Disclaimer: Not mine.

I Need to Breathe

Chapter One

He Is Not a Pawn

Neville and the Snake


Neville thrust the sword up, penetrating the soft underside of Nagini's head, slicing up through her lower jaw. For a split second, the blade moved easy, a wet whooshing sound as the magical steel found the emptiness of her mouth and he heard gurgling as the wound filled with blood. He shoved harder, higher, breaking through the upper palate of her mouth, and still he thrust, his arm shaking with the effort, sending the knife into her brain and stilling her for all times.

He felt the life falling from her, quickly running through his body like the promise of a summer storm. He tasted a sharp acrid taste of liquid metal and for a fleeting moment her mind joined with his, showing him in dimming pictures the last things she had seen. Pulling the sword out and swinging it in a perfect arc, he sliced off her head.

Neville Longbottom gasped. His head snapped up as Nagini's body came to rest at his feet. Spinning around he began to run, sweat poured off his forehead, causing him to stumble as his vision blurred as it stung his eyes. Wiping the back of his hand over his wet brow, he wiped away the sweat only to replace it with a swipe of crimson blood.

Still he ran, down the sloping grounds to the Whomping Willow, now still and quiet, as if knowing it guarded a tomb. He ducked down and crawled, clawing the ground, kicking against the falling earthen walls, desperate to make it before it was too late, to stop the inevitable, and to intercede where he was needed the most. The taste of metal and memories of Nagini still fresh and burning, urged him, forced him forward.

He saw Snape lying on his back, one arm thrown out as if silently beckoning him near. The other clutched to his waistcoat, fisting the material, a visible vestige of his pain. Neville continued until he was at his side, one hand went to his face, feeling for warmth, the other pressing firmly on his chest, needing to feel a heart beat. Pleading, silently praying, that some life still remained.

Sitting back on his knees he plunged his hand into his pocket and ripped out the moss he had secreted earlier, thinking he may have need for it himself. The moss was damp, red lines ran through the dusty green of the natural colour. Nagini's blood, having run down his arm and found its way into his pocket now told the leaching moss what to do.

Neville paused to think, and then began to run the moss over his glistening robes, sopping up the last of the wet blood before packing the moss in the gaping wound that was Snape's neck. His hands trembled as he patted his pockets, finding the potions Hermione had made them all carry. Sliding one hand behind Snape's neck, he lifted him, letting his head flop back, his mouth hang open as if willingly accepting what was about to be poured down his throat. As the last of the potion pooled in the professor's mouth, Neville saw his swallow reflex working, and sighed as the yellow liquid disappeared. Maybe, just maybe it was enough.

He stood and looked down at Snape, only now becoming aware of the sound of battle coming from the distance and the very ground vibrating beneath his feet. He went down on one knee to peer at Snape's face and to make a decision that he would question the rest of his life.

"Sorry, sir," he muttered. "I have to leave you, they need help. It's not going well … Harry is …, I don't know yet … , but… he still needs to finish this and … I'll come back. I won't leave you here."

He studied Snape's face, and lowered his ear over his mouth, listening for the sound of breath as his right hand lay on his chest. He stood and turned, not looking back as he returned to the sound of falling walls and screams.

Snape's Dream


He closed his eyes as darkness clouded his vision and muffled his hearing. He felt Harry slide back, and knew without seeing that he was gone, taking the only thing he had left to give. He no longer cared where he lay, forgetting in his last moments the lost years of his life. Albus smiled and walked away over a green-blanketed hill towards a dark haired witch that stood alone with a wistful smile playing around her lips. He saw Albus melt away and the witch walk up three short steps to the door at Spinner's End, turn and hold out her hand to him, calling him home, telling him his father was gone, that it was safe, to please come home.

Hands grabbed him roughly, forced his head back and poured a foul tasting substance in his mouth. He fought the intrusion, and looked toward his mother and saw her frown as she turned her back on him and disappeared into a mist rising from the grounds of a high mountain plain.

He heard a voice on the fringe of reason, but rather than listening, his mind waited only a moment before slipping into the darkness again, welcoming the illusion it held and sought to see again.

His eyes fluttered open and then slowly closed again as a reflexive swallow shot searing pains through his throat. Fuck. He breathed with his mouth open, trying to relax the small muscles around his jaw. Fuck, he thought again, and closed his eyes wanting the dream to return, to go home one last time.

Hermione's Realization


"Neville," she flew across the grounds and fell onto his chest, wrapping her arms around his neck and giving him a fierce hug. "When I couldn't find you I thought they had you. I had to come back to look."

He let himself take a moment of selfish rest before stepping back and pulling down her arms. "Where are they?"

"It's awful Neville, they breeched the castle. The giants are bringing down the walls and even the elves are fighting."

"Let's go." He clenched his jaw and began his long legged strides up to the castle as Hermione hurried by his side, nearly running to keep up.

"They got Remus, I saw him on my way down the main stairs."

"Where's Tonks?" He asked between his teeth, swallowing hard, not wanting to be part of this.

"I don't know. I haven't seen her, but there are a bunch of students trying to hold the Great Hall, and…Neville, it is awful, I didn't think it would be like this."

They both began running at the same time, both knowing there was an urgency that carried in the air and spun around them in angry waves of magic. Neville could feel the ground surge under his feet, and knew he was running on spilled blood that still held the memory of life. Warm and salty.

He guided Hermione to the stone path, watching her from the corner of his eye, not thinking she would know what the spent energy meant, hoping that a Muggle born would not know. He wondered if she had ever walked in a wizard cemetery, still fresh with an internment. At the main door, he smelled the smoke and with a goodbye look at Hermione, he waded into the foray.

She waited a split second, then looked back over her shoulder, feeling a pull, an almost voice, a whisper of smoke that pulled at her. She raised an eyebrow in question, then ignored the feeling, and setting her mouth in a thin line, turned back and followed the sounds of battle.

Too soon, and not soon enough, it was over. She looked at the tables filled with death and cried not for them, but for her failure to stop it, for not blocking the curse, or shielding a friend. There were so many, so many she had been unable to defend and looking around the room, she knew they all felt the same. If she'd had more time, if the battle had lasted longer, if she had fought harder, if she had been at the top of the stairs, not still running down the hallway, if….

"Hermione," Harry whispered, lifting up the hem of his cloak then dropping it down. "Are you Okay?"

"Yeah." She licked her lips and nodded to the tables. "I wish I could do something, I feel…"

"I know." He pulled her back into the shadows and lowered his cape. "I can't stop thinking about Snape. The Aurors won't round up the dead Death Eaters until all of ours are found."

"They'll want to talk to you, Harry. You need to do this. You need to let them know what you saw and make sure the Ministry doesn't try to change what happened."

He nodded and looked at the Weasleys. "You and Ronald need to be with me."

"Let him be, Harry." Hermione wiped her own eyes. "Let him be with his family right now. They need him, and he needs them. My gods, I can only imagine what Molly is feeling."

Harry nodded and stepped away from the wall. "I'll catch up with you later. Just don't leave before I get back."

She watched him leave and wrapped her arms around her waist, stepping back into the shadows to watch. The air seemed too still, too cold, too heavy. Finding it difficult to breathe she let her eyes wander around the room, looking for something she needed to find. Not knowing what it was until her eyes stopped at the Malfoy family.

She felt her tears start as she ran from the hall. She wanted to belong somewhere, to feel she belonged. She wanted to stand at one of the tables and be wrapped in the arms of those that still lived and made to feel that she was part of their tiny world. She wanted to grieve with them and not be afraid she was intruding. She wanted to fall apart and know that someone would put her together again. She had seen it in Draco's face, and the way his mother's hand covered his.

She stumbled down the front steps, landed on her knees, her head hanging down as she cried and gasped for air.

"You hurt, Miss?"

She looked up at the strange Auror and shook her head, feeling him grab her arm to help her stand.

"Sorry about this," he muttered, before yanking up her sleeve. "We have orders not to take any chances. We know who you are, but… well … we're not taking chances this time."

Hermione nodded, unable to look away from the growing pile of bodies behind him. "Where are you taking them?"

"Simple disposal." He moved, putting his body between her and the death eaters, shielding her eyes from the gore. "You should be inside. We can't be sure it's safe yet."

"I know," she looked up at him, tears still pooling in her eyes. "Simple disposal? What does that mean?"

"We will send them to the Ministry for identification, and then cremation. Even if we notify the families most won't be claimed."


"Leave your sleeve up." He shrugged. "It will help us and you won't be stopped again if we can see it."

She watched him walk away, and then began to formulate a plan, finding it easier to forget what was inside and slide into a different role. She wondered if they had found them all, she wondered how many would lie on the Ministry's tables and wondered which side would have truly won if the winning was in the dying. She thought of Ronald and how he counted pieces at the chess table, putting pawns to the side, telling her again and again they did not matter in the count. Only the pieces were important, and a pawn was not a piece.

A pawn, she looked down the sloping grounds toward the Whomping Willow, a pawn does not count.

She pulled her wand and held it loosely in her hand as she had learned to do, as he had taught her in lessons. He had taught her to stand ready, not to pull her wand unless she planned to use it, always ready to duel if she were ever to be on a battlefield. He was not a pawn, she thought as she began to run. Running to hide his body, to have it taken to the great hall instead of burnt at the Ministry, to have it laid on one of the honoured tables, and to have people grieve for him.