FYI: I know that the picture isn't great, but I'm not a great artist, so deal with it.
Story Summary: After saving Severus Snape's life in the final battle, but being unable to bring him out of a prolonged coma, Hermione finds herself plagued with guilt for not being able to do more. Three difficult years of nearly obsessive devotion to her goal of reviving Severus hardens Hermione and isolates her. After devoting so much of herself to a single goal, what is Hermione to do when she at last succeeds? How will these two continue to shape each other's lives?
Author's Note: This story is mostly canon, set after the culmination of the books, obviously ignoring the epilogue. A few little bits, particularly involving the end of the war, have been tweaked allowing Severus to be alive. There may be a few other minor tweaks. Hopefully all are adequately explained as we go. Feel free to call me on it if I've failed to do so and I will attempt to explain myself. Of course, I am not J. K. Rowling and therefore may occasionally make a mistake regarding a detail here and there. I assure you that I have read all of the books and do not consider myself a dunderhead. I do my best.
This story will be largely from the perspectives of Hermione and Severus, though I reserve license to dip into another head should it suit the plot.
Cheers, if you're still reading my intro. I am going to post the first couple of chapters to begin with just to be sure that your appetites are thoroughly whetted. After that, I will try to post a chapter every day or so, at least to begin with. Thus far the plot has been flowing easily for me, but it is, at this point, vague concerning future chapters. If I encounter difficulties in that area later, I may not be able to post as often, but I will persevere and try to get you at least one chapter each week. I'm not certain on the eventual length yet, but I'm certain that it will be 50,000+ words since I have already written more than half of that.
As a final note, I wanted to mention that I will attempt to avoid bashing on the primary canon characters as much as possible. Yes, even Ron.
Rated M for language, violence, adult themes, and tasteful(ish) smut in later chapters. Consider yourself warned.
**Disclaimer: As stated above, I am not the author of Harry Potter and own no rights to characters or universe. The plot however, is mine alone.**
Hermione – 3 May 2001-Thursday
Hermione sat next to Severus Snape's hospital bed at St. Mungo's, staring at the stubborn wizard's unconscious form. She was trying hard to concentrate, but she was beyond tired and her head was beginning to ache quite acutely.
Yesterday had been Liberation Day, the third anniversary of Voldemort's demise. It also marked the last day Severus had been conscious as well as the date by which she had promised herself to have him conscious once more. Granted, she'd originally made that promise to herself for six months after the final battle at Hogwarts. Then for the first Liberation Day, and then for the second. She'd really had her hopes up this time though. She was so close.
She was so exhausted that she didn't even realize that she was dozing off until she found herself in The Nightmare. It was the same one that she'd had every night for three years. It didn't take her by surprise anymore, and she was almost always aware of the fact that it wasn't real. Somehow that made it not one bit easier to see it happen again.
Nagini hovering in the air in her enchanted cage. Severus attempting to appease Voldemort as the man grew nearer and nearer to murderous violence… Then Voldemort laying out plainly his intention to kill Severus. All the while, Hermione sat silently and did nothing. Then the snake's enchanted cage enveloped Severus and Voldemort hissed in Parseltongue. The terrible scream as the snake struck. The awful amount of blood as Severus fell to the floor.
And Hermione did nothing.
When at last Voldemort left the dying man on the floor, she entered the room, Harry and Ron with her. And then Snape had given what he meant to be his dying gift to Harry Potter, the boy he hated. It was a gift of knowledge – far more valuable than any other could be. The gift of his memories. Hermione hadn't actually cried at the time, but she was sobbing now – screaming inside her head to do something, do it now, before it was too late. Of course, she did not. The nightmares did not work that way. She couldn't change anything. Only watch it happen in the same wrong way over and over and over again.
When Harry and Ron had started back through the tunnel out of the shrieking shack, Hermione had hesitated, and then she had done something impulsive. With a pair of potions and a fairly simple spell, she'd healed Severus Snape. He hadn't woken and she'd had neither time nor particular inclination to stick around and see if he would. She still hadn't been completely sure that he was on the side of good as Dumbledore had insisted right to his final moments from what Harry had relayed.
She'd come back later and what would be her personal waking nightmare for the next three years had begun when she'd discovered that she had saved his life, but not given it back to him.
She woke from the nightmare with a gasp, which was a vast improvement over the screams and sobs that had graced the first year of getting this nightmare. She rubbed her dry eyes and stretched her aching neck. She'd fallen asleep slouched in a chair.
Eager to get her blood pumping again, she got up and began to pace the small, private room in which Severus now resided. She struggled to orient her mind once more on the problem at hand. She was so close now that she could almost taste it. She shot a vehement glare at her one-time potions professor. Even dead to the world for three years, the man still managed to hang onto his stupid Occlumency shields, preventing her from entering his mind.
Years of rigorous study and sleepless nights had borne fruit a little less than a month ago. She had done what many had told her was impossible. She had healed Severus' body where Nagini's venom had destroyed so many of his nerves as to leave his mind and body unable to connect properly. Even had he been able to awaken, he'd never have been able to move much in that state. She had done it though. She'd traveled the world, conversed with every notable potion maker alive, some of which had been of the most disreputable sort while others had been so highly placed that it had taken Harry making a public scene to gain her admittance to even speak with them.
She'd suffered burns and broken bones as a result of exploding caldrons, had been nearly murdered by giants when she'd gone into their mountains in search of the right ingredients for her potion, and there was one particular forest which she would never venture into again lest an angry Centaur herd make good on their threat to read the future in her entrails. She'd made some friends, but many more enemies and she'd suffered a great deal, but she had done it. All that remained now was to get into his blasted mind and help him to find his way out again.
The crystal clear mental picture of those precious memories leaking out of him in what might have been his last moments flashed through Hermione's mind and she ground her teeth hard, ignoring the tiny voice in the back of her head admonishing her for damaging her teeth.
"Insufferable man!" she spat at Severus. While she knew, intellectually, that he could hardly be blamed for instinctively protecting his mind, she was much keener on embracing even irrational emotions these days. A side effect of so little sleep, she suspected.
"Do you intend to lecture him awake?" came a very dry inquiry from the door.
Hermione chuckled ruefully as she turned to face the woman who'd kept her sane these past years. "It might be satisfying to give it a try, Minerva."
The older witch smiled gently, moving to Serverus' bedside and wrapping on of his hands in both of her. "If he remembers any of this when he wakes, I imagine he'll likely find your voice quite abrasive. How many hours have you spent in this room yelling at the man?"
"Too many," Hermione admitted with half a smile. She loved it that Minerva always seemed to consider it a foregone conclusion that it was only a matter of time before Hermione succeeded. "I've practically lived in this room this last month. I thought creating the potion was difficult, but I hadn't really thought through the idea of using Legilimency on the man who managed to successfully hide his true allegiance from Voldemort for years. It shall be a miracle if I ever make it through his shields."
Minerva seemed to consider it for a moment, then shook her head. "You're right. The man is a stubborn arse."
Hermione huffed a surprised laugh at the statement, which is surely what Minerva had intended. If not for her old mentor's visits, Hermione knew that she would not be nearly so far. Apart from the help she'd given in steering Hermione toward the sources she needed, she could also be depended upon to show up when Hermione was in most danger of foregoing food and sleep. She knew that she couldn't function as well without eating and sleeping, but perspective was sometimes difficult to properly retain when she felt like she was making progress.
"What a nightmare, Severus," Minerva said quietly.
…and suddenly it clicked. It took a moment for Hermione to remember to breathe as her mind suddenly leapt into action, running through the possibilities that had just occurred to her.
"Oh, Minerva, you're a genius!" Hermione cried, hugging the older witch so enthusiastically as to nearly send her to the floor.
"Well, thank you, Hermione. May I ask what secret of the realms I have unintentionally unlocked this time?"
"I think…" Hermione considered it, then nodded with greater conviction. "Yeah, I know what to do."
"Then I suppose I shall have to leave you to it," she vaguely heard Minerva mutter on her way out the door.
Hermione didn't pay much attention to Minerva's exit. Her mind was on too many other things at the moment.
Near to giggling with excitement at this most recent revelation, Hermione first warded the door against intrusion so that she would not be interrupted. Then she pulled her chair right up to the bed and sat down. One hand, she wrapped around Severus' hand. The other, she placed over his forehead. Then she closed her eyes and spoke the words of the spell that had just occurred to her. "Legilimens penetros."
With standard Legilimens, she had felt her mind touch his shield, and had tried to search her way along it for any kind of weak point in the defenses, but she had found none. Using this new spell, she didn't touch his shield, she slammed into it with the force of a battering ram. The small part of her mind still keeping tabs on her body felt Severus jerk beneath her hands. She knew how painful it was to have someone enter your mind by force, but she also knew that she could not hold back for fear that he might be feeling the pain she was inflicting. She was sure that he'd rather endure torture and get his life back than to peacefully sleep until his body expired. At least, he'd feel that way eventually.
It didn't take her long to discover that even this spell wouldn't be penetrating his defenses through blunt force. It absolutely astonished her that he had this kind of strength to his mental defenses on his best day, much less under the current circumstance.
"Severus, let me in!" she cried in desperation. This spell, unlike the original, was beginning to tire her. She wouldn't be able to sit here searching for hours as she had done on multiple occasions with the other.
Surprisingly, almost immediately after speaking, she found exactly what she needed. It was by no means a hole in his defenses, but it was perhaps a crack. That was all that she needed. She threw all of her focus against that crack, seeking to enter it carefully rather than trying to force it wider. She guessed that a man like Severus would instinctively respond to that kind of attack by discovering and reinforcing his small weakness.
So with great care and less effort than she'd expected, she slid in through his defenses. That was only the first layer of his shields, but she was encouraged when she soon found a similar crack in his second wall, and then another in his third. It was absolutely staggering to discover that he had a total of ten walls constructed around his mind, each protecting secrets more highly guarded than the last.
She really did try not to look at the memories around her. First, because it was an unnecessary invasion of his privacy for her purposes. Second because she was absolutely certain that Severus Snape possessed some memories from his time with Voldemort that she really didn't want to see. Still, she couldn't help but glimpse a few. As she went, she began to notice an interesting trend. Based on the organization of the increasingly guarded secrets, it was still set up to keep Voldemort and other Death Eaters from discovering that he was a spy. It may have simply been old habit, but Hermione felt confident that it was proof that these defenses remained from before his coma. He had not been conscious enough to rearrange or otherwise modify his defenses since the night he had nearly died. It was an interesting nugget of information, but not something immediately pertinent, so she dismissed it for the moment.
She found herself entirely astonished when she reached the last wall. Had she been merely intent on searching his memories, she was virtually convinced that she'd have never discovered that a tenth wall even existed. She found herself humbled by his Occlumency skill. Truth be told, she was only just more than fair when it came to protecting her mind. She was, however, extremely good at invading the minds of others when it was necessary. She'd never have completed the potion if she hadn't become very good at that particular skill. Not all of her sources had willingly given up their information to her.
The crack in the last barrier was similar to those before once she located it, but it nearly closed up on her while she tried to slither her way inside. It must have been an extremely powerful instinct for him to protect this particular layer.
Once inside, she rushed through, doing her best to see absolutely nothing. For the most part, it worked. She glimpsed a tiny flash here and there, but she didn't examine it in enough detail to learn the meaning of any of it.
And then she reached her destination – for which she'd used this particular spell. She didn't merely need his memories. She needed to enter his subconscious if she was going to find and extract Severus from the prison of his own mind. That's the idea that Minerva had given her by mentioning nightmares while speaking to Severus.
It was extremely disorienting when she slipped inside and found herself back in her old nightmare. Only this time was subtly different. She was seeing it now from Severus' perspective. This was his nightmare, virtually identical to her own. Severus stood before Voldemort within the shrieking shack, Nagini magically suspended in the center of the room. It seemed almost to glow for how furious was his focus upon that snake in its magic cage.
Voldemort somehow managed to look even more terrifying than he did in Hermione's own nightmares. Probably because Severus knew him better than she did, she reasoned. He had even more reason to fear him.
It was extremely difficult to tear her focus from Voldemort and Nagini, as though this nightmare absolutely demanded that those things be the focus. She managed it though, and turned to look at Severus.
The instant that her focus touched his eyes, those penetrating black orbs snapped over to hers. He was aware of her, she was relieved to find. This would have been much more difficult had he not been.
"No," Severus breathed in horror, his eyes flashing to Voldemort.
Hermione didn't understand what he meant until he verily flew around her to put himself between Voldemort and her, his attention now on the Dark Lord once more.
He was aware of her, she mentally corrected, but not that she wasn't a part of this nightmare – of what he perceived to be happening now. Despite the fact that she knew she was in no real danger here, certainly not from the phantom of Voldemort, part of her felt the impact of Severus Snape, career spy, exposing himself to protect her. On one level, she was deeply touched, and a little confused. She hadn't thought that he'd liked her. At all. On another level, she was humiliated and stricken with guilt to see him offering up his life to protect her. She had not done as much for him.
"Severus," she said gently.
"Quiet, girl!" he snapped almost frantically as the nightmare around them began to shift with his perception of events. Voldemort was reacting to Severus' protecting her.
And suddenly, this was many times more frightening than it had been. She could have quoted every single line of that old nightmare with hardly a thought. Seeing it evolve in an unexpected way made it new and reminded her far too much of when this sort of nightmare had in fact been a part of her everyday life.
It took her a long moment, and every scrap of courage she possessed to ignore the nightmare around her, but she managed it.
She grabbed Severus by the arm, yanking him around too quickly for him to even put up a fight. In less than a second, she had his back against the wall while she leaned into his chest with all the strength she could muster.
Severus just looked panicked, still looking over her shoulder, his gaze alternating between Voldemort and Nagini.
"Severus!" she shouted in his face despite the discrepancy in their height.
She didn't know if it was her tone or her use of his given name, but she got his attention.
He blinked at her in surprise.
She moderated her tone, still fighting a tingling in her spine at having the specter of Voldemort at her back while he was evidently raging. "This is a dream," she said, looking right into Severus' eyes and speaking very firmly and distinctly. "You are trapped in your mind." She was thanking God at that moment that Severus was such a skilled wizard when it came to the mind. She could already see in his eyes that he was understanding her.
"I can take you out of here," she continued.
Considering that she was already in his mind, looking into his eyes was making it very easy for her to understand the direction of his thoughts. Right now, she was sensing that he was hesitant to believe. Just a moment ago, he'd been certain that he was about to die. What she was saying seemed to him too good to be true.
"Do you trust me?" she asked severely. She wasn't sure why she chose that question. The moment it was out of her mouth, it sounded ridiculous. The man had no reason to trust her considering that he had no knowledge of the last three years. She didn't recant it though, based on what she was reading in his eyes.
After a long moment and one tiny glance toward Voldemort, he nodded.
"Then come with me," she said quietly, the sound of the nightmare already fading around them.
Severus wrapped his hand around hers and slowly closed his eyes.
That was all that she needed. Without hesitation, she began to back out of his mind. It was not nearly so difficult to navigate the shields from this side. They were built to hold intruders out, not in.
With her grip still firm, she felt them slip beyond the last shield and then…
Her eyes snapped open and she swayed as a wave of disorienting dizziness rolled through her as her mind retreated fully back into her own body. She'd never gone half so deeply into another's mind before. It was at once exhilarating and terrifying.
As her sensibilities began to settle, she leapt out of her chair to see to her patient. She was absolutely breathless when she saw his eyelids flicker and few times and then open, just a slit at first, and then a little wider.
Those black eyes traveled around the room, taking it in, and then settled on her. They narrowed again. "Miss Granger? What happened to me?"
Hermione knew that he was going to hate this question, but she had to have the answer, so she asked it anyway. "What is the last thing you remember?"
He glared at her in the way that used to quell her most rebellious moment quite effectively. When she merely raised an eyebrow at him, he frowned a little and then looked like he was thinking hard.
She knew the moment that he remembered because he suddenly looked nauseous and he automatically reached to his throat where the scars from Nagini's bite remained.
She didn't wait for him to say anything. "That's good," she nodded.
"How am I alive?" he asked, his voice grating a little from disuse but the regular healing spells and her potion had kept his body in a condition very close to where it had been three years ago before his injury.
"You received healing very shortly after losing consciousness," she explained, having no desire to mention that she'd been the one to do it. He'd probably be horrified to think of a witch who hadn't even made it through Hogwarts casting such spells on him.
"I assume that he is dead," he said with something akin to his old drawl.
"Voldemort is dead, killed on the very night you were hurt," she confirmed, for there could be only one "he" relevant in this context.
Severus sighed softly in relief. "I'd like to speak with a healer," he admitted, somewhat more politely than she was accustomed to. She assumed that he'd be snide and sarcastic again once he'd had a chance to get his bearings.
"As it happens, I am your healer," she admitted somewhat sheepishly.
Severus' eyes narrowed for a moment. He looked exactly like he was about to take house points for a smartass comment. Then he studied her more carefully from the top of her head down to her waist, which was as much of her as was visible next to the bed. Slowly, his eyes widened again. "How long have I been here?"
"Three years, Severus," she said quietly, a war of pain and self-recrimination raging in her head at having taken so long.
Her use of his given name seemed to shock him, so she assumed that he remembered nothing of her little jaunt into his mind. That was just as well. She could only imagine what he would think of her knowing that she'd gone running around amongst his most private secrets. It seemed unlikely that he'd ever believe she'd truly done her best to look at none of them.
He didn't call her down for addressing him in that way, which she took to mean that he had much larger concerns at the moment. "It seems I have missed much, Miss Granger," he said, though it sounded like he was talking to himself. Something else seemed to occur to him then and he returned his eyes to hers. She felt the slightest brush of his mind against hers as he attempted to employ Legilimency against her.
She didn't think that he'd get through her defenses without a serious effort, but remembering the fortress that was his mind, she wasn't ready to put it past him. Still, she bravely held his gaze.
"I am due for a trip to Azkaban, then?"
"No," she said, shocked at the question, though she shouldn't have been. He'd been a hero for three years, but last he recalled, he'd been considered the most heinous traitor, Dumbledore's murderer. "A trial was held shortly after the end of the war," she explained. "You were cleared of all charges and proven to have been acting against Voldemort throughout the course of the war. You're, ah…" she grimaced slightly, having some idea what he'd think of the next part. "You're a hero to the wizarding world, Severus."
He stared at her a moment more, then groaned softly. "Bloody fantastic," he muttered to himself.
She couldn't help but smile at seeing exactly the reaction she'd expected.
His eyes narrowed at her smile.
"I'd better alert Minerva of your recovery," she smiled, changing the subject quickly. Producing her want from her sleeve, her smile widened a bit as she selected her happy memory. It was this very moment. "Expecto patronum," she said quietly. With a burst of light, the little otter patronus leapt from her wand, brighter and more vibrant than she had seen it since… Maybe ever."
With another flick of her wand, she sent it off with a message.
When she looked at Severus again, she found that he was studying her. "It seems you've grown into your talent, Miss Granger," he noted with something bordering on respect in his voice.
Hermione blushed, and though she rather wished she hadn't, it felt good. She hadn't had much call to blush in some time. "You must have a million questions," Hermione offered. "I'll answer as many as I can."
He considered the offer with evident suspicion, but he seemed to be thinking about it. After some apparent internal debate, he asked, "Did Harry Potter survive?"
"He did," Hermione smiled. "Incidentally, he'll be thrilled to hear that you're awake. He's visited you once a week, every week for three years without fail."
Severus frowned. He didn't look pleased to hear that.
"Did you see the memories I gave to him?" he asked, looking toward the window rather than at her face.
"I did," she admitted. "Unfortunately, I'd hazard that most of wizarding Britain has heard the story of your actions in the war, and… some of the motivations."
He was starting to look a little sick again. His expression changed abruptly as something else must have occurred to him. "Why was I unconscious for three years?"
Hermione sighed and slid her chair against the wall with a flick of her wand before she took a few steps away from the bed to lean against the broad windowsill. "Nagini," she admitted. "Her venom… It almost destroyed you. If…" she swallowed hard, remembering more than she wanted to. "If you'd been healed a few seconds later, it would have been too late. Half a minute sooner, and enough of her venom would have remained in your body that the result would have been the same."
Severus thought about that for a moment. "It took three years to heal me?" he inquired.
"It took three years to find the means with which to heal you," she corrected. "An entirely new potion had to be designed to counteract the rare venom's damage. The potion used to heal Arthor Weasley proved to be utterly ineffective. Voldemort's work it seems. Her venom had been modified simply to make it more deadly and less curable."
"I'm surprised they went to the trouble," he mumbled to himself.
The sound of brisk footsteps outside the door prompted Hermione to disable her wards with a flick of her wand just a moment before Minerva strode inside. She stopped dead when she saw Severus looking at her. Her hand flew to her heart and she paled.
For all the support she'd given Hermione over the years, it was clear that she hadn't expected such a result this quickly.
"Merlin's beard, Severus," she gasped, then almost leapt onto the bed in her haste to hug him.
Hermione fought to swallow her laugh at the absolute shock Severus portrayed.
"Oh for pity's sake," Minerva griped as she drew herself away from him. "You've been comatose for three years! Do excuse me if I show a bit of enthusiasm to see you alive!"
Severus' lip twitched and Hermione thought he was actually fighting a smile. For some reason, that alarmed her a little. She'd never seen Severus smile or even look in danger of it.
"Oh sure," Minerva continued to rant, "No doubt it's hilarious for you. You had the luxury to sleep through the whole ordeal!"
That last bit served to sober him again and Minerva had the grace to look a little chagrined at her choice of words.
"How is he, Hermione?"
Hermione caught a brief expression of surprise flash across his face for some reason, but she chose to ignore it for the moment. "I've not yet had a chance to cast any diagnostics," she admitted, "but his mind seems clear and I would say the risk is high that his personality will return entirely intact," she smiled.
Minerva snorted her amusement. "Well, I'm sure we'll all grow to dread it soon enough, but in the meantime, expect visitors, Severus. There are a lot of people that have been waiting to apologize to you."
"That will have to wait," Hermione put in quickly and glanced at Severus to see the expected relief in his eyes. "He'll need time to reacclimatize a bit more before I'll allow visitors."
"Ah, just as well," Minerva sighed. "I'll go and spread the happy news. And perhaps you're not quite ready to make a decision, Severus, but your job as potions master is waiting for you at Hogwarts if you still want it. There have been three replacements in three years. None have been up to the job."
Severus nodded noncommittally.
Before leaving, Minerva took a moment to wrap Hermione in a hug and whispered in her ear, "I always knew you could do it, girl, but even I had not expected it this soon. You truly are the brightest witch of your age."
"Or at least the most stubborn," Hermione huffed in reply.
"Well, you'll have competition for the title now," she added with a glance at Severus, then she turned and left with a grin firmly stuck on her lips.
Hermione shook her head after Minerva and turned her attention back to Severus. "Okay, I need to cast a few diagnostics. If everything looks good, then I'll see about getting you something to eat. I'm sure you're starving."
Severus frowned at her, "Still the insufferable know-it-all, I see," but his tone was not cruel.
Hermione grinned. It would take much more than Severus' snide comments to dampen her mood today. In fact, she rather appreciated them at the moment, because it served as another reminder that she had accomplished the impossible. Severus Snape was back.