There were few things in the world worse than losing a beloved pet. The timing could not have been worse, either.
Crookshanks passed away just as Hermione’s final year at Hogwarts was ramping up to be a hell of a show. That grief, on top of everything else, nearly toppled her. Her beloved Crooks, who had been a fixture in her life despite the chaos of the Second Wizarding War, wouldn’t be there at her side to see the end through.
Maybe that was why, after the fighting was over, as everyone else gathered their loved ones to the castle to mourn, Hermione found herself walking the field.
Death was everywhere: the bodies and destruction everywhere she turned her gaze, polluting even the sky with a sickly red light; the sticky sweet smell of rot that suffused her lungs; a bloody metallic pang that swamped her tongue and mixed with the nausea in her gut; distant moans and hacking coughs of the dying. She could practically feel the decay hanging in the humidity of the wind.
Hermione kept her wand close, but as she moved between the bodies, she realized she needn’t have worried. Those on the ground were hopeless. The further in she went, the more the sensation of death cloistered around her like static electricity.
She couldn't save them, but she couldn’t leave them, either. She started with a man who looked like he might be related to the Lestranges, but Hermione found that she cared little at this point. He reached for her, and she took his hand, which he squeezed feebly. She could see the faded Dark Mark on his forearm. One of his eyes was nothing more than a bloody pulp, destroyed by a cutting curse. The one that was remaining stared at her, pleading. She could see fear there, an echo of her own eyes whenever she’d looked in the mirror for the past however many years.
“It’s alright,” she said, and he squeezed her hand again. “I’ll stay with you.”
And she did. She stayed until he spluttered, and blood oozed out of his mouth. Then he shuddered, rasped, and his eye unfocused. At some point, a point that she couldn’t remember, she began to sing. Little things, just nursery songs and whatever else came into her head, but something soft and loving. She wasn’t sure what possessed her to do it. She wasn’t even sure it helped. But she needed something besides just the endless rasps and whistling of the bloody wind.
It was when she arrived at the Shack that she realized that she’d been blazing a trail to it. She looked out behind her, at the dead that she had tended to, her hands sticky with their drying blood.
Snape, she realized. Snape deserved… well, a lot more than he’d gotten.
She pushed open the door. Maybe a day ago, or even a few hours ago, she would’ve flinched at the atmosphere within. But she couldn’t now. Instead she just walked forward, and kneeled beside his head like she had all the others.
He was pale and unmoving. At a different time she could’ve joked about how he looked dead long before death decided to make his acquaintance. It was when she reached for his head that she hesitated. She could’ve sworn she felt his breath ghosting over her hand.
Was she hallucinating?
She certainly could be. Bloodloss. Trauma. Sleep depravation. Starvation. Hermione could easily list six dozen reasons she was hallucinating. But something else, something deeper, pushed her to check more closely. She leaned in, tightened her hair into a semblance of a bun, and checked his pulse with one hand. The other hand used her wand to cast a diagnostic charm.
Weak pulse. Shallow breathing (if at all). But what struck her was how little he’d bled. Nagini’s wound was right over major blood vessels, and she’d sworn there was blood at the time of the attack, but…
Light flared from her wand as the results of the charm appeared in the air.
“He’s alive,” she realized aloud. Her heart tripped over something and stumbled in her chest. Of course, Snape was bloody brilliant. Maybe he’d used a potion or draught or something, she didn’t know, she had to act and not think--
Lifting her wand, she pointed it back towards the castle, focused, briefly, hurriedly, on the rushing joy of realizing Harry was alive. “Expecto Patronus.”
The wand sputtered with light. Another try, and nothing.
“Fuck!” It was always the bloody patronus. Hermione could feel adrenaline pushing through her veins like fire. She’d thought her body had already produced all of the panic it could. Of course she’d failed when it was most needed.
No, she thought, not yet. Not while there was a chance of something living out of this bloody nightmare. She lifted the wand, again, and took a deep breath, ignoring how it trembled, or how loud her breathing and heartbeat seemed, or the sudden tears.
Focus, Hermione. Focus like it’s the month before O.W.L.s.
She thought about all the people out there, all the people who weren’t on the field behind her, and about how they could live. She thought about the doors they’d opened. A world where maybe, someday, there’d be a little muggleborn girl that could go to Hogwarts and not know fear like she had. She thought about how Harry could have kids and it wouldn’t have to be anything out of the ordinary that they lived.
She thought about how, maybe, someone like Snape could have a future that wasn’t overshadowed by fascism and mistakes made when they were a dumb teenager, and that maybe, if he lived, he could finally be free.
The otter sprang forth in a torrent of blue-silver. She ignored how much she felt like keeling over in relief, instead staring at the otter’s sparkling eyes. “Find McGonagall or Pomfrey. Snape’s alive. Hurry!”
Her patronus shot off towards the castle, so Hermione turned her wand to Snape’s wound and began to sing as she worked. “Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clement’s…”