This is a follow-up to my story Deciding to Live. It may make more sense to you if you read that first, but to summarise, Hermione visited Severus at Hogwarts during that last year with information that helped him prepare a cure for Nagini's bite – after he was attacked, Hermione was able to portkey him away from the scene and use his potions to save his life.
Deciding to Live was a one-shot originally, but just for the hell of it, I tagged on 3 different endings set several years later. I had intended to leave it there (this was all an experiment anyway, to decide whether I could actually write or not!), but I've now decided to take the last scenario, which was the most in-canon anyway, and fill in the back story on what happens to Severus and Hermione in the years following the victory at Hogwarts.
It's going to be longish - currently mapped out at around 26 chapters, although things may change slightly. I've mucked around with the canon a bit, which means that their children are born slightly earlier and hence go to Hogwarts a couple of years earlier than in the book – there's reasons for that.
There will be SS/HG (pretty slow burning) and, of necessity, some HG/RW. But, unlike some of you guys, I've never been a Ron-hater – just never thought they were well suited. That's not Ron's fault – he's got his qualities and also let's bear in mind that he was a teenager with lots of insecurities in the books. In my story, he gets to grow up quite a bit. Anyway, just my view, everyone's entitled to their own!
I guess I cope with the epilogue-that-must-not-be-named by making the assumption that just because Ron and Hermione are married, we don't know whether or not they are actually happy by then… In fact, all we know is that Harry and Ginny ARE happy, and that Ron and Hermione are at least still married and are on reasonable terms. Well, anyway, that's my take on it. Much angst ahead…but also some happy times because I'm essentially an old softy!
Don't own any characters; all the work of the wonderful JKR. Italics at beginning are also hers. Anyway, enough notes, let's get on with it!
"Look … at … me…" he whispered.
The green eyes found the black…
Pain. That was the first thing. Pain. Hot, searing, throbbing… oh Merlin, can pain have a beat? And, as it ebbs and flows, the throb, underneath it, more pain – dull, radiating down his arms, legs…
Sticky lids, try to move… oh, and more pain. Ok, so don't move, then.
Try to swallow – oh fuck, the scorching agony radiating out, a mist, a mist of torture, red behind his eyelids…
Oh, and did he mention the pain?
That was the first thing. He schooled himself to keep still, try to absorb it. The pain came and went, throbbing at his face, his neck, radiating in waves down his body.
That was the first thing – pain.
The second thing was sound. An annoying buzzing sound. He tried to retreat from it, focus on the pain instead, but it persisted, cleared, became a pattern of sound. A cadence. Voices, saying words he couldn't understand – the words sounded distorted, wrong.
What was wrong with him? Had his brain finally cracked under the pressure?
He risked the eyelids again. The lids resisted, but he persisted in peeling them apart. Red light stabbed; he quickly closed them again.
The voices sounded louder now. He moved his head slightly, instinctively, trying to reach the words and make sense of them – oh fuck, mistake mistake! - as the pain flooded him again.
He stilled again and tried to do an inventory of his body pain circuit by pain circuit. There was a raw fiery agony around his head and neck… he focused, concentrated, and traced it back to his throat. Every swallow, every breath, was a scraping of razor blades up and down, up and down…
The pain in the rest of his body was manageable, he realised, but his limbs felt dead, heavy, unresponsive. He was lying down somewhere hard and cold, but his head and shoulders felt constricted and slightly cushioned with some kind of material.
The voices again – coming and going, coming and going. He could make out individuals now – a high, female, rather strident voice, counterbalanced by a lower male tone. The rhythm of the voices was stuttering – fast, loud, punctuated with interruptions. An argument, then, or fear, or panic.
His body went on alert suddenly; he strained to hear properly without moving again or opening his eyes. The words still sounded wrong… and then suddenly they were right.
"… can't move him, Harry, surely you can see –"
"Dammit, you can't stay here! Don't you understand they'll be coming this way soon! Do you want them to find him – how long do you think he'll survive then –"
"I know, I'm not stupid! But moving him again might kill him… I don't even know if I'm doing any good… I don't know what I'm doing…"
"… the portkey…"
"- is spent, Ron, for crying out loud! And apparating, in his condition…"
"I'm not fucking deaf."
He thought it, tried to say it, but nothing came out but a strange, rasping gurgle.
The shouting stopped abruptly. He risked his eyes again, opening his sticky lids and squinting up at three white blobs among the red.
He frowned, tried to focus his eyes. Ah, yes, better. Now he could see three worried-looking blobs staring down at him. One of them seemed to be decidedly of the female persuasion, with the suspicion of long bushy hair. Another was assuredly of a ginger persuasion.
The usual fucking trio. Oh joy unbounded. Clearly, some utter sod had decided that it wasn't enough that he was going to die, oh no. Clearly, he had to die in the presence of the most moronic Weasley of them all. To say nothing of the Boy Who Lived – presumably still Lived, despite the odds not looking that great, as he recalled…
Recalled… what? Was he going mad? Was he back at school - was this just the result of yet another Longbottom explosion?
"Professor?" The voice was tentative. Granger, of course. "Professor, can you hear me?"
He tried to roll his eyes – a neat trick beneath gritty lids. Of course I can, you stupid girl.
"I don't think he can see us all that well." A lighter male voice – Weasley being surprisingly perceptive. "Have you got some eye drops in that bag?"
"Of course, why am I so stupid?" A rustling sound, and the girl's voice again. "All that blood, I didn't have time to clear it away… here you are, Se – um, Professor…"
Bliss. Pure bliss of the cold liquid dripping onto his lids, slipping under his lashes. The red fading away. He closed and opened his eyes several times, blinking away the stickiness, and then risked another look. Hmm, still blurry. He narrowed his eyes; tried to focus.
The pale blurs merged together for a moment, then separated into individual faces. He could make out features now. Yes. Definitely the Golden Trio… There he was, usual dark hair flopping over that despised face, piercing eyes behind the glasses… Although, strangely, he didn't feel the usual pulse of burning hatred. He felt… nothing. Numb.
He moved over the boy's dirty features; noted the drawn, thin pale face as if he'd never seen it before. Now he thought about it, perhaps there was something of his mother in the delicacy of that nose, those cheekbones…
His eyes slid sideways, pausing briefly on the smudged freckly features of the youngest Weasley boy, long enough to note the grim set of his mouth, the hardness of his eyes – had he grown up suddenly? – before stopping at the face bent closest to him.
A hopeless tangle of hair, pushed back haphazardly from a small face, chalk-white, with dark shadowed brown eyes in strong contrast. The eyes moved restlessly over him, assessing in a clinical fashion, before sliding back up to meet his gaze. Their eyes locked for a moment… or hours? Granger… Hmm. Something significant, but he couldn't quite…
The pain came across him again, slightly duller now, but enough to make him close his eyes.
"Professor, are you OK? Did I do the right thing?" He felt a hand on his forehead, tentative at first. The fingers slid into his lank hair, pushing it back off his forehand, combing through it. The sensation was… He felt a desire to strain up and push his head further into the warmth; repressed it. Don't move, don't move… oh, sod, the pain… It flooded him; he hissed and felt the scrape of that razor blade again.
"Severus, oh Severus…" It was barely a whisper, more a warm exhalation of breath against his cheek. Her hand clenched in his hair briefly, then withdrew. He felt her move away slightly – the almost tangible warmth of her body receded.
"Ok, we need to get him away from here as quickly as possible." Her voice was brisk, harder than before. "I can't do anything else here – he needs to be moved somewhere where I can wash him and assess the injury properly. St Mungo's is out, of course – no one can know that he's been found."
"Why not? Hermione, surely if they know what Harry told us…"
"They won't believe it, Ron, you know they won't. Right now, they're just elated that…V-Voldemort's gone, but sooner or later, they'll take stock… They'll get angry and they'll be looking for scapegoats. Lots of Death Eaters to track down, and you can bet they'll count him among that bunch, whatever we say."
"There's another thing." Harry's voice was hesitant. "I haven't…told you everything that I saw. There's stuff in there… that I reckon he wouldn't want anyone to know about. It must've killed him to give them even just to me – to me, especially. They're … not nice memories… I need to think about what, and how much, I'm going to reveal."
"Did you retrieve them from the pensieve?"
"I have now, yes, so no one else'll see them."
"Right… well, there's another issue too. Sooner or later, they're going to wonder where you are – particularly Harry. And Ron, your family will be looking. Me – I'm not so important, but Harry's going to have to give an account of himself to the Ministry. I wouldn't be surprised if Kingsley hasn't already sent someone to trace you. So, what do we do?"
There was a momentary pause. Severus risked opening his eyes again. He stared upwards and began to take in certain things. It was early morning; he could see dawn light flickering through thick branches. They were in a forest somewhere. Near Hogwarts, it must be – that portkey didn't have a vast range.
He tried to take stock. He remembered the boat house. That high, cruel voice… the serpent… So the Boy Who Lived had been right. Nagini had attacked him. Someone had portkeyed him out and had found the potions he'd created. The girl, probably – he doubted either boy would have been quick-thinking enough.
The pain scraped across his throat again. He tried to reach up a hand to assess the damage, but his arms were stubbornly dead. He realised he couldn't move any of his limbs – was paralysed by weakness, or perhaps the poison coursing through his veins… fear assaulted him. Was this…was he still going to die?
The teenagers seemed oblivious to his situation. He strained to see them without moving his head. Hermione seemed to dance across the edge of his vision – she was pacing nervously in front of the boys, who seemed paralysed by indecision.
It was Ron who spoke up in the end. "Grimmauld Place."
"What?" The others spoke together and Hermione continued: "Ron, are you mad? We don't know who's there, or even what condition it's in now. Is it even still standing?"
"Actually, that's not such a bad idea," Harry commented, thoughtfully. "Look, who's going to look for him there? It's probably been trashed by Yaxley, but he won't be there now – no Death Eater would dare shelter at an Order house. And no one would expect us to go anywhere near the place. Wonder if Kreacher would go back and sort things out?"
"I bet he would if you wanted him to, Harry. Come on, Hermione, you know it makes sense. We can clean it up enough – and at least it's shelter. You can find a bedroom for Snape, get him cleaned up and sorted out – whatever you need to do. It'll give us time to think about what to do next."
"How will we get there?" Hermione sounded dubious. "I don't know if apparating in his condition is a good idea – it might just finish him off."
"Ok, well, there's 2 choices. Either apparate or… perhaps we could strap him onto a broomstick or something? Or across 2 broomsticks in tandem?"
Severus wanted to get involved in the conversation; to tell them that it was a ridiculous idea, that the journey would kill him, that there was no way in HELL he was going back to that cursed house… but his body wouldn't let him. He couldn't speak, he couldn't move, he could barely communicate… Was this it? Was this living?
He closed his eyes. They would do what they would do. In the end, he just didn't care. What was the fucking point?