Beta(s): teddyradiator, snarkynseak, beffeysue, droxy
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): Mention of murder and potential suicide.
(Highlight to View) Prompt: Hermione won the war, but lost everything else. Snape teaches her to deal. (SS/HG or SS & HG).
Summary: When all is lost the first step to tomorrow can be the hardest.
Severus' heart leapt into his throat. He could see her as she leaned back against the highest parapet of the Astronomy tower. The wind was whipping her robes about her as she stood, her hands at her sides, shoulders slumped. Her head was bowed, so he could not see her expression.
"Miss… Professor Granger, what do you think you are doing?"
Hermione did not acknowledge Severus' whispered question with as much as the batting of an eyelash.
Severus held his breath as he looked up. The cool wind caused his eyes to water, but he did not dare take his eyes off her. "Hermione?" he tried just a little louder, but not loud enough to startle. One misstep, and the world would be minus one of the greatest minds it had ever known… that he had ever known.
"Go away Severus. Leave me be."
"Don't you think it is a little chilly to be out here?"
She sneered. "Oh come now. I am just taking in the air. What could be wrong with that?"
"Nothing if one was not balancing on the side of a castle, more than thirty feet from the ground."
Hermione laughed almost hysterically in response. "But don't you see? That is the point. Just one more step and all will be as it should have been three years ago."
It had been just weeks after Voldemort had been defeated in the final battle. The Light had won, and miraculously there had been few casualties. They had lost some good people, but less than one would think. Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny had decided to celebrate for the first time since the victory. They were to meet at the Three Broomsticks, but Hermione had been running late. As she turned the corner toward the pub, she began running before her mind had registered what she was seeing. Why had no one warned them of this? Why had no one considered there might still be those at large who still supported Voldemort, even if they did not wear his mark? They said it was a rogue Death Eater, but no one knew for sure. All Hermione could remember was the blood… blood everywhere
A flicker of movement brought her back to the present. While she had been lost in the past Severus had inched his way closer. He was now just an arm's length away. Panic flooded her eyes. "Don't come any closer!"
Severus froze; he did not want to startle her and send her hurtling to her death. He did not think he could live with one more loss.
"Hermione, your death cannot bring them back."
"You don't understand. I should have been there! I should have been with them!" Hermione screamed, as the tears started to flow.
"If you had been there what difference would it have made? Would it have stopped their deaths? No; it would have only caused your own."
Hermione struck out viciously, "And no great loss that would be, in your lofty opinion! How much easier it would have been for you had I died with my friends. No reminder of your failures!" Severus was genuinely puzzled by her venomous attack and could only stare at her. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"Why are you here anyway?" she asked, overriding his question.
"Why? Hermione half the castle has been looking for you!"
When Severus had informed Minerva of the demise of Professor Granger's familiar, the Headmistress had known the young woman would be distraught. Seeking to console her youngest professor, Minerva had paid her a visit, only to find Hermione's rooms empty except for the emaciated form of Crookshanks. He was laid out lovingly in his basket by her bed, and across his body lay a single white rose. Beside it was a small piece of parchment, quilled with the words, "My dear friend, it won't be long until we are together again."
The Headmistress had been frantic, calling on the house elves to search the castle. Hogwarts was an extensive structure, however, and it had been hours since they had all left to comb the castle. Severus drew his wand to send a Patronus to Minerva and let her known her lost cub had been found. His sudden movement startled Hermione, and instinctively she recoiled, losing her balance. He tried to catch her, but missed, as she went careening over the edge.
Acting on instinct, he reached within for powers he had not used since Voldemort's death. Taking to the air, he dove headlong after her. With only feet to spare, he caught her in his arms, pulling them out of the dive and heading skyward, where the natural air currents could support them.
Once they were stable, he struggled to subdue the screaming, flailing witch in his arms. Gradually, he was able to trap both her arms, and she slumped exhaustedly, limp enough to allow him to drift. Her screams turned to sobs; he felt her shudders vibrating through his own thin frame. All the while he held her, whispering words of comfort, as though she was a homesick first year.
When her tears had abated, she whispered, "Please just let me die. I don't want to fight anymore. I have nothing left here. Please just let me die."
She wasn't crying anymore. She wasn't screaming. It would have been better if she were. Anything would have been better than the lifeless deadened voice of the defeated. She truly believed she had no more reason to live.
Making a decision, Severus headed toward Lancashire. Something needed to be done, and it seemed it was up to him.
Severus touched down gently outside a house he had hoped to never enter again: his boyhood home in Spinner's End. However, it was a private place, and he knew they would not be interrupted. Hermione had not spoken in the last fifteen minutes; she slumped silently in his arms. Only the occasional shudder assured him she still breathed.
He walked the disconsolate young woman into the living room, and guided her down onto the threadbare sofa. Her head hung forward, hiding her face.
"Miss… Prof… Hermione, what is this all about?" he sighed.
Finally she looked up, with an expression of disbelief. "As if you don't know!"
"Obviously, I do not know," he replied, exasperated at the conversation, yet trying to maintain his composure. "One does not contemplate jumping off of a tower on a whim. Therefore, there must be a reason. I understand the distress of losing your friends, but you seemed content enough upon your return to Hogwarts."
"How can you say that?" Her voice rose to a scream. "You knew there were Death Eaters still at large, but you told no one! If we had known, Harry, Ron and Ginny would still be alive! "And then you just let Crookshanks die! Why do you hate me so much that you kill everything that means anything to me?"
As Hermione wept on his sofa, Severus was stunned by her outburst. She had blamed him for all that she had lost. Ironically, this time there had been nothing he could have done to prevent her losses. He had still been in St Mungo's when the attack on young Potter and the others had occurred. The night she had shown up on his door, begging his help to save Crookshanks, he had done everything within his power to help, even going so far as to floo in Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank, who knew more about the care of Magical Creatures than anyone else in the country. But Crookshanks had been old; in the end there was nothing that could be done. No potion could or would have spared him. Severus thought Hermione had understood.
He knew this would be painful, but if he was to help her get beyond this, he had to make her see the truth. He sat next to her on the sofa. "Hermione, I want you to think, really think, about what you are saying. Think back to when your friends died. You must recall the timeline of events."
"Then I will help you. Look at me," he urged. As she made eye contact he whispered, "Legilimens."
Hermione was taken into his memories; first, back to the hospital bed where he lain, barely clinging to life. In fact, she had been late meeting her friends on that fateful night because she had stopped at St Mungo's to check on him. Severus had been stunned to learn this news from Minerva. Hermione, Minerva and Poppy had been his only three visitors the entire time he was in hospital, and it was one of those visits which had spared her life.
He showed her Minerva, telling him of the rogue Death Eater attack; Hermione crying at his bedside, asking him, "Why?" He had no idea she had thought he would or should have known of the attack. From there, he recalled her coming to him on behalf of Crookshanks. He showed her the hours they spent together, brewing strengthening potions, feline vitamin cocktails and rejuvenation potions. Their hours spent in consultation with Wilhemina; nothing had slowed the elderly half-kneazel's decline.
As they drew apart, Hermione collapsed in his arms, weeping. In between her sobs he managed to make out her words. "All this time I've blamed you for all of it. I've blamed you, and then Crooks… I'm so sorry, but I don't know what to do. How am I going to go on without him, without all of them? I’m alone."
Severus wrapped his arms about her, and crooned comforting non-words into her wind-tangled hair. "Ssshh. You will do it the same way I have. One step at a time. And this time, you will not be alone."