"Permanence, perseverance and persistence in spite of all obstacles, discouragement, and impossibilities: It is this, that in all things distinguishes the strong soul from the weak"
If a man could pass through Paradise in a dream, and have a flower presented to him as a pledge that his soul had really been there, and if he found that flower in his hand when he awake - Aye, what then?
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Chapter 1: An Auditory Response.
He had lain unconscious in the Hospital Wing for over a year now, his eyes closed, sallow face expressionless, his black hair stark against the white pillows.
A coma was the popular verdict, but another theory attached to that was he simply did not wish to wake up again. After all, his mission had been carried out, his service to both Dumbledore and to Voldemort was spent. There was no place for a wartime spy like Severus Snape among the living any more.
Or was that just a convenient assumption?
Hermione closed the book she was reading and glanced sideways at the bed she was seated next to. It was something she had done many times before, from many a hospital visit to the man. Her eyes moved across to fix intently on his face, the closed eyelids, unmoving, undreaming. The jagged bite scars where the snake had torn at the man's neck were long healed now, but still showed up whitish in the light.
She gave a small sigh as she watched the man's chest rise and fall in slow, never-changing breaths, his pale hands open limply by his sides, arms thin from muscle wastage. Professor Snape looked no different to yesterday, or to the day before. To last week, or month, six months...
The angry words of Albus Dumbledore's portrait almost twelve months ago stung her thoughts once more.
"I urge you to meddle no more with the past, Miss Granger," he had said, his eyes sharp as chipped ice. You must allow the man to die, he was loyal to Lily Potter to the last, and his soul craves to be with her again, of that I have no doubt. Keeping Severus Snape alive is merely prolonging his stay in limbo, you can see he has no wish to return to his body!"
Yet still she had stubbornly persisted - after all, coma patients could go for years before waking up, couldn't they? She had read up on all research, magical and Muggle both. But regardless, she had not spoken to Dumbledore's portrait since his angry outburst. Secretly Hermione held a little resentment for the way Snape had been manipulated and lied to by the old wizard.
But then hadn't he kept the truth from them all, in his clever machinations to bring Voldemort down? They had all been part of a necessary plan, Harry had had no choice, really, and as awful as his fate had been in the battle, Dumbledore had brought the best out of Severus Snape, as he had helped bring the best out of them all.
Hermione's hand trailed towards the secure robe pocket where she always kept the time turner now; she'd taken it back from the Headmaster's office in the midst of the battle.
She bit her lip. It'd taken her some time to realise what a rash, spur of the moment decision it had been for her to use it to go back and secretly administer potions and anti-venom to Snape after they had left him for dead. But it was done now, she was hardly going to go back yet again and undo it... Some days she wondered whether she should destroy the thing, like Harry had broken the Elder wand, but...
"I don't know what to think tonight, Professor," she confessed quietly to the man's immobile body. "Perhaps Dumbledore was right when he said I should have left you there. But then, I am a self-righteous Gryffindor at heart, aren't I? An insufferable Know-it-All...Of course I'll always want to interfere..." She trailed off, giving a wan half-smile.
"I know it's not up to me who lives or dies, indeed we lost so many good people, why not them too? But I just felt what happened to you in particular was...so..."
Hermione paused as her voice began to quaver, and wiped a tear from her cheek.
"Forgive me Professor. Dumbledore was angry that I'd used the time turner, even Harry... - he reasons you would want to be reunited with your old friend after giving so many years up for her."
"But then, I believe differently. Sirius Black got a second chance at Dumbledore's whim. I don't wish to assume, but you're a very able, intelligent man, and, well... I don't think it's your time."
She wiped her eyes again and paused, peering intently at his face, pale, still as marble. "I also think, Sir, that you deserve a chance at happiness. I know from what Harry said that you loved Lily, but-"
The word stuck in her throat as she saw Snape's eyelids twitch, ever so slightly. Her pulse began to race; had she imagined it, or had that...?
"Lily," she repeated the word again, softly.
Her breath became shallow as a panicked surge of emotions rushed through her. However slight it was, the man had responded to a word. Twice. They had been tiny responses, mere eyelid flickers, but in comparison to the many months previous it was nothing short of a miracle.
It also, as she realised, provided a whole wealth of new opportunities and possibilities. It had been deduced by various mediwitches that a considerable amount of neurological damage and muscular damage had been wreaked on Snape's system by Nagini's venom, and it had not been possible to reverse most of it. If the man woke up tomorrow he would be suffering part paralysis, at minimum.
However, if his brain was proved to be functioning and responding to stimuli, there was one other possible method, very little recommended, complicated... foolhardy...that could be tried. But of course it required a considerable amount of energy from the spell-caster. As with all darker magics there was always some kind of risk involved.
Hermione Granger wasn't quite sure exchanging Snape's mind and spirit with her own mind and spirit would go down too well with the ex-Potion's Master at all... But she had been plagued with guilt, and not discovered any other way of relieving it. Additionally, being a woman who had faced more than the usual life challenges in her teenage years alone, certainly more than the average offspring of most Muggle dentists; she was certainly not going to baulk at giving it a try.
"There might be another way, but I still can't say I'm mad about the whole idea," replied Harry warily, peering at the form of his old Professor as if the man might just wake up in a second and spring up to throttle him. "Infact the whole idea is mad. Ron thinks you're bloody mental..."
"Oh never mind Ron, he would say that," waved off Hermione. "What we have here is definite word recognition Harry - what if he's just totally paralysed, in his body fully aware, but unable to move or do anything, forever trapped in paralysed consciousness?" She shuddered. "Do you really think the man deserves this kind of ending?"
Harry gave an awkward scowl. "Well...no...of course not! But..."
Hermione sat down on a chair and wrung her hands desperately, tears welling in her eyes. "But what, Harry? It's horrible, that's what! Maybe this is worse than death for him? I should have not gone back to save him... maybe I should go back and undo what I did...? Oh...I just cannot bear thinking about this anymore...!"
Harry lowered himself onto one knee in front of her and drew his tearful friend into a hug. While he held her his face took on a grim, yet determined expression.
"What's done is done now Hermione. If as you say there's a sign of life, then we'll take that as a sign the man's still in there somewhere, mentally at least... I don't think you should go back and mess around in the past anymore..." His mouth turned into a hard line as he frowned. "I also don't think you should be messing with soul magic...of any kind. I mean, I trust you and all that, but look what happened to Tom Riddle..."
"It's not the same kind of magic, Harry, and you know it," she replied tiredly.
Harry paused a while deeply pensive. Finally, he sighed resignedly. "I was thinking a lot last night, what if there was a body without a soul already, would that work maybe..?"
Harry trailed off and looked purposefully around to the far corner of the ward, where a curtain was always drawn across, and no sound ever came. Hermione's breath hitched. She pulled back to look her friend with wide, incredulous eyes.
"Adrian Pucey? Harry, you don't seriously...?"
Pucey was a Slytherin guy who'd been two years above them at Hogwarts, played chaser in Quidditch. He had had his soul sucked out by a Dementor in the final battle.
Hermione frowned. He was not technically a man now at all – at least in the legal, magical world's eyes... a mere soulless shell, unwanted, doing nothing, never to do anything meaningful again...
Harry shrugged. "Well, as I said I was thinking and this was the thought that's been playing on my mind. You know his parents were Death Eaters and were both killed in the fighting. I've heard the school are keeping his soulless body, because...well, I actually don't know. Maybe a legal loophole? I think his other family members went missing after the war, and of course as family always have the decision on what happens to people who get kissed in Azkaban...Hogwarts are keeping hold of him just incase anyone reappears and advises them what they want to happen."
Her eyes peered back down the ward to the drawn curtain.
"Of course Dumbledore would probably kill me if I did try anything...the whole idea is ethically unsound..." whispered Hermione.
"Well, yes. But ethical or not...the man's dead. Snape's still kind of alive, and he definitely might kill you if things go wrong here; have you considered that?" added Harry ominously.
Hermione bit her lip. "Well...he might, yes... But then again he might not...after all, he hardly looked willing to die when Nagini bit him..."
Harry and Hermione looked at each other each with a mixture of trepidation and doubt. Would it be so very wrong to borrow a soulless body to help out a soul with an entirely useless one...?