"No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear."
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
The horrors of the day were prowling at the edge of her mind like a pack of ravenous wolves. Hermione knew she wasn't equal to the thoughts that plagued her - if she sat down to process, they would devour her. For now, it was enough to know that Riddle was defeated, and she, Harry, and Ron were alive.
There was a developing lull that she couldn't take part in. The fallen and injured had been retrieved and all that remained to rebuild and recover would wait the coming days. Everyone was now taking a collective breath. They sat in quiet groups, taking stock of the cost, rejoicing in what remained, and resting from their toil. Hermione, however, was a bit desperate to keep going, to put off dealing for just a while longer. She was beginning to sense the cost of holding it together for so long. When it all caught up with her, it would be ugly, and she didn't want to do ugly yet. Not here. Not now. Not in front of everyone.
Besides, there was something important that needed to be done and soon. Hermione's thoughts turned to the unrecognized hero who lay under a stasis charm on the floor of the Shrieking Shack. She had been intent on saving Professor Snape even before the contents of his memories had been revealed among the three of them, but now, after learning the truth and witnessing Harry's closing talk with Dumbledore, her need to act was becoming urgent.
She and Harry sent Ron off to his family after Hermione disclosed her intent. With the grief of Fred's loss, they needed each other right now. It was a sign of how broken Ron was, and perhaps of how little he relished the upcoming task that he accepted a hug from them both and departed without argument.
Hermione could see the hope that entered Harry's green eyes, and the relief of having something besides grief to focus on. She suspected that he was in the same condition: not ready to fall apart yet, trying to hold it off for later.
When Hermione turned to the Dumbledore's portrait, presented her plan to the former Headmaster and requested his help, she encountered a level of hesitation from the long bearded man that she had not expected.
"Sir, if there is any way to do it, I would help Professor Snape," she rejoined. "I already have the vial of phoenix tears that I summoned from your office in preparation for this year."
Harry looked at her with astonishment. It somehow made his mop of black hair look even more disheveled.
Dumbledore's eyes twinkled beneath his half-moon spectacles in merriment. "Very industrious of you," he said, and then his face turned grave. "It was a horrible thing Professor Snape suffered at the hands of Tom Riddle. I'm very sorry to hear of it. I know, however, that when Severus last left this office, he was willing to pay the ultimate price."
'Just because he was willing to doesn't mean he wanted to pay with his life,' Hermione thought, wondering at Dumbledore's reticence. "Please, sir. Surely he is worthy and worth saving if it's possible to do so," she pleaded.
A bit of a gleam appeared in Dumbledore's eyes. "Severus is, as you say, worthy and worth saving. He, like yourselves, has always given more than anyone had a right to ask." He paused a moment, looking quite sad. "You are aware, perhaps, that his life has been a tragic and unhappy one. I regret my part in his burden, and all that I had to ask of him. It was necessary, but I regret it all the same. I too wish a chance for him to have all that has so far been denied him in life...yet I cannot tell you which he would wish more, to struggle for that chance, or to embrace the next great adventure..."
Eventually Dumbledore, perhaps reading the genuine concern and determination on Hermione's face, settled on a decision, and though he proceeded with due seriousness, Hermione detected a hint of joy and perhaps a bit of mischief it the twinkle that re-entered his eyes.
"Very well. We shall proceed if you are certain of your course?" Dumbledore queried, training his bright blue eyes at them over his spectacles with his customary soul-reading manner.
When Harry and Hermione confirmed their intent to save, aid and guard Severus Snape, they quickly ironed out the finer points of the plan and set the wheels in motion.
Dumbledore issued a final word of advice before they departed for their separate tasks. "Severus can be rather difficult to deal with, which I am sure you will find no surprise, but your persistence and patience, I hope, will pay off. He is, as you said, worth your efforts. I myself found that nothing undermined his dour, sharp wit so well as determined good cheer."
Hermione hoped that determined good cheer would be enough.
The scene in the Shrieking Shack was no less gruesome than when last Hermione had been there. Professor Snape lay slumped on the floor, his lank limbs and long black hair akimbo, in an alarmingly large puddle of blood. The flat black of his unseeing eyes and the pallor of his tear-stained face made him appear…well, it was horrible. Hermione's hands shook as she withdrew the vial of phoenix tears from the beaded handbag and peeled back his many layers of black robes and white shirt to reveal the damage. There were more bite marks than she had imagined, and his gaunt frame revealed that he had suffered in the last year as they had. Nothing but the miraculous healing powers of phoenix tears could counteract this level of damage and deprivation. She wondered briefly if Dumbledore had planned for this when he collected the tears from Fawkes. It wouldn't really surprise her if she discovered later that this was, in fact, the case.
When she was in a charitable mood, Hermione found herself in humbled awe of all that Dumbledore had done and planned for and took it as proof of his formidable genius. Much of the last year, however, she had thought the man's tactics rather insane as he had left a ridiculous lot to luck and it was truly an amazing and almost coincidental thing that it had actually turned out in the end. What if they hadn't escaped the Ministry, Godric's Hollow, Gringott's or the Malfoys? What if Harry hadn't taken Draco's wand? What if...There were so very many things that could have gone wrong at any stage of the precarious plan that it was terrifying to think about, even on this side of the outcome. Hermione hoped fervently that it would turn out miraculously well in the end for Professor Snape as well.
She checked the stasis charm she had inconspicuously placed on him immediately after Harry collected his memories. It held, which meant he still stood a chance if she did everything right. Prior to releasing the charm, she tried summoning potions, antivenin, and a bezoar from his robes as Dumbledore had instructed. Unsurprisingly, they came flying into her hands. Severus was a man likewise prepared.
What she couldn't decide was whether he had been too overcome to take the potions himself, if he had used up his last moments helping Harry rather than himself, or if he had purposefully not taken any measures to forestall his death. If the last was correct, it was likely she would have a very resentful and angry Professor Snape on her hands when he roused. Hermione decided he would just have to get over it if that was the case. She was determined he at least take the chance to grasp hold of all that had been denied him before. Doing everything she could to get him to the door of opportunity and helping him toward a better life was exactly the type of long-term commitment she needed to keep herself going forward.
When Hermione set the saving measures in motion, it was a closer, more harrowing call than she had envisioned it would be. She was careful not to let her anxious tears dilute the precious ones from the vial. The phoenix tears did stop the bleeding that resumed as the stasis charm was lifted, but there weren't enough to completely close all the wounds. The bezoar and antivenin were barely a match for Nagini's venom, whether because it was especially potent or because it was tainted with dark magic, she wasn't sure. Hermione tried not to panic when Severus took a shuddering breath and breathed no more. Only the necessity of action saved her from it. Eventually, after several long minutes of rescue breaths, he resumed breathing on his own. He remained extremely pale and she gave him additional blood replenishing potion. This appeared to help, for he then began to feebly rouse, and even though she'd given him a potent pain-relieving potion, he looked like he was suffering horrific pain. Distraught, Hermione crooned words of comfort as she gave him dreamless sleep potion and charmed him into a healing sleep as quickly as she could.
Never in her life had Hermione been so thankful for the knowledge she'd gained from a book. Everard's Compendium: A Guide to Basic Mediwizardry, a book which she'd procured and stashed in the bag last summer, might now possibly vie with Hogwarts: A History for Best-Book-Ever.
Judging Professor Snape now stable enough for transport, Hermione had Kreacher apparate them to Grimmauld Place. Besides the anti-apparition spell within the house that the old elf could circumvent, but she could not, Hermione felt too shaky and spent to apparate anywhere under her own power. When Harry and Professor McGonagall met them there, Hermione breathed a sigh of relief.
Hermione judged that her austere Head of House must have been companionable with Professor Snape before the horrors of the last year, for as she checked him over her eyes glistened with tears and her face reflected sorrow and regret. After Minerva finished her assessment, she helped them set up a makeshift hospital ward in the first-floor sitting room and promised to send Poppy Pomfrey once they had filled her in on the situation.
As the multitude of formidable protections, save fidelius, remained on the place, the fidelius charm was the only one that required recasting. This Professor McGonagall did whilst she was there, and this time Hermione was the secret keeper. Hermione wrote the address for Harry's house on a slip of parchment for them to give Madame Pomfrey and then bade Professor McGonagall and Harry a nervous goodbye.
Before leaving, Minerva squeezed Hermione's hand and said, "Thank you, dear girl. Send me word if you need anything."
Hermione was glad, for Professor Snape's sake, that they were not alone in supporting him and wishing for his good.