(Highlight to View) Warning(s): Mild language.
(Highlight to View) Prompt: Severus is dying. He and Hermione have lived a long and happy life together. Tell me the story of their last days together.
Summary: Hermione, Severus, and their children reminisce on the wizard's troubled, rich, and, ultimately, rewarding life during Severus's last days.
"Goodnight, sweet prince
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest"
—William Shakespeare, Hamlet
Hermione stared at the weathered, raven-feathered quill lying listlessly atop her husband's writing desk through heavy hooded eyes, scrutinizing its details. Each light plume was withering slowly but surely, as if towards some perpetual finality. Severus adored that quill. It had been a gift bestowed on their seventieth wedding anniversary. A simple offering for such a phenomenal feat, and yet, such a gift spoke volumes to two scholarly minds, its meaning tender, without any heinous declarations necessary.
Decades of use had worn the quill's splendor and magnificence—several feathers, in fact had long fallen off. Still, it was a majestic-looking tool, even in its dying phase. In the past six months, beginning with her husband's steady decline, Hermione had noted that Severus's beloved quill had gone from weathered to shoddy, as though it, too, were gradually slipping away...
How could that be?
Although Hermione had been half-tempted many a time to pick it up and stroke her aged fingertips over each delicate feather, she found she couldn't bring herself to touch it. Not anymore. It had become far too delicate a sight—fragile and precious and a reminder of what Hermione would surely lose. This morning, as she looked upon its tragic state, all of a sudden, and without hint of its onslaught, a jolting pain squeezed Hermione's chest and forced her to turn away from the quill's misshapen form.
Hastily, Hermione retreated from this abandoned part of the house. Her husband no longer came down to his Potions laboratory. It had once been the quintessential sanctuary where he could hide from her wrath or sneak away from their three lively offspring. It had been an emotional adjustment for him when he could no longer use it, and Hermione well understood so without any spoken words. His aching knees could no longer withstand ascending and descending the stairs so frequently, to the point that he had given up brewing two years ago. It wasn't long after that his health began its slow decline, much to Hermione's heart-stricken worry.
Up until then, Severus Snape had maintained a profitable apothecary. After the end of the war, he had established his own shop in the center of Hogsmeade, deciding never again to return to Hogwarts under the post of Potions professor, even after Minerva McGonagall begged and pleaded with him to rejoin the war-weary staff. Severus was quite content to go his own merry way—to steer his own future, as Hermione would later come to admire—and, having never before been granted such a blessing most took for granted, Severus readily severed ties with the magical school that long been a burden as much as a refuge since late childhood.
It was in those first years following the demise of the Dark Lord that Hermione "stumbled upon"—or so she falsely claimed—Severus Snape's apothecary. She had been on a casual visit as Hogwarts' newest chaperon. It was an early November, chilly afternoon, and the school had already seen its first snowfall. Hermione had avidly accepted the vacant Potions post from Minerva when the stoic Scottish witch had been forced to come to terms with her sour Slytherin colleague's refusal, and was all too appeased to have her smartest Gryffindor aboard for that school term.
It wasn't Hermione's first choice, as far as positions were concerned, but she hoped something else might pop up, perhaps with a little time and considerable effort. She really preferred to teach Charms, if Professor Flitwick ever decided to finally hang up his teaching robes for good. In the meantime, she would graciously accept the Potions position.
As to that November day she trudged into Hogsmeade, in truth, Hermione had been itching to check out her former professor's apothecary weeks before her first chaperon duties, and would have investigated sooner had her nerves not gotten the better of her. She had an excuse or two for paying a visit, after all, but instead Hermione Granger, the famous Muggle-born friend of Harry Potter who had faced countless dangers, cowered and recoiled from the prospect of meeting Severus Snape again.
What a nervous chit I was! elderly Hermione smirked as she climbed the stairs from Severus's retired laboratory, recalling her first encounter with her future husband with perfect clarity.
A much younger, exceptionally nervous Hermione's initial steps into that impressive, well-stocked apothecary had sent a pulsating shiver down her spine—a chill that had nothing to do with the winter gusts outside. It was the first time she had set eyes on the dark-haired, hooked-nosed man since the horrifying incident in the Shrieking Shack during the final battle. Nagini's fangs had slammed into Severus Snape's neck, tearing at the delicate flesh, shattering his vocal cords, and leaving the double agent bloodied and at Death's door.
Thank Merlin and Circe he survived…
Upon entering, Hermione's jaw dropped at the sight of a very much alive Severus Snape, hunched behind the counter of his new establishment and looking very much the same as he always had, if not slightly more relaxed. His eyes squinted over a clipboard as he checked an inventory list of his supplies, the concentrated scowl lining his mouth one that eerily reminded Hermione of her days back in his Potions class, when he would harshly grade and assess her essays with that intimidating red-inked quill. Whereas during her school days that acute frown would have terrified her, now it was rather intriguing and…becoming on the man. Handsome, even. The surprising black-rimmed reading glasses wavering on the bridge of his distinctive nose, too, made the slightly enamored witch do a double-take. Dark eyes met hers and, from that day forward, Hermione Granger gradually grew smitten with Severus Snape, though she wasn't aware right at the off.
That realization would come years later, after repeated interactions over the course of several school terms, as well as hundreds of written correspondences and in-person get-togethers between the two. They had been initiated by Hermione, at first harmless as she inquired about potion ingredients or brewing advice, but it didn't take long for the letters and their casual meetings to veer into more personal territory.
Hermione's reminiscing was disrupted as she reached the kitchen, where she nearly collided with a raven-haired, strapping man who, at a fleeting glance, could pass as the spitting image of a younger Severus Snape himself. He smiled that well-attuned smile of his—her own—which was the only physical characteristic that separated the man from his father. The smile faded fast, a twinge of sadness passing over obsidian-coloured eyes.
So much like Severus's…
"Dad's sleeping," he told her quietly.
Hermione braved a warm smile and gently pressed her son's arm. "He was so looking forward to seeing you, Sian."
"I know, Mum."
"Were you able to talk for a bit?"
"Yes," Sian answered, though he seemingly couldn't bring himself to say more; his tortured eyes were unguarded as they stared into his mother's face.
Hermione didn't push the matter and simply squeezed his arm in understanding. "Thank you for stopping by, love. It means so much to him."
"Of course, Mum." Giving a forced pleasantry, Sian bent down to brush a tender kiss to Hermione's forehead. "I'll be back tomorrow. I have a meeting with the Head sod of the Department of Misused Muggle Artifacts; it shouldn't take long."
Hermione raised an eyebrow. "Nothing too serious, I hope?"
The smirk that surfaced on her son's attractive face was far too devious for her liking. It was striking and entirely too reminiscent of the older Slytherin he took after. "No, Mum. Just a long and tedious hashing of ideas."
"Well, be on your best behavior, Sian. You may actually get a promotion if you don't stick your nose in where it isn't warranted."
"Isn't that what you always taught me to do?"
"Rubbish!" she gasped. "Quit listening to your father, Sian! You need to listen to your mother, too, every once 'n a while, you know!"
"So you keep telling me," Sian chuckled, allowing a few wind-swept hairs to fall into his eyes.
Hermione punctuated her son's cheeky remark with a light smack to his chest. Sian chuckled softly and stepped back.
The atmosphere shifted to a pregnant silence, with Hermione falling still where she stood and Sian casting a thoughtful glance towards the staircase at the end of the hall, viewable from the open kitchen. He stared up towards the second level, as if it held all the answers, and all the family secrets left untold.
"He asked for you," he whispered after the lapse in conversation, his eyes drawing back to Hermione's. "Before he fell asleep..."
Hermione squared her shoulders with as much grace as an old lady could and touched a hand to her son's chin. "Then I shall hop to it. Merlin knows what your father would get up to if I wasn't around."
The smile that ghosted Sian's lips was brief and strained. Whatever glistening forming in his eyes was swiftly shoved away as he gave Hermione another peck on the cheek and headed for the sitting area, intent on Flooing back to work. With a quick "Later, Mum! Tell Dad I'll be back tomorrow!" over his shoulder, the handsome lad disappeared, the remnants of his emotional suffering etched heavily in Hermione's mind as she watched him exit the house, fleeing along with his heartache. She knew her children too well to miss the signs of their distress.
Hermione let out a long, aching sigh and headed for the stairs. The rooms on the second level had all been deserted, having once housed a family of five. At the far end of a long hallway was Hermione and Severus's bedroom, which the witch quietly made her way towards. The door was already opened a crack, as she and her husband always preferred, mainly to be kept aware if their children were about to pop in on them during times of spontaneity.
Hermione detected heavy breathing within as she forced the door wider and stepped inside, her mouth easing into a soft smile at the sight of her husband dozing across the room. Several blankets were pulled up to the slumbering wizard's chest, and a dozen propped pillows cradled his upper body, keeping him in an upright position as he slept. The angle helped him breathe easier, as well as eased his aching back; Severus hadn't slept flat on his back in nearly two years.
The Potion Master's complexion had always been a tad too pale, like someone who rarely glimpsed daylight, but now, Severus's skin held a grey translucence that wasn't at all healthy. That once-black hair, limp and oily and persistently hanging loose over broad shoulders, had turned to a salt and pepper grey over the last two decades, with several white streaks peeking through at the roots.
A handful of phials were stacked on his bedside table and, Hermione couldn't help but notice, properly alphabetized (by the wizard himself, of course.) A handy list was kept nearby, with evidence of Severus's spiky handwriting etched over the parchment, indicating the proper dosages and timeline for consuming each phial. It was a painful reminding tactic, as much as mere instructions, Severus used in an effort to keep his mind sharp, which now had a tendency to wander and forget at times.
Hermione ignored these heavy reminders of her husband's illness, preoccupied with ensuring that he was comfortable. Quietly, Hermione approached the bed, sliding a hand through his that was presently lying slack at his side. She gave it a gentle grasp and eased herself onto the bed next to him, grateful when Severus didn't wake. With her other hand, Hermione brushed a few stray hairs away from his closed eyelids. They fluttered at the soft brush of her touch, his head shifting into the warm palm of Hermione's hand. His throat made a gentle moan, to which Hermione affectionately rubbed his cheek, hoping to coax him to continue sleeping. Severus mumbled in his sleep, words that weren't understood, but Hermione thought it sounded like a soft murmuring of her name.
A knot swelled in her chest, though she tried to maintain her composure. "I'm here, love," she whispered and leaned into Severus, who didn't move or open his eyes. "I'm right here. It's all right. Everything's all right."
Once certain that he wasn't going to stir, Hermione leaned forward and placed a tenderly rendered kiss on the wizard's forehead. She squeezed his hand again to let him know she was there, and those familiar slender fingers, calloused and roughened from over a century of brewing—amongst other delicate practices—reacted, pressing ever so slightly in return.
"It's all right, Severus," Hermione softly repeated, stroking his brow. "Stay asleep; you need to rest. I'll be right here, love."
After about an hour or so of watching over her husband, Hermione's back began to protest her seated position. She had just started to rise from the bed and stretch her legs when Severus's eyes drifted open, blinking and soaking in the mid-morning light seeping into the room and casting rays across the bed, his covered legs, and his wife's gracefully aging face. His tired gaze skimmed the attractive contours of Hermione's mouth—how many times had he kissed those lips until they were swollen with the after-glow of his regard?—and the stretched lines around her eyes that conveyed the happy life he had given her.
Yes… A happy life…
"Well, look who's up," Hermione chimed with a gentle smile, rousing Severus from his contemplations with another kiss. "How are you feeling?" she asked him quietly, drawing back to take in his drowsy state.
Every wrinkle and deeply lined mark on the wizard's face expressed the weighty burdens, as well as glimmers of contentedness, Severus Snape had experienced. To Hermione and the rest of the family, however, they seemed to have manifested tenfold in recent weeks, making him startlingly older all of a sudden, as though he had aged an additional hundred years.
Severus nuzzled his cheek against her palm. "I feel like rubbish," he groaned, enjoying her flittering laughter at his expense.
"I can tell."
"Where's Sian?" he mumbled after a moment, searching the room for any trace of his eldest son.
"Sian went back to work, love."
"Mmm." A short pause later, "He works too hard."
"He gets that relentless drive from you, you know; certainly not me."
"That's a crock of shite."
"Well, what do you expect?" Hermione chuckled, giving the tip of his long nose an affectionate rub. "He looks up to you, Severus."
"A most misguided move on his part," Severus muttered and a sliver of a smile graced his thin lips.
"Now, that is rubbish, if I ever heard it!"
Severus resettled himself beneath the blankets before speaking again, taking considerable time to make his legs more comfortable. Hermione aided him in sitting upright but allowed Severus to re-situate the pillows, aware that too much fussing from her would sour and dampen his mood.
"Hadrian? Chloe?" he inquired after their second and third respectably, once he was restfully situated.
Hermione smiled down at him. "They'll be over this weekend. Chloe wanted to drop by this evening, in fact, to look through more of those albums with you and the kids," Hermione nodded to a series of photo albums stacked in a corner of the room, "but Aiden is apparently coming back into town and the girls will want to see their father, I'm sure."
Severus silently nodded his understanding, staring up into Hermione's face with quiet solemnity. He was always fond of visits from their great grandchildren, of whom there were many, including four of his own daughter's grandchildren. Not getting to see them this evening was a tad disappointing, but nothing Severus Snape couldn't handle. The briefly grim response he conveyed betrayed the thoughts rummaging through his weary mind, mostly having to do with how little time he had left to spend with his loved ones; but he was too spent to withhold his emotions from his perceptive wife anyhow.
"Yes..." he sighed. "Some other time, perhaps..."
Not missing the subtle forlornness in his tone, Hermione bent down to press his lips to hers again with a more forcefully-rendered kiss. "Now, now," she chided him softly, stroking the back of her hand along one of his sunken cheeks, "you know how much the girls adore you. They all want to come see you again, love, and they will—very soon. Perhaps as soon as the morning."
Severus's dark eyes zoned in on an empty spot in the room. "Yes, I - I know..." His voice drifted off with the trickling away of the morning sun, which had drifted behind overcast clouds.
Hermione extracted her wand and summoned a few of the more tattered photo albums into her grasp, shuffling to lay back against the pillows alongside her husband, who had suddenly become withdrawn and lost in his thoughts. She buried her legs beneath the covers and nudged his side to get his attention.
"Now, where were we last night?"
Slowly, those black irises, like a whirlpool that could always suck Hermione in, even now, came back into focus and turned to her, offering an appreciative expression, a certain longing they had long carried for her. Appeased, Hermione wordlessly opened one of the photo albums and levitated it in front of them with the aid of her wand. A series of moving photographs danced across yellowed pages, filled with selective memories from years' past; many years spent together as a couple—from what began as misunderstanding in a student-teacher setting to mutual respect for one another as adults to warm friendship following the end of war to a deep-seated love that held no bounds. That loving bond extended to three children—two sons, Sian and Hadrian, and a daughter, Chloe—as well as sons and daughters-in-law, several grandchildren, including twin boys, ten grandchildren, and at least a dozen great grandchildren.
The particular album hovering before them began shortly after the birth of their youngest child, Chloe Eileen Snape. One of Severus's bony hands outstretched itself towards the first moving photograph that caught his eye: a family portrait taken in their sitting room before a roaring fireplace. Long digits thoughtfully traced the outline of each of their children, trembling as they worked over such bright, young faces that resembled their parents'. Hermione followed Severus's gaze, her hand soon reaching out to take hold of his and bring it safely into his lap.
Together, they admired the family photograph with an unspoken understanding. In what decades ago would have been considered 'rare form,' the former double agent was seated cross-legged on the floor, his long robes spread out like a flag all around him. Snug within the folds of the fabric, and leaning into Severus excitedly, were their three children: Sian, age seven, an exact replica of his father, lanky and pale with stringy, black hair; Hadrian, age five, much like Hermione with his tightly woven chestnut curls that women the world over would envy, and with a chunkier build than his older brother; and Chloe, age one, plopped contentedly in Severus's lap, with bushier curls that were nearly black, and with dark eyes that, not quite as colourless as Severus's, could still easily pass for the same.
All three children smiled and waved happily for the camera. The boys made a series of goofy faces that forced Severus to reprimand them and point sternly towards the camera lens. His arms, however, remained protectively wrapped around their daughter, her small body braced and secure within the wizard's grasp. Hermione had been the one taking the photograph, but her presence could be felt by the glimmer in Severus's eyes, as well as their boys' repeated mouthing of 'Hey, Mummy!' to the camera.
Severus stirred beside her, nestling his head against hers. Expecting some soft word or other, Hermione rubbed a tender circle into her husband's palm, waiting on him to speak whatever was on his mind. When he finally spoke, however, his remark was somewhat unexpected, though warm.
"Merlin, they drove me bloody nuts."
Hermione giggled into his shoulder. "You and me both, remember?"
"Well, you were the more neurotic of the pair of us."
"Which is hard to believe!" Hermione snorted.
A low rumble of laughter emanated from Severus's chest. "I remember you couldn't bear to let the toys in the sitting room be. Every day, the kids would get up and make a mess of things, but you grudgingly insisted on tidying everything up every sodding hour or so, no matter what."
"Well, the messiness drove me crazy!"
"You drove yourself crazy, my dear."
"Would you have preferred tripping over chess pieces, small brooms, and Every Flavor beans all day long? They ended up in every nook and cranny—stuck under the coffee table, embedded in the sofa cushions, even in your flasks in the laboratory! You weren't so nonchalant about it then, from what I remember!"
Severus and Hermione smirked at the flashes of memory that stirred, of endearing, yet equally aggravating moments spent with their children growing up: Sian's first fist fight at school over his father's controversial involvement in the Wizarding wars; Chloe's hormonal temperament when she came of age, leaving Severus flummoxed and at a loss as to how to deal with her mood swings—"Now you know what I've had to contend with all these years!" Hermione had snickered at his expense; the first girlfriend Hadrian brought home to the house, much to Hermione's chagrin—"She's not a good fit for our son, Severus!" she had huffed whilst Severus looked on, amused. "She doesn't seem to have our son's best interests at heart!"
Selections from countless conversations and rows the couple had expressed over the children crossed their minds. Their fierce regard for them and balancing parenting tactics had brought them ever closer, too.
"I don't know how to be a father!" Severus had once snarled to Hermione, which now felt like a very distant insecurity.
"Oh, rubbish, Severus, no one knows how it's done! You think I'm prepared to be a mother?"
"You're prepared for every ruddy thing!" he snapped; she did admit that he had a point, but quickly pushed past it, speaking calmly and reassuringly.
"You'll be fine, Severus. We'll work together."
"I know we will but..." His words trailed off. He ran his hands over his face, the exasperation evident. His sharp features drew heavily upon the task that lay ahead: a future he could never have prepped himself for, even with knowing that, with Hermione, it would one day be on the horizon.
"Is this not what you want?" Hermione shook him back to reality. The look she bore him glinted with a hint of apprehension that was also apparent in her voice. "I - I thought..."
Severus scooped up her hands before she could pull away from him. "Of course it's what I want, Hermione. I'm just... I thought I'd be ready, but instead I feel...lost."
Hermione's worried brown eyes peered up into his. "No one's ever prepared for these things, love. We just...have to face them. Together."
Resigned to the resolute words of his wife, Severus clasped her hands tightly and brought them to his lips. "And we shall," he insisted, though his voice sounded smaller than usual.
"One of the few incidences where you looked truly terrified: becoming a father," Hermione laughed lightly into Severus's ear, earning another nudge of his head and a low growl in response.
Hermione smiled and flicked her wand, which turned the page, showcasing a handful of new moving photographs, all of the family. "Chloe was as devious as you were," said Severus, with a twinge of amusement.
"I happened to prefer to play by the rules, you know."
"Until you met Potter and Weasley."
"Point taken." Hermione warmly kissed Severus's cheek. "You know I got myself in trouble simply to get on your bad side."
"What a poor job you ultimately did of that."
"I suppose you're right," she chuckled, giving her wrist a flick and turning the page again. "Oh, look! Chloe's first word!" She frowned at the photograph of a very young Chloe bundled in Severus's arms and mouthing the word. "Go figure that she would learn your name before mine. Forget that I carried her in my belly for nine months!"
"Dada's easier to say than Mama," Severus argued quietly as he squeezed her hand. "Besides, it doesn't matter, my dear. You were—and are—a wonderful mother."
Hermione found herself moved and emotional over such unexpected, soft-spoken words. Her fingers tightened around his. She gently leaned over and pecked the side of his face, taking a moment to whisper in his ear, "And you, my love, are and always will be a wonderful father."
Hermione didn't expect Severus's reply to be a shattered question of "I am? I will?" and startled.
"Yes, of course you are!"
"Do you think...?"
Hermione inched closer and whisked a few straggly hairs away from his impressive profile. She had long admired the defined shape of Severus's prominent nose, the shapely curve of his mouth, and those stark, long eyelashes, all of which others somehow found unseemly. How in the world others had never fully appreciated Severus Snape's unconventional attractiveness, failing to see the natural beauty in the wizard that Hermione routinely glimpsed, was beyond her comprehension.
"Do I think what, Severus?" she prodded him as gently as possible.
Severus sighed long and hard before uttering, "Do you think our sons and daughter will remember me...as I was to them; as their father rather than how the world has shaped and perceived me to be?"
Hermione felt as if someone had reached in and cruelly clenched her heart. "Oh, Severus, why would you even think the latter?"
Pale fingers outstretched towards another family photograph of Hermione, Severus, and their children gathered around Sian, seated in front of a birthday cake with shooting sparklers. "Time replaces memory, Hermione... Memories can eventually become lost... I don't... I don't wish to be remembered as anything less than the man I molded myself to be...for you and for our family."
Hermione gave his hand another reassuring squeeze. "And you will be remembered as that man, love," she declared into his ear, leaning her head affectionately towards his. "I promise you."
"You'll see to it?" His voice was frailer than before and mixed with uncertainty.
"You know I will, Severus."
"I... Thank you."
"Don't even mention it." Hermione eased her hand out of his and, using her wand hand, levitated the photo album out of sight. She wrapped a protective arm across Severus's chest and held him tight. "You rest now. Get some sleep."
Severus was asleep within a few minutes, his mind tittering on the edge of conscience, memories floating up behind closed eyelids to reveal the fortunes and misfortunes that had come his way in such a long, fulfilling lifetime.
A sweet-sounding giggle tickled Severus's ear. "You look scary, Great Granddad!" the little voice laughed, pointing at a rather old photograph of the dark wizard from his late teenage years.
Severus's eyes danced humorously, despite his bed-ridden state. "I'm delighted to hear that, Vera."
"Dad!" uttered another witch who was older and attractive-looking, with thick, raven curls that cascaded down her back; she reached out and patted his knee from her spot in a nearby chair. "There's no reason to employ those scare tactics of yours anymore."
Three small children huddled around Severus cackled in unison, turning the pages of another weather-worn photo album, whilst his daughter, Chloe, and Hermione watched on, each at the edge of his bed. Frequent gatherings of generations of Snapes were customary, especially during the past several weeks when Severus's health had taken a turn for the worse.
Not wanting to draw attention to the obvious, Severus thoughtfully smiled down at the two girls and one boy occupying his bed with him, all of whom were under the age of seven. "Nonsense," he lightly countered his daughter. "I have a reputation to uphold."
His great grandchildren took amusement at that, unperturbed by the elderly wizard lying supine with his curtain of hair, long and ruffled, half-concealing his face. Hermione grinned at the spectacle and rubbed at one of his blanketed legs.
"You can try to retain that impassive demeanor even now, love, but the family—the kids—know better."
"Bollocks," he quipped, rearing back when the three tots jumped up and down on the bed and scooted closer to him. Chloe scolded them for being too rambunctious and loud.
The children and Severus resettled in to examine a few more moving photographs before Chloe coaxed her grandchildren to give her father some respite. "Your mummy brought scones along and is making tea. Why don't you three go downstairs and have some?"
It took a little more adamant persuasion to get the bouncy children to leave their great grandfather alone, but eventually Chloe and Hermione were able to entice them to retreat downstairs, but not before the youngest, Elsie, a round-faced four-year-old with striking auburn eyes and wavy, brown locks, planted a delicate kiss on Severus's cheek. She then tapped his withered hand, so much larger than hers, and whispered a question close to his face.
Severus somewhat struggled to make eye contact. "Yes, sweetheart?"
"Can I bring you scones and tea? Would that make you happy?"
The adults in the room knew Severus had very little appetite and could barely keep anything down these days, but the little girl didn't. Severus weakly raised his hand to stroke her smooth, rosy cheek.
"That would be very appreciated, Elsie, thank you," he agreed, giving her button nose a quick pinch.
Satisfied, Elsie flashed him an endearing smile, one that was tenderly naive, and hopped off the bed, scurrying out of the room after her older siblings. Chloe and Hermione remained, however, and the room took on a less rowdy, more appeasing quietness. Hermione walked to the opposite side of the bed to take her great grandchildren's place next to her husband.
"Sorry, Dad," Chloe laughed, wanting to keep the atmosphere light; her mother wasn't fooled, though. She knew how badly her children were struggling watching their father deteriorate. Even within a Wizarding household, it was no more peaceful an experience than in non-magical families. "They just get so excited to see you and hear your stories."
"I wouldn't think frightening stories about Lord Voldemort would appeal to their young senses," Severus said, leaning back against a pile of pillows. He turned to Hermione and dejectedly shook his head. "Kids these days..."
"Oh, stop playing down your part in it all, Dad. They enjoy hearing about how heroic their great grandfather was!"
Severus visibly squirmed, taking hold of one of Hermione's hands. "Heroic is a far stretch from what I actually was, Chloe..."
Chloe and her mother exchanged a weary look. With a sigh, the middle-aged witch bent forward to affectionately rub Severus's arm.
"Harry Potter, Mum, the Order... None of them would've won the war without you, Dad. They've attested to that themselves. We won't let the kids hear otherwise, not from you or anyone else." Chloe gathered herself together and forced a wider smile. "Now then, I'm going to go see about those scones and tea, or else Elsie will spill the whole thing on her way back up the stairs!"
Chloe left a peck on Severus's forehead before strolling out of the room, exchanging another warm glance with Hermione before she withdrew down the stairs. The children's voices could scarcely be heard, in part thanks to a muffling charm Hermione had cast on the room to ensure her husband's sleep wouldn't be disturbed as family came and went from the house.
A comfortable silence settled in upon their daughter's leave, Hermione's hand remaining firmly linked with Severus's, until he stirred against her, prompting her to peer over at him. "The realities of what I did will be hard on them once they come of age."
"You know it will be, Hermione... It was difficult for Sian, Hadrian, and Chloe when they were young."
"And they came to accept the good and the bad, love, just as the little ones will." Hermione's thumb gently circled the inside of his palm once more. "You did what was necessary. You did what none of us could do and get away with. You were the consummate spy—the only wizard—capable of doing that job, Severus, and doing it expertly." She heard Severus make an apprehensive noise and pushed onward; they were profound words professed in years' past, but now they held a more far-reaching meaning than ever before. "Our family is proud of you, Severus, as am I. That regard will continue to grow; don't you worry. We love you, and we'll continue to ensure that your story is heard and well-understood. You know how highly Minerva always spoke of you, and now Harry does in his role as Headmaster."
"Yes, I'm aware."
Severus slipped into silence again, his head tucked snug between Hermione's shoulder and neck. After a time, she could tell he hadn't yet fallen asleep but was simply deep in thought, undoubtedly focused on the past: his former transgressions and regrets, the complicated factors that set the Wizarding wars in motion, of which Severus Snape was such an integral architect in bringing about its end results.
Hermione covered his hand with hers, enfolding it with all of her warmth. "Rest, love. You've had a long day, and more family will be dropping by shortly."
"Hadrian?" he murmured, his eyes quickly falling shut.
"Yes, he'll be here soon. Sian may not be by again until tomorrow."
Hermione drew an arm protectively across his chest, hugging him to her chest. "Get some sleep so that you'll be up later when Hadrian arrives."
Severus nestled against her further, his body going lax in her arms. "Yes..." he mumbled, his words barely audible. "Hadrian... Coming soon... I...miss him..."
"I know you do, love."
Hermione kissed and nuzzled the top of his head, the couple soon falling quiet in each other's cozy embrace. By the time Elsie appeared in the bedroom once more, with Chloe hovering behind her granddaughter and levitating a tray of mouth-watering scones and hot tea for all, Severus had already passed into a deep sleep, leaving the rest of them to attend to their own cups and saucers.
Hermione softly placed a heating charm on Severus's tea and assortment of scones to keep them warm, aware that, sadly, he would likely not drink or eat any of it.
Hadrian Snape ascended the stairs, knowing what would be awaiting him at the end of the long, familiar hallway that had, since he was a wee lad, led directly to his parents' bedroom. It had virtually stayed the same since his childhood, as they never saw legitimate reasons for redecorating. From the deep burgundy-coloured drapes that, to his father, were a tedious eyesore, to the antique, four-poster bed that originated from the Prince's family—his great grandfather had apparently been quite the talented woodcarver—to the many family portraits and various certificates his mother and father had received for career achievements that donned the walls from floor to ceiling, Severus's and Hermione's bedroom was a testament to their personalities, and the deep love that ran between them.
In recent months, Hadrian had been swinging by his parents' house as often as he could manage, sometimes with his wife in tow and other times in the company of his own children or grandchildren; but, tonight, he was alone. He had received an owl the previous day from his older brother, Sian, informing him that their father wasn't doing as well as their mother or the wizard's decades-long healer would have liked.
'I'm afraid it's only a matter of days now, Brother. Healer Moore is supposed to be by tomorrow or the following morning to check in and ensure that Dad's comfortable. I know Chloe's been by a number of times, too, with her family, wanting to spend as much time with Dad as possible.
'It seems that it's finally upon us, though, Hadrian. I know it's foolish to write to you and confess that I never thought the time would come when we'd be saying our goodbyes to Dad, but I find myself writing as much. I naively imagined for many years now that there would always be more time together, more days ahead to spend with him, more precious memories to build and share. But that isn't true anymore, is it? Time is, at long last, running out...
'I know our paths will cross in the days ahead. We'll need each other to get through this, and also to help Mum in processing her grief and loss. Merlin knows how she's going to cope without him. I'm worried about her. Dad expressed to me this morning his own concerns while he was awake, brief as the conversation was. It was mostly about her, and how he feared for her strength crippling under the weight of dealing with the aftermath after he's gone. It was admittedly hard to listen to, but I think it comforted Dad a lot just to see how supportive we'll all be of her, and each other.
'You know, Mum and Dad have been together far longer than they ever were apart. Being separated will surely be devastating for us all, but especially for Mum. Keep an eye on her when you see her, Hadrian. She acts like she's handling the loss of Dad as brave as a Gryffindor can fake it, but she's clearly suffering... They both are...
'I hope and pray that we'll all be able to find peace with Dad's passing... Somehow... Dad said that that was his wish for us all as well. Don't worry about what to say to him or how to express what you're feeling. You'll find the words, Brother.'
Hadrian swallowed the emotional turmoil clawing up the back of his throat. He paused at the door and adjusted his shirt, half stalling and half listening intently for any signs that his father was already awake. His mother had informed him that he likely wasn't but that he had slept for several hours that afternoon. 'He should be able to talk to you for a while,' she encouraged with that warmth and calmness that, for as long as Hadrian had known, was his mother's inherent nature. According to his snarky father, however, that hadn't always been the case.
Hadrian quietly drifted into the room to find, to his surprise, Severus wide awake and propped up against his pillows. Between slender, trembling fingers that were barely able to grasp he held his birch wood wand, his hands attempting to run over its ridges with care. It wasn't an uncustomary practice amongst Wizard kind, but observing his father examining it at length was certainly unexpected.
"Hey, Dad," he greeted, putting forth the bravest smile he could muster.
Severus's eyes slowly raised from the inspection of his wand to his second eldest child, now very much a grown man—middle-aged amongst Muggles—who clearly took after Hermione in most respects. His tightly woven curls were various shades of brown, though less unruly than his mother's, and gathered at the shoulders into a ponytail. His brown eyes closely resembled Hermione's own as well. His smile, however, as well as his more dignified-looking nose, paralleled Severus's, and enhanced his charming appearance and demeanor.
"Hello, Son," Severus replied, placing his wand gingerly in his lap; Hadrian noted that his voice sounded raspier than usual.
"How are you feeling this evening?"
"You should run that question by your mother." A half-cocked smirk graced his lips as Hadrian took a seat in the comfy chair Chloe had previously occupied earlier that day. "She tends to know where my aches and pains reside at any given moment, as well as when I need to take a sodding wee before I know myself."
"Dad," Hadrian chortled eagerly. He was quite willing to partake in lighthearted banter before having to combat the seriousness of the situation, which included the deep-set emotions he was, at present, trying to suppress, particularly at seeing his father so frail and fatigued.
Severus reclined his head against his pillows and turned towards him. "I'm all right," he breathed, sounding a bit shaky.
"You sure, Dad? Can I get you anything?"
Severus surveyed his strapping son for a considerable moment before he extended a shaking hand out towards him. Hadrian readily accepted and grabbed on tight, leaning forward in his chair as well to be closer.
"No... Your company will do..."
"Then I'm all yours, Dad."
"I'm grateful..." Severus started and stopped, taking a moment to seemingly catch his breath. Hadrian squeezed the elder wizard's quivering hand, transmitting a thousand unspoken words in a single hand grip.
"Don't be, Dad. I should be here. There's nowhere else I'd rather be right now."
"Thank you...for coming..."
Using his free hand, Hadrian firmly patted his father's upper arm. "Of course, Dad."
Severus closed his eyes. Then he resumed their conversation, his eyelids fluttering open again. "How are things at home?"
"They're fine. Adrianna's been filling in at the apothecary for Chloe. She's been an enormous help these past few weeks."
"I'm glad to hear it."
"Adrianna says all your regular customers have been asking after you." Severus snorted softly and tried to roll his eyes, feigning annoyance. Hadrian chuckled. "What? Is that really so hard to believe?"
"Exceptionally," Severus deadpanned, to which Hadrian's grin broadened and he shook his head.
"How quickly you forget your importance, Dad!"
"How quickly you forget the wand still in my hand," Severus countered; the black eyes twinkled with a familiar gleam that only his family ever glimpsed, and would remember for decades to come.
Before Hadrian could retort, female laughter echoed from the hallway, where Hermione stood with her arms crossed over her chest, shooting both men an amused smirk of her own. "Do you plan to hex our son as soon as he's arrived, Severus? That isn't good form, you know."
"I probably couldn't if I tried."
Those words brought the humor abruptly to a halt. Hermione's smile momentarily disappeared, and Hadrian glanced away to get ahold of the tightening in his throat. Quietly, Hermione entered the bedroom and returned to her former spot on the bed next to her husband. She bent close and fondly stroked his arm.
"Did you tell him?" she inquired. Hadrian's ears perked up, the uncertainty written on his brow.
"No," Severus answered, keeping his eyes on his wife. "Will you stay, my dear?"
Hermione's hand pressed his arm reassuringly. "Yes, of course I will."
Silently comforted, Severus turned his attention back to his son, who was looking on at the pair of them, confused. "Hadrian, hold out your hand."
Hadrian did as his father instructed, continuing to grip Severus's hand with the other. His eyes widened in shock when Severus reached over and, with his hand that had been gripping his own wand, he dropped it casually into Hadrian's palm. A swirl of magic ejected from the instrument and circled their intertwined hands before the magic absorbed itself into Hadrian's hand, its possession transferring from elder to younger in the blink of an eye.
Slowly, Severus drew back, a small smile forming at the corners of his mouth. Hadrian stared on at the wand now in his hand, transfixed by what had occurred. The wand he held so delicately had belonged to his father for 121 years and, without so much as a suggestion that he would be passing it on to Hadrian, he had casually handed it over to his second son to do with as he would.
"I thought you might like to have it," he explained after a lengthy pause; he waited for Hadrian to raise his head before continuing in a strained voice. "The ritual would be to destroy it after my death, but your mother and I thought that maybe...perhaps..."
"No, Dad. I understand." Hadrian could barely speak; the words were stuck in his throat. "I... I'd be honored to have this. To keep it."
Hadrian found his hand being tugged closer to his father, who accepted his son's words graciously. Their mutual grasp found purchase against Severus's chest. It had been many years since Hadrian had seen his father cry, but there was no mistaking the selection of tears welling up therein. Acceptance of what was to come loomed behind their watery depths.
"Just something to remember me by..."
Hadrian didn't speak, for there were no words he felt he could have uttered in that moment that would convey everything he felt for his father. Binding his lips tightly together, Hadrian raised himself from his chair, leaning in to Severus to kiss his forehead. The moment he allowed his lips to slightly part, however, cost him the emotional battle he had been wrestling with since his arrival. Hadrian muffled the sobs that escaped him into the wizard's hair and closed his eyes.
He wanted to thank Severus, to express most adamantly that he didn't require his father's wand to remember him by. He had a lifetime of memories—precious moments with the private Severus Snape that the rest of the world wasn't worthy to know—that would easily stretch across the years that were about to separate them from one another; but Hadrian didn't say any of those things.
Instead, he cried into his elderly father's shoulder whilst Severus firmly held onto his son's hand, and Hermione embraced them both—two grown men caught up in a mixture of grief and acceptance.
Severus awoke with a start, his arms flailing about whilst his body twisted beneath the sheets. His face was a contortion of pain and suffering unlike any Hermione had previously witnessed when she stirred and turned over to face him. He breathed strenuously through his nose, his eyes squeezed shut. She prodded his shoulder, even as he continued to roll and shift away from her.
"Severus! Severus, it's all right, love. It's all right, I'm here."
Severus croaked a response, one that horrified Hermione to hear, and she couldn't quite make out what he was saying, other than an occasional breathy whisper of her name. Upon her continuing to speak and soothe him, Severus slowly settled down, his body eventually falling slack in repose, and allowing Hermione to let out the breath she had been holding in. Severus had been stirring in such a state for the past several days now, which wasn't really unexpected, but observing it the numerous times that she had never made it easier for her heart to bear. Their healer had warned Hermione and the children that this would likely happen towards the end, and each occurrence was like a knife twisting at Hermione's heart, reminding her that Severus didn't have much longer to live.
Once certain that her husband was asleep, Hermione drew upward and propped a pillow behind her back. He looked quite comfortable and unbothered now, muttering every so often during his deep slumber, but there would be no returning to bed for the concerned witch at his side. There never was after watching the wizard's body struggling repeatedly to hang on, if only another day or two.
Hermione carefully eased over onto Severus's side of the bed and curled up beside him, wrapping an arm around his waist and laying her head on his shoulder. He flinched and tossed his head but soon went still again, his chest rising and falling rapidly—faster than what was normal.
"I'm right here, love," Hermione tried to reassure in his ear, then proceeded to stroke gentle circles into his side the same way she often did his palm. "You aren't alone. It's Hermione. I'm here with you, Severus. I'm here."
His breathing didn't calm, but he remained fast asleep long enough for Hermione's consciousness to drift, her mind recalling the dreadful conversation held earlier that evening, when Healer Moore had dropped by to check on Severus's prognosis. Sian had just arrived, too, and the emotional exchange with Hadrian had taken place only an hour before.
Two days previously, Severus had been given roughly a week to live by Healer Moore, based on the diagnostic tests he ran, but, in those two days, much had apparently changed in Severus's slipping condition, which prompted the rest of the family to drop by more frequently.
Thinking back on the past forty-eight hours, it wasn't difficult for Hermione to comprehend how little time Severus really had left. His quill, for one, had been wilting for months, but even the past few days it had lost several feathers at once. It was a telling suggestion of what was to come, and she was no gutless fool who wasn't willing to acknowledge the signs, difficult as they may be to accept. Furthermore, Severus's thrashing about had increased to every couple of hours, mainly whenever he managed to drift off to sleep for a few hours, which Healer Moore explained was what Muggles and Wizarding kind alike termed a "common occurrence when one is close to death." His breathing, too, had steadily worsened, the beginnings of what Hermione remembered her parents' experiencing upon their death beds as the 'death rattle' making itself known in the past several hours.
That frightened her perhaps most of all. Hearing Severus fighting to breathe was horrifying. As he dozed in her arms tonight, she could hear the struggle, the laboring tautness in his chest. The unbearable sounds made her own chest tighten.
"It's only a matter of hours now," Healer Moore had informed Hermione that evening, along with her children and some of the grandchildren and great grandchildren who lingered throughout the house. "I must ask you all to prepare yourselves. I'll be back tomorrow evening. Send for me beforehand if you need me."
Healer Moore, a grey-bearded gentleman with kind, blue eyes and a compassionate bedside manner, took Hermione aside before he exited via the Floo Network, embracing her warmly around the shoulders. "Hang in there, Hermione," he attempted to comfort her, aware that the brave witch was struggling to keep herself together for the sake of her family. "He's ready. He told me so. I've ensured that he's as comfortable as possible. You've done so well with taking care of him these past several weeks that he's been bed-ridden."
"Have I?" Hermione stammered, finding herself suddenly weak on her feet and incapable of speaking. She had known that Severus's limited time was drawing to a close. Facing it, however, was proving more brutal than she would have ever imagined.
"Yes, you have."
Hermione raised her eyes, allowing the tears to form. "He - He told you he was ready?"
Healer Moore eyed her over with a sensitivity that came from decades of practice and interaction with grieving families. "Indeed, he did, Hermione. He's accepted his mortality, and I believe he has you and your family to thank for being at peace with it. You've all kept close to him, have kept him comfortable, and have kept him stimulated and talking whenever possible. You've made this transition far easier and comforting for him than you can imagine."
A few tears trickled down Hermione's cheeks, a lump forming in her throat that she could no longer contain. She forced a most dire question out, despite what she feared the response would be, "Will he... Will he be in any pain?"
"No. I can assure you, he's quite comfortable now."
"Thank - Thank you. Thank you for all you've done for Severus. For us."
Healer Moore gave Hermione's shoulder a light squeeze. "I've done all that I can for him. The rest is now up to Severus, and to you."
Hermione blinked. "Me?"
Healer Moore offered her a charitable smile. "I believe Severus has held on a lot longer than he would have without the love of his family. I think the reason he's continued to fight is…you."
Hermione sucked in a sharp breath. Her lungs felt as though they had frozen and could no longer get air. Slowly, her watery eyes locked on the healer's, a fearful resolution radiating on her face.
"What can I do?" she asked softly, to which Healer Moore's expression turned grim, yet remained strong-willed.
"Help him, Hermione. Let him know that it's all right for him to go; that he can pass on in peace."
Hermione's chest constricted at the very thought of declaring such words. Somehow, she would have to find the will to help her husband die? The idea was not only devastating, but seemed utterly impossible.
"You'll make it easier on him, Hermione," Healer Moore insisted gently. "I think he would be more accepting leaving you with your permission."
Hermione opened and closed her mouth several times, but words escaped her grasp. She wanted to crawl away somewhere, into the darkest, deepest depths of her soul, and hide away from the anguish pressing down on her—from Severus's approaching demise, however painful it was to watch and endure; from his ever-faithful, warming presence that was about to leave her on her own; from his retreat to somewhere that she surely could not follow.
Hermione clamped a hand to her mouth, lest her heartache be overheard by those nearby, including her children or some of the young ones still awake. Healer Moore simply squeezed her shoulder a second time, keeping his staunch gaze upon her.
"Don't burden yourself, Hermione. There will be dark days ahead for you, without a doubt, but lean on your family for support. You won't be alone in this. For now, live in the moment with him...until he's gone."
It took a long time for Hermione to acknowledge the healer's advice. She eventually nodded but kept her hand clasped over her mouth, the tears falling freely from her eyes. She mechanically watched Healer Moore bow to her and disappear into a host of green flames, but her mind—her heart—had drifted elsewhere, up the stairs to where her husband was likely fast asleep.
Darkness closed in and everyone retreated to bed, including Hermione, though the atmosphere in the room she had long shared with her husband was heavy with the approaching loss of life—and one that was most precious and dear. Hermione curled herself tighter around a slumbering Severus, intent on listening to every breath and every tender whisper of her name until the end.
Hermione stretched her neck to lovingly kiss Severus's cheek, which felt a bit cold against her lips. "I love you, Severus," she choked out, compelled to say the words, even if he may not hear them; somehow, she sensed that he could, though. "You rest now. Don't worry or fear anything. I love you, and I'll always love you. Don't... Don't wait for me. Everything's going to be all right. I... I promise."
Severus responded with a noisy rattling that reverberated from deep in his chest. He murmured her name a few more times before falling quiet, his breathing still raspy and shallow. Hermione nestled her face against his and allowed her tired eyes to close.
Soon, between her husband's breathing and her own stifled sobs, Hermione drifted off to sleep, holding tight to Severus as they both slept relatively peacefully with one another.
With that low whisper of need, Hermione easily came to, drowsy and somewhat disoriented at first. Severus's voice sounded hoarse, unnaturally thin, and, as her eyes peered up into his face, the look he bore frightened her. His complexion was grayer and even more translucent than before, and those dark eyes, once so alive despite their lack of colour, now appeared listless and drained.
Oh no, she thought in a panic. Immediately, Hermione jolted upright before she could prevent herself from masking the worry that washed over her. No… Not yet…
Severus swallowed and worked extra hard to grab ahold of her arm, prompting his wife to lie still. "Please..." he rasped, forcing air in and out of his lungs. "Don't be alarmed..."
Hermione tried to will away her concerns, knowing it wasn't what was merited right now. She was supposed to be offering Severus comfort in his last hours, not the opposite.
"I... I'm not," she lied and blushed slightly. "You just startled me was all. Are you in any pain, love?"
"Are you thirsty? Would you like some water?"
"That would be good, yes..."
Hermione conjured a fresh glass of water with her wand and lifted Severus's head, bringing the cup to his lips. He took a considerable gulp and thanked her wordlessly with his eyes. Hermione placed the glass on his bedside table and smiled gently down at him. The silence stretched out between them for some time before either spoke again, and it was Severus who, at last, broke the quietude, his tongue working hard to speak.
"Thank you...for spending the night with me..."
Hermione tried to keep the tears at bay, aware of the flush that was trickling up her neck and onto her cheeks. "Of course, Severus. You know there's nowhere else I'd rather be than with you."
"But...you can't..." he struggled to tell her, his eyes conveying their own sadness about the situation. "Not anymore..."
Tears leaked out of Hermione's eyes, despite her efforts. She quickly scooped up his hand and ran her lips over his knuckles, kissing each one individually.
"Then I'll stay with you for as long as we have left."
Severus searched her face, though Hermione wasn't sure if he was entirely seeing her anymore. "Not...long..." he uttered after a moment, prompting his wife to lose more of her composure. "And there's...so much...I've wanted...to say to you..."
Severus's hand slipped out Hermione's grasp and caressed the side of her face, his thumb attempting to brush away the cascading tears. Hermione held onto his arm, her eyes staring down into his intently, conveying the depth of her heartache in a manner she simply couldn't express to him aloud.
"You don't have to say anything, Severus, really. I know your heart, and you know mine."
"Yes..." Severus made a conscientious sweep of his wife's countenance. "I am...so grateful...to you, Hermione. Know this...my dear... You have been my happiness...my joy...my everything that's been worth...staying alive for...these past many, many years. You have made me...a better man...because of your selfless love...and you've honored me...with the bestowing of your endless compassion...and understanding..."
Hermione turned her face towards Severus's palm, her fingers grabbing hold of the back of his hand, determined not to let go. Her other hand stroked the side of his angular face, gentle fingers mapping their way along one high cheekbone and the pair of slender lips she had kissed with passion countless times over.
"You've honored me, Severus, by staying by my side all these years. You've loved me as no woman has ever been so loved. Thank you."
The slit of a smile that emerged across Severus's mouth made Hermione's breath stall. It was the gentlest, most tranquil expression she had ever seen. His soft, breathy "I love you," was matched by Hermione. It wasn't just a declaration, but a final farewell.
Stifling her cries, Hermione bent her head to kiss her husband, knowing it would be the last kiss they would ever share and experience. Severus was barely able to engage, but his desperate attempt was acutely felt, nevertheless. Hermione pushed deeper, until she could no longer sense Severus responding.
Reluctantly, Hermione parted her lips from his to find that Severus's eyes had closed, the long, elegant eyelashes were still, and his gaunt face held a poise and eternal rest that no breath of life could now touch.
He was gone.
As the seconds trickled by, Hermione didn't clutch Severus's chest and dramatically weep, nor scream and shake him to demand that he wake for one more moment. Despite the harrowing grief clawing at her heart and threatening to tear her apart from the inside, Hermione quietly laid down beside her lifeless husband, her hand continuing to tenderly stroke every facet of his motionless face, etching each feature, each touch, into her memory.
"Goodbye, love," Hermione murmured—cried—into the hushed, night air. "Thank you. Thank you... Thank you..."
The following morning, Hermione would find her husband's feathered quill had somehow reshaped itself anew. Every feather was intact, striking, and untouched by burden of time.
With a knowing smile, Hermione took her place at the late wizard's desk, picked up his beloved quill, and began to write a eulogy—parting words to the man she loved—intent on righting his wrongs and leaving to the memory of all who would bear witness who Severus Snape really was...