CHAPTER 1: Learn to Be Lonely
It ended on a June day in a foggy moor that had been the beautiful grounds of Hogwarts. Coated in mist and blood and mud and smoke, the victorious stood to survey the damage and to take stock of who had been lost in the battle. Comrade and enemy alike lay side-by-side in the blood-blackened field, their lightless eyes staring off into distant nothingness. The black of the Death Eater’s robes were mingled in among the black of the Hogwarts robes, born upon the backs of students who had graduated moments before the battle began.
Yes, Voldemort and his followers had finally decided upon the time when they would wage their final battle against Dumbledore and the Order. Graduation Day, they reasoned, would be the day they would least expect. Everyone would be caught up in saying goodbye to their friends and taking a bittersweet look at those hallowed halls of learning for the last time. Oh yes, Voldemort hissed in his twisted little mind, Dumbledore won’t see it coming. The dimwitted fool will be to befuddled by saying goodbye to Potter and the rest of the lot to be wary of what is going on under his nose.
The plan would have worked, had it not been for a tall and silent, black robed figure who was listening intently to Voldemort’s plans. In the three years since his return, Voldemort had yet to doubt the one Death Eater whom all the others questioned. He punished the doubtful while allowing Severus Snape to quietly and methodically gather up the information the Order needed to stop him once and for all. It seemed that Voldemort, with all his power as a Legimens, couldn’t, or more logically wouldn’t, see the truth that was in his most favorite follower. And it was here, when Voldemort had given himself over to that emotion of the foolish, to love and trust, that he was undone.
Dumbledore and the Order had been warned with sufficient time to prepare the students. An announcement was made that the graduation ceremony would take place two hours earlier than originally planned. Dumbledore told Harry that they would be going into battle with Voldemort that day and to prepare himself. And prepare himself he did. Harry dug up the coins Hermione had made for the D.A. in fifth year and warned them all. If Voldemort had the bullocks to attack Hogwarts Castle itself, Harry Potter was going to make sure it was the last thing he ever did.
The day of graduation dawned pale and overcast. It seemed as if all the teachers were on edge when the students made their way to the Great Hall for the ceremony. Snape had been summoned early that morning to the Riddle House for final instructions and was the only teacher absent from the Hall. Dumbledore made his excuses, that he had taken ill the night before and wanted to wish the graduates the best of luck in their future pursuits. Harry and the others knew, of course, that he had been summoned. It wouldn’t do to have their only source of information inside the Death Eater ranks to be uncovered when the end was so near. Only a few more hours and the redemption of Severus Snape would be certain. He would either be heralded a hero or burn in hell at the wrong end of an Unforgivable.
The ceremony had only just ended when there was a great crash on the grounds as a tall and silent Death Eater blew apart Hagrid’s hut. The signal from Snape; the end was near. It was time to face the demons the Wizarding World had sought to exorcise for over a dozen years. Let the fates decide which side would see the light of the morning in victory. Dumbledore locked the students below sixth year in the Great Hall and warded it with every protective charm he could think of at the time. Merlin help them if the Death Eaters made it into the castle. If they did, two hundred innocent children would meet their end with the stroke of a single curse.
Dumbledore and the Order led the charge onto the grounds, keeping Harry and the D.A. behind them. It would be the end of them all if Harry was caught by a stray curse before he could get to Voldemort. Oh yes, they were all thinking about the prophesy, wondering how the final confrontation would end. Every member of the Order hoped that Snape and Peter Pettigrew would be nearby. It would take the two of them to help Harry destroy Voldemort once and for all.
It had been Hermione that figured it out. Bright, clever Hermione had remembered Wormtail’s wizard’s debt to Harry. It had been Hermione who had brought the information to the one man who could help them. She told Snape, who had unfortunately been unconscious during the incident in third year that led to the debt in the first place, and he promised to do what he could. Now here she was, back to back with Ron, trying desperately to walk sideways and keep a constant shield charm around Harry. She could see Snape in the distance, his form so recognizable in the black robes that billowed out around him as he strode quickly around the battlefield, doing what he could to keep from harming members of the Order while holding his charade together for the last few moments.
And then the charade had fallen apart. Snape had pinned Tonks to the ground with his boot in her back, trying desperately to tell her where to attack to take out as many important Death Eaters as possible, when he had seen Hermione. Fearlessly facing an unending onslaught of Death Eaters from every angle as she struggled to keep up with Ron and keep the shield charm going. Harry was leading the two of them, protected by their shields, saving his energy for that final meeting with Voldemort. For the first time in many years, Snape felt his chest tighten as he watched Hermione go so willingly to her death in order to protect the Boy-Who-Lived. His pulse pounded in his ears. She will not die for him!
The thought was upon him before he could control it. He swept away from Tonks, who staggered to her feet and joined in the fray. Snape ripped his Death Eater’s mask from his face as he went, casting hexes all around him as he strode purposely toward the moving caravan of Harry Potter and his faithful friends. Hermione looked up in surprise when she saw him striding toward her, his mask and his charade of loyalty to the Dark Lord forgotten. She dropped her end of the shield enough to let him through and then quickly build it up again before any of the other Death Eaters could figure out what had happened. She felt him turn his back to her and stand at her shoulder, facing the opposite way that they were moving. He cast his own shield charm and at once the bubble around them expanded high above their heads.
Seeing Snape inside, several Death Eaters charged the shield and were promptly blasted away by a few well-placed hexes from the Boy-Who-Lived. They were upon Voldemort now and the look upon his face was of sheer and utter terror. It was as if he knew he had fallen victim to that which he had called foolish for so many years. He screamed in rage to the Death Eaters around him. “The filthy traitor is mine!”
Harry knew when he heard Voldemort filled with rage at this betrayal that Snape had exposed himself. Glancing over his shoulder, Harry saw him standing with Ron and Hermione, doing what he could to protect them all. Quickly turning his attention back to the battle, Harry allowed one fleeting thought to swim through his mind. The greasy git’s not so bad. But then the thought was gone as Voldemort was but a few feet away from him, his wand raised and his cold eyes flickering with hatred.
“Hold strong,” Harry called behind him. He heard several grunts in response. “When I say so, let go of the shield so I can get through. If this doesn’t work, do what you can to get away and get Neville. He’s the only other one who has a chance of ending this.”
Snape concentrated hard, trying to see the picture of Harry confronting Voldemort in his mind. He would have given anything for them to turn in their formation so he could see what was going on but he knew Hermione and Ron would never take their eyes off Harry once he was outside of the shield. He heard Harry speaking again and his voice was more authoritative than Snape had heard in the seven years he had known the boy.
“Wormtail, it’s time to pay your debt. Do this and it is forgiven!” Harry called to the stooped, beady-eyed man who followed after the hem of Voldemort’s robes. “Disarm Voldemort! Do it now!”
Voldemort turned to the stooped man standing to his side as Harry had hoped he would. The moment Voldemort’s attention turned to Wormtail for that blissful split second, Harry called out, “Let go!” Hermione, Ron, and Snape dropped the shield to let Harry through. The Avada Kedavra was out of Harry’s mouth before Voldemort could understand what had happened. There was a deafening roar and a great blast of green and red light as Voldemort fell into a heap on the ground. His cold eyes stared into a vast expanse of nothingness and it was over.
Death Eaters all around them stopped and looked. Their master had fallen and the very traitor who had led the way was shielding the Boy-Who-Lived. Cries of anguish and fear echoed across the battlefield as many faithful Death Eaters charged at Snape, wands held aloft and ready to cast as many Unforgivables as they could. Snape felt the shield around him drop as Hermione and Ron pressed their backs against him, ready to defend him if anyone got too close. They shifted as Harry joined them and the unlikely guard of Severus Snape was formed.
Dozens of curses and hexes were thrown as the Death Eaters converged on the four of them. Snape’s only thought was to protect Hermione. She will not die for me either, he thought as he cast curse after curse at his childhood friends. One by one they fell and others were captured and detained by the members of the Order. At the end of it, they stood looking around them at the bodies lying the mud and muck that oozed black with blood. They had won. It was finally over.
The Great Hall was bedecked with hanging black banners bearing the Hogwarts crest and a silver star for everyone who had died during the battle the week before. The students had remained at the castle, despite the fact that the term was officially over. The Ministry informed the parents that it was the safest place for them at the moment, while the few straggling Death Eaters were rounded up and shipped off to Azkaban. There would be no arguing of the Imperius Curse this time. Anyone who had fought on Voldemort’s side on that last day was cast into the prison without trial or hearing. Snape alone was cleared and was relieved to see the putrid Dark Mark fade from his skin in the hours after the demise of the Dark Lord.
The students arrived in the Hall to find it bare of the usual House tables. Hundreds of chairs were lined up in rows along the length of the room. One single, long line of chairs stood at the front of the Hall where the High Table usually sat. There sat the teachers who remained, and those who did were badly bruised and bandaged even a week after the battle. Many chairs, however, were empty. Sprout, Moody (who had arrived after the fiasco with Dolores Umbridge to serve as Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher), Vector, Trelawney, they were gone. Their seats were left empty as tribute to their bravery and their sacrifice. Extra chairs had been added to accommodate the remaining members of the Order. Remus Lupin was nursing a set of bruised ribs as he took an empty seat near the fireplace. Tonks was sitting at his side, her right arm bandaged up in a sling.
As the students filed into their seats, a great jumble of Hufflepuffs, Ravenclaws, Gryffindors, and Slytherins, Dumbledore rose to his feet before the entire assembly and raised his hands for silence. A somber quiet fell over the room as each and every eye in the Hall was turned upon their headmaster, who had a nasty scar stretching across the bridge of his crooked nose. “Before we say our final goodbyes, seeing as we will soon be enjoying a celebratory feast in honor of the ultimate demise of Lord Voldemort, I have a few things I would like to say. So many of you have seen the terror of what hatred and racism of bloodlines can do. I hope now you can look at the people around you and see them for the human beings they are, whether they are pure-bloods, half-bloods, or Muggle-borns.”
At this Hermione, who was sitting in the fifth row between Ron and Harry, reached out for both of their hands. She patted Harry’s affectionately and smiled softly at him. On her right, Ron grasped her hand tightly in his and pulled it into his lap. He gazed at her briefly but his eyes spoke volumes. Hermione’s breath caught as she stared into the freckled face of her best friend as she saw love and desire in his eyes. She squeezed Ron’s hand and gave him a warm smile before turning her attention back to Dumbledore.
“We have lost many,” Dumbledore continued, “and I am sure we will all grieve them for a long time to come. You have lost teachers, classmates, friends. You have seen them slain in battle or taken away in the prime of youth to Azkaban for their choices. Do not forget the sacrifices these people have made. Honor their memories by honoring life. Continue to live and revive the memories of the fallen by telling their stories to your children and your grandchildren.
“More than this, more than remembering the ultimate sacrifices of those who have been lost, remember the brave and heroic witches and wizards who fought and lived. Honor their time and their risk of life. Thank them and tell their stories as well. They are among you, teachers and classmates alike. You are all the victors of this war for you have lived through perilous times and will live on to tell the story.” Dumbledore swept his arms in a wide arc to encompass the entire Hall, even the tall, silent, black-robed figure that was huddled in the far corner. A smile spread across his face as Dumbledore raised his wand and conjured a table that spanned the width of the High Table dais. “And now, we celebrate our last day together this term. For some, it will be the last time you will see Hogwarts castle until your own children find their way to graduation. For others, it is simply the beginning of seeing the castle in a new light. Feast and enjoy this day together. We will miss you all!”
With this, Dumbledore sat in his seat and turned to Professor McGonagall. The students began to mill about, saying their goodbyes to each other. Here and there couples were whispering promises to write every day over the break. Some were proposing marriage in light of the new life they had all been given. Hermione and Ron were sitting off near the fireplace together, clasping each other’s hands tightly and whispering intently to each other. When Ron stood up and disappeared into the crowd to get Hermione something to eat, the tall form of Professor Snape practically materialized at her side.
“Is this seat taken at the moment, Miss Granger,” he purred from his stature above her. Without waiting for her answer, Snape sank ceremoniously into the seat Ron had occupied a few moments ago.
Hermione Granger stood in the entrance hall of Hogwarts Castle three years later. It was the first time she had set eyes on the Castle since the victory celebration. To her eyes it had not changed, but in her heart it was different. As glad as she was to be home again, her heart was heavy as she gathered up her worn bags and trunks. They had gone with her on her travels abroad in the past three years. She had visited Viktor Krum in Bulgaria and taken a holiday in Italy for a summer. She found her way to France, where she spent a year studying under a Charms Master. She had received her certification as a Charms Mistress from the Ministry a year ago when she returned to Britain.
Hermione then spent a month visiting with the Weasleys at the Burrow. She couldn’t have stayed any longer. It was too uncomfortable to be around Ron all hours of the day and night. They had dated for several months after the victory celebration but things had slowly fallen apart from the beginning. It was messy and difficult. It was painful, at least for Hermione. She thought she was in love with Ron, but his cold indifference to her was clear as to how he felt about her. She made a quick exit from the Burrow and visited with her parents.
She had been at her parents’ house when her Charms Mistress certification arrived from the Ministry. Hermione was proud of herself for achieving something so great so young. But, as much as she loved Charms, it wasn’t her passion. What she really loved was Potions. It was months before she could get up the courage to send an owl to Hogwarts. She wanted to become a Potions Mistress and she wanted to study under her former teacher, Severus Snape.
Hermione hadn’t spoken to the man in three years, not since the victory celebration. She had thought of him often in those years, of how he had exposed himself in the battle to protect Harry and Ron, to protect her. She traveled with her books and often pulled her potions texts from her trunk and leafed through them. She could smell his classroom; hear his deep and silken voice as he instructed the students. And so the owls went, first to Dumbledore and then to Snape himself. Twelve owls not including the one to Professor Dumbledore, she kept a tally on a sheet of paper as she sent them. Twelve owls that flew away with a letter and returned with nothing, each time tearing away a little of her resolve to send another.
At first she thought he was away on a well-deserved holiday. But as the unanswered letters piled up, Hermione realized that he didn’t even want to speak to her, let alone take her as an apprentice. She wrote a final time to Dumbledore, asking if he knew of any other respectable Potion Masters in Britain. That was how Hermione found her way to Ireland, where she studied for eleven months. It was a wonderful education, but it wasn’t Professor Snape.
She had arrived back in Britain two weeks ago. Dejectedly, she went back to her parents’ home. Hermione had no more than Apparated into her bedroom when two barn owls came soaring through the open window. They perched on the edge of window and dropped their letters onto her bed. The first owl flew off without a backward glance while the second sat there, a familiar twinkling in its eyes. The first letter bore the seal of the Ministry of Magic. It was her certification as a Potions Mistress. The second bore the Hogwarts Crest. It was a letter from Dumbledore. He was offering her a job and a place to live.
So there she was, two days before the start of term, a bit in the dark as to what position she would be taking. Dumbledore hadn’t been very clear on that point. Unsure of which classroom was hers, Hermione was lost to the fact of where her quarters would be located. And so, she stood and she waited.
Snape, who had just finished tending to some pre-term affairs, had seen her arrive. He was surprised that Dumbledore and McGonagall weren’t standing in the entrance hall to greet their golden Gryffindor. Standing in the shadows of the dungeon stairs, blending perfectly into the dark recesses in his usual black robes, he watched and waited. He waited for her to go storming off in search of Professor Dumbledore or McGonagall’s office. He had known she was coming, Dumbledore had told him the moment Hermione’s acceptance owl arrived. All in all, he wasn’t displeased at seeing her again.
His chest tightened for a moment as he thought of all the unanswered letters in a box in his office. He couldn’t bring himself to answer them, not after…He shook his head to clear his thoughts and took a long look at her. Her honey brown eyes looked dark and saddened. Her once bushy locks had straightened into soft curls that cascaded down her back since he had last seen her. She looked taller, if it was even possible. She looked beautiful. Beautiful, but sad.
Hermione had been standing in the entrance hall for what seemed like forever. Snape smirked demurely to himself and stepped out of the shadows. He cleared his throat and leveled his dark eyes at his former student. “Are you lost, Miss Granger?” he purred.
She visibly jumped at his voice before turning to face him. She smiled softly, almost sadly, as her eyes focused on him. The image of the dozen letters she’d sent to him rose in her mind. She choked back tears at the thought that they had probably found their way to his fireplace unopened. “Not lost, exactly,” she replied slowly. “Just a bit confused.”
Snape quirked an eyebrow at her. “Ah, I take it the Headmaster neglected to tell you where you will be living.”
“Yes, sir,” she replied, blushing slightly. She was twenty-one, twenty-two counting the year with the Time-Turner, and here she was, still intimidated by Professor Snape. “Actually, he didn’t even tell me what I would be teaching.”
Snape’s eyes widened involuntarily at this. He quickly composed himself and answered gruffly. “You will be taking my former position, Professor Granger.”
Hermione’s eyes grew wide and her cheeks reddened as her mouth seemed to begin working without her consent. “Former position? Oh, you haven’t been sacked, have you? Not after everything you’ve done! They can’t still be in a knot over you being a Death Eater. I mean, you don’t even have the Mark anymore. How could Dumbledore allow…”
Snape cleared his throat forcefully and held up his hand to stop her. He drew his wand and cast the charms to levitate her luggage. He guided them toward the entrance to the dungeons and beckoned her to follow. He led her through a winding labyrinth of corridors until they reached his former chambers. He pushed open the door and guided her bags into the bare sitting room.
Hermione stepped past him when he remained standing at the door. The room smelled of books, leather, and brandy. That’s a wonderful smell, she thought with a small smile. It’s comforting. It’s his smell.
“I will acclimate you to the stores tomorrow, although I am well aware that you should be able to navigate it on your own after that stunt in your second year,” he said, still standing just outside the door. “I will be arranging my new office if you should need anything.”
“New office?” she chirped. The look on her face was something of relief. “So you weren’t sacked?”
He forced back a smile. “No, far from that. I am the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher,” he said smugly as he turned on his heel and disappeared.
AUTHOR\'S NOTE: I hope you enjoyed this! It\'s my first go at a fanfic and I\'ve got about 14 more chapters in mind for this one, unless the characters go off on their own. Please review, it may just kick-start my muse!
You Are Not Alone by ladysnarky