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Afterglow by Violet Gryfindor
Chapter 1 : Afterglow
 
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Afterglow


The carnage was too great for anyone to bear. No one should see death in such a way; the bodies littered across the ground like spilled rubbish, their sightless eyes staring at the starlit sky. Fires had erupted across the barren field, casting a ghastly orange glow on living and dead alike. It was no use to see who had fallen; all would be known once the final spell had been cast. Never before had the death curse been used so often in one place. It had been too difficult to keep up other spells; there was no use fighting back with anything but death. There was a mysterious lack of sound: no yelling or screaming, no voices to be heard at all. Even the strongest - and the strongest were the only ones left - had not the energy to speak. They saved it all for the next spell, wondering if it would be their last.

Out of the mist that loomed from the nearby forest stumbled a figure, her bushy brown hair matted with mud and sweat, her clothes torn and covered with brownish-red stains. The blood was most likely not her own, seeing that there were no visible wounds upon her. The person whose blood it had once been was no longer around to provide an explanation.

Hermione Granger saw the others still fighting and took in a ragged breath. She must join them, she told herself, she mustn’t be afraid to die, she was a Gryffindor after all. But all her courage was gone, leaving her as broken and lifeless as the bodies around her. Tears ran down her face as she looked down at the ground and saw people she had once known and loved. It seemed like another time when she had spoken their names and laughed with them. Now they were gone forever to that blackness known as Death. They were now beyond the veil, like so many before them.

She pushed herself to move forward, towards the battle and away from this graveyard. Nearly halfway to the place where she could see shadows amongst the flames, she fell to the ground, having tripped over something. Trying to get back up, she found herself looking into the cold grey eyes of Draco Malfoy. The expression of surprise on his face was permanent; perhaps he had not expected his assailant to kill him. With a muffled scream, Hermione backed away on her hands and knees. Her hatred for Malfoy was not so great that she would feel glad that he was dead. Rather she was only disgusted that the battle had gone so far.

Finally, she was once more on her feet, feeling them carry her closer to the battle. She could just begin to make out the forms of people. Harry and Ron were still up, she was happy to see, but they were slow in their movements and clumsy in their footsteps. There were others she knew as well: Remus Lupin, taking on two Death Eaters at once; Nymphadora Tonks, running towards him, wielding her wand with an expression of determination on her face; Neville Longbottom, still accurately shooting spells at a retreating Bellatrix Lestrange. Then she saw Voldemort, sparks flying out of his wand. When his laughter rang through the air, splitting the silence like an axe, Hermione could not help but shiver. Who would win this battle?

On the horizon, the smallest amount of light was appearing. False dawn, most likely, but still something to break up the darkness. The fires burnt lower, there being not much else to feed their hunger than the infernal mud that was everywhere. The mist was deepening, shrouding the bodies in its coolness. Hermione was glad she could no longer see them. She needed to be strong. There would be time to grieve for the dead once the battle had ended.

Her wand was in her hand. She did not remember taking it from her robes, but it was there, beginning to glow as her mind sought the perfect spell. It was automatic to her now; all her practice had paid off, yet she wished there was some other way. She had never planned on using spells to harm and kill, only to help and improve the world. But she could not back down now. It was far too late for that.

The first Death Eater that crossed her path was hit hard with a spell that sent him flying into the mud, spluttering unrepeatable words. As he struggled to rise, she shot the killing curse at him, Avada Kedavra echoing through her brain. The Death Eater’s arm fell into the mud, wand still in his hand. With curiosity, Hermione lifted the mask from his face, only to see Rabastan Lestrange staring back. She did not regret having killed him, yet she was surprised he had fallen so easily. Was it that he had been too weak, or had she been too strong? Perhaps she would never know.

Not willing to ponder such labourious thoughts, Hermione turned, ready to face whatever opponent she came across next. The others left still fought, living off borrowed time as they fought for what remained of their lives. Then she saw Neville falter and heard Bellatrix cackle as she raised her wand to cast a horrible curse. When Hermione’s spell hit her in the side, Bellatrix’s face lost some of its triumph. Turning from where Neville knelt waiting for Death to come, Bellatrix sent a spell in Hermione’s direction. It missed. Somehow a combination of mist and shadows had tricked the older witch’s eyes.

“Neville get out of here,” Hermione heard herself say. She felt so distant from everything around her, yet her resolve was only strengthening. Perhaps it was the last stand before she too fell and found her place among the dead.

Bellatrix tried another spell, this time coming too close for Hermione’s comfort. Hermione shot back, but Bellatrix managed to jump out of the way, her face having lost all hints of laughter. This duel would not be an easy one.

The two of them fought, sending spells and curses back and forth at great speeds, yet none ever seemed to get the better of the other, nor did either of them tire. The other duels were lessening, more bodies could be seen falling, but Hermione did not pay attention to them. Better to know later than to lose her life. Perhaps it would be best not to know who died and who survived. Then she slipped in the mud, her wand falling just out of her reach. Now it was the end. She closed her eyes, not wanting to see Bellatrix loom over her, a terrible grin on her lined and worn face.

But nothing happened. Nothing at all. No pain, no feeling whatsoever. So this was death, she thought. Nothing.

Then she heard the sound of something falling into the mud beside her. She opened her eyes only to see Bellatrix Lestrange staring back, her eyes glossed over in death. Hermione couldn’t move, shock had paralysed her entire body. How was it that Bellatrix had won the duel, yet died all the same?

A hand grabbed her arm and pulled her upright, away from the one-time Death Eater and into the arms of whoever had saved her life.

“Hurry, Miss Granger, we must be out of here,” a voice whispered fiercely in her ear. It was familiar, yet the dullness in her brain from the fighting kept her from remembering. She had heard that voice so many times before, but she could not place it. Thinking hurt too much for her to even try combing through her memory.

Meekly she followed her rescuer as he - yes it was a wizard, she was sure of that - wove through the fallen and through the flames that were nearly extinguished. His hand held hers in a vice-like grip, never once loosening as the two of them hurried across the barren field. Hermione could barely keep her eyes open; now that the duel was over, all her energy had vanished. She was surprised that she could run, though she suspected that it was either run with or be dragged by her rescuer. From time to time she would try to see his face, but all she could see was a dark profile, nothing distinctive enough that would help her remember who he was.

Soon they were away from the battleground and on a gravel pathway. Hermione did not know how long they had been running, but it felt like eternity to her. Something in her mind nagged at her for having left the battle, but the rest of her was glad to be away from the godforsaken place. There was only so much death and hatred a person could take.

The wizard had let go of her hand and, without a word to Hermione, started walking down the path. With only the light of the slowly-nearing dawn to see by, she followed, her footsteps often faltering. Still she could not see the wizard’s face, but she was not afraid of him. He was not there to hurt her, she felt, only to help her escape. Later on she would ask herself over and over why he had bothered to save her and no one else, but for the moment, Hermione only wanted to lay down and close her eyes. No dream would penetrate her sleep, but she knew they would come in the future.

As the sun began to caress the horizon with its rays of warmth, Hermione saw that the fields had ended and they were walking through woodland. All she could see of the wizard was his cloak billowing slightly from the fast pace he walked at. Every so often she thought she saw a glint of silver in his apparently black hair, but she kept attributing this to a trick of the light. Certainly the wizard did not act as though he were old, not with the way he moved so quickly without hesitation. There was strength and determination in every step he took. He must have been quite powerful. She shivered when she thought back to how easily he had killed Bellatrix. It could have been Hermione who had died instead.

Suddenly, he stopped in the middle of the path, causing her to crash into him. His hand steadied her so that she wouldn’t fall to the ground. It was warm compared to the coolness of both her body and the air around her. Without realising it, she moved closer to him, taking in the warmth of his presence. Immediately, he backed away, as though her touch repelled him. Instead, he took off his cloak and threw it around her shoulders.

“We will be there soon,” he said quietly. “Just keep behind me.”

She nodded, pulling the cloak tightly around her shoulders. It was getting more and more difficult to keep her eyes open. She barely noticed the light growing. Nor did she see the worried face of her rescuer, who constantly turned to make sure she was still following. One foot before the other, was all Hermione could think about. One foot before the other...

~ * * * ~

With a gasp, she sat up in bed, feeling the sweat tricking down her spine. For the past three years she had dreamed of that night and never had she remembered it so clearly. Instead of simply hearing sounds and seeing strange visions, she could visualise the glazed eyes of the dead and hear her rescuer’s attempts to comfort her. Shaking her head as though she could forcibly remove any remnants of the dream, Hermione threw back the covers of her narrow bed and moved to rise. The sky was still dark, but that did not mean she could go back to sleep. After such a dream, she wouldn’t be able to calm herself down before she left for work.

She went to the closet and pulled out a clean black robe. Seldom had she worn much else since Harry’s funeral. It wasn’t that she was in constant mourning for him, he’d never have wanted her to do that. Rather she preferred it to the brightly coloured robes she saw most of her kind wearing. If she wasn’t happy inside, why should she pretend she was on the outside?

A few moments later, she was out on the pavement, listlessly walking along with no destination in her mind. She was just walking as she seemed to every morning before work. It was a way of relaxing, especially after a dream. Sometimes she would stop at a teahouse or coffee shop for breakfast if she was hungry. At other times she would go to the park and listen to the birds happily singing in the trees. But usually she would go nowhere in particular and think about the last battle and what had occurred because of it.

Voldemort was gone, but so was Harry. Both of them had been destroyed by the spell, though it was unknown why such a thing had happened. Many others were dead, but most of their bodies were never found. The few that remained had drifted apart, perhaps because any memory of the battle was too difficult to bear. Hermione had not spoken to her old friends from Hogwarts in months. The rare times they met were usually quiet and uncomfortable; it often wasn’t long before they separated again, unable to stray from general subjects. Never once was Harry’s name mentioned at those times. If it slipped from someone’s mouth, the others would look away, refusing to meet each others’ eyes. Hermione wanted to yell at them to forget the past, but she never could. How could she when she was no different? She lived in the past just as much as they did.

Her job was no better than the rest of her life. Sitting at a desk, going through trade agreements and regulations at the Department of International Magical Cooperation brought no interest to her days. All it did was make her feel more depressed. Although they had originally told her that the job would be exciting and that she’d travel all over the world, never once was she given an assignment outside of the office.

That evening, after another boring day, she stepped off the lift into the Atrium. The fountain, neatly restored to its former greatness, shone in the light from the setting sun. Even though looking at it reminded her of Harry and Sirius, she still smiled whenever she saw it. Its beauty and grandeur always managed to brighten her long days at the Ministry.

Across the room, she saw a head of bright red hair walk in the opposite direction. She stopped and watched as Ron Weasley continued on as though he hadn’t even seen her. Perhaps he hadn’t, Hermione pondered. Ron had acted very strange after Harry’s death. It was well-known that Ron had been there when the spell had gone wrong. He had watched Harry die and since then, he hadn’t been the same. Not for the first time, Hermione regretted not having spent more time with him after the battle. She had expected him to come to her, but he hadn’t. Probably he couldn’t forgive her for leaving the battlefield. The cold look in his eyes when he had first seen her, three weeks after the battle, had stopped her dead in her tracks at the door to his room in St. Mungo’s. After a half-hour of tense one-sided conversation, she had left. Now he wouldn’t even notice her existence.

Wasn’t it strange how things could change? Hermione asked herself as she apparated home.

A few hours later, she put down the book she was reading and sighed. She knew things weren’t good when even reading could no longer interest her. Stretching the kinks in her back from sitting hunched over a desk for too long, she thought about her rescuer. Over the past three years, she had often thought about him, wondering who he was and why he had bothered to save her. She vaguely remembered being fed and given clean clothing, her wounds neatly salved and bandaged. He had barely spoken to her, she had not been in a state of replying even if he had. No matter how often she would rack her mind for a clear view of his face or a certain phrasing he used when he spoke, she could not think of his name, yet she knew for certain that she had once known him. Exhaustion and trauma had damaged her memory more than she would care to admit.

All she could remember after that was waking up in Hogwarts in the hospital wing with Madame Pomfrey fussing over her condition. It had taken a few days for Hermione to get out of bed much less remember exactly what had happened to her. Even then there were still blank spaces in her mind of things that may or may not have happened. Deep inside, Hermione wished never to remember all of the final battle. It would be best just to move on, to forget the past. But try as she may, she could still hear her rescuer’s voice and she could still feel his hand closed over hers as they hurried across the fields.

She had tried to find him many times, but never could she get very far with her search. It was as though he had been a ghost or spirit, there only to save her before vanishing back into the mist from which he came. Once she had led herself to believe that perhaps he had been no more than a figment of her imagination, then she remembered the warmth of his hand as he kept her from falling. No, he had been very real.

Slamming her book closed, Hermione grabbed her coat and went out into the rain. Her feet took her through a labyrinth of streets, past colourful night clubs and quiet neighbourhoods alike. Finally, she found herself standing before a pub with grimy windows and no lights outside of it. Somehow, she had walked all the way to the Leaky Cauldron, a long distance from her flat. With a shrug, she pushed open the door. The noise and clatter from the people within soothed her jittery nerves. Of the people within, she knew few, and even then she only knew them by sight, having seen them around the Ministry.

With a nod to publican, she ordered a drink and took a seat at the bar. A memory of sitting in that same place years ago suddenly overtook her. She could see in her mind’s eye the Weasley family sitting around a table, happily chattering, while Crookshanks chased Scabbers around the room. Ron was yelling at her to stop her demon cat and Harry was just coming down the stairs, having only just woken up. It seemed so long ago...

She managed to catch the tear before it fell into her drink. Wiping her sleeve across her face, Hermione took a deep breath, trying to eradicate the memory from her consciousness.

I never should have come here, she thought. It was just a big mistake.

“One firewhiskey please,” came a voice from down the bar. It was a wizard’s voice, smooth and quiet, yet it was easily heard amidst the surrounding din.

Hermione’s head snapped up. She knew that voice.

“Right away, sir,” the publican replied, moving off to fill the order.

Glancing over to where she had heard the voice come from, Hermione saw a dark figure, tall and robed in black, standing at the bar. In the flickering candlelight she could just make out a strong brow and hooked nose, while on his head, grey hairs mingled with black. She looked down at his hands, strong, yet sensitive when they handed the publican a coin. He gazed around the room as he waited for his drink, eyes checking every face and every doorway. This was a wizard who was on edge, suspicious of everything and everyone around him.

Hermione willed him to speak again, just so that she could be sure of the voice, but the wizard was silent. He drank his firewhiskey in one gulp and gently placed the glass back on the counter. Hermione could have sworn that he looked over at her before he moved away from the bar, towards the entrance to Muggle London. By then, Hermione was sure that he was the right wizard, the one who had saved her from dying at the wand of Bellatrix Lestrange.

Quickly finishing her drink, Hermione hurried towards the door to follow him, nearly crashing into a table of witches playing bridge. By the time she’d said her apologies and hurried onto the street, she could just make him out by the light of the street lamps; he was nearly a block away and walking swiftly, just like he had three years before. Yes, it had to be him, she couldn’t be making a mistake.

Hermione jogged to keep up with him and slowly the space between them decreased. Never once did the wizard look back. It was as though he could not even hear Hermione’s footsteps echoing behind him. It was obvious she was following him, especially since there was no one else out on the street.

After a number of blocks, Hermione’s legs began to feel like lead. This was probably the most strenuous exercise she had partaken in since the battle.

“Wait, please stop,” she implored. It couldn’t go on like this. She could not let him go, not after finding him again. For a moment she thought he hadn’t heard her, but then she realised that he had stopped.

“Why are you following me, Miss Granger?” he asked calmly, sarcasm emitting from every syllable. “You need not bother yourself. It’s obvious that you’re not in good form.”

Hermione stepped closer, but still a large distance stood between them.

“I only wanted to know the truth.”

She heard him snort. “The truth about what? Why I didn’t let Madam Lestrange finish you off? Believe me, it would not have been difficult to stand by and do nothing.”

Her heart soared. So it had been him! She had not been wrong after all.

“But you didn’t. You killed her instead and took me away from there.”

“And look how much good it did you. Your friends think you a coward.” She could almost picture the sneer on his face as he said that.

“You shouldn’t be calling anyone a coward.”

He immediately tensed. “Had I been cowardly, Miss Granger, I would have left you to die.”

“Perhaps it would have been better that way.”

He turned and for the first time she saw his face. Somehow, she was not surprised to see who it was. Perhaps she had known the truth all along, hiding it from herself so that she would not feel like such a traitor to all she had once stood for. Only a traitor would have left the battle before it ended, leaving her friends to suffer. Only a traitor would have not returned until long after the dust had cleared. Only a traitor would have fallen in love with someone believed to be on the wrong side.

Hermione knew now why she had felt empty for so long, why she hadn’t gone to see Ron right away, why she had kept herself distant from everything in her past. One gentle touch of a hand had stolen her heart. One moment of warmth had kept her from fading away. For three long years Hermione had kept from herself not the truth of what happened, but the truth of how it had affected her. She had fallen in love with her rescuer. A person who just happened to be Severus Snape: Death Eater, spy, and murderer.

“Would it not have been better if you had died?” he asked, interrupting her thoughts. “What you are now is nothing like what you were before the battle. Your life is wasting away and all you can do is plod along to the Ministry every morning then go to your home to read books. The Hermione Granger that once was died there. You are nothing compared to her.”

With this snapping remark, he began walking again, leaving Hermione to take in his words with growing dread. They were true, horribly true. She had enclosed herself behind a wall that kept out everyone, including those she had once known so well. She had no friends left, no family, nothing. The girl who had used cool logic in the face of fire, who could think of the answer to any question, was gone. She had been gone for a long time. But what was left?

“Don’t leave me,” she whispered before he had gone too far. He couldn’t leave her, not now when she most needed someone.

The darkness was closing in around her. All she could hear was footsteps, but they still sounded as though they were retreating. She was lost. There was nothing left for her now. She had found him and he had rejected her with all the hatred she had seen in his eyes during her time as a student at Hogwarts. He had disliked her then and he hated her now. In finding the truth, she had only destroyed herself, just like Harry had when he tried to defeat Voldemort. She was a failure.

Standing in the middle of the street, she began to cry. Painful sobs racked through her body like they never had before. Even once she knew that Harry had died she had not cried, nor had she cried when Ron had coldly asked her to leave. But she cried now for the love she had kept hidden for so long and had lost in an instant.

Then she felt something touch her hands, pulling them away from her face. A great warmth surrounded her, making her heart race with both fear and longing. Dry lips touched her cheeks, her eyes, then finally reached her mouth. Hungrily, Hermione answered his kiss, feeling the warmth of his touch as his hands ran over the curves of her body. As they broke apart to catch their breaths, she could hear her name upon his lips before he placed them once more upon hers. Her arms around his neck, Hermione deepened the kiss, needing to be as close to him as possible. It had gone beyond lust or wanting, it had become a need.

When he pulled away, she would have fallen, her knees had become so weak. His arms securely around her were all that kept her from melting into the ground. Content just to be in each others’ arms, neither noticed the rain that soaked through their robes. He rested his chin on her head as she buried her face in his robes, still battling the tears that rolled down her cheeks.

“We should go,” he said, breaking the blissful silence.

“Where?” she asked, raising her head to meet his eyes.

The sardonic twist of his lips and the burning fervour in his eyes caused her heart to skip a beat. He must have seen something in her face because he laughed. Hearing the sound was shocking to Hermione, who had never heard him laugh before, even his smiles had been forced when he had been potions master. But now he was smiling at her with an expression that Hermione could not recognise. No one had looked at her quite that way before.

“I know just the place.” His voice was like silk.

Hermione couldn’t stop herself from bursting out in laughter. The whole situation was entirely mad. First she discovered that the man who had rescued her was her old potions master. Then she realised that she was in love with him. And now she was standing in the middle of a street in London with him. Somehow it seemed too much like a dream. It was the first time she had laughed in so long, yet the sound of her laughter echoing down the empty street did not bring back painful memories of long-ago times. Instead it reconciled the past and the present, and perhaps the future as well, bringing them together for that one moment.

“Oh, do you now?” she joked, playfully dancing just beyond his reach.

“You wouldn’t want to keep me waiting, would you?”

She stopped and gave him a long look, her brown eyes glittering with more life than they had since that last happy day before the battle began. “It depends what you have in mind.”

But when he held out his hand to her, she took it. For a moment, she wondered if the Dark Mark was still stamped upon his forearm or had it faded away with its creator? Never in her wildest dreams would Hermione have pictured herself standing hand-in-hand with this wizard. He had treated her and her friends so cruelly once, but time does change people. She was just curious how much it had changed Severus Snape. From the looks of things, she would soon find out.



Author's Note: this story is the product of a rabid plot bunny and probably won't be the last I write of this 'ship. I enjoyed it far too much to not write it again. I also hope that you enjoyed this story. It may have started it out angsty, but it definitely didn't end that way.

Check out the sequel to this story: "Fallen"!




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