AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is an old story, recently re-polished. If you'd like to see the old version, I'll be archiving it on my old blog very soon with chapters 1-21 available as they were in 2011-2012. A link will be available on my profile page.
Where canon is vague, some of my own personal headcanon has swept in to clarify; if you don't like that sort of thing, this fic is not for you. Additionally, there are a few bits of movie canon that I loved enough to include—just to warn you.
To avoid spoilers, more detailed notes will reside in the epilogue. In the meantime: onward!
He woke to her anxious face, the purplish bruises under her eyes, the dried tear tracks glittering on her cheeks—clean paths that had cut through blood and grime.
He was not dead, and she was the reason.
"Granger," he croaked. Fresh tears glazed her brown eyes.
"Don't be furious," she choked out. She looked brutally unhealthy; she had, after all, been on the run for the better part of the year, eating only what she could scavenge, enduring injury, fleeing death. "Remus and Tonks and Colin and Fred and…and I couldn't just stand by and let you die, too, not if I could save you, just one person!" She struggled to bring herself under control, wiping the tears from her eyes with the hand that wasn't covering his, her chest heaving with great, hiccupping sobs.
"Stop crying," he said, mildly appalled by this display, "and help me sit up."
She obeyed, her arm sliding behind his back and lifting him upward with a strength he wouldn't have guessed she possessed. She didn't quite stop crying, but she did go quiet, at least, the sniffle of her breathing preferable to her sobs. Her hand slid from his to arrange the pillows behind him, and he leaned back against them. A lattice of pain shocked up through his back, his ribs, his neck; he raised a hand to that automatically, the most dangerous of the wounds, but it was not even heavily bandaged. The scars were new, fragile, but his skin held.
"How?" he demanded. "Nagini's bite should have killed me in minutes. You didn't return for hours."
She didn't quite meet his eyes, as though the words were an accusation, as if she had cause for shame. "I would have stayed," she said, pleading, "but I knew—we had to make destroying Vol—the Dark Lord," she amended, clearly frightened by the look on his face, "our first priority. But I bound up the wound, tight as I could, it seemed to slow the bleeding a bit, and I poured half the blood-replenishing potions we had down your throat, and I…I knew it would only buy you a few hours, at most, if we were lucky, but the battle wouldn't go on much longer than that, I thought, we were so close…" She dragged a shaking hand across her eyes and let out a boneless sigh of relief. "And it was enough."
Strange, how quickly twenty years could end—as if it had been someone else's life he'd watched, barely taking an interest.
"Why return at all?" he asked, and she stiffened at the words. "It would have been more convenient to let me expire."
"It wouldn't have," she said, but there was a flat note in her voice, a waver in her gaze. He did not need Legilimency to know she was lying. "There are questions we all still need answers to, and you—the servant he valued most—are most likely to know the answers."
He shifted against his pillows, and the pain reminded him that this was not some very strange dream or peculiar afterlife, but stark, terrible reality.
"Am I to be tried, then?" he asked; he sounded suitably disinterested, but the idea of it disturbed him.
Her eyes narrowed. "No one would dare insult Harry that way. He's demanded a full pardon, and Kingsley gave it, of course."
For a moment, he stared at her and she glared back, as if he'd deeply offended her. Her words took some time to penetrate. "The dead don't demand," he said at last.
She tsked. "Harry's alive, of course."
Of course. Of course. Of course.
"It looked very grim for an hour or so," she added, her irritation shifting toward concern, "but he's perfectly fine, you'll see. He wants a word."
She said it carelessly, as though a living Harry Potter wishing to speak to a living Severus Snape in the aftermath of the Dark Lord's death was an everyday occurrence. As if they hadn't both been slated to die today. A word. He could think of a dozen, and none of them particularly polite.
She seemed to be waiting for something, sitting here beside his sickbed, and he wished for confirmation, if nothing else, so he said, "The Dark Lord is dead, then?"
She nodded once, still not looking at him.
"I suppose I should thank you."
She gave a derisive snort. "Don't," she said; her voice shook. "I'm sure you don't want to. You planned to die, didn't you, when it was all over? You wanted to die. I would!" She let out a shrill laugh. "Your life hasn't been your own for twenty years!"
His lip curled, unbidden, toward a sneer. "Clever girl," he said, and though the words were scornful, a few tears spilled down her cheeks; for a moment, she looked rather confused. He had never complimented her before. "I must say," he growled, making to swing his legs out of bed, "Potter would never have managed it without you."
She opened her mouth to speak, but it snapped shut again almost immediately. She swayed a bit where she sat, and for a second or two, her eyes did not focus.
"When did you last sleep?" he demanded.
She checked her watch. "It's been…two, three days? I've lost count. Before we broke into Gringotts. Before the battle. That was—the battle was yesterday."
Before she could attempt to shush him, he raised his voice and shouted, "Poppy!"
He heard the matron hurrying from down the ward, heralded by the business-like click of her shoes on stone; he had been concealed from sight by a long curtain. She ripped it aside. "Severus—" she began.
"Not now," he barked. "Force Miss Granger to lie down, and give her a potion for Dreamless Sleep, assuming she is otherwise uninjured."
The girl was shaking her head, getting to her feet. "No, no, I'm fine. I'll just go have a nap in Gryffindor Tower. Maybe get Kreacher to bring me a sandwich—"
He knew she would faint, had resigned himself to the fact, and he was just quick enough to get up and get in the way of her drop to the stone floor. He was not strong enough to do anything but hold her up, long enough for Poppy to rush forward and lift Granger onto the bed by magic.
"She wanted to help," Poppy said, unmistakable irritation in her tone, "and we're stretched thin, and she seemed to know all about the anti-venom, so I left her alone. Fool girl." She turned a disgruntled eye on him. "You shouldn't be out of bed, either. I'll make room for her on the ward—"
"No need. I'll return to my quarters." He gazed impassively down at her—hardly more than a glance—and then, without another word, he turned on his heel and moved off down the ward. More than one voice cried out to him, but he ignored the words flung his way. If he was to be forced to live, he would have a bath in his own chambers before facing the rest of the Wizarding population.
Of course, they weren't his chambers anymore; he wasn't certain why he'd expected to find solace there, given that the gargoyle at the entrance was quite dismantled. When he brushed through the door to his own office, he found Minerva McGonagall poised at his desk, her head cradled in her hand, watching the door, as though she'd been waiting for him.
Before she could speak, he held up a hand. "You can make your atrocious apologies later," he snapped. "If I'm forced to smell of grime and my own blood any longer, I'll make certain Granger's misguided attentions were entirely in vain."
She gave one sharp nod and rose from his desk. As she passed him, her fingers touched his shoulder, the lightest brush, and she was gone, the door snapping quietly closed behind her.
His dark eyes turned immediately on the portrait just above the desk, the one of a beaming, silver-haired wizard. "Happy?" he ground out.
"My dear boy, you can't have honestly thought that I didn't want you to survive the war!" the likeness of Albus Dumbledore beamed, his blue eyes lit up with the twinkle that had danced there in life.
"Did you ever, once, in the many years I spent in sullen servitude to you, consider that I didn't want to survive?" he snarled in return, and without pausing to hear the late headmaster's many complaints, he jerked open the door that led through to his rooms and let it slam behind him.