AUTHOR'S NOTE: I don't believe in a stupid or clueless or furious Ron, so he won't be making much of an appearance in this fic—unless he has due cause for rage, of course. And I promise you won't have to put up with any romantic interaction between the two of them past the prologue, but I like keeping things as intact as possible from canon. These are J.K. Rowling's characters, not mine, and I'm just playing with them—keeping them as close to their original form as possible in the meantime, of course. We're going to pretend, for the sake of shits and giggles, that the epilogue never happened, and that dear Severus didn't meet his untimely end in the Shrieking Shack. Other than that, canon events remain intact. Happy reading!
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 hoarsely, and fresh tears glazed her golden-brown eyes.
"Don't be furious," she choked past the first sob that shook her thin frame. 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 holding his, her chest heaving with great, hiccupping sobs.
"Stop crying," he grimaced, "and help me sit up."
She obeyed instantly, her arm sliding behind his back and lifting him upward with a strength he wouldn't have guessed she could possess; her crying became silent as she helped his muscles bring him upright. Her hand slid from his to arrange the pillows behind him, and he leaned back against them, cringing at the pain that traced delicate patterns across his neck, his ribs, his back. He turned to her as she slid back into her chair, letting him support himself. He was surprised he was strong enough to do so.
"How?" he demanded roughly. "Nagini's bite should have killed me in mere minutes, if not seconds. You didn't return for hours."
She stared at him with eyes full of fear. "I would have stayed," she said, her voice 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. I cast a spell to slow the bleeding straight off…I knew it would only buy you a few hours, but the battle wouldn't go on much longer than that, I thought, we were so close…"
"The venom?" he questioned. "I'm certain the Dark Lord instructed Nagini to assure my death…"
She shook her head. "It took some intensive spells…but Harry was bitten by Nagini, too, at Christmas, and it was the same in theory, really, the venom wasn't the worst of the problems, the damned snake nearly ripped apart the structure of your throat, that was the difficult bit—"
"Why, then, Granger?" he interrupted her again. "Why return to save me, when I have committed so many heinous crimes that, the instant the war ended, the Order would only imprison me?"
"You can't really think that," she admonished. "The memories you gave Harry—"
"He is alive?" he interrupted, staring at her with a black gaze, and then he hissed furiously. "Don't tell me the brat shouted them to the world—"
"No!" she cried. "He—he barely shared them with us—there are bits I'm sure he's still keeping to himself—but he wanted you exonerated, he wanted you recognized, you were cleared the instant Vol—the Dark Lord—was destroyed—it was you, after all! You were helping us all this time, and we didn't even know it!"
"Exactly," he snapped, shifting a bit. "You didn't know. So why return, still thinking me guilty of the crimes I have committed?"
Her brown eyes didn't blink; he sensed her struggle to keep the tears from falling. "At the back of my mind, I always trusted you," she whispered. "You were horrid to Harry but—you always stood in the way when his life was threatened—I couldn't believe, even after Dumbledore, that you were really as horrible as you seemed—you had sacrificed so much for us, for this—"
"Foolish," he interrupted. "You had no proof."
Her eyebrows knitted. "Yes, I suppose," she murmured in assent, and stared down at her lap rather than at him.
After a moment of silence, he murmured, "So the Dark Lord is well and truly dead."
She nodded once, still not looking at him.
"I suppose I should thank you."
She shook her head, wiping her eyes on her sleeve. "Don't," she said. "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 over twenty years!"
Unbidden, his lip curled in a smirk. "Clever girl." A few of the tears escaped; they wound down her cheeks, leaving more paths, more glittering trails through the grime; for a moment, she looked rather confused. He had, after all, never complimented her before. "I must say," he growled, making to swing his legs out of the bed, "Potter would never have managed it without you."
She opened her mouth to speak, but it snapped shut again almost immediately. She looked unsteady, anxious, and swayed a bit where she sat.
Recognizing the symptoms, he asked sharply, "When did you last sleep?"
She checked the watch on her wrist and flinched. "It's been…four, five days? I've lost count. Before we broke into Gringotts. Before the battle. That was…the battle was three days ago."
He swore. "Foolish!" His voice rose with his next words. "Poppy!"
The woman scuttled from her office, which was just next to his bed; he had been concealed from sight from the rest of the ward by a long curtain. "Severus—" she began, in a choked voice.
"Not now," he barked. "Force Miss Granger to lie down, and give her something to restore her health and her magic. She has drained herself."
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 in a flash was upright; she fell bonelessly into his arms. He was not strong enough to do anything but keep her from falling to the floor, long enough for Poppy to rush forward and lift Granger onto the bed by magic. "You weren't watching her?" he growled, turning to the matron.
"She wouldn't let anyone else near," the woman said, frowning at the girl. "Potter and Weasley tried to get her to come away, to sleep, but she wouldn't have it—she's been working spells and brewing potions for three straight days and she nearly killed Weasley when he tried to physically drag her away…she's been out of her mind. But then, we all have."
For a moment, Severus Snape stared down into the worn face of Hermione Granger. "The stupid chit," he murmured. "She ought to have left me to die."
Without another word, he turned on his heel and moved off, slowly, down the ward, not responding when voices cried out to him, ignoring the words that were 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. As it was, 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.
Hermione came to with a few familiar faces hovering over her, anxiety outlined in each of them. The closest, red hair and freckles, breathed a distinct sigh of relief as she blinked in befuddlement and tried to sit up. He also leaned forward to help her do so, his arm sliding behind her back with welcome support. "How're you feeling?" Ron's low voice asked her, worry outlining every syllable of his tone.
She put a hand to her head and drew a deep breath. "I've been better," she admitted. "I feel…weak." It wasn't in the physical sense, necessarily, though she did feel bone-weary on that account. It was more that some small thread of something was gone from within her, or had diminished to a point so small that she couldn't truly feel its existence.
"Your magic hasn't been fully restored yet," Harry told her, scooting a bit closer to her bed as well.
"What he means is, you might have stretched your limits a bit, love," Ron added, tucking a strand of her hair behind her ear. She managed to smile at him, momentarily happy at the new endearment, pleased by the embarrassed grin that he gave her back.
"But thanks," Harry said, reaching out to squeeze her hand.
She gave him a startled look. "For what?"
He snorted. "You think, after seeing all those memories, that I don't want to have a good long chat with Snape? I'm bloody glad he's still alive. We have a few things to talk about, don't you reckon?"
"Harry, I don't think he's necessarily going to want to—"
"Let him have his dreams," Ginny's quiet voice interrupted as she fell down into the seat on the other side of Hermione's bed. "He'll be disabused of the idea after Snape has thrown him bodily from his rooms a few more times."
Hermione's startled eyes snapped back to Harry's as Ron chuckled quietly. "Did he?" she asked, slightly amused.
"No," Harry grumped, shooting Ginny an annoyed look, which she returned with an innocent smile. "He just wouldn't let me in at all. Though, seeing as he's only been back among the living for about nine hours, I guess I wasn't entirely surprised. He isn't too chuffed about it."
"Of course he isn't," Hermione muttered, twisting her fingers in the bed sheets. "He wanted to die. I'm sure he's furious with me."
"Don't worry," Ron said bracingly, "it isn't as if you'll ever have to see him again—"
She raised her eyebrows. "I can't see how I'm going to manage that, seeing as he'll probably go back to being a professor."
"How does that have anything to do with it?"
"Oh, goodness, Ron, isn't it obvious?" Ginny interrupted, leaning forward with her elbows on the bed. "You didn't really think she wouldn't come back to sit her N.E.W.T.s?"
Ron stared blankly at his sister. "You've got to be kidding."
Ginny, however, merely turned to smile at Hermione. "It'll be grand. We'll get to be year-mates and everything."
"You'll forgive me if I don't join you in the endeavour," Harry broke in dryly. "Kingsley's already asked me to help out rebuilding the Ministry, and I don't think he'd be too chuffed if I refused just to redo my final year."
"But we've been asked along, too!" Ron said, his blue eyes turning on Hermione again. "We're bloody heroes of war, you know, they don't care about our grades anymore!"
Hermione shrugged. "I know that. I'd just like to sit my N.E.W.T.s. That's all. I'd already decided that, if I survived, I would go back for my seventh year."
Ron heaved a sigh. "I should've known."
At that moment, they were interrupted by a plaintive mew, and Hermione turned to see her beloved familiar bounding toward her across the ward. "Crookshanks!" she cried, and the cat leapt up onto the bed, purring, to greet her.
"Oh, right," Ron said, having leaned back a bit from the enthusiastic cat. "I'd forgotten. He wouldn't be left behind when we visited the Burrow today, practically scratched me to pieces before we realized he wanted to come along."
Hermione, beaming, gathered the cat up in her arms. He continued to purr. "Thanks," she told Ron. "I'm sorry about the scratches."
He shrugged. "Eh. It's alright. I suppose he just missed you."
The cat settled itself on her lap, tail twitching in a jaunty sort of way.
"Anyway," Harry broke in, as Hermione gazed adoringly at her cat, "we weren't supposed to keep you awake for too long. Madam Pomfrey reckons you need a few days of rest before you've got your strength back."
"A few more days?" she demanded shrilly. "I can't stay here for a few more days!"
Harry got to his feet, and reached down to squeeze her shoulder. "Relax," he told her. "You'll have all summer to find your parents. A few more days won't hurt. You need to recover."
She sighed and settled back against the pillows. "I suppose you're right."
"Of course he is. You can't go running after your parents without your magic!" Ginny leaned forward to hug her. "Maybe I'll come with you. Australia's lovely, I've heard, though I suppose they're in the dead of winter right now. Try to rest, Hermione."
Harry and Ginny left the hospital wing together, his arm sliding up to wrap around her shoulders. Hermione watched them go, smiling slightly at the sight, and then, somewhat nervously, her gaze returned to Ron. He got out of his seat and sat on the edge of her bed instead, closer to her, and she felt soothed by the proximity.
"I reckon right now isn't the best time to really talk," he said, in half of a mutter, his eyes focused on the point where his hand had intertwined with hers again. "You must be exhausted."
"I could do with the sleep," she admitted, as a yawn nearly overtook her. "Ron, I'm sorry I shouted, before—"
He squeezed her hand. "It's fine," he said. "I can't blame you. Our nerves were all a bit…shot…and you were just trying to stop one more needless death. Mind you, I'm not going to get chummy with the bloke, no matter what Harry does, but it's good for one less person to have died."
She squeezed his hand back. "I'm sorry about Fred, Ron," she whispered.
It seemed that he was unable to reply; he just drew her into his arms and, for a long moment, they held one another, as if she could share his grief in some minute way.
"I'll come with you to Australia, if you'll have me," his voice said, abruptly, hoarse in her ear. "It'd be a nice change of scenery from camping." She felt a slight shudder go through him, and she let out an unwilling giggle. "I know Ginny says she'll come, but she'll probably want to stay with Harry, and he's going to be stuck here, where they can get hold of him easily, for a bit."
"I'd really like you to come with me, Ron," she answered honestly.
He drew back from her a bit, his arms still looped around her waist, and grinned at her. She was happy that, despite the war, despite everything, a trace of boyishness still showed through Ron's smile. "Good," he said happily. "We'll get everything sorted when you've gotten some rest and be off as soon as you want."
She smiled at him. "Thanks, Ron."
He hesitated for a split second, and then added, softly, "And…" His fingertips lifting her chin, and he leaned in to kiss her gently. It was nothing like the fiery, enthusiastic kiss during the battle, but it was, nonetheless, filled with just as much caring. When he drew back, she felt short on breath, and realized that, as his fingertips were caressing her cheek, hers were touching his face in turn. "It wasn't just some spur-of-the-moment, we-might-be-about-to-die thing," he told her seriously. "I know I've been a prat and all, in the past, but…I love you, Hermione. And maybe it took a bloody war for me to realize it, but I know it now. So. If you'll have me."
Her eyes were filling with tears as she stared into his face. "Of course," she whispered. "Of course, Ron, of course. I love you, too. I think that's been rather obvious."
He grinned sheepishly. "It might have been. Once or twice."
It was with great contentment that she dozed off after Ron had left, and only for a moment did any thoughts of Severus Snape pervade her mind. She shook off the image of his broken body on the floor of the Shrieking Shack, however, and fell toward a dreamless sleep.