A/N: Okay, everyone, this is it- the Last Chapter! I had no idea it was coming, I've been so wrapped up in it all...
Thankyou to everyone that read, reviewed, added, and contributed to this story. Without you, it would have sat on my laptop and collected digital dust.
A sequel may be forthcoming; I have a few idea in my stressed little head... so keep an eye out!
Finally, to my most devoted reviewers and critics—Wyndnfyr, Mrscakeakajane, The Math Geek, Gryffens, Notwritten, Attyfan, Pstibbons, and the few that I've probably missed (apologies in advance). Thankyou for all your comments- I write for you guys!
CHAPTER 9: HORIZON
Hermione was barely settled in her seat before it all happened.
Shacklebolt came running in first; Hermione had never seen him so flustered, his eyes wide open and his movements frantic. "Dumbledore!" He shouted above the din, waving away questions about his disappearance. They had all assumed him dead!
"Kingsley?" Dumbledore said in obvious astonishment. "What-"
"-they're attacking the Ministry, right now!" He boomed, and the room went silent immediately.
Hermione was stunned; in broad daylight? With all the offices full of people?
"All fighters at the ready!" Moody barked suddenly, startling them. "Prepare to face the enemy!"
A positive whirlwind of activity as each person made the preparations was staggering; she was almost knocked over by the crush to get out the door. She could hear Dumbledore distantly shouting out more instructions.
"Apparation from the front hall in five minutes! Approved fighters only!" He boomed with his Sonorous Charm. "Moody's Aurors to spearhead!"
He turned it off with a wave of his wand, continuing to shout anyway. "Severus! Send the required messages... St. Mungo's must be notified!"
He ran towards a side door, seeing Hermione on the way. "Come with me!" He yelled tersely, pulling her through the ancient doorway with one strong hand on her arm. They reached what appeared to be a dead end; a solitary round room, almost a cupboard, barely a metre in diameter and seemingly with no roof. He tugged her into the small space as she watched him, bewildered.
He tapped the stones on the wall in a way similar to the entrance of Diagon Alley. "The Owlery!" He announced. "Fast!"
The floor shuddered, then the single paving stone shot up in a mimic of a Muggle elevator; she clung onto him as numerous floors flew past, the wind whipping at her hair and his robes as they ascended.
He explained the task to her as they went, shouting over the rushing wind. "There are messages lining the east wall- attach each one to an Owl, starting with the swiftest breeds. The St. Mungo's letter is on a Portkey- I will activate it as soon as we enter. Do you understand?"
"Yes!" She replied with conviction, just as the elevator stopped suddenly and threw them both out of the shaft. The Owlery was nearly as large as the one at Hogwarts, and it took Hermione a few seconds to reach where the message were lined up.
She moved swiftly, knowing that time was of the essence- she felt that the five minutes had passed, and that her friends were most likely in battle at that very moment. How many would fall?
She shoved that thought away and kept her mind on the job.
"Dammit." She heard Severus swear under his breath. Hermione attached another letter and looked up; the only birds left were the roosting pigeons, and there was still one more message. How would they contact anyone else?
It was with relief that she saw an owl shooting through the sky towards them, appearing as a blur of feathers as it came swooping through the large opening.
"No." She heard Severus whisper, to her surprise; wasn't it a good sign that they had enough owls to reach all their targets?
She expected it to find a perch; instead, it shot past her and onto Snape's arm.
She held the message in one hand, and turned to affix it to the bird-
Only to be stopped by the impossible scene in front of her.
It couldn't be...
All of her screamed against it, but she knew she couldn't defy the blatant logic.
There it was: the owl settled on Severus' arm as though it often perched there, and the unmistakable look of apprehension on Severus' face. It was caught in a breathless moment as she stared in shock; Jupitus, on the arm of his master, Hyperion.
Hyperion- the man she had told so much- too much- was, all along, the very same man she had talked about in her long and emotional letters. What had he thought of her? Could she ever face the shame?
Maybe she didn't have to.
She looked him one more time in the eyes; the ones she had so often contemplated, gotten lost in, dreamt about whenever she felt confused or alone.
"Hermione..." He began softly, but she didn't bother to listen. She threw the last message at his feet and rushed past him, tears already rising to her eyes as she ran down the long staircase.
She needed to keep her mind on the fight! No matter what she had just seen, what she had gone through, the survival of her friends was more important. She didn't even know what she was going into- were they winning? Was it over? Would she appear in the middle of crossfire?
In any scenario, she felt indifferent to her own safety. She was going, and nothing was going to stop her.
His shout disrupted her concentration just as she was about to Apparate. She had one glimpse of his form running down the stairs as full speed, and his shockingly desperate face, before she strengthened her resolve and turned once.
She was on the alert immediately, ducking behind the first piece of rubble she came across to assess the scene.
It was a battle field.
Marble had been torn up or melted in the heat of curses; bodies lay where they had fallen, some with obvious injuries and bloodstains. She saw with relief that the Order had secured most of the area around her, so she wasn't in hostile territory or no-man's-land. Without any further thought, she gritted her teeth and joined the melee.
Severus tried not to think about the way she clung to him as they shot upwards in the elevator, even though every instinct screamed at him to hold her closer. As soon as they were free, he ran over to the Portkey for St. Mungo's and selected the right default message to attach asking for aid. As soon as it had popped out of existence, he turned to help Hermione with her own task. To his dismay, they were running low on birds to send; he remembered vaguely sending a few away in the morning, carelessly not checking if they had enough...
"Dammit." His temper flared.
Wait... there was one more owl that he knew of.
And he knew when he was needed.
"No." You stupid owl, you could ruin everything... she's not ready to know...
She wouldn't understand.
To his dismay, Jupitus had flown in, expecting a reward from his master for receiving the unspoken call.
He relished the last look in her eyes that was directed towards him, the man that had become one of her only fixtures in the war torn world. Soon, in a manner of seconds, the look would change. He kept that picture in his mind; standing there, defiant, her wild hair caressing her face and her hands steady as they held the message.
He knew it when it happened; a frozen stony look, then one of horror, and then one of resignation.
"Hermione..."He breathed, unsure of what he was going to say. Anything, something to repair it...
I did it for you. You have nothing to be ashamed of... I loved every entry, every minute with you...
She had run past him, brushing him roughly in her flight, before anything could come to his lips.
He pounded after her as soon as he had recovered and sent Jupitus on his way, knowing that in all probability he would already be too late to stop her.
"Hermione!" He yelled her name once more, desperate, wishing that she would listen and stay...
He knew it was a lost cause when he saw her muscles tense in preparation.
"No-" He began, but it was too late. She disappeared in a whirl, leaving nothing in the stone hall but Severus and an echoing silence that bore down upon him.
"-you'll be killed..." He finished, the very thought of it filling him with unspeakable horror. He needed to protect her. He was nothing without her... and he was only now beginning to realise it.
They had a major breakthrough when the Death Eaters were forced to fall back and they took most of the hall; Hermione fought alongside the others, keeping one eye out for the Dark Lord and one for... well, she didn't want to think about him...
She fell back behind a pillar, gasping for breath after a particularly nasty bout. Someone joined her a second later. "When did you get here?" Tonks asked in surprise as they shuffled into better protection. "You're not meant-"
"I'll explain later!" She replied, knowing that she didn't really have an explanation anyway. "What's the situation?"
"They're taken most of the second floor- the lifts have been disabled, but it's only a matter of time before they break through the roof and floor. The Ministry security put up a better fight than anyone expected- they're keeping them from getting higher, and we're coming in from below- if nothing untoward happens, we may have them pinned down!"
"Is You Know Who with them?"
Her face darkened. "I saw him... he's right in the middle of the Death Eaters, we can't get anywhere near him."
"What about Harry?"
"No sign." Her voice was monotone, but Hermione could tell that it was carefully so.
They returned to the fight once their breath had returned, Hermione resolving to no mercy.
Snape entered a world of flashing colours and loud crashes; he had chosen a side room for his entrance but it seemed that most of the dividing wall had been destroyed in the fighting. He found the best cover he could before engaging his first opponent- Yaxley. It was with the greatest satisfaction and ease that he took the odious man down with a Stunner.
He couldn't see the individual Order members through the dust and smoke... where was she?
"Snape!" A voice came out of the melee, but not the one he was expecting.
"Potter?" He barked. "Where have you-"
"Erm, no time!" He said quickly; Snape could see that he'd been living it rough; he looked thin and unhealthy, with a scarred cheek to rival his forehead scar and badly trimmed hair (even worse than usual).
Ron came up beside him too, and Snape noticed that they were both wearing Death Eaters robes. "You could get killed in those!" He shouted at them.
"It's all part of the plan." Potter assured him. "Listen, we need to act now! I have the Arrow for Voldemort ready, but I need to get close enough."
The Arrow? He noted the ancient bow along Potter's back before shrugging it off with a great deal of fortitude. "I can get you there. This had better work, Potter..."
That didn't exactly make him feel any better, but he ran low with the two boys until they reached the edge of where the Death Eater stronghold seemed to be. Snape picked up a Death Eater cloak from Yaxley's body on the way, shrugging into the familiar garment as he dodged spells. They were standing just before the last corridor- one that was filled with the special guard to the Dark Lord, and further down, the monster himself. Snape could feel his presence.
He already had the proper spell in mind- he just prayed that it would be enough. "This will give you one chance only, Potter. I doubt that I'll have anything else in me afterwards- make it quick, they won't stay down forever." He began to wave his wand in an intricate movement, the youngest Weasley teen watching curiously. "What..."
Snape didn't bother to reply; once he felt the immense build up of what essentially amounted to all his magical energy, he spoke the syllables clearly and with finality. "Navitas tentatio!"
A sphere of pure, crackling energy expanded from his wand, bursting out and hitting the Death Eater reserves in front of him. It rebounded down the corridor, sparing none from its sudden onslaught, until it dissipated and died far into the depths of the building. Severus saw dimly that both of his companions had already moved, and were rushing down the corridor after his spell. His vision shifted uncertainly, and he felt a fatigue that frightened him as his limbs folded in on him, his hand hanging limp as he dropped his wand. His last view was of the chandelier high above him as he slipped into unconsciousness.
Through some amazing tactics and outrageous displays of bravery, they advanced through most of the hall. Hermione herself had a Slicing Hex narrowly miss her, and her shoulder was bleeding profusely despite the pressure she had tried to apply.
One of the twins came skidding up to her, his pale face excited and streaked with dirt. "Hermione! They're here! Harry and Ron, I saw them!"
"What? Where?" She cried.
"Up ahead, in Death Eaters robes... just telling people not to Curse the enemy before they've seen their face, just in case it's them."
"I sure hope they know what they're doing." Hermione winced. "Do you think we could get up there?"
He grinned. "I was thinking the exact same thing."
They grabbed his twin and Lupin on the way through, who was slightly bewildered but willing to help them get to Harry and Ron. After all, he was Harry's godfather; he'd been worrying constantly for months.
All of a sudden, the resistance crumbled. All of the Death Eaters cried out in pain, and Hermione saw them clutching at their arms.
"It must be the Mark- it's burning!" She shouted at her companions. "Is that a good or a bad sign?"
None of them knew, so they continued pushing forward- some of the Death Eaters were fighting through the pain, but many were easy enough to Disarm and Stun in their distracted state. Despite this, it was still a struggle to reach the beginning of the twisting corridors of the Ministry proper.
Seeing movement down the hall, Hermione stepped back into an alcove. She tripped backwards over some rubble, landing hard on the ground. Suddenly, something flashed through her vision- something that she couldn't see from her standing perspective.
A pale hand, instantly recognisable, reaching out from the doorway...
"Wait!" She cried, as Lupin reached down to help her up. She crawled across the space, despite the calls from the others to stay back. She tried to stay low, keeping his hand in her sights as she went.
The corridor seemed deserted for the moment; not trusting the location, she stole a glance at Severus' form to see if they could move him. He was uncharacteristically still; obviously knocked out from something... but what if he was...
"He can't be..."
"Get back here, Hermione!" Fred's hissed command snapped her back. She dragged Severus the best she could back behind the broken wall, and she heard someone gasp as they saw what she had found.
"Blimey, Snape... when did he get here?"
"He's not breathing very well..." She said, trying not to let panic take hold. He didn't seem to have any external injuries, but he still needed her help. Most likely he had exhausted himself with the battle... She made her decision.
"You guys go on without me- I have to get him out of here." She insisted, roughly shoving them away. "Go!"
They reluctantly left her with him, and she cradled him above the marble floor with infinite care. "Ennervate." She breathed the spell softly, noting that his eyelids fluttered. He shifted slightly, or so she imagined.
"Come on, Severus, you can't do this..."
She suddenly remembered the pouch that he always had on him- antidotes, basic ingredients, and...
"...Energy Replenishing Potion." She gasped, moving quickly to find it. The bottles clinked against each other as she pulled it out, and she forced her hands to stay still for fear of breaking it.
There it was. She uncorked it, poised over his mouth to pour it in. "Just this one Potion, that's all I'm asking... you can do it, you stubborn man!"
She administered it, massaging his throat until he swallowed. Time ticked on, and she feared that she may have been too late...
He coughed once, and her heart soared to her even that small sign of life. "Severus? I'm here..."
His eyes flew open, and he seemed completely alert for a moment before his eyes shut against the bright light. "...you left." He said hoarsely.
"Yes. I'm not leaving you again." Even in the sounds of the battle, Hermione swore that she could hear her own heart thumping.
The most frightening sound that Hermione had ever heard in her life screeched down the building: a sound of infinite agony, of tearing spirit and thwarted evil. She felt Severus flinch in her arms.
"The... Mark..." He whispered slowly, his left arm twitching. "Look..."
She carefully pulled up his sleeve- and gasped when she saw that the tattoo had become a mere watermark on his skin.
"It's... gone." She said, not daring to believe it. "He's gone!"
He sighed, closing his eyes once again. She grasped his hand with hers, caressing its toughened skin with her blood covered fingers.
"Then... it is over."
The approach of footsteps made Hermione jerk her head up, but she relaxed when she only saw Dumbledore, grey with exhaustion but alight with triumph. Behind him, she drank in the sight of Harry and Ron, looking worse for wear but very much alive. They were all looking at the pair of them, but Hermione didn't care. Let them see how much she cared for him- she was not ashamed.
The war was over, but her life had not yet begun.
The clean-up would be huge, but Hermione made sure that Harry and Ron were not a part of it. They had been through much, as far as she could gather; on the way to their rooms, Harry admitted in low tones that the attack on Grimmauld Place had been his fault, that Bellatrix had tortured him for information using Veritserum and Cruciatus before attempting to turn him over to Voldemort. Hermione was quick to assure him that he wasn't to blame for what had happened, and it was admirable that he'd managed to get out of there alive. The search for the Arrow, something which Hermione was completely ignorant of, had begun with a careless comment from Voldemort when Harry was telepathically linked to him and was ended with the help of Shaklebolt and many others along the way. Hermione wanted to hear the whole story, but they naturally wanted to rest their exhausted bodies and minds before their inevitable grilling from Dumbledore.
There were no celebrations on the battlefield or within Order circles for a few days after the dramatic climax. Too many had given themselves as the ultimate sacrifice, given in the hope that Harry would be able to get through to Voldemort and do what he had always been destined to do.
Severus Snape had very nearly been one of them.
Hermione had saved his life, a fact that she shrugged off, yet one that many found surprisingly commendable. She blankly refused any mention of an Order of Merlin (as many in the battle were to receive) on the grounds that saving Severus' life was not an extraordinary act- merely a necessary one. Why it was so personally crucial, Hermione didn't say- but she knew, in her heart, that she couldn't have lived with herself had the end result been different.
A few days after the final battle, Hermione faced him for the first time. They both were careful not to mention it- it was the elephant in the room, and Hermione didn't want to face it before Severus was recovered.
Eventually, that day came.
"Do you forgive me, Hermione?" He asked her, staring out the window and into the grounds with a grey look on his face. He was one of the few allowed to stay out of the temporary hospital ward set up downstairs- probably because he was the most troublesome and outspoken patient. "I lived a double identity, and you entrusted so much in me, in Hyperion... can you truly forgive such a grave betrayal of trust?"
She was sitting beside him on his double bed, and she put down the book she had been discussing with him. She knew that the conversation would come, and she had prepared for it. "I think that, initially, I was horrified; then I realised... I wouldn't want to say any of the things I said to Hyperion to anyone else in the world but you."
He gave her a look that said 'Me? Why me?'
She smiled, and he basked in the light that came from it. "You, Severus- because..."
Lost for words, she expressed her feelings in the only way she saw as fitting. Before he could respond, she leaned over and kissed him full on the lips.
There was an instant of fear and uncertainly before his hand slowly came up to caress her face, then she felt a sense of fulfilment and of how right it was. Becoming lost in the kiss, Hermione started to feel dizzy for lack of air.
They broke apart, and Hermione laid her head in the crook of his neck. She breathed in his scent, revelling in their contact. He stroked her hair with one delicate hand, and she felt at peace.
"You have no idea how long I've waited..." Severus said with a slight, and altogether surprising, chuckle. "Hermione, how was I so blind?"
She smiled. "I think we both were, in our own ways; but now..."
"Now... we have each other."
She snuggled in closer. "I think you always will."
One last entry, if you please. It seems silly to be writing this to you, while you sleep so peacefully next to me; I'm not even sure if you'll ever read your partner journal again, now that you can ask me to reveal my thoughts to you. I just add one thing that I wanted to say- to Hyperion, before he and Severus become one and the same.
Hermione glanced over at the man on her mind, still under the Dreamless Sleep that Pomfrey had prescribed until he had all his energy back. She smiled at the thought of him waking up to find her there, still watching over him, when most others were downstairs celebrating. He would probably insist she leave and have fun, but she was right where she wanted to be. It took her a while to write the last few paragraphs, but she managed it in the end.
There was a point in my life that I thought the Wizarding world could bring me nothing but pain and suffering. That the Death Eaters came alongside the Aurors, like how the dragons came alongside the unicorns. But now I know that's not entirely true; you can have one without the other. Happiness without sadness is a wonderful yet terrifying prospect, one that I wish to experience.
You gave me that chance. Even when you were only a Professor showing compassion for your student, regardless of how much money you gave me, you offered the kind of support and care that I so sorely needed. You may say, 'what did I do? Besides a winter cloak and a birthday present?' Rightly so, but it was your presence that really inspired me, the existence of something (someone) truly good and willing to help a little girl like me.
Now, on to the complicated material- my feelings. I'm certain that you have some measure of it, but not nearly enough. You have seen the surface of a lake, now we have to explore the depths. I wasn't ever sure of these feelings myself; it wasn't something that could be looked up in an index of some dusty old textbook, or be taught to me by someone more intelligent than myself. It was something I had to discover for myself, a search that took altogether too long. Think of all the time we had... at any rate, it's out now. I, Hermione Granger, do hereby acknowledge to my deepest confidant and friend, Hyperion, that I love Severus Snape.
(Ignore the inkblot. I was so eager to get that statement out that I upset my inkwell.)
In conclusion, here's to a future shared, a lifetime to live, and a hope reborn.
All my love,