WORTH IT ALL
Disclaimer: I'm borrowing some of JK Rowling's characters and am not making any money on this story.
Thank you to my son, gamedude, who beta'ed this story. His help was indispensable.
"Well, Miss Granger, where is he?" Minister Hawkins growled irritably, as he smacked his wand sharply into his hand.
Hermione's eyes were glued to the spot where HE had lain bloody and lifeless only hours before. The two Aurors they'd brought with them were shifting about in the background. She didn't see them whip out their wands, eyes roving quickly around the room, looking for any sign of an impending attack.
"Miss Granger!" the Minister shouted jarringly. "I demand to know what you are playing at!" The new Minister's face was red with fury.
Hermione jumped at his tone. "Minister Hawkins, I assure you, I did not bring you here under any false pretense!" she insisted haughtily. "Why on earth would I?"
Then she took in the Auror's activity, and only then did she realise the danger she and her companions could be in. If Snape's body wasn't here, then where was he? And who was responsible for his vanishing act?
"I am as shocked by this turn of events as you are, sir," she said earnestly, "but perhaps it would be best if we continued this discussion back at Hogwarts. We might not be safe here," she continued in lowered tones, her eyes full of meaning.
Instantly, the Minister's anger was visibly turned to fear. His face, so crimson before, was suddenly pallid. Hermione saw his eye twitch.
"Of course, of course," he said gruffly to cover his distress. "Gentlemen," he said in a commanding tone, addressing the Aurors. "We will leave now, but you will return with a cadre of your comrades to make a full investigation of this building for evidence of Snape's whereabouts."
The Minister whipped around before his underlings could answer and headed full steam ahead down the stairs and out the door of the shack, with Hermione hard at his heels. The Aurors emerged more slowly with wands still drawn. There was tension in every line of their bodies.
"I will Disapparate to the Ministry now. You two," he said pointing at the Dark Wizard Catchers, "make certain to get a full statement from Miss Granger, Mister Potter, and Mister Weasley before following." Then, with a 'pop' he was gone.
Hermione shifted uncomfortably in the window seat in Gryffindor Tower. Her eyes slid into focus and the breathtaking view of Hogwarts grounds replaced her faraway visions of that fateful night in the Shack with the Minister and his Aurors. Even now, two months after the abortive trip to retrieve Snape's body—a body that had unaccountably disappeared—her embarrassment had not lessoned one iota.
Minister Hawkins had come very close to accusing her of lying about Snape's gruesome death, that is until fear had overcome him.
The Minister had only taken office a short time before—after news of Minister Scrimgeour's capture and subsequent death by torture at the hands of Lord Voldemort.
And he had obviously wanted to be able to parade the body of Snape, a known Death Eater, before the Wizarding community like some kind of conquering war hero. He had not wanted to start his tenure as Minister for Magic by having to explain how the body of said Death Eater came to be missing.
"He's just a nervous little fusspot anyway," she grumbled to herself dismissively … but there were two high spots of colour on her cheeks, denoting her own embarrassment.
Wriggling in her seat again, she let her thoughts turn, as they so often had since that fateful day, to the ever-present question in her mind that would not be silenced.
"What happened to Snape?" she breathed, her eyes closing wearily. She pulled her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them.
Resting her head on her arms, she let her mind wander back over the evens of the last two months.
After the brutal final battle was over there had been so many pieces to pick up—figuratively and literally—that no one had known where to begin. Even Professor McGonagall had been somewhat overwhelmed by the enormity of the task.
The side of light had won, but at great cost. So many witches and wizards had died in the bloody conflict: Remus and Tonks Lupin, just newly married and having just had their first child, Fred Weasley, Mad Eye Moody …
The castle had been in shambles … and the wounded, many of them in need of urgent care, had had to be properly housed and care for. Poor Madam Pomfrey had bustled about trying, with her little band of student assistants, to triage her patients as efficiently as possible.
When word got out that Snape had been killed by Lord Voldmort's familiar, a huge snake named Nagini, at Voldemort's command, no less, the Minister had insisted on being led to the body immediately. Since Harry was already giving his statement to Kingsley Shacklebolt in Professor McGonagall's office, and Ron was grieving with his family over Fred's death, Hermione had offered to go. Never in her wildest dreams had she ever thought to arrive at the spot of Snape's demise to find him gone.
That surprise had only been superseded by Harry's statement concerning what he had seen in the memories Snape had given him just before he'd died.
There was no denying that Snape had set himself the task of protecting Harry after Lily's death. Why? Because, shock of all shocks, Snape had loved Lily, and he'd felt responsible for her death. He had gone through untold toil and torment in order to fulfill his duty, and had ultimately given his life in the end.
This revelation had changed the minds of the majority of the Wizarding world, Hermione's included. Even Harry had begun to see Snape as a fearless hero. And the Ministry had honoured him posthumously with an Order of Merlin, First Class, after their search for his body had not proven fruitful.
But the "Snape is a good guy after all" fervor had eventually died down, and the Wizarding world had moved on. It was understandable. There was so much to do to restore everything back to normal.
Now, two months later, the wounded were almost whole, repairs to Hogwarts, which Harry, Ron, and Hermione had stayed to effect, were well on their way. But Hermione could not forget about Snape and his body's seeming disappearance as easily as everyone else seemed able to do … everyone else, that is, except for Harry. He, too, thought a great deal about Severus Snape's whereabouts.
In recent times, Harry had begun to speak to Hermione about the subject more and more. And one night, after Ron had gone to bed early with a headache, Harry and Hermione's conversation about Snape's mysterious disappearance turned to the fanciful.
"What if Snape's not dead?" Harry had asked in a conspiratorial whisper, his green eyes searching Hermione's own chocolate brown ones urgently.
Hermione flinched at Harry's suggestion. It was as though an electric shock had passed through her. "What do you mean, Harry?" she replied, her eyes wide.
Harry leaned forward in a chair, "Come on, Hermione! We've both been living in the Wizarding world long enough to know that circumstances and people are not always what they seem here!" Harry could barely control his enthusiasm. Hermione stared at him.
"Snape was a powerful wizard! A master of deception! He had to be to survive as along as he did in Voldemort's ranks, while at the same time working for Dumbledore and the Order! Wouldn't you agree?"
Hermione felt shell-shocked. "Well, yes, Harry. Of course, but …"
"Don't you see?" Harry continued as though she hadn't even spoken. "The only way Snape could have lived as long as he did would be by staying one step ahead of the enemy!" Harry was up out of his chair and pacing now. The firelight was bouncing off his frame causing his movements to seem jerky and uncoordinated. Hermione's eyes followed him with great interest.
"You mean you think …"
"Snape was a highly intelligent person—not to mention a Legilimens. Isn't it just possible he had some idea of what Voldemort was planning to do to him? Surely Snape was always on the look-out for opportunities to sneak into the Dark Lord's thoughts to learn information! And he certainly knew, first hand, what a treacherous, evil bastard Lord Voldemort was!"
Hermione felt Harry's words quicken in her own heart and mind. She jumped out of her own chair with alacrity. "So you are saying you think Snape was somehow prepared for Voldemort's attack? And he found a way to survive it?" her voice was high-pitched and shaky. Harry spun around and grabbed her arms in his excitement.
"But how would he have done it, Harry? You saw the whole thing. That snake tried to eat him." Tears filled her eyes and a look of disgust contorted her face. "It chewed on him!"
"Hermione!" Harry almost shook her in frustration. "Please don't try to over think this! I don't know how he did it. We can ask him that when we find him!"
It was Hermione's turn to grab at Harry. "Find him? Harry, have you lost your mind? You are thinking of looking for Snape?"
"Of course I am! And you, Ron, and Ginny are coming with me!" He pulled her to him in a tight, quick hug. "Hermione!" he wheedled. "You know you want to go! You've been just as puzzled by Snape's disappearance as I have, and you know neither of us will be able to let this go until we exhaust every avenue in trying to find him."
Hermione only looked at Harry thoughtfully for about thirty seconds. The silence was palpable as she considered his proposal.
Finally, Harry could stand it no longer. "Well? Are you going with me?"
Hermione rolled her eyes exasperatedly. "You know I am," she intoned with resignation.
Then the rapid-fire monologue began. "But, Harry, we don't even know where to begin! And we still have to talk to Ron and Ginny … gather supplies … And don't you think we should tell Professor McGonagall what we mean to do? After all, it's never a good idea to just take off without …"
"Hermione," Harry interrupted softly, a look of utmost patience on his face. "We will talk all this out tomorrow—after we tell Ron and Ginny about it. OK?"
Hermione smiled a little sheepishly. "Alright, we can talk to them while we work in the dungeons. Remember, we promised Professor McGonagall we'd clean up Snape's rooms."
"Yes," Harry said with a sigh. "Who knows? Maybe we'll find something that will clue us in to what really happened to Snape."
Hermione felt doubtful. "Maybe."
Harry smiled at her. "That's our Hermione. Never one to be taken in.
"See you in the morning." And he turned and loped agilely up the steps to his dorm.
Hermione fell heavily into her chair once more, her eyes glazing over as the shock of the previous moments settled over her like a blanket. It was a long time before she could stop her mind working and go to bed.
The next morning found Hermione up and out of bed, and in her chair before Harry and Ron, as was her usual habit. She had slept only three hours total—and she looked it. Her face was pinched with strain, her eyes red-rimmed and sporting brown smudges under them. She could not stop yawning.
All the night long, after Harry had gone to his dorm and before she had fallen into her own fitful sleep, Hermione had run Harry's assertions on Snape's fate through her analytical mind.
Rationally, none of it made the least bit of sense, especially since she had seen Snape die with her own two eyes. But Harry had had a point. How many times had she seen reason deflected by the inexplicable in the Wizarding world? People and circumstances, she had learned, should never be taken at face value. And any task undertaken, no matter how dangerous or seemingly impossible, was best plunged into with more faith than thought.
It simply amazed her how many scrapes she and Harry and Ron had found themselves in, only to have the need of the moment resolved in some extraordinary manner!
Hermione had often thought Ron and Harry a bit too reckless in their exploits. She had always been the one to want to research every problem to oblivion. And that tendency, she knew, had served her friends and herself well on many occasions. But she had also learned that sometimes Harry's and Ron's approach was more necessary. Was that the case concerning Snape's disappearance?
There had to be a reason why she and Harry could not let the supposedly dead Snape rest in peace. Perhaps someone somewhere was trying to tell them something … Perhaps Snape was alive and needed their help. Was it possible that Harry, Ron, Ginny, and Hermione had been … chosen, for lack of a better word, to aid him?
Hermione shuddered at this thought, for she was unused to such suppositions.
How could she ignore the sense that Snape was out there somewhere? What if he was in need of help?
It looks like it might be time to plunge in, she thought, trying not to shrink away from her own conclusion.
"Whoever might be out there directing this venture," she whispered as she stared into the fire without really seeing it. "I don't mean to be weak-minded, but I need a sign … a starting place."
Yes, that's it!
"Show us where to begin."
As she said these words, letting them flow from the depth of her heart, she felt peace pervade her weary mind, refreshing her … even exhilarating her.
She knew she had been heard, and she would have her sign.
After breakfast, at which Harry and Hermione filled Ron and Ginny in on their idea concerning Snape, the foursome found themselves headed toward the dungeons as they excitedly discussed their suppositions and any obstacles they might be facing.
Ron's eyes continually wandered to Hermione's as the four talked. He held her hand gently in his, and squeezed it every so often.
Ron and Hermione had been "together" since the final battle, when Hermione had impulsively thrown herself into Ron's arms just before everything had gone haywire. Looking back on it now, it had been an odd thing to do, especially at the very verge of battle. But, then, she and Ron had danced around their feelings for one another for so long and with such intricate moves that it only seemed proper that the official start of their relationship be as unconventional as all that came before it.
Hermione loved Ron, and he loved her. She knew it by the way he looked at her … by the way he touched her—gently—almost reverently. Oh, they still argued as much as they ever had, but that was just so much pretense with Ron. His pride kept him from showing too much of his soft heart to anyone. But, in their more tender moments, when they were alone, Ron did not hide from Hermione. It was as if a dam had broken inside him from the moment they had finally opened their hearts to one another.
The fact that they had little in common did not enter much into Hermione's ruminations about their relationship. The war was finally over and it was nice to just breathe free—to be together at last—no pressure, no fear.
Besides, the after-effects of the war had to be dealt with. The battle-worn castle had to be rebuilt, the wounded fully restored … everyone had to be getting on with their lives.
Harry and Ginny could finally be together and so could Ron and Hermione. That was how it was supposed to be.
That was how it was.
But, somehow, being with Ron was not all Hermione had thought it should be. She did not dwell on their differences, but every so often Hermione felt them keenly and a niggling doubt would arise in her mind.
Were they really meant for each other?
But, then Hermione would pull the "Scarlett O'Hara" and determine to "think about it tomorrow". It was just too scary to consider the question to its end.
Now, as she and Ron walked hand in hand beside Harry and Ginny, such thoughts were far from Hermione's mind. All her thought and conversation, like those of her companions were on Snape and how they would go about searching for him.
"Well, I think we should start by turning over every floor board of the Shrieking Shack looking for clues," Ginny said, her brown eyes sparkling, and her titian hair bobbing up and down behind her with her every purposeful step.
"Ginny, don't be so dense!" Ron sniped. "You know that the Aurors from the Ministry tore the Shack apart already."
Ginny narrowed her eyes dangerously. "Don't call me dense, Ronald Weasley! It's just possible the Aurors missed something. I can't believe …"
"Yes, Ron, I agree with Ginny," Hermione put in. "Aurors aren't infallible, you know."
"Of course they're not," Ron countered. "I'm only saying that Dad said they were pretty thorough. I just don't want to waste time."
Harry, who had been silent through the conflict, now broke in. "I don't think we'll find anything at the Shack," he said thoughtfully. Ron, Hermione, and Ginny turned to look at their leader. "I think if there are further clues to be found, they'll be in Snape's rooms," he finished matter-of-factly. And with that he continued walking.
"Alright …" Hermione said with a roll of her eyes. "But, Harry," she called after him as she hurried to catch up with him. "It might not hurt to look the Shack over ourselves."
"Let's just see what we find while we are cleaning up Snape's quarters and classroom. Then, maybe later we could go back to the Shrieking Shack if you and Ginny still think we need to."
Ron nodded in agreement, and Ginny seemed satisfied, so Hermione capitulated with a curt, "Fine."
No one present could have predicted what the next few hours would bring.
When the four got to the dungeons they were shocked at the damage they found. Even with Snape's well-known protective charms which had most certainly been in place at the time of the battle, the dungeons looked like a cyclone had struck them. Even Snape's precious storeroom hadn't escaped the violence.
Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny decided to begin their clean-up/search in the classroom where the heaviest destruction had been done. For a moment, the four just stood staring at the almost unrecognisable room they had all spent so much time in over the last several years.
There was evidence of the powerful hexes and curses that had been thrown in battle—charred remains of workbenches, blown up cauldrons, stray bits of parchment strewn about like confetti … even Snape's desk was split in two. Large craters were blasted into the walls and a fine layer of rock dust covered everything.
Hermione felt completely overwhelmed by the sight. "Good God!" she whispered as she walked slowly to the where once had stood the workbench she and Neville Longbottom had shared. It was in splinters and jagged black hex marks crisscrossed the stone floor beneath.
Memories of her many pleasant and productive hours brewing under Professor Snape's severe and watchful eye flooded her mind as her own eyes flooded with tears.
Professor Snape had never been one of her favorite teachers. But, being of an intellectual turn of mind herself, she could not deny he was highly intelligent, and a brilliant potions master. And her knowledge of all that Snape had really been and all that he had done—his nobility, his bravery, his unreserved self-sacrifice on behalf of Harry and the side of light—only made her school time memories seem all the more bittersweet.
She now understood, at least in part, why Snape had been so difficult. Not only had he had to keep up the pretense of hating Harry and Gryffindors in general, but he had to have been under such great pressure playing his double role.
Hermione could not imagine having to always be on stage, as it were … having to act against her own impulses all the time … having to live in such darkness in order to serve the light. It seemed to her to be the loneliest existence possible—something like a self-imposed solitary confinement.
"What iron will he must have had," Hermione said to herself as she moved to Snape's broken desk and stood respectfully before the two halves. The others came up behind her and Ron placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.
"If he's out there, Hermione," he said softly, "we'll find him."
Harry and Ginny did not speak, but their faces were filled with sad reflection. The atmosphere was suddenly funereal.
Harry was the one to finally break through the melancholy mood. "Well," he said quietly, "we'd better get started, if we're going to find anything to help us in our mission." Everyone nodded.
"I suppose the best place to start is to search his desk," Hermione said briskly. "But, first off, I am going to mend it."
Ron stared at her. "Why?" he asked with a hint of surprise in his voice.
"I don't know," she replied, somewhat irritably, as she pulled her wand from within her robes. "It'll just make me feel better."
Somehow, she couldn't bear to leave Snape's desk in pieces. To her, the broken desk represented the wizard himself. It did not occur to her to wonder why she cared so much about this. She only knew she couldn't stand to leave the desk as it was. So, with a wave of her wand and a masterful, Reparo, the two halves snapped together seamlessly.
Harry laughed, "'Reparo' always was your specialty," he said, jiggling his glasses on the bridge of his nose.
Hermione's smile was smugly satisfied as she began searching the top drawers of the desk. It was full of parchments and planners all covered in Snape's distinctive scrawl.
Again, the young witch felt a stab of painful memory rise up in her as some of his comments on her essays came to mind. His comments had never been kind. Every time she'd read one she could hear his deep resonant voice calling her an "insufferable know-it-all".
Back then, it had made her fume. Now, she could only smile sadly.
The others were at various corners of the classroom wielding their wands and muttering repairing charms.
"I don't think there's much we can do about the holes in the walls," Ron said doubtfully.
"That depends," Hermione answered from her across the room." Let me see if the missing pieces are in chunks or only rock dust. I'm not finding anything of value in the desk anyway."
As she headed quickly toward Ron there arose a sudden clatter in Snape's private quarters. The four froze in battle stance instantly.
Harry looked at Ron and jutted his head toward the door to Snape's apartment at the back of the classroom. Quietly, the two moved toward the door while Hermione and Ginny moved up behind them.
"I'm blasting it," Harry whispered. The others nodded and stepped back a little.
"Reducto!" he bellowed, thus blowing the door off its hinges.
The four rushed in, ducking as a shaft of red light shot over their heads. A shadowy figure darted out in front of them and disappeared into the inky blackness behind a large piece of furniture.
"So," rasped a man's voice, "the Boy Who Lived has come to save the day once again!" Then there was only a wheezing cackle to be heard. It sent crinkles up Hermione's spine.
"Who are you? And what do you want?" Ron growled.
"Is that Potter's side-kick, Weasley?" the voice mocked. "I should have known you'd not be far away." Another horrible laugh issued from the darkness. "I suppose the Mudblood's here, too."
"I'm here," Hermione spat. "Now, suppose you tell us how you got here and why you've come."
"Why, I knew these rooms had been vacated by my good friend Severus Snape, so I decided to come for a bit of a stay … as I've no place else to go." The voice was oily and falsely polite. "Back in the good old days, Severus showed me how to get to his quarters without being seen. Imagine my joy at finding that no one had found the secret entrance and blocked it off."
"You're a Death Eater!" Ginny gasped.
"Ah, a fourth to your little band of do-gooders, eh, Potter? There's no end to your supporters, is there?"
"I've certainly got more supporters than you have," Harry countered angrily. "It seems to me you've no options left to you, Death Eater! You will show yourself to us right now, surrender your wand, and we will arrange for the Aurors to take you to your new quarters in Azkaban!"
"Oh, I don't know," the voice said with mock casualness," I rather like it pretty well here, and since Severus has found a new place …" The four could sense the evil in the pause, and it made them uneasy. "It lacks a woman's touch, though." The sound of shifting and shuffling made Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny tense, gripping their wands all the tighter.
"Of course, had that detestable, Muggle-loving mother of yours not murdered my wife at the final battle, all would be well!" he snarled.
"Rodolphus Lestrange!" Hermione cried, her free hand flying to her mouth. "What do you mean Snape has a new place?"
"That's right, my dear," Lestrange said in a sickly sweet tone. "And I am not the only Death Eater to survive the final battle alive and still free. Of course, Severus turned out to be a wretched traitor, but I didn't know that when I saw him, or I'd have killed the bastard."
Hermione felt her stomach drop. "Do you mean to say that Severus Snape is alive?"
"Of course he is my little Mudblood spitfire." Lestrange chuckled nastily. "At least he was several weeks ago … barely."
"Where is he?" Hermione asked hoarsely. She could barely contain her eagerness.
"I don't know why you'd care, but perhaps you'd be willing to strike a little deal with me, yes?" Hermione swallowed hard.
The sounds of movement issued forth again. "It seems I am in the market for a new wife, and as you're available …"
Suddenly, Hermione felt someone roughly grab her and snatch her wand out of her hand. She fought him with all her might, but he only pulled her tighter against him.
"Hermione!" Ron yelled.
"Let me go!" she shrieked.
"Oh, you're a feisty one, aren't you?" he rasped delightedly. "I'll bet you're a tigress in the bedroom." The lust in his voice made Hermione want to heave.
"You bastard!" Ron cried, casting "Lumos" wildly about trying to locate Hermione and her captor.
And the curses started flying once again. There was a great deal of scuffling, screaming, swearing, and yelling. Somehow, Ron and Harry grappled their way closer to Lestrange, who was wrestling with a very frightened and angry Hermione.
"Let her go!" Ron bellowed. That was all Lestrange needed to mark his target.
"Relashio!" he screamed.
"Ron!" Harry cried in warning.
Hermione took the opportunity to elbow Lestrange in the belly as hard as she could.
"You little bitch!" he grunted, doubling over.
With that, Harry's wand was upon him. "Petrificus Totalus!"
And then all was silent, except for the heavy breathing of those still standing.
"Is everyone all right?" Harry panted. There was a pause and then-- "Ron! Ron! Someone get some light in here!
"Just a minute, Harry," Ginny said, her voice trembling. "Let me find a candle. Lumos." Ginny's wand tip lighted, but it barely pierced the darkness as she moved further into the room.
After a considerable amount of stumbling around …
"Incendio," Ginny murmured, thus lighting a sizable candle on what appeared to be Snape's private desk.
Picking up the candle, Ginny held it aloft until Harry could locate the wall sconces. With a wave of his hand, they were lighted and the scene of the fight could be clearly seen.
"Good God!" Harry groaned, and he and Ginny rushed to the aid of Ron and Hermione, who were both unconscious on the floor.