She was still waiting as the sun began to peak over the treetops. Where was he? Severus was late and she was starting to worry. She knew that there were plenty of mundane and harmless reasons that could have caused him delay. She could think of a dozen without really trying. Still, there was a feeling that she couldn't shake. A feeling of sinking, of drowning, of being underwater and unable to claw her way to the surface.
If she believed in signs and premonitions, the ravens flying overhead would add to her worries. But she didn't believe in omens and portents and any of that nonsense. Instead, to calm herself, she focused on those things she knew to be true. At approximately nine thirty last night, one Hermione Granger had managed to sneak into the Ministry's Halloween Celebration, and kill Henry Greengrass. She, in turn, was killed by Kingsley Shacklebolt. By midnight, Shacklebolt had been declared the interim Minister and was expected to take over the position permanently (after an appropriate amount of time had passed, of course.)
The plan had worked, and, according to her sources, no one suspected that she was still alive. Moreover, no one seemed to suspect Severus' involvement. Everything had gone as well as it could have gone. Now, all she and Severus had to do was disappear. They would start a life together far from here, far from their pasts. And maybe (just maybe) they could finally find some peace.
A shrill cry sent a shiver up her spine. She looked up to see the silhouette of an owl in the distance. It flew towards her, circling several times before landing. She studied it for a moment, as it looked at her with its large brown eyes. Attached to its leg was a piece of parchment. The owl hooted softly as she bent down to retrieve the missive.
"I'm sorry," she said, as she scratched its head. "I wasn't expecting you so I don't have any treats." Her hands were shaking as she opened the parchment. She knew that it must be from Severus. No one else knew that she was here. Heck, there were only six people in the entire world who even knew that she was alive.
The words on the parchment were scrambled, coded with magic. She quickly undid the spell, and watched as Severus' spidery writing filled the page.
I love you and I hope that you never doubt that fact.
You may be wondering why I am telling you in a note when I have never said in person. The fact is I plan to take Miss Granger's place tonight. I know that this will upset you, but I ask you to understand. I cannot let her die. She is innocent in all of this.
You may feel angry and hurt, but I advise you not to dwell on it. There is no use in blaming Miss Granger, which I suspect would be your first instinct. This is my decision, and she is unaware of what I plan to do. Nevertheless, I feel that I should tell you that she is gone; I have found a way to send her home and you will never find her. The Time-Turner that brought her to this world is destroyed and there are no others like it.
I love you. I wish I had told you that last night. I wanted too, but I was afraid my words would give my plan away. I will not say any nonsense about how I am doing this for you. I know that you will never see it this way. I will take comfort from the fact that your soul will remain intact and that you are now free to leave Britain. There is nothing tying you to this place anymore, and it is too risky to stay. There is an entire world out there waiting for you.
You probably think that I am selfish, that I did this without considering your feelings. And that is true. I have always been a selfish man, and facing death does not change this. You are one of the strongest people I know, and I know that you will heal and find happiness. I am sure of it.
Hermione, please forgive me.
Severus T. Snape
She didn't believe it. She couldn't believe it. Though everything in the letter was true, she knew this without a doubt. Why had he done it? To save the life of a girl he hardly knew? To save her from herself, like he claimed? She didn't know.
Then the sobs came. Slowly at first, and then faster until she was crying as hard as she had ever cried. Her heart was breaking, and there was nothing that she could do to stop it.
"I still hate you for that," said Harry, as he waited outside the hospital room.
Draco gave him a withering look. "I think that you should be focused on more important things and not dwelling on what I may or may not have done to your foot."
"You're just lucky that they were able to turn it back into a foot, regrow the proper bones, and remove the scales."
"I'm just suggesting that maybe Granger should come first…"
"I just can't…" Harry's voice broke. "I can't think about it yet. About what happened to her." Snape had filled in a few details, but there were still too many unanswered questions. She had looked so utterly broken, that the joy of bringing her home had been overshadowed by the fact that she had been hurt. Hurt in ways that Harry did not want to consider.
He knew that Hermione would survive. She was a fighter. But the worry and guilt still ate at him.
"If you don't stop pulling your hand through your hair, you're going to lose it."
Hermione awoke in an unfamiliar, darkened room. Her body flooded with panic and an overpowering urge to escape. She jolted upwards, clambering to her feet in a tangle of blankets.
"Hermione?" She turned sharply in the direction of the voice. Even in the dim light she could make out Harry's distinct form.
"Harry," she gasped out, taking a shaky step toward him. Harry hurried over towards her, catching her as her body sagged.
"Careful," he said, as he guided her back to bed.
"Where am I?"
"St. Mungo's. You've been unconscious for nineteen hours."
She tried to process this information, but her brain felt too muddled. She latched on the one thing that she knew to be true. "I'm home."
"Yes, Hermione, you're home."
Relief exploded through her. She was home. Harry was alive, Ron loved her, and Ginny (presumably) wasn't plotting her demise. Everything was as it should be. Except...
"Snape," she said, "I saw Snape. Our Snape."
Harry couldn't meet her eyes. "I'm sorry I couldn't tell you. He didn't want anyone to know that he survived the war."
Snape was alive. Alive. And he had risked himself to rescue her. Why? How? "I have so many questions."
"I know, but now's not the time. Your Healer will want to examine you again soon. Plus, I need to tell Ron and your parents that you're awake."
She wanted to argue, but Harry was already standing up to leave. "Okay, but we'll talk later."
"According to Potter, Granger woke up last night."
"The matter doesn't concern me anymore, Draco," said Snape, as he poured himself another drink of Ogden's finest.
"I figured you just want to know that all that hard work you put into saving her life paid off."
"Indeed." Snape took a deep drink of whiskey, enjoying the way it burned as it slid down his throat.
Draco gave a huff of annoyance. "I find it hard to believe that you aren't interested at all."
Snape shrugged. "Believe what you want."
"Lots of things happened!" Snape snapped. He couldn't stand the way Draco was looking at him. "Leave."
"Fine," said Draco tersely. He slammed the door behind him, causing the entire cottage to shake. Snape felt nothing but relief. He knew that Draco meant well, but Snape craved solitude. The world felt too large and too small all at once. Pressing in at him from all sides, yet utterly empty and directionless.
He just needed some time, he reasoned. Time, and another glass of whiskey.
The hours she had spent at St. Mungo's passed in a blur. There were people everywhere. And for Hermione, the entire thing was exhausting and overwhelming.
Hermione remembered it in snapshots. Her mother bursting into tears when she had seen the scars on Hermione's face, and again when the Healer said that they could be fixed. Ron squeezing her hand, and kissing her cheek. Ginny, now visibly pregnant, giving her a hug. Harry running a reporter out of her hospital room. Kingsley paying a visit, and apologizing profusely.
It was too much. All too much. They all wanted to know what had happened, and yet she found that she couldn't explain. More than that, she didn't want to. Not yet. She gave a brief report to Kingsley, but refused to answer any in depth questions. And nobody pushed her. When Kingsley had asked about her Time-Turner Harry had promptly and unceremoniously escorted from him from the room.
It was just after noon, when she found out that she was being released.
"Finally, we can get you home where you belong," said had Ron.
"Actually Ron, I was thinking about staying with my parents for a bit." She had been afraid that he would react badly, but Ron took the news in stride.
"Yeah, I think that's a good idea. Less pressure from reporters and the Ministry."
And this explained, how, not even an hour later, she found herself standing in her childhood bedroom. This, however, did not explain why one Draco Malfoy was standing there as well.
"I really don't understand why you're here Malfoy," she said, glaring at him as she unpacked her clothes.
He shrugged. "Harry told me that you were staying at your parents. I did a bit of digging and found out where they lived."
"You mean Harry told you."
He looked annoyed. "Yes, Harry told me."
"So, why are you here?"
"Severus won't talk to me."
Now, that gave her pause. "You're point?" The glint in Draco's eyes told her that her attempt at a laissez-faire attitude was a failure.
"He lives in a small cottage, right on the outskirts of Appleby. I can bring you there if you like."
She hesitated. "I don't think that's a good idea."
"He's not himself, Granger. He hasn't been this unstable since the war ended."
"And, what? You think that I can help?" The entire situation was absurd.
"Would I be here otherwise?"
Hermione knew she needed time to think through what Draco had asked her to do. Snape probably did not want to see her, and she could bet that he wouldn't accept her help even if she offered. Hell, she was unsure that she could help him at all. She wasn't exactly emotionally stable herself, and physically she felt drained.
But she had too many unanswered questions, and Snape could provide some answers. "Okay," she said, chewing her bottom lip. "I'll do what I can."
Snape was less than pleased when, not even an hour later, there was a knock at the door. There were only two people in the world who knew where he lived, and Draco had just left.
"Fucking Potter," he muttered, as he headed for the door. He had tried to ignore it, but the knocking had gotten louder and more persistent.
"What do you want?" he roared, as he flung open the door. But it wasn't Potter. No, of course it wasn't. It was her.
Hermione Granger was standing on his doorstep like she had every right to be there. "I want to talk," she said simply. And Snape (who would later credit his actions to one to many glasses of firewhiskey) did the unthinkable. He stepped aside, and let her in.