Once again I've completely divided my readership, and I absolutely love it. About half of you think Hermione should be roasted over a spit for leaving, and the other half think she was completely justified in doing so.
"This is just… completely unlike her," Harry said, pulling his hands through his already-messy hair.
"Maybe she just needed to, I dunno, cool off?" Ron suggested.
Harry gave his friend a sideways glance. It had been two days and no one had seen or heard from Hermione. To the best of their knowledge, she hadn't contacted any of their friends or her family. She hadn't been seen in Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade, Hogwarts, St. Mungo's, or the Ministry. According to Severus, she was likely no longer in Britain. Still, it paid to check.
"I'm worried about her," Harry said grimly.
"She'll be fine," Ron said.
"Will she?" Harry stood up and paced around before the hearth. He and Severus had been in touch regularly since Hermione's disappearance. Harry had taken over Hermione's lessons and many of Severus's administrative and legal guardianship duties while he worked himself to exhaustion trying to find her.
Hermione had left, but Severus was unwilling to just let her walk away. Not without a fight. For that, he had Harry's full and unwavering support, as he always did.
"Yes," Ron said resolutely. "She will." He stood up and walked over to where Harry stood looking out the window as if he expected Hermione to walk up the drive any moment. "Look, mate, I don't like that she's run off any more than you do, and I agree that this isn't like her. But… Hermione can take care of herself. She won't do anything dangerous, and she wasn't taken by anyone, she left on her own. It's Mione—she doesn't do anything without first considering the consequences, she doesn't take unnecessary risks. Hell, she kept us both alive during that last year. Trust her."
Harry gave his friend a wan smile. "I know she can take care of herself, it's just not like her to disappear on me."
"She didn't disappear on you, mate."
Harry nodded. "I know."
"What exactly happened between them that made her leave?"
Harry hesitated. Ron knew about him and Hermione, but it wasn't a subject that they liked to talk about, for obvious reasons. It was a mark of the strength of their bond that all three had come out of this twisted triangle with their trust and friendship intact.
He had told Ginny, but kept it brief. She had never held it against him (they were, after all, broken up at the time) but like her brother, it was best just to not think or talk about the subject.
"The past," Harry said, hoping that Ron would understand and he wouldn't have to spell it out.
For once in his life, Ronald Weasley understood a subtle hint. He nodded and looked away.
Neither of them spoke for a long time, looking out the window as if it were a crystal ball that would show them the way.
"So Snape found out about it, and they had a row, and now she's gone?"
Harry nodded. "Pretty much."
It was Ron's turn to nod now. With a look of determination that rarely crossed his face, he turned and said, "I have to go."
Harry nodded, assuming he was going to the shop. "Let me know if you—"
"Hear anything. I know, mate." He clapped his friend on the back and stepped into the floo.
One thought, and only one thought, had coursed through Severus's mind for the past two days.
How could I have fucked this up so badly?
The voice, the one he had successfully silenced for so many months, was always ready with some sort of quick reply. He knew that he ought not to let it bait him, but… it was so difficult to ignore the blasted thing. Not when it was almost always right.
He was out of ideas. He had checked everywhere he could without having to stay away from Grimmauld for any significant period of time. He sat on the settee facing the fire, as if he expected Hermione to emerge from it as if nothing had happened. He knew his hopes were futile. They had been his entire life.
First Lily. Then his mother. Now Hermione. Would he never keep the women he loved and who loved him? Was he destined to turn everything he touched to ash?
His head jerked up as he saw the fireplace glow to life in a brilliant green. Dare he hope that it would be Hermione, come back to forgive him, or at least yell at him and curse him? He would much rather be at the receiving end of a jinx from her than his present state.
The figure stepped out of the hearth. Of course he was never that lucky. It was Ronald fucking Weasley. Of course. It was only a matter of time.
"Come to gloat, have you?" Severus sneered at him. "Or are you here to hex my bollocks off for hurting your friend?"
"Hardly," Weasley said, coming to sit in an armchair to the right of the settee on which Severus sat. "You and I need to talk."
"Of the many important things that demand my time, Weasley, talking to you is not one."
"It seems you have time for it, Snape, because this is absolutely necessary."
Severus gave a cruel, humourless laugh. "I see. It is, of course, necessary to come to tell me that I have royally hurt your friend, to the point that she has actually left, and that you are now here to defend her honour."
"You know, Snape, for someone who is so bloody intelligent you can really be a right idiot sometimes."
"Don't think I haven't realised that, Weasley. When it happens, I often wish I had your mind. Failure is far, far easier to bear if there is no aptitude or expectation of success."
"I won't pretend to be an intelligent man, but I know daftness when I see it, and right now it's staring me right in the face, hooked nose and all."
"Taking digs at my appearance, Weasley? I'm wounded."
"You are wounded, Snape. So is Hermione. That's why I'm here."
"Where is she?" Severus said, his sarcasm and biting words forgotten. "You've seen her?"
"Of course I haven't," Weasley said, "That's why I came to talk to you."
"Then how do you know she's hurt?"
"She ran away, didn't she?"
The air was thick with tension as both men, one bright as the other dark, stared at each other. Finally, Severus spoke. "Yes, she did."
Weasley relaxed back into his chair. He addressed the ceiling as he spoke.
"How much do you know about our activities in the last year of the war?"
Severus blinked in surprise. He knew more than he had ever let on, but to walk through everything he knew at the time and had learned since… bloody hell that was going to be a long conversation.
Weasley seemed to realize this and waved him off. "Sorry, that's kinda vague, isn't it? You know that we spent the last year of the war, Harry, Hermione, and I, meandering through Britain in search of both Voldemort's Horcruxes and ways to destroy them." Severus nodded. "You are probably also aware that we had no bloody plan of what to do." Severus nodded again.
Weasley took a deep breath and continued. "What is not commonly known is that about three months into our search and about a month into our exile in the tent, I… I walked out on them. I abandoned them in the middle of their search." He swallowed. "I left them for dead."
Severus had known this, though he had only learned through Hermione's story and Harry's memories. It was not in any of the accounts of the war or the self-serving biographies of the Golden Trio. He relaxed his gaze just a little bit but kept his arms tightly folded.
"It was… it was a very difficult situation. We were alone, marked for death, with no means of communicating with the outside world, and we had this impossible mission on our hands that we had no tools to carry out. We were starving and cold and carrying around that locket to keep us safe. One night, I just… snapped. And I cut and run.
"Hermione was devastated by what I did. I marched to the door of the tent and asked her if she was coming with me. I gave her a split second to make a monumental decision of whether or not she would abandon the mission, abandon Harry, abandon everything and leave the fate of the Wizarding world to change. I knew she wouldn't, because it's Hermione and she's a woman of commitment, and I said some harsh things to her and left. Well, I didn't just say harsh things. I accused them of having an affair, of her loving him over me, of her choosing him over me. It wasn't true then, and it's not true now.
"I did not find them again until weeks later, the night you left the sword for us to find. Maybe you even saw me. I don't know."
Severus had seen Weasley approach that night. He had been about to jump in and save Potter's wretched neck from drowning when he saw Weasley emerge from the woods and head for the pond. It had been the only time Severus was ever glad to see Ronald Weasley, for it had allowed him to remain unseen and given him cover to Disapparate. Had Weasley not appeared, the night, and the war, might have ended very differently.
"Anyway, Hermione and I, well, we never got past that. We did reconcile, and she did forgive me, and we did finally begin a proper relationship after the war ended. Emotions were high and it was nice to have just a bit of bloody normalcy, know what I mean? But she never did fully trust me. I had left her hanging, alone, when she probably needed me the most. Hell, I know that's when she needed me the most. I cut and run when things got hard. I left her, plain and simple, even as she followed me and cried out my name to try to get me to stay.
"Beyond the pain of that, though, was the pain of me questioning her love and fidelity and commitment when I had no basis for it. I was consumed with my own fears and insecurities, and I took them out on her. I think the pain of me losing faith in her was even worse than the pain of me leaving her, and I'm certain it is that pain that finally separated us for good.
"I regret it every day of my life, because in that one moment, I lost her forever."
Severus understood the pain of that particular kind of regret, and knew that Weasley probably knew that he knew.
"Snape, don't make the same mistake I did. She didn't betray your trust. She was not unfaithful. She was in an impossible situation, as were we all, and in a moment of weakness or fear or whatever it was, she clung to the only other person in the world, as far as she was concerned. She did not deserve to be punished for it then, and she certainly doesn't deserve to be punished for it now, seven years later, by someone who was not even in her life at the time."
Severus hated, hated, that Ronald Weasley was right about something for once in his life.
He knows her better than you ever will, the voice said cruelly. 'Knows' her in every sense of the word.
"Why are you telling me all of this, Weasley?" Yes, Weasley was a Gryffindor and they had a terrible habit of doing noble things and imparting important information without so much of a thought as to recompense, but being the Slytherin that he was, Severus refused to believe that this boy, the boy who loved the woman Severus loved, would tell him anything out of the kindness of his heart.
"Because," Weasley said, "Hermione loves you. Not me, you. I told you, I have to live with that. I have to live with my failures with her for the rest of my life. But more than I want her to be with me, I want her to be happy. You, for some reason, made her very happy for a very long time. Maybe you can make her happy again, maybe you can't. I don't know; I have no idea what you said to her."
"Nothing that should ever be said to her," Severus muttered.
"But even if you can't make her happy, you are the only person who can find her."
Severus gave a derisive snort.
"I would if I could, Weasley."
"You can and you will."
Weasley approached him and fumbled in his pocket, handing him an object. Severus looked and saw that it was a small silver cylinder with a small button on one side.
"What the devil is this?"
"A Deluminator," Weasley replied, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
"What the hell is a Deluminator?"
Weasley took the object from Severus's hand and clicked the button. Instantly, the light from all lamps floated into the object and snapped it shut, drowning the room in darkness. With another click, the light floated out again toward the lamps like little dancing suns.
"Lovely trick," Severus mocked, "But would you mind sharing how the fuck this is supposed to help me find Hermione?"
"I can't really explain it," Weasley said. "And I'm not sure I should. Dumbledore left it to me in his will. Said that he hoped that when things seemed most dark, it would show me the light. Well, as I said, I walked out on them. On her. I regretted it immediately but couldn't find my way back to them. Hermione's wards were too good and Harry insisted on a very erratic schedule of shuffling them all over Britain. The goal was to never be found by anybody, and it worked, as most things do when Hermione is in charge.
"This," Weasley said, handing it back to Severus, "helped me find the light when things were most dark."
"So you're going to give me the bloody thing and not tell me how to properly use it?"
He fucking nodded.
"Well I'd like to say that you've been a great help, Weasley, but…"
"I don't think it works if you know what to expect!" Weasley protested. "Dumbledore didn't tell me what it was for, or how to use it, and probably for a reason. He could have put in the will what it was and how it was used, but it was Dumbledore—why be direct if you can speak in a riddle? I nearly threw the bloody thing out, but I figured he knew what he was doing and kept it. Good thing I did."
"But Weasley, if I don't know how to use it, how can I hope to find her?"
Weasley hesitated. "It doesn't work when you want to find her. It only works when she wants you to find her."
"But what if…" Severus stopped himself. He would not betray weakness or vulnerability to Weasley. This was bad enough.
"I know," Weasley said, filling in the blank for himself, an impressive achievement for him on its own. "Hopefully, you won't have to find that out. But you may have to wait awhile."
Severus was very good at waiting for things to happen, especially good things. He'd waited years, decades, for good things to happen. He could do this.
"If you are wrong, Weasley…"
"I know, they will never find my body. But trust me, I think this'll work. Just keep it close to you at all times—when it comes, if it comes, you'll have to act quick. But you'll know what to do when it does. Trust me, if I could figure it out, you can."
He walked toward the fireplace and grabbed some floo powder off the clay pot on the mantle.
"Weasley," Severus called to him as he stepped inside. Weasley met his eye.
Weasley nodded at him. "You bring our girl home," he said as he dropped the powder and disappeared.
Severus stared at the object in his hand. He clicked it open and shut over and over. The light floated in and out of it, like a flash bulb going on and off in rapid succession.
I must be stupider than him to believe that this ruddy thing might hold the key to finding her, he thought to himself.
You are, the voice mocked.
Harry flooed in an hour or so later to find his former professor sitting on the settee, staring at something in his hands. Cautiously, he approached and recognised the object between his fingers. Severus looked up at him, a silent question in his eyes, and Harry gave him the tiniest of nods. Yes, it would work, but only if she wanted it to work.
For now, Severus decided, that would have to be enough.
He stood and followed Harry up the stairs toward the attic. Regardless of the upheaval in his personal life, he had a responsibility to them, first and foremost. Tucking the Deluminator in his pocket, he compartmentalised the situation, put Severus away, and became Mr. Snape, teacher and legal guardian of the children upstairs.
He hoped to God that Hermione wanted her to find him, because he was not in a position to search for her beyond what he'd already done. Much as he wanted to.
Leopold hadn't expected to hear anything on the subject, given his alias. But one day, in the sixth floor boys' loo, he heard it.
First years were technically allowed in here, but it was widely understood to be the haven of seventh year Slytherins and always had been. Those from lower years who ventured in there whilst a discussion was going on learned the hard way that they were very much not allowed in there.
He would have run to the one on the eighth floor, but sometimes you had to go when you had to go.
Safely ensconced in the furthest cubicle from the door, the last sounds of the flush had died away when he heard footsteps and deep voices.
Bugger, Leopold thought. He lifted his legs and crouched on top of the toilet. He hoped that they wouldn't check the cubicles before speaking. Fortunately for him, they didn't.
"Tightest pussy I've ever had," one of them was saying as he entered. "Worth every fucking knut."
"Aren't you afraid of catching something, though?" asked another, squeakier, voice dripping in curiosity and, was it… admiration? Envy?
"Nah," said the first voice. "They have these spells, right, that keep them clean no matter what ruddy bloke fucks 'em."
"So, what did you do? Fuck her?"
"Better than just that," the first voice said. "Slapped her around a bit too, just to remind her of what she was and what she did to the proud name of our House."
"And she… let you?"
"Of course she fucking let me—I bought her and paid for her. You can do any fucking thing you want to a woman you've paid for," said the first voice knowingly, as if he were an expert who had done this his whole life. "Especially a Death Eater whore."
Leopold's head shot up from where he hadn't noticed he was crouching. Death Eater whore?
He could smell cigarette smoke in the air now. He willed himself not to start coughing.
"How d'you know you have a real one? I mean you have to pay a premium for them, right? That's what Harper said."
"Madam Lyudmila promised me a real one, said I could do anything I wanted to her, and she'd beg for more."
Leopold could almost see the smirk through the cubicle walls. "Of course she did."
The second voice let out a groan, or was it a moan? Leopold really didn't want to know. But he did want to know the girl's identity. Maybe it was someone he knew. Maybe it was… no couldn't be.
"So, which one did you have?" asked the second voice eagerly.
A puff of smoke. "Rosier."
Leopold felt a sharp pang in the pit of his stomach. Fighting to keep a cry from escaping his mouth, he balled his tiny hand into a fist and bit down on it, squeezing his eyes shut. Not Brigita. Not Brigita. How could she let them do… that to her? The Brigita he knew was smart and strong and tough and protected him and Ermengarde fiercely.
He had to find out the truth. Snape had said that she was alive and relatively safe somewhere. Was this his definition of safe?
He couldn't trust Snape to tell him the truth. Knew better than that now.
"Can't wait 'til the Easter hols," said the first voice. "Can't finagle a trip to Knockturn Alley 'til then."
"How much do they cost?" asked the second voice.
The response was dripping with disdain. "More than you can afford."
Knockturn Alley. It sounded familiar. Near Diagon Alley, wasn't it? In London? How far were they from London? Leopold had already signed up to stay at Hogwarts for Easter. Even if he was going back, there was no bloody way he could walk out of Grimmauld Place without being noticed, least of all by him.
And why hadn't she said anything about it? If Snape knew, Miss Granger knew too. Those two were joined at the hip. He didn't like thinking about the literal version of that, but now that he was twelve, the idea of a man and a woman joining at the hip was a thought that was beginning to invade his mind more and more each day. It wasn't unpleasant, but it was inconvenient. Had Snape told her not to say anything? Probably. But since when did she obey him? She treated his rules as guidelines more often than not. He'd heard them row. And he'd heard them 'make up' once, late at night over the Christmas hols, when they had stupidly forgotten to throw up a silencing charm. Bloody traumatising, that.
He lost track of what the older boys were saying, his mind racing. He heard them leave, and waited a few moments before venturing out of the cubicle. Inching along the wall, he began to formulate a plan in his mind.
He had to get to London.
To Knockturn Alley.
To a brothel in Knockturn Alley.
Without any adults.
And get his sister out of there.
Their daring, nerve, and chivalry set Gryffindors apart.
Really, a simple plan. For a Gryffindor, anyway.
Luna listened intently as Poppy gave her monthly assessment of the children's progress. They were stronger, healthier, and more interactive than they had been the month before. But there was still a long road ahead.
She glanced sideways at Severus, who sat steel-faced as the mediwitch talked. She knew that he was doing a very good job of making it appear that he was listening and taking it all in, but he wasn't fooling her. When he was listening, he would interrupt to ask questions for clarification or make snide remarks. He would pierce the gaze of the person speaking. He would never just sit there, arms crossed, not speaking or nodding or anything.
Luna had been telling the truth when she'd said that if someone just took the time to see Severus, really see him, he was easy to read as a book.
Poppy was talking more to her than to Severus, so it was clear that she too knew how to read this man.
Severus indeed was off in his own world at the moment. Three days, nearly, and Weasley's fucking toy hadn't brought any word of Hermione. His carefully constructed control was snapping apart.
He missed her. And Luna knew it.
The children were only told that Hermione was "away" and that she would be back eventually, but beyond that they knew nothing. Severus, Luna, and Harry found that they had to provide constant reassurances to the children. They had grown attached to Hermione, and they had been raised to know that people who left rarely came back.
Try as he might, Severus couldn't be angry with her for leaving the children as abruptly as she had left him. He thought he should be—the witch had backed out on her commitment to them, something she swore she would never do. But, uncharacteristically, he found himself giving her the benefit of the doubt. Angry as she might be with him, she wouldn't abandon these children forever. She would clear her head and come back.
If that was what she was doing, after all. This long without word was very unlike her. Not even an owl to let any of them know she was alive. Harry was becoming more and more on edge, reminiscent to Luna of her fourth year, when Voldemort was invading his dreams every night. He was that worried about her.
Suppose she couldn't send word? Suppose she had somehow become hurt? Splinched herself whilst Apparating in a distressed state? Severus would have no way of knowing because he didn't fucking know where she was.
When he found her, he would alternate between kissing her senseless and slapping her silly.
As he sat there, seething behind his dispassionate mask, Poppy finished her assessment. Luna thanked her and led her to the floo. If Severus noticed they were leaving, he gave no sign.
"Poor man," Poppy said as they reached the ground floor. Luna had debriefed her on arrival.
Luna nodded. "He's hurting badly."
Poppy clicked her tongue in sympathy. "So unlike Hermione to do this."
"I think it'll be good for them, in the end," Luna said dreamily. "They don't know it now, of course. But maybe it needed to happen."
Poppy shrugged. "I'm sure it did, dear." She was used to Luna Lovegood's pronouncements over the years and had learned that it was usually better just to play along.
After Poppy left, Luna took delicate steps back into the kitchen where Severus was still sitting, still staring at the same spot. She tentatively took a seat to his left. He made no acknowledgement that she had joined him.
For a long time they just sat there, side by side, neither speaking nor looking at one another.
Severus looked tired. Hermione's sudden departure had worried several of the children. Between Luna and Severus, they were mostly able to calm them down, but the fact that Hermione had always been one of the ones to do so made things more difficult.
Severus never did answer them when they asked when Miss Granger was coming back. Nor did he snap at them, as he might have back in his teaching days. He would just embrace them.
And they embraced him back.
And for now, that was enough.
Thinking of that, despite her own sleep deprivation, Luna stood up, pushed in her chair, and came to stand behind Severus, who still made no acknowledgement of her. She leant forward and gently wrapped her arms over his shoulders and across his chest, giving him a small hug.
Luna knew from her months in the cellar at Malfoy Manor the therapeutic value of a simple touch. She remembered how she and Dean Thomas would sometimes sit for days, holding hands with one another, keeping each other sane in the darkness, not a word passing between them. She knew Severus well enough now to know that he needed physical contact, that it kept him sane, and that the source of his comfort was missing.
She also knew what was really bothering him.
"She's alright, wherever she is," Luna whispered. "And she'll be back. Hermione never abandons anyone. She'll be back. She loves you and them too much to stay away."
Severus did not speak, but as she withdrew and her arms brushed past his head, Luna felt the tiniest of nods.
Neville flooed in later that day.
"Severus, I'm so sorry, I haven't heard from her, but if I can do anyth—"
He ducked as a jar containing a milky purple substance smashed into the wall, just missing his head.
"Can you keep a secret?" Leopold asked Clara as they sat huddled in a dungeon alcove.
"Of course, Leo," she said, giving him a smile. "You can tell me anything."
"I… I need to go to London," he said. "By myself."
She looked puzzled. "Why?"
"I…" he trailed off. Regaining that vaunted Gryffindor courage, he said, "I have to do something. And I can't wait until the next school holiday."
"Could your… could someone come and fetch you and take you there?"
He shook his head. "I don't think they'd be happy with me doing it."
"It's dangerous and against the rules," Clara said. "I mean we can't leave the castle grounds ever, not even for Hogsmeade weekends."
"Clara…" he looked at her with pleading grey eyes. "I have to. But… I don't know how."
She hesitated, and he could see what was going through her mind as clearly as if it were playing out right before him. On the one hand, she wanted to stop him from doing anything rash, wanted him to avoid breaking the rules, wanted him to stay out of trouble. On the other hand, she understood that he would not do anything like this unless it was really important.
Above all, he knew that she wanted to know why. He just couldn't tell her.
"Please," he whispered.
With a firm nod, Clara took his hand. "Alright," she said. "I'll help you. If I remember correctly, there are a few things in the newest edition of Hogwarts, A History that might be helpful to us, though it won't be easy…"
"Harry, if you're going to pace, do it downstairs, please." Ginny's third-trimester voice was irritable. It was hard enough to fall asleep under perfect conditions, what with her son tap-dancing on her bladder every fifteen minutes. Her husband's muttering and pacing were not helping the situation.
"Sorry, Gin, can't sleep," he said, seating himself on the bed next to her and rubbing her stomach. This only seemed to encourage the baby to press even harder on her bladder. And I was so sure James was going to be the problem child…
"Pacing at…" she checked the time, "half-two in the morning isn't going to bring her back, Harry. Ron gave him the Deluminator. It's the best shot of finding her, and it's in good hands."
"I know," he sighed. "I just—I hate feeling so out of control."
"I know, love," she said, stroking his forearm both out of sympathy and to encourage him to please, please remove his hand so the baby might try to sleep.
"I remember when Ron left, and we had no way of communicating with him, and we couldn't let ourselves be found, and there were snatchers and Death Eaters and Inferi roaming around. I just pushed it all out of my head and pressed on. Didn't let myself think about it. Now… it's all I can think about."
"You didn't have the luxury of worrying back then," Ginny said. She knew what her husband's relationship was with Hermione and, more importantly, knew what it was not.
"Worrying isn't a luxury."
"Of course it is. If you're worrying, you're not doing, and if you don't have to constantly be doing something, you have time to worry about it. But if you're always on the move, always planning, always working toward something, you don't have time to worry. Worrying would be counter-productive.
"You know when you wake up in the morning that you will live to see the evening. You didn't back then. You lived your life for the entire Wizarding world back then. You live it for yourself and your family now. You have the luxury of worrying about things now. So you worry about your friend, who is missing and left in distress. That's normal. That makes you human."
"Human," Harry repeated, as if the word were foreign on his lips. Given that he had lived his entire life treated as the Messiah, she supposed that the problems of a mere mortal, problems he had no way of solving, would pose quite vexing. It was charming, actually.
"Yes, Harry." She patted his side of the bed and he dutifully walked over to take his place next to her. "You are human. I wouldn't have you any other way."
"Promise me," Harry said, "that you'll never do anything like this. If it were you out there and out of contact, I don't know… I don't think…"
"Never," Ginny assured him. "I will never do this to you. We have children together. I couldn't walk away from that."
"Hermione did. She and Severus basically have fifteen kids together, and she walked out on all of them."
"It's not the same. It never will be."
Harry shook his head. "I'm not so sure that's the case, Gin."
"Trust me, if it was, Hermione never would have done it."
Harry shook his head. "No, I know her, she really did think of those kids as her own. Hers and Severus's. Maybe that's why she's still gone-she thinks she walked out on them and is too ashamed to come back?"
"I just wonder why she hasn't contacted any of us?"
"That's what's so odd to me, Gin," Harry said.
"And why she packed up all her things."
"That seemed really out of character to me."
"What do you reckon?"
He shrugged. "Hermione's never had much confidence in this area-about love, relationships, that sort of thing. Maybe, given what they rowed over, she didn't think she could be around any of us. I mean, she's not a 'loose' girl yet within our little circle the only person she hasn't been with is Neville." His eyes widened as something clicked in his mind. "And now everybody knows about it."
Ginny noticed her husband's change in demeanour. "What?"
"I have an idea of where she might have gone."
Severus never slept well when the moon was full. Not that he was likely to get to sleep tonight, anyway.
As Harry and Ginny talked late into the night in their bed, miles away, Severus curled up on his side of the bed, looking at the empty, untouched spot to his right. Three nights now it had lain empty. He reached his arm across and smoothed over the counterpane. Had this bed always been so wide? It had always felt the perfect size when she was in it with him. Now he just felt small.
Most nights he was tormented by the voice recounting his errors and mocking his stupidity. He couldn't shut it up. Severus never was very good at blocking out truthful statements, and these were no different.
Clutched in his right hand was the small Deluminator. He had kept it on his person ever since Weasley had brought it to him with his cockamamie story about how it once led him to Hermione during the war.
Ordinarily, Severus would not trust such a story, or the motivations of the person telling it. But he was a desperate man these days.
When things seem most dark, it will show you the light.
Well, despite the full moon, things were pretty damn dark. Severus Snape could now proudly say that he had successfully driven the only two women who had been foolish enough to allow him into their hearts to take their pasts and throw it in their faces. To make them feel tawdry and dirty. To lose them for no reason other than his own insecurity.
Quite an achievement to accomplish it twice in nearly thirty years, he thought drolly.
You'd go for three but what witch would ever give you the time of day now, mocked the voice.
He stared at the fire for a long time, and as it faded away into orange embers, so too did his eyes flutter shut and fall asleep.
Whether five minutes or five hours passed he did not know, but in what felt like an instant later he heard it and sat bolt upright in bed with a gasp. It was barely a whisper, but at the same time it was as loud as a cauterwauling charm.
He looked down at the tiny silver cylinder, which was still clutched in his hand. It was pulsing in his hand, a soft blue light glowing then fading, glowing then fading. With each pulse of light, the whisper repeated itself.
It was her voice. It was as soft and sad, as an echo, and sounded like it was coming from a great distance, but it was her voice. Unmistakably.
He thought about what Weasley had said about the device. When things seem most dark, it would show him the light.
Severus clicked the button on the side. Instead of sucking in the last bits of firelight or moonlight, and instead of light rocketing in and out of the device, a small bluish-white orb of light appeared, engulfing the Deluminator. It pulsed and radiated, always repeating his name softly like an echo.
The pulsing ball of light floated upward from the Deluminator and floated away. Severus got out of bed and followed it gingerly to where it had paused in the middle of the room. Standing still, the light began to move again, dancing around him. He followed its every move, turning in place and jerking his head around, eyes dancing, watching and waiting for the light to do something. It seemed to almost be contemplating him, making a decision, as if the light were sentient.
It was dimmer than a Patronus, and with no tangible shape. The blue light reflected off of his face, all planes and angles, illuminating the pleading expression on his face. The light took a final turn around Severus, meeting his eye again, then dancing up and down, and suddenly floated into his chest, bathing it in the blue light.
He could feel it inside him, the light. It was warm and comforting and hopeful. He felt a tingle in his fingertips and his toes, and his head felt as if he were standing in summer sunlight. He shut his eyes and felt the light consume him, flow through his veins, sparking heat and light and hope in every cell and fibre of his being. He could feel it jump along his synapses, and with each heartbeat, he knew that his body pulsed a faint blue hue.
The pulsing of the light quickened within him, and with it his breath and heart rate also increased. Faster and faster, brighter and brighter, the light pulsed inside him with each heartbeat, until finally it exploded in a shower of blue sparks radiating out from him, and his eyes opened wide and he knew.
He knew that she loved him, knew how much she loved him, and knew exactly what she wanted from him. He knew that she was sorry for hurting him and that she wanted nothing more than to forgive and forget and come home. He knew that she felt ashamed of her reaction, ashamed of her past, and wanted nothing but his full acceptance of her and her past. He felt her fear that he would turn her out, and her fear that he would never let her back, and her strong desire for him to come to her and tell her differently. He knew that her home was with him, with them, and that she wanted him to bring her home. He knew it all as clearly and absolutely as if it were something tangible standing before him. It was in him now—in his mind, in his heart, in his soul, everywhere. Hermione Granger loved him.
He waited for the voice's rebuke. It did not come.
In fact, the voice did not seem to be there anymore at all. There was a clarity in his mind that had not existed before. It was as if a tumor had been surgically removed and all that remained was healthy tissue. He probed around in his mind for it, taking careful inventory, lowering the Occlumency shields that had always failed to keep the voice away for long, and found… nothing.
The voice—the self-doubt, self-loathing, self-destructive force that had been as constant to him as his breath and heartbeat—was no longer tormenting him. The voice that had driven him to make every terrible decision in his wretched life was missing. The voice that had told him to call Lily a Mudblood for smirking at his torture at the hands of the Marauders, the one that had told him that she was a dirty traitor and caused him to utter the awful words that drove her away forever, that had told him the Death Eaters would give him everything he wanted and needed, the voice that had told him Harry Potter was going to be James all over again, the one that had told him that it was better to be feared than loved and that he would never, ever be able to save his graduates from that horrible place was finally, mercifully, painlessly, gloriously gone.
Hermione loved him and he loved her. The darkness and doubt in his heart was washed away. The light of the deluminator, and of Hermione's soft plea for his return, had banished it.
When things seemed most dark, it had shown him the light.
Grasping onto the knowledge, he grasped his wand and quickly conjured the brightest silver doe that he had ever managed. Seeing it gave him hope; his Patronus was still the same. Further proof that she still loved him as much as he loved her.
Though the light had extinguished itself, he still felt something inside him glow.
With a flick of his wand the doe pranced off to Luna's room to inform her upon waking that Severus would be out for a bit and to floo Harry if she needed assistance. He took a moment to disillusion himself, just in case Hermione was in a Muggle area. Given her heritage, it was very likely she would have done so. Grateful that he had not changed out of his clothing before crawling into bed, he shut his eyes and concentrated on the warm glow he still felt in his heart.
"I'm coming, Hermione," he whispered, tightening his grip on the now-empty Deluminator. With a deep breath and a loud crack, he Disapparated.
If Ron has given Severus the Deluminator in another story, I haven't seen it. However, it feels like I should have, so I apologize if I've completely ripped someone off. It was unintentional.
I like to think the light and love in the Deluminator exorcising one's self-doubt also explains Ron's change in heart and demeanor after he returns to the tent in DH. He was a different man when he came back, and I don't think it's entirely because he had some time to think (or that his big brother likely knocked a lot of sense into him).
"Point me" is the locator spell in Harry Potter; it turns one's wand into a compass.
Coming up: Where Hermione went, and why.