion? Her beaded bag was in her sock, the same place she'd stashed it when the Snatchers had caught them, but it might as well have been left behind for all the good it could do.
Her hand clenched around her wand, but just as she was about to incant a healing spell, a silver-blue fog billowed out from Professor Snape's eyes and mouth and ears.
Seizing the front of Harry's robes to pull him close, he rasped, "Take … it … Take …it …" but Harry just gaped at him. She didn't have to turn to know that Ron, standing behind her, was equally clueless. She bit her lip and conjured a flask instead to thrust into Harry's hand. If the professor thought his memories were more important than his survival, he must have a reason.
If ever she'd doubted which side he was on – and she had, she had – she didn't now. As Harry gathered the memories, she silently cast the spells she'd used on Harry after Godric's Hollow, but the blood didn't even slow, and then the professor was speaking again, his eyes searching Harry's.
"Look … at … me …"
And then his body slumped and his slack hand thudded to the floor.
He looked dead, but perhaps he was only unconscious. She was about to push Harry out of the way and throw herself down to see when the high, cold voice of Voldemort echoed through the walls. Not now, not now, she thought desperately.
"You have one hour. Dispose of your dead with dignity. Treat your injured."
Her fingernails dug into her palm. Oh, he could play the magnanimous opponent all he wanted, but did he really think anyone was fooled?
"I speak now, Harry Potter, directly to you. You have permitted your friends to die for you rather than face me yourself."
Harry flinched and Hermione and Ron exchanged despairing glances. Not this, please not this! (As if Voldemort would listen.)
"I shall wait for one hour in the Forbidden Forest. If at the end of that hour, you have not come to me, have not given yourself up, then battle recommences … and I shall punish every last man, woman and child who has tried to conceal you from me. One hour."
She shook her head frantically. Ron did too.
"Don't listen to him," Ron said.
That wasn't enough. Harry had such a "saving people" thing, he'd never abandon them all to Voldemort's vengeance just for being told not to. They needed to get him as far from Voldemort and idiotic surrender as they could without running out on their friends.
"It'll be all right," she said breathlessly. "Let's – let's get back to the castle. If he's gone to the forest, we'll need to think of a new plan – "
As she hurried towards the tunnel entrance, she cast one regretful glance back at Professor Snape. No time. No time to see if he was still alive, if he could still be saved.Her place was with Harry still, just as it always had been. If the professor could speak now – she scrunched her eyes tight to hold back the tears – if he could speak, he'd tell her so. She knew it.
It had been a sudden inspiration the January of sixth year. She'd been wondering for some time, with all the attention she could spare from Ron and romance, how best to prepare for the war that was surely coming. Defence Against the Dark Arts had always been her weakest subject – she didn't count Divination – and not only because it had been taught so badly. It was the mindset, the warrior's instinct that she lacked, the speed and strength of reacting to threats. She'd always been good at thinking and talking her way out of trouble, but she'd never learnt the trick of hexing first, thinking later.
Professor Snape was far and away the best Defence teacher they'd had, as sour and sarcastic as he was. He didn't waste their time on Lupin's Red Caps and Grindylows that they'd only encounter while out camping (only they hadn't, had they?), or on the fake Moody's repetitive demonstrations of the effects of the Imperius Curse. Instead, he alternated between teaching them how to defeat the Dark Lord's creatures and making them practise duelling, casting and throwing off spells non-verbally. That was a start, but she doubted it would be enough. And then Harry had told her what he'd overheard when he followed Snape and Malfoy out of Slughorn's party.
She'd discounted the news of the Unbreakable Vow almost immediately. Dumbledore trusted Snape. He'd said so over and over again. So clearly the conversation Harry heard must have been part of some pre-set plan. But then Malfoy had reproached Snape with keeping his thuggish friends too busy studying to retake their Defence O.W.L. to help him, and she'd had her idea.
It was a long shot, but it was worth a try. The next night when Harry went to Dumbledore's tower, she went to see a quite different professor.
"Remedial lessons?" Snape had barked from behind his desk, shaking his greasy hair back from his face the better to glare. "Is this some kind of prank?"
"No, sir. Defence is my weakest subject and since I know you do give remedial tuition to some students, I hoped –"
"Only those with a true educational need, Miss Granger." He traced a long finger around his thin mouth, watching as she flushed and tried not to fidget under his malicious gaze. "Are you likening yourself to Crabbe and Goyle? Perhaps you'd like your essays to be re-marked to reflect that assessment?"
She knew it was an empty threat, but she couldn't help twitching.
"Would that mean you'd teach me, sir?" she asked doggedly.
He looked her up and down with narrowed eyes and his voice went softer.
"I would, of course, refer you to your own Head of House, who is perfectly capable of tutoring you in this subject. Perhaps I should do so regardless. Your willingness to go such lengths is a highly suspicious circumstance. If this is a plot against me, it would be wise to pre-empt it."
Her mouth had gaped open and she'd hastily shut it.
"Against you, sir? How could it be?"
"You don't think that altering marks in order to spend evenings alone with a female student, however dubious her attractions –" He leaned back in his chair to look down his large nose at her, a contemptuous smirk curling his lips. "– Might be … inappropriate?"
She stepped back, clenching her fists. As if she'd ever look at a snarly, greasy Slytherin! He was no Ron, that was for sure. Her mouth twisted. Although considering how Won-Won was eating Lavender's face every time she turned around, perhaps she should take that as a recommendation. No, ew.
"I – I didn't think about that. It never occurred to me." She'd never thought of him as a man at all, to tell the truth. He was a teacher!
"How enlivening! Have I found something the know-it-all doesn't know?" he sneered.
She swallowed down a dangerous urge to slap him and forced a smile onto her set face.
"If I thought I knew it all, I wouldn't be asking for help, sir."
"I imagine it doesn't suit your vanity to be second-rate in class."
She leaned forward, her hands flat on his desk. He hadn't invited her to sit and she hadn't dared to do so without permission, but he merely raised an eyebrow at this far more audacious stance.
"There are more important things than school. I've been helping Harry and Ron fight You-Know-Who since our first year and I don't plan to stop until he's dead or I am. And I'd rather it was him, sir."
The corner of his mouth twitched.
"You could always move to the Antipodes," he pointed out.
"I'm staying with Harry, no matter what."
He surveyed her through narrowed eyes.
"If you had to choose between your friends, you'd choose Potter?"
Her brow furrowed. That seemed an odd jump to make.
"I won't have to choose. Ron would never leave Harry." (Oh, how wrong she'd been.)
"The Boy-Who-Lived can take his pick from much prettier girls."
Her hands had trembled anew with the urge to slap him.
"It's nothing like that. Harry's like a brother to me – to us. And neither of us will abandon him."
His hair fell over his face like a curtain. There was a moment's silence.
"You have done nothing to warrant special privileges from me," he said quietly. "On the contrary. Do you think I care whether you live or die?"
"I know you do." Her lips folded and unfolded. "You've been protecting us since forever, sir."
"Perhaps I'm tired of such a thankless task."
"Perhaps you never did it for our thanks in the first place," she said.
He glanced up at her and said, as if delivering a clincher, "I am a Slytherin."
In for a penny, in for a pound.
"You're as brave as any Gryffindor." She knew he wouldn't consider that a compliment, but it was true.
"But not as stupid. You make yourself a target. Your family would be better off without you."
She flinched and he added, "You should give up this idea of becoming a fighter, a task for which I may say you show little aptitude, and learn to run from danger instead of throwing yourself into it. I'd recommend paying close attention to the study of Apparition. It will probably prove to be the most useful skill you learn this year."
She glanced sidelong at him. She'd rather expected he was going to throw her out, but he seemed to be in an expansive mood tonight. Was that advice in amongst the insults?
"I thought they usually put up anti-Apparition wards before attacking, sir."
"That depends on circumstance. There'll probably be occasions where Apparating yourself and any companions away will be the optimal course of action."
"And when we can't Apparate, sir?"
"Then it is as well to be prepared with somewhere to hide. You'd be well advised to practise scouting everywhere you go for exits and potential dangers, until it becomes second nature. Where there are no exits, Disillusionment Charms sometimes suffice, since I imagine only one of you at a time can fit under Potter's Cloak." His voice sharpened at the mention of the Cloak and she dropped her eyes hastily.
"If we have to fight?" she asked.
"Concealment gives the element of surprise. Practise your Shrinking Charms or, better yet, learn how to perform an Undetectable Extension Charm so you can carry spare full-size weapons with you. They may mean the difference between escape and capture."
"Sometimes escape isn't possible, sir. You're right, I'm not a natural fighter, but I'm sure there'll be times when I have no choice. Your classes are very helpful, but I think I need more."
He flicked off the flattery with a small, irritable jerk.
"You contrived to provide extra-curricular opportunities to practise last year."
She grimaced and looked away again. Last year, Harry hadn't been obsessed with catching him and Malfoy in criminal behaviour, but that was the last thing she wanted to admit. Luckily there was a safe excuse. He must know that Harry was seeing Dumbledore, as he'd had to reschedule his detention earlier in the year.
"Harry has other things to do this year. Besides, the DA was only because we weren't getting opportunities to hone our skills in class. Now we are."
And yet you're still unsatisfied." He picked up a paper from his desk, dismissing her. "I will take your request into consideration, if you're quite sure you desire it. Be careful what you wish for."
She soon learned what he meant by the warning. The next time he set them duelling in class, a Stinging Hex caught her shoulder from behind. She whirled indignantly to find her teacher smirking unpleasantly at her. She jerked a tiny nod back at him and worked her shoulder back and forth a few times to loosen it before returning gingerly to Neville, her shoulder blades twitching. Henceforth she would have to keep half an eye on Snape as he prowled the room, but, as she explained when her sparring partner suggested complaining, she couldn't really blame him.
"Don't worry about it, Neville," she said. "I did kind of ask for it."
When she unrolled her homework that night, she discovered that Snape's guidance would extend to more than just duelling practice. Charmed against anyone's eyes but her own, as his spiky scrawl snidely informed her, was a paragraph of additional practical information on defensive strategy. After two weeks of her every essay coming back similarly adorned, she began to drop disguised questions into her middle paragraphs and to wait with anticipation for his abrupt but invaluable answers. And still he was shooting her unobtrusive hexes in class, forcing her the hard way to develop her reflexes and her vigilance.
In March, Ron's birthday poisoning prompted a question on antidotes. Snape replied with advice on building a basic first aid kit and names of reliable and discreet suppliers. In May, Harry's Sectumsempra and Snape's reported expertise inspired a request for the tuition in basic healing that Madam Pomfrey had refused, citing pressure of work. He sent back a curt refusal and the names of two excellent texts to order from Flourish and Blotts.
By the beginning of June, her white-knuckled fear of failing Harry had been replaced by a feeling that, whatever came, at least she was ready for it. She told him so in her essay, adding that she felt she owed him more than just a "Thank you" and was there any service she could do for him?
And then, before he could reply, there she was standing guard outside his office with Luna, Harry's words of warning burning in her head; watching Professor Flitwick run in and Snape run out after a heavy thud; hurrying into his office to find Luna's Head of House collapsed on the floor; and she wasn't ready. She wasn't ready for any of it.
His desktop was empty but for one rolled parchment. As she picked it up, numbly noticing that it was her last piece of homework, Luna looked up from their fallen teacher.
"I think he's all right. He's only stunned."
Hermione put the roll in her pocket and turned to cast Rennervate. It was only much later that night that she had the chance to read Snape's scrawled last words, later when she was so angry, so frozen, so hollow with disbelief that she almost burned it unread. Almost.
"Our ways separate here. I need nothing that anyone alive can give me, least of all you, but if you survive and still wish to repay me, grant me an unmarked grave."
She hadn't known what to think at first. How could he have given her – given Harry through her – so much help and then turned around and murdered Dumbledore? His advice had been good and, reading frantically back through her questions and his answers, he'd offered enough alternative valid suggestions as to prevent him predicting her choices. Could he possibly still be on their side or was this just a fallback to claw himself out of Azkaban if his side lost?
She'd even wildly wondered if that night's events had all been a trick, if Dumbledore could possibly be alive and in hiding (although why would he be?) or if it had been someone else in disguise who'd cast the Killing Curse. Or had Dumbledore been dying some horribly painful death, maybe from the potion he'd drunk that night or from the curse that had withered his hand a year earlier, and they'd decided to combine euthanasia with ensuring Snape's position with Voldemort? But after Snape hexed off George's ear, all those excuses had rung hollow. And she'd hated him.
As she led the way back down the tunnel, further away from his still, black body, she reflected remorsefully on how she'd hated him all the more fiercely for having trusted him before. She'd cursed his name, both then and later, at Grimmauld Place, when she'd read the news report about him being elevated to headmaster. She'd raced off to pack Phineas Nigellus's portrait in her bag – the same bag Snape had inspired her to create – sure that Snape was a traitor who might use Phineas to spy on them. If she'd seen Snape then, she'd have tried to rip his lying face off.
It hadn't been until she accidentally brought Yaxley to Grimmauld Place that she'd had second thoughts. If she could Apparate a Death Eater through the Fidelius barrier, then so could Snape, Tongue-Tying Hex or no. Come to think of it, he could have written the information down, couldn't he, the way Dumbledore had for the Order. Didn't that mean that the place would have been swarming with Death Eaters if he'd been a traitor?
She'd convinced herself that it was just oversight on his part, that he hadn't thought of it. Stupid, stupid!
But they'd been on the run and mostly starving by that time and Snape's loyalties had been the least of her worries. It wasn't until they overheard Dirk Cresswell talk about "the kids who tried to steal Gryffindor's Sword out of Snape's office" that she thought of him again with more than vague, dull resentment, and then she'd been more concerned over what he might have done to Ginny than who he was really working for.
Until Phineas Nigellus proudly told them that Snape had "punished" Ginny, Neville and Luna by assigning them detention with Hagrid. With Hagrid!
She should have guessed then, only her tired mind wouldn't focus and there'd been that big quarrel with Ron and he'd left, and who could care about Snape when her chest was cold and empty with aching? It had been all she could do not to spend all her days crying as well as her nights.
It was only then, when she'd been barely able to look at Harry, that she'd started to ponder anew. She'd taken to propping up Phineas Nigellus's portrait on a chair in the evenings and it was as she'd listened to his stories of Hogwarts that the thought had recurred, faintly at first and then with increasing force, that Snape didn't seem to be acting with the viciousness of a true Death Eater. That it almost sounded, in fact, as if he was protecting the students – even Neville, whom he'd always loathed (hadn't he?) – from the Carrows as much as he could.
As the days grew colder and bleaker along with their hopes, she'd started to dwell on Snape as a distraction from the misery, Snape who – if her reawakened suspicions were right – was more alone and more miserable than even herself and Harry. It was easier to let her heart ache for him than for them; it was almost a comfort of the no-shoes-meets-no-feet kind. And when Ron had come back, dripping and weakly smiling, the comparison had flashed before her eyes – Snape faithful beyond Dumbledore's death, deep under cover and indomitable, and Ron put off by a few weeks deprivation – and she'd seen red. If Harry hadn't stopped her, she'd have hexed Ron into a steaming puddle for being less a man than their greasy, gitty old teacher.
She had reached the entrance of the tunnel by this time. As she crawled out into black night, she gasped suddenly, unnoticed by the boys. Why had it never occurred to her before? The Sword of Gryffindor had been kept in Dumbledore's office. Who had had more opportunity than the inheritor of that office to substitute the fake for the true? It could have been Snape who brought the Sword for Harry, Snape who had … who had a doe Patronus? Why a doe? There was nothing doe-like about him.
And with a sudden stab of insight, she knew.
That was why he wanted to look at Harry's eyes as he died, Harry's eyes that everyone said were so like his mother's. That was why he'd betrayed Voldemort in the first place, why he'd returned to Dumbledore and been faithful ever since. He loved Harry's mum.
That was why he kept protecting Harry though he'd hated his dad; that was why he'd been so bitter about James "Too-arrogant-to-believe-he-might-be-mistaken" Potter in the Shrieking Shack that night in third year. He loved Harry's mum, he'd worked to protect her son for sixteen years and now he'd died for her.
She swallowed back a sob. No time to think about that now. They needed to get Harry to the castle. Perhaps he could view Snape's memories in Dumbledore's Pensieve. It would distract him from pondering Voldemort's cruel invitation to give himself up and, Merlin knew, he needed that. They all did. If they lost Harry, they lost everything, and Snape had lived and died in vain.
It was almost twenty-two hours before she returned to the Shack. Harry had died and undied; Voldemort was dead for good, his last Horcrux destroyed and his armies defeated; and fifty-four corpses of the castle's defenders lay in state while the survivors simultaneously mourned and rejoiced. She and Harry and Ron had sat apart under Harry's Cloak as Harry told over what he'd seen in Snape's memories and what he'd heard directly from dead Dumbledore. And now, finally, both boys had gone to bed and she was free to keep a not-quite-a-promise.
She hadn't asked them for help. She was sure he wouldn't have wanted that. Although he'd never specifically said, she'd understood that his charming his comments for her alone was as good as an injunction to keep his secrets from everyone forever. If he'd hoped for exoneration, he wouldn't have asked for an unmarked grave. No, he'd wanted only to be forgotten.
Tears were trickling down her face as she crawled through the tunnel. He'd probably have sneered if he'd seen her, she knew that, but she couldn't help herself. She'd thought at least he'd had the comfort of Dumbledore's trust and regard when the rest of the world scorned him, but from Harry's account of it, she wasn't sure he'd even completely had that. If ever there was a person who might have wished to be Kissed by a Dementor, to be the next best thing to never having existed, she thought it might have been Snape.
Harry had hated him even more than Voldemort. The irony of Harry hating the one person who might possibly have seen the same thing in the Mirror of Erised as he did in first year, Lily and her loved ones alive and happy, was a hard, hot weight in her chest. (Would he have seen himself with her in that mirror, or simply Lily as she'd have chosen to be? Dumbledore had said it was passing on the prophecy that was Snape's greatest regret.) No, he'd given Harry the memories he thought he'd need, but he wouldn't have wanted Harry here now. This was a task she'd have to do alone.
She paused at the entrance to the room, swallowed down bile and forced herself on. One glance at his grey face and staring, empty eyes told the story, but she tested for signs of life anyhow, lifting the still, cold wrist to check for a pulse, touching the other pulse points, holding burnished metal to his lips and nose to check for breath, knowing there was none but unwilling to admit it till there was nothing left to check.
Gently she conjured soapy water and laved him; gently she Scourgified and dried his clothes where he lay, smoothing them around him. Let the last hand that touched him be a respectful one, he who had given up all hope of love or liking in life. Carefully she levitated him onto a conjured stretcher, as they had failed to do four years ago but he had done for them. No ghastly undignified hanging in the air for him this time; no affront or irreverence to his motionless body. He would not want to be seen. She Disillusioned him, so he need not be.
He would not want to lie with Dumbledore in his marble tomb. There was a small cemetery outside Hogsmeade. She reached it two hours before dawn and chose the empty plot closest to the school that had been the nearest thing he had to a home. It would have relieved her feelings more to dig the grave by hand, but she didn't think she could and certainly not in the available time, so she used magic.
A coffin! Why hadn't she remembered till now that she'd need one? But she knew why. It was because when she conjured it around him and closed the lid, there would be no more pretending, no last wild hope that this wasn't real. It was real; not the only important death, perhaps not even the most important to her personally (she'd always considered Fred as a future brother-in-law, even when that possibility seemed ever so remote), but the one for which she was the only mourner.
Ten minutes later, she was looking down at a filled-in hole. It hadn't taken very long. There hadn't really been much to say, after all, except "Goodbye, Professor. You walked in darkness so that we could walk in the light. Now it's your turn."
She Summoned a patch of grass from the roadside to cover the newly-turned earth. Now no one would know this was a new grave so they would have no reason to suspect its occupant. He'd asked for an unmarked grave, but that just didn't seem right so she Transfigured a small, grey rock into a granite headstone, weathered and old-looking, and tapped an anagram of his name onto it.
That seemed appropriate somehow, for him to share the surname of the girl he'd loved like a brother. Even Perseus was right somehow, the hero who braved the Medusa by avoiding her gaze, the lover who slew the sea-monster to save the princess. He'd have done it if he could, if he'd only had a little more luck in his life.
"Love, loyalty and Honour" she added, then, standing, she cast the Fidelius Charm that she'd learned from Bill at Shell Cottage as a precaution, although they'd gone so quickly from Shell Cottage to Gringotts to Hogsmeade to the school that they'd had no cause to use it. Henceforth, no one but herself and any she trusted with the secret would know that this was the Professor's resting-place.
She stood for a moment longer, wiping her eyes, then turned away. Somewhere in the castle, Ron and Harry and Ginny and her other friends were sleeping. She wanted to be there when they woke to a brand new day.
A/N Canon does not mention Hermione using dittany on Neville. I could have suggested that they'd used it up after escaping from Gringotts - it sounded as if they used quite a bit there – but chose this way. Hermione's rather despairing thoughts about asking the Room are not meant to imply that it does actually provided for potential needs or that the items can be removed for use elsewhere.
Voldemort's, Ron's and Hermione's speeches in the first section are excerpts from DH, ch 33.
I've deliberately left "stunned" uncapitalised in Luna's diagnosis of Flitwick. We have no evidence that Snape Stunned him, only Hermione's supposition. In fact, the text later refers to it as a "collapse".
"Too arrogant to believe he (you) might be mistaken" is a slightly altered quote from PoA, ch 19.
Perseus Evans is, of course, one of many exploded canon theories. I have chosen to describe his love for Lily as "like a brother" because, although we can interpret their relationship either way, canon shows us no instances of boyfriendly behaviour on Snape's part.