A/N Written for the winter round of the SSHG Exchange 2008 (hosted on Livejournal). This fic was a gift for Fandomme, and was betaed by the lovely Deemichelle.
"You want what?"
"His wand, Harry. I need his wand."
Harry sighed darkly, burying his head in his hands. Hermione knew she ran the risk of turning Harry against her completely, but she persisted. This was her last chance.
"Ginny, how's that tea coming?" Harry called out to his wife, looking for a distraction.
She replied airily from the kitchen and emerged soon after with a steaming pot. Harry and Ginny had decided to get married quite young. It seemed Ginny was the only Weasley who would speak to Hermione these days.
"I know you kept it as a sort of memento, Harry. It is very important; it will solve everything."
Ginny looked wide-eyed at Hermione then at Harry. She knew the gravity behind such a request. After the war, after burying all their dead, Harry had taken Snape's wand from the Shrieking Shack and insisted the body be buried properly. In death, the hated Potions master became a martyr, and Harry hero-worshipped the man's memory, seemingly forgetting all past grievances. To be stripped of his last connection to the man, as lovingly recollected as Sirius and Lupin, would be like asking Harry to give his right arm.
However, Hermione was still bold enough to ask.
"Harry, it'll be the last time I attempt anything, I swear. This one last go and if it works, good, but if not, I'll stop. I'll be able to stop, this is really the last thing I can try—
Hermione's face dropped.
"Harry, please … "
"I said 'no', Hermione." He looked cross with her. "No, because it won't stop here. You won't be able to let it go; it's always been 'one more try, Harry, one more try'. I think you've gone to a point where you won't be able to stop unless somebody makes you. First, it'll be his wand, and then what? Exhuming his body?"
Harry's temper deflated slightly, and he looked at her with genuine concern.
"You look ill, Hermione. You've let this crazy experiment completely take over your life. It's only created more problems than it's worth—it's driving you away from people. You know, I'm sure Ron—
"Don't. Talk. About. Him." Hermione hissed, her eyes blazing.
Harry looked like he wanted to press the matter further, but a stern look from Ginny silenced him. Ron and Hermione's falling-out had been a dreadful affair.
"Harry, this isn't just about communicating with Snape anymore. If what I've researched is correct, I could bring him back. And not just Snape, Harry, I could bring back your mum and dad, too."
She knew it was the wrong thing to say when he went chalk-white and she heard porcelain shatter against the floor.
He looked afraid. Afraid of her.
"Hermione, do you know what you're saying?"
Hermione remained silent.
"You're talking about necromancy; you're talking about very dark magic. Merlin…bringing back the dead? Don't even think about it; you're deluding yourself if you think it will even work. Besides, even if did it wouldn't turn out the way you expect—remember the Resurrection Stone? It doesn't bring back somebody, just a shade of their former self."
"No, it won't!" Harry bellowed as he rose to his feet.
Hermione rose as well, on the verge of angry, exhausted tears. "What claim do you have over him, anyway? You act as if you're the authority on everything Snape, like you knew him better than everyone else. No one can mourn more deeply than Harry Potter, no one feels more grief than Harry Potter—no one feels guiltier than Harry Potter."
Ginny thumped the cup she was holding down onto the table a bit harder than she anticipated.
"Now just a minute there—
"Ginny, don't." Harry held up a hand beseechingly, and then looked back at Hermione, shocked.
He continually opened and shut his mouth, struggling for something to say. Hermione couldn't meet his eyes for shame; she knew she had hurt him. She had definitely crossed the line.
"Hermione, the dittany wouldn't have worked anyway."
It was Hermione's turn to look up in shock. To her surprise Harry looked neither hurt nor angry but concerned. His voice was soft and soothing.
"The snake venom was magical; remember when Nagini bit Arthur, and it deterred most healing potions? The dittany wouldn't have worked."
Her voice was small and hard. This was an argument that chased circles round in her head, and kept her from sleeping every night.
"You don't know that."
"You don't know if it would have done anything either."
"But I could have done more than just watch him die."
"Merlin, Hermione, no one could have kept it together under a situation like that. What, with Voldemort nearby, watching Nagini do…what she did—anyone would have panicked. And nobody blames you for anything," Harry paused, as if speaking to himself, "except yourself."
Hermione stared coldly at a spot on the floor. After a tense moment, she picked up her bag from her chair.
"I have to go."
Ginny stopped Harry with a hand on his arm and a knowing look. She then followed Hermione to the front door.
Looking at Hermione, Ginny noticed that her friend had become the ragged husk of the brilliant, bright witch she once was. Guilt, sleepless nights, not eating, and poring over obscure texts and potion cauldrons had taken its toll. Her face was gaunt, her eyes frequently pink lined with dark circles underneath. She often shivered, her wrists skeletal, and she was losing large amounts of bushy hair.
"Ginny, you could help me."
Ginny looked away. Then there was the ever-present hint of desperation in her voice. Harry and Hermione had both said hurtful things to each other tonight, but Harry was right in this. Hermione had let this experiment take over her life.
"The potion can be done in three days. If you could just bring the wand, then … "
Ginny sighed, and opened the front door, gesturing for them to move to the porch. They both stood silently staring into the night sky, which looked like an inky blanket strewn with glittering pinholes of light.
"What are you going to say to Snape anyway, if you can find him?"
Hermione looked at her hands, silent. She couldn't meet her friend's gaze. Ginny raised an inquisitive ginger eyebrow, and angled her head so she was in Hermione's line of vision.
"Well? Why do you have to see him, Hermione? What is it you need to do, need to say, to put your mind at ease?"
Hermione mumbled something softly into the collar of her shirt.
"I'm sorry, what was that?"
Hermione lifted her head up and steeled her nerves.
"I have to let him know—
Ginny waved for her to stop with a smile.
"You don't have to tell me the details, as long as you know. Look, how about I have lunch with you tomorrow in Diagon Alley? You can tell me about the potion and what you need from me then."
It was with one last encouraging smile that Ginny went back into the warmth of her house. Hermione shrugged on her coat, which was too big, around her shoulders, and padded through the snow. The lamps above her flickered and she paused for a moment under the clear yet wintry sky, before Apparating to her flat.
Immediately upon entering her flat, Hermione tripped over a stack of books and upset a pile of notes and parchment scrolls. Her tiny flat overflowed with papers, books, diagrams and magical apparatus. She had Arithmancy charts taped to ther walls, and potions scales strewn haphazardly on the floor. Crookshanks meowed loudly in complaint of her noisy entrance before resuming his pacing in her small kitchenette. She would have to feed him later.
Hermione dusted her knees and pushed aside the texts on deciphering the Egyptian Book of the Dead in disgust. That was definitely a botched investigation and a complete waste of her time. She took off her coat, draping it unceremoniously on top of her recently upturned pile of books, and made her way over to her cauldron.
Her small potions lab was the only place that was uncluttered, and she busily began throwing ingredients into her cauldron. The ingredients had already been measured and ordered on her worktable; the recipe—after many practice trials—she had learnt by heart. An open volume of an Ancient Greek text in addition to her translations and revisions was propped open beside her unopened bottle of powdered wormwood.
The idea had seized her when Harry first commissioned a portrait of Snape to hang in the Headmaster's office at Hogwarts.
The unveiling of the painting had been frightening. Hermione had felt her heart constrict at the thought of hearing the Potions master speak again. What would he remember? What would he say?
The portrait artist looked a little worriedly at them, his fingers nervously picking at the frame's edge.
'It's not what you've been expecting, Mr. Potter. I'm afraid this is one of those rare duds."
Snape sat with his head in his hands, eyes closed and apparently sleeping. A slight breeze inside the painting stirred his hair so that it brushed against his face, but apart from that there was no movement, not even the rise and fall of his chest.
"I've only gotten two before like this one, so it's not common, but sometimes, Mr. Potter, a painting just doesn't want to be. Can't do much to convince them either."
The disappointment on Harry's face was evident. He thanked the artist, and asked for him to take the painting away. Hermione had also felt like her hopes had been dashed, but there was a sense of relief for her as well. The portrait had not come alive to snarl at her, or belittle her.
The phenomenon, however, piqued her interest. Why would some subjects be impossible to place in a painting? What was the deciding factor that would have them move or not move? Abandoning her Care of Magical Creatures studies, Hermione began researching the tenuous link between the world of the living and the world of the dead. She knew there were more connections, or perhaps the divide was just weaker, in the wizarding world compared to the Muggle world. She looked not only at portraits, but ghosts, the Priori Incantatem specters and the archway in the Department of Mysteries. Her findings and any progress she made she published in the major wizarding academic journals, securing a captive audience and modest income.
She supposed Harry was unfairly roped into it all, especially as he had been looking forward to a low-profile future. He, however, was the one person she had ready access to, and who had experienced many of these life and death anomalies. She picked his brain about the Resurrection Stone until he grew frustrated and tired. She (unsuccessfully) attempted Priori Incantatem to see if the shades of Cedric Diggory, the Potters and others deceased would return, and Harry had reluctantly cooperated, dismissing it as "that old Granger curiosity". He had balked a little when she took him to see the Veil, begging him to describe the black curtains and voices only he could see and hear, but he gave in and complied once more, believing it was just for research.
He became leery of her when he realized her studies had taken her from examining the barrier between life and death, to exploring active methods of crossing said barrier. They had an argument after she unsuccessfully tried using Snape's memories (grudgingly donated by Harry) to form a communication link, and Harry hadn't talked to her since, save for the recent wand fiasco.
Kingsley had been generous and indulged her little pet project with regular research grants from the Ministry—no questions asked. In the beginning, her work had sparked much interest and looked like it actually could be of benefit to the magical community. Those expectations soon vanished once her articles veered away from logic tried and true, and more towards the uncharted territories of wizarding myth and mysticism. She still had a huge readership for her journal articles now, but it was mainly out of morbid curiosity and other academics who wanted to watch the slow fall from genius to madness.
Hermione knew that the grant money she lived off of was just charity now, and it was only a matter of time before the funding would be cut and Ministry officials would put a lockdown on her research. She was toeing the line over to the Dark Arts too frequently to easily escape notice.
Hermione was hoping that would all end with her latest finding; it was an ancient tome and a potion alluded to in several legends and Ancient Runes texts. It had taken her years to decode all the cryptic scripts and finally piece together enough information to discover the potion's true functions and its recipe. It went under several names, the one she liked using being the Tartarus Draught. According to historic references it had only been brewed twice before, and never used. If it didn't work for her now, she could honestly wash her hands of the whole affair and call it quits.
Funnily enough, it had actually been Dumbledore who had helped her find the defining text. It seemed as a young man he had been preoccupied with the self-same notions as she, and had done large amounts of research on the subject as well, keeping impeccable records. Hermione had found them in the Headmaster's Office (another favour from Harry) and pored over them. Dumbledore had given up the search after becoming lost in all the mythologies and symbols used—most information was found in obscure folk tales, myths and fairy tales.. Picking up from where he had left off, Hermione discovered that the trick was in interpreting the ancient stories literally.
There was one text—written in an obscure mix of Ancient Greek and archaic runes—that had information on traveling to the Underworld and descriptions of the Tartarus Draught. Hints at the ingredients and brewing procedure were dropped haphazardly throughout the book, but after collecting them all, Hermione had a fairly comprehensive recipe. Where Dumbledore had made his mistake was in assuming the symbolism behind an ingredient. For example, the "earth taken from the forest of Suicide". Dumbledore had written many variations beside it (earth mixed with blood — earth taken from blood soaked ground? — not earth, but ashes from suicide death?) but Hermione knew now what the text actually meant was: mud. Plain mud. It was the simplicity of the potion that had baffled so many researchers before her.
And so she had it. The Tartarus draught.
The contents in the cauldron bubbled and turned a bright green. Stirring counter-clockwise seven times, Hermione set down her ladle and allowed the potion to simmer. It would need to be left alone to cook for three nights, only being stirred seven times counter-clockwise at midnight each night.
Suddenly exhausted, she tottered over to her chair and sat down heavily, yelping as she felt something pointy dig into her hip. She stood then looked at a sadly crumpled book on the seat: Hogwarts, A History. Sighing, she dumped it onto the floor and curled up into the chair. Her throat felt dry, and she was getting a headache from not eating, but her stomach was too nervous to hold down anything more substantial than coffee. She wanted to sleep, her body cried out for it, but her mind wouldn't shut down long enough for her to even catch a short nap.
She let out a miserable groan, which was loud enough to startle Crookshanks in the kitchenette.
The prime of her life had been spent and gone, all in the pursuit of what could, ultimately, be called The Art of Being Dead.
"And how does the wand play into this?"
Ginny had abandoned her soup, engrossed in staring at Hermione, who hadn't even touched the meal Ginny insisted that she order.
"The wand is how I find him. I think it's also how I might be able to bring someone back. The wand remembers its owner; it will be drawn to them. I'll be able to use it almost like a compass point. It will bring me to him … wherever he is. And the text I've been reading implies the wand can also help the owner cross boundaries. Like the boundary between Life and Death."
Ginny's face darkened slightly in disapproval, but she didn't voice her inhibitions on the subject. For this, Hermione was grateful. She had had enough preaching from Harry.
"How are you going to come back? Hermione—what if you're stuck there?"
"It's all right. As long as I don't eat anything from the Underworld, I won't be bound to it. That's the only rule. 'Do not eat from the land of the dead.'"
Ginny looked very serious and asked in a hushed whisper, "Dead people eat?"
The two witches laughed gaily for a moment, the somber mood lightening. Hermione felt encouraged enough to nibble a little on her food.
"I don't know."
"And if you get hungry?"
"From what I understand no one feels hungry there, not even the living. But whatever happens, I should be all right. My wand connects me back to the living world. To go back to the living, I just have to perform a spell."
"Anything, any magic. Even a spell as simple as Lumos."
Ginny looked down into her bowl, moving her spoon around in the soup. She had quieted and was beginning to make Hermione nervous. What was wrong?
"You know, Hermione, that I will help you with this. I'm just … I'm just hoping you will finally be able to let go after all this is over. I'm just worried too, because when this is all done, will you know what you'll do with yourself? You've been looking for this for so long, and since you were so young … "
Ginny looked up, startled at how much she had let tumble forth, still fiddling with her spoon.
"I mean, you still are young, but you're an adult now. It's carried over since we were still teenagers and now you're almost twenty-seven …."
Hermione laughed a little self-consciously then immediately sobered before asking, "What are you trying to say, Ginny?"
"I'm saying that I'm helping you because I hope this is the closure you've been looking for. And that you've been looking for far too long."
They stared at one another at length. There was really nothing more that could have been said after that. They finished lunch in silence.