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The Price by Admin

Format: Short story
Chapters: 1
Word Count: 4,721
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Mild Violence

Genres: Drama, Romance
Characters: Hermione, Snape
Pairings: Other Pairing

First Published: 09/28/2002
Last Chapter: 12/04/2002
Last Updated: 04/26/2018

Summary:
Sometimes the price that must be paid is too great to bear.


Chapter 1: Continued
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Continued............




For her own part, Hermione struggled to keep her senses from spinning and her head clear. She was conscious of the softness of Snape's robe under her cheek, the dampness of the stone floor beneath her feet, and the comforting feeling of safety in which she revelled. His arms enveloped her, holding her close. She swallowed the nausea that suddenly threatened as she realised what Snape had done. Before he had time to react, she briefly pressed her cheek hard against his shoulder, pressed her palm against his chest just above his heart, and then pushed hard as she threw herself onto the floor in front of him.

As he rocked back on his heels, Hermione scrambled after him, grabbing the trailing ends of his robes in her hands. As he stood in mute disbelief, she began to scream, sharp keening cries that sliced into the minds of those around her. "Please Professor Snape, don't let him do that to me again. Please, I promise I'll do whatever you ask of me, just don't let him hurt me. I'll do anything, anything, just don't let him... Please do not give me to him! Please!" Each word screamed at him, as tearing sobs racked her body. Around the hall, the reactions to her pitiful pleas ranged from sympathetic flinching by younger students to the mute rage of older students and staff to the casual indifference or fierce enjoyment of the Death Eaters.

Snape alone saw that her eyes were dry. Snape alone saw the look of pleading mixed with encouragement in her eyes, begging him to take up the ruse she offered. Once he might have been able to, but not now. Hermione saw the choice clearly in his eyes, even as his face remained impassive. She had offered him a way out, but he was going to refuse to take it. And in that moment, the question she had never dared ask or even dream about was answered.

The sound of three slow claps drew all eyes towards Voldemort. He clapped slowly, ironically, and the sound his voice produced was similar to that of dry autumn leaves scraping over gravestones. Harsh, abrasive, unyielding. "Are you not going to follow the lead that Miss Granger so kindly offered, Severus? Offer me the girl; offer me Hermione Granger in place of Harry Potter. After all, she may keep me amused. She may even distract me for a moment, encourage me to forget your betrayal. Come, Severus, offer me the girl."

The last words were practically hissed at Severus, and he felt his will weakening. A corner of his mind began to whisper that Voldemort would forgive him, would trust him, if only he gave up the girl. She was nothing, she was useless, she was a hindrance. Just give up the girl.

Girl?

The feeling grew stronger within him. She would betray him, she did not trust him, she would leave him. Give up the girl, and all will be forgiven. Offer the girl to me.

Girl?

Me?

Hermione! Snape never referred to Hermione Granger as "the girl", especially not within his own thoughts. With a tremendous mental shove, Severus pushed all thoughts of Voldemort and his insidious whisperings behind a mental door and bolted it shut. Even as he did, his mind identified the tactic; a perversion of the unforgivable imperius curse. What had seemed like logic was simply Voldemort poisoning his own mind, turning his own free will to darkness. Yet this time, Severus Snape's heart had stood true against the temptation.

Snape shook his head slightly and found his gaze locked on Hermione's face. She saw the decision in his eyes, and whispered desperately, "Don't do it. Please...Severus..please..."

He trailed a gentle finger over her cheek, then stepped in front of her, shielding her from Voldemort's view. His voice curt and emphatic, he simply said, "You will never have her. Or any of them."

"My dear boy, I do beg to differ."

Snape drew himself up to his full height and stared blackly at Voldemort. The remaining Hogwarts students immediately recognised the Potions Master stance and tone as the one he normally used on Neville Longbottom's most spectacular failures.

"You will never have them, Voldemort, because I choose to stand against you. Seventeen years ago, you faced James and Lily Potter. James died standing against you, and Lily begged you to spare Harry. Knowing that you would not, knowing that she was going to die, she still cared more about her son than she did about herself. I tell you here and now, these people are my family. These people are what kept me from darkness. In the instant that I fall by your hand, you will have granted her the means with which to destroy you. Kill me, and I will give to Hermione what Lily Potter gave to Harry. My love for her will protect her, and she will destroy you."

Silence followed, and even amidst the danger an ironic and slightly appalled thought occurred to Severus. Did I just say that I loved the entire bloody school? Out loud? Maybe death wouldn't be so bad.....

Hermione, who stepped forward to stand alongside Snape, finally broke the silence. Her hand crept into his and she tightened her grip until she could swear she felt the bones in their hands grinding together. Her voice strong and clear, she said, "You cannot win. If you dare to kill me, Severus will strike you down. This time there are enough of us here to finish the job that a terrified baby couldn't! You will fall Voldemort! We shall stand against you."

Voldemort remained quiet and motionless, only his eyes sweeping the hall, assessing their reactions. At last, he chuckled and said mockingly, "Love? You would trust your lives to love? I shall enjoy choosing which of you shall know for certain that the other did not love you enough." With that he raised his wand and pointed it directly at the two of them.

**
Hermione's grip on Snape's hand tightened; she could almost feel the delicate bones of his hand griding against one another under her hand. Voldemort's bleak and angry gaze held her still even as half formed plans tumbled through her mind. Wild ideas of escape merged with thoughts of attack, and she had taken a half step towards him when Snape's hand suddenly crushed her fingers. She obeyed the silent command to keep still.

Voldemort had seen the movement, however, and a ghostly smirk played about his lips. "No promises of undying devotion? No declarations of undying passion?"

His words were abruptly cut off by the sudden appearance of none other than Harry Potter and Ron Weasley. Ron threw aside the invisibility cloak that had allowed them their stealthy approach, while Harry thrust two items at Snape and Hermione. As they reflexively took what he gave them, Rod uttered a hurried incantation of murus obex lux, and a sudden barrier of light encircled the five of them.

Outside the sudden circle of light, chaos once more broke out. This time, however, there was a sense of purpose behind the chaos. Suddenly leaderless, the Death Eaters moved to form a wall in front of the shining barrier. At least, that was their intention. As they moved into position, the staff and students of Hogwarts fought back with every means at their disposal. Minerva McGonagall cast an incantation to ensure they could all hear her voice, and began issuing orders. Students hurriedly formed into lines, unconsciously falling into the stance taught be successive generations of Defence against the Dark Arts teachers. While the youngest remained safely hidden under the tables, the surviving members of the upper levels awaited instruction. She set squads of students upon specifically targeted Death Eaters; sent younger Ravenclaws to hold the doors against the return of the Death Eaters from the Whomping Willow. She sent Hufflepuffs again st the flanks of the Death Eater formation, even as she commanded a group of Slytherins and Gryffindors to attack the centre. The remaining teachers walked among the students, guiding, assisting, dying. Members of each side fell, their deaths ignored, their cries of pain falling on deaf ears.

**
The triumph that forced a ghastly smile from Voldemort's lips caused Hermione's blood to run cold. His lips curved over his teeth, his eyes shone and a happy burst of laughter echoed around them. He was staring at Harry, feasting his eyes upon the enemy he had longed to discover.

Silence descended upon them, their shallow breathing the only sound marking the passage of time. Voldemort stood above them, the shattered remains of the head table at his feet. He faced the four of them: Snape, Hermione, Ron and Harry. They all waited, waited to live, waited to die, waited for a sign. A sign that would tell them all that the time of the final battle was upon them. Each side waited patiently, the lone figure of Voldemort facing a line of four.

When it finally came, it came form the most unlikely source imaginable. Harry did not take matters into his own hands and recklessly charge Voldemort, neither did Voldemort ignore all others to put an end to Harry's life. Ron Weasley spoke a simple incantation and invoked the protective forces of the Founding Four.

"Convenio!"

Hermione felt the object she was holding grow scalding hot within her hand, yet she knew that she must not drop it. From the corner of her eye she saw similar bursts of light to both her left and right. Snape, who had been standing to her left, moved closer as did Harry and Ron. As one, they brought the objects they carried together, and saw the shining light grow stronger and brighter.

Through the dazzling light, Snape was barely able to identify the outlines of the objects they held. Harry held a familiar looking sword, with a rush of certainty Snape realised that it was the sword of Godric Gryffindor. Standing beside him, Hermione clutched a quill, the feathers hard and unyielding between her fingers. This puzzled him until he realised the feathers were actually intertwined slivers of silver and jade. Furthermost away from him, Ron clasped a staff topped with a gleaming black and gold striped stone. Now certain, Snape looked down at his own hands and saw the golden arrow fletched with icy blue crystals. The lost relics of the Founders, brought together once more, in defence of Hogwarts.

The light grew even more intense, as if it had recognised and confirmed Snape's silent identification. Then, as Voldemort spoke, the light diminished to a muted pale glow. An evident sneer in his voice, Voldemort asked "Have you brought these pretty trinkets to me in an attempt to save your own pathetic life, Harry Potter? I assure you, the sword will be of no benefit to you against me. If the old fool Dumbledore could not stand against me, what makes you think you could possibly succeed?"

Hermione watched in amazement as a smirk twisted Harry's lips. He raised one eyebrow and said, "Apart from the fact that I have already beaten you once, and I was only a baby at the time?"

Enraged, Voldemort threw a curse at Harry. Snape and Ron each grabbed an arm as Hermione impulsively threw herself forward. Harry carelessly raised a hand, and the curse dispersed harmlessly. With an arrogant inclination of his head, he asked, "Is that the best you can do?"

Snape and Hermione shared a baffled glance as the usually genial and self-effacing Harry Potter continued to taunt the dread Lord Voldemort. As they watched in amazement, Harry smirked, maliciously questioned and unceasingly bullied Voldemort into a towering rage.

As Harry brushed aside curse after curse with no great effort, Ron kept a firm hold of Hermione's arm. He noticed that Snape held fast to her other arm, his knuckles white with the effort. Before them, Harry threw a final withering comment at Voldemort and insultingly turned his back on him.

Harry sauntered back towards them, seemingly unconcerned that an outraged Voldemort was readying a curse to throw at his unprotected back. Voldemort raised the wand high above his head and the sickly glow of the aveda kedavra curse grew stronger. The light shone brighter as Voldemort's will grew, until finally the green light filled the very air around them. Ron met Harry's gaze and saw his almost imperceptible nod. He yelled, "NOW" and threw himself at Harry dragging Hermione and Snape after him.

Harry grabbed hold of Snape's arm, mirroring Ron's grip on Hermione. Together Harry and Ron joined the sword and staff, crossing them with the heavy clang of metal on metal. As neither Snape nor Hermione could ever be accused of being slow on the uptake, they quickly followed suit, adding their arrow and quill. As the quill fell against the other three items, the heavy clang of metal was replaced with an echoing ringing tone, similar to the sound of a giant bell being struck. Voldemort hesitated at the sound, the glow of the curse flickered for the barest instant then grew in intensity.

Harry spared Ron another glance. "What now?" he hissed at his friend.

Ron's perpetually worried when in danger expression had disappeared, and a sense of calm seemed to envelop him. "Dumbledore's message said the words would find us. He said we would know what to say and when to say it."

Hermione opened her mouth, ready to demand more information when Snape abruptly cut her question off. "I don't suppose you would care to be more specific about that message Mr Weasley?"

The blazing light that suddenly erupted in front of them abruptly cut off any reply Ron may have made. A blazing ball of incandescent white light grew from the symbols of the Founding Four, and was swiftly replaced with a ruby glow.

Harry raised his hand, elevating the tip of the sword above them. The ruby glow intensified as he said, "In the name of Godric Gryffindor I deny thee Lord Voldemort. You have been weighed, and found to be wanting. I command thee leave."

Ron raised the staff, and the ruby glow was replaced with a golden light. He spoke, his voice sure and strong and oddly overlaid with another. "In the name of Helga Hufflepuff, I deny thee Lord Voldemort. Your disloyalty and your unjust actions damn you. I command thee leave."

Snape was filled with a soaring sense of certainty, as he raised the arrow. The golden light burned blue and his voice rang with conviction as he said, "In the name of Rowena Ravenclaw, I deny thee Lord Voldemort. Your presence pollutes our very world, and your actions will not go unpunished. I command thee leave."

Hermione suddenly felt the earth shift beneath her. As she struggled to stay on her feet she realised that she was no longer alone and was convinced that Slytherin himself stood with her. "In the name of Salazar Slytherin, I deny thee Lord Voldemort. You have brought shame upon your name, your House and your fellow wizarding kin. Your abuse of your power, your abrogation of your responsibilities and your intentions betray you. I command thee leave."

The blue light suddenly burned green, a pulsating verdant green that shamed the sickly glow surrounding Voldemort. With a cry of inarticulate rage he threw himself deeper into the curse, pouring more and more of his hate and malice into it, causing the sickly glow to extend further and further towards those defying him.

As the edges of the light touched, the barrier that had surrounded them suddenly collapsed outwards, unable to contain the magic being wrought within it's confines.

Thus it was the survivors of the deadly battle outside, witnessed the vessels of the Founding Four's power summon the ability to cast Voldemort out. Hermione raised the quill, and the green glow burned white hot once more. In one great and terrible voice, the four of them demanded, "In the name of the Founding Four, and through their power which is vested in these relics, we command thee leave. Tom Riddle, we command thee leave. Lord Voldemort, we command thee leave. You and all of yours will no longer be suffered in this realm."

Voldemort stood in silent disbelief before them, unwilling or unable to move.

The impossibly bright light grew even brighter and in one voice, Harry, Ron, Snape and Hermione roared, "Expelliarmus!"

Voldemort screamed. The cry seemed to be dredged from the deepest recess of his being, and echoed with unrelenting pain. A dark cloud suddenly appeared before him, accompanied by a harsh and piercing cry. One hand dropped from its place above his head to try and clutch it to him, but a beam of white light swiftly swallowed the black cloud, effectively erasing it from existence. Beside her, Hermione heard Ron say in a voice that was somehow familiar and yet not his own, "And what is dark, but an absence of light?"

Even as a small part of her mind struggled to place the quote, Hermione joined the others as they advanced on Voldemort. OR more precisely, what was left of him. The enraged look of a hunted animal flashed across his face, and there was nothing resembling sanity or malice left in his gaze.

Before the shocked gazes of all, the representatives of the Founding Four took up their places around Voldemort. The symmetry of their stance nudged a memory in the back of Macgonnagall's mind and in a moment of clarity she realised that they were standing on the cardinal points of the compass, and calling on the very elements of the earth to reject and banish Voldemort. The Founding Four had used the most powerful magics known to their kind to ensure that Hogwarts could remain inviolate.

As the Four joined hands, Voldemort shook off his apathy and hurled himself at Harry, only to find himself repelled by some invisible force. Their voices blended as the Hall shook with the force of their words. "Be gone."

Voldemort's body toppled to the floor, his legs collapsing beneath him. As he fell, the remains of his anger, his malice, his deceit and his vengeance coalesced into a single burst of will, and he threw the killing curse towards the person on his right, towards the follower who had betrayed him; Severus Snape.

Without thought or hesitation, Hermione stepped in front of the curse, a hastily erected barrier of light her only defence against the unstoppable curse. She felt it strike her, felt the arrows of burning pain as they slid deep into her, and as she fell she saw the life flee Voldemort's body.

"NO!"

The scream of denial, frantic, horrified, torn from a heart that stopped beating in that fatal instant, echoed across the grand hall of Hogwarts. Severus Snape caught her as she fell, cradling her against him as he slowly lowered her to the floor. Ron and Harry, faces white, eyes disbelieving, dropped to their knees beside them.

"Hermione?" His voice shook, as did the hand that Snape used to try and pull the hair away from her eyes. Hermione's gaze was fixed on the destruction around them; at the overturned tables, at the charred house banners, at the finally overwhelmed Death Eaters who were being systematically overcome by her fellow students and teachers. At last, her eyes fell upon the body of Professor Dumbledore. His eyes were closed, and his face was impassive; tears rose in her eyes and she tried to blink them back. They spilled over her lashes, and one fell upon the cheek of Severus Snape where it lay against her own.

Stunned disbelief lay heavy over the hall as those present tried to process what had happened. Destruction overwhelmed them, pain and injury littered the Hall, Death Eaters and Hogwarts dwellers alike moaned in pain or lay in silence. Voldemort had been destroyed, stripped of all his powers and banished with no hope of return. Dumbledore was dead, Harry Potter had once again helped to save the world, and Hermione Granger had stepped in front of the killing curse meant for Professor Snape. Slowly, the victorious students and staff found their feet and began tending to the injured and securing the prisoners, giving the small group huddled around Hermione as much privacy as possible.

Minerva McGonagall moved towards them and silently watched as Harry carefully gathered Hermione's limp hand in his, and pressed a gentle kiss on the back of it. Ron delicately brushed a tear from her cheek and replaced it with a kiss. Hermione forced a small smile onto her lips, and fought back the encroaching darkness with all her strength. She knew that the curse had succeeded, yet she intended to fight for as much time as she could. In her bones, she knew it would not be long enough.

"I'm sorry....I had to." The words were quietly spoken.

Harry closed his eyes briefly, and Ron smiled through his tears long enough to say, "We know Hermione. We know."

Professor McGonagall, laid a gentle hand upon the shaking shoulders of the boys kneeling before her, Hermione's gaze shifted towards her, and Minerva stifled the urge to keen her grief as she saw the life fading from one of the brightest young women she had ever met. "Hermione Granger, knowing you for the last seven years has been a pleasure and a privilege. We owe you our lives for what you have helped to do here today, I swear to you, Hermione, we will never forget."

Hermione nodded, her lips slowly forming the words, "Thank you." Minerva knelt between the two boys, her arms sliding around their shoulders. Like children, they huddled close to her, drawing strength. As one, they stood and slowly moved away, giving Snape the privacy to say goodbye.

He cradled her pain racked body close; her head was pillowed against his shoulder and he rested his chin against her forehead. He pulled back slightly to lock his eyes with hers, and was stunned anew to see the emotions shining there. "You shouldn't have done it, "he muttered brokenly, "I am not worth it."

With great effort, Hermione raised her hand and laid it against his cheek. "You are worth any price, Severus. I could not stand by and watch you die. I love you too much to do nothing."

A silent sob tore through Snape at her words, and he clutched her even closer. "You can't love me, Hermione. You don't know what I have done."

A touch of exasperation coloured her reply, and exhaustion lay heavily over her words. "Of course I can love you, Severus. I do. I know...I know what you have done, both the good and the bad. We have fought, shoulder to shoulder for three years; can you really claim that I do not know you? I love you." He shook his head in denial, and a wave of uncertainty crossed Hermione's face. The doubt weakened her, and the question remained unspoken yet shone in her eyes. Do you love me at all?

"Hermione..." Snape stumbled to a halt, unwilling to lie, unwilling to burden her. The pain in her eyes tore at his heart, the uncertainty forced the words out of him. "I love you Hermione Granger, never doubt that. I know that I shouldn't, I know that I do not deserve you, but gods help me, I do love you."

Her eyes closed briefly, and the pain was momentarily replaced by undiluted joy. She smiled. "Thank you."

Silence enshrouded them both as he rocked her gently in his arms, wishing that he could hold her forever. "Severus?" He looked at her, his heart breaking.

A great weight had settled on her chest, each breath struggled to reach her lungs and the darkness was coming ever closer. Hermione knew she was losing the battle. "Severus...Please....Kiss Me? One kiss...to take my breath away?"

He gently covered her lips with his own, her lips were soft, silken against his skin like rose petals. They clung to his own, a silent vow of devotion, as he felt the final breath leave her lungs and her body turn limp in his arms.

He dimly heard the disturbing noise of tearing sobs, but forced himself to ignore them. He clutched her closer to him, his lips clinging desperately to her warmth, attempting to fool himself that she was asleep, merely unconscious, dozing, anything but gone.

Finally, a gentle hand was laid upon his shoulder. He violently shrugged it away, but the intruder was insistent, saying his name over and over again. He opened his eyes and looked up, shifting slightly to focus on whoever dared to disturb him. Minerva McGonagall looked as if she had aged fifty years, and he realised with a start that she was sobbing, her steadfast spirit finally broken by the destruction about them. Ron knelt beside her, one hand on McGonagall's back, the other on Snape's shoulder.

"You have to let her go, Severus." Ron's voice was soft and sure, and beneath it all was untold grief and devastation.

He merely shook his head, and held her tighter.

"We need you. There are students who desperately need help, and I don't know what to do, what to give them. There's so few of us left, and hardly any teachers. The young ones.... The grounds are warded against the aurors, and Voldemort brought dementors and vampires, and we... Severus please, we need you."

"Leave me be. Leave me in peace." The words were dragged from his soul, his voice so full of dark despair that it was barely recognisable as his own.

"I'm sorry, Sir. I can't. We can't. Please, Sir, give.....give Hermione to Professor McGonagall. She will look after her."

Snape met McGonagall's gaze once more on this night of horror. Ron;s words had finally impacted upon him. He looked around him, at the shattered hall, the scattered bodies of friend and foe alike, and the huddled groups of shivering children. He looked across at Ron, and asked, "Dementors?"

Knowing that he had reached him, Ron said quietly, "Yes. Voldemort brought Dementors and they are loose in the grounds. Some of the fifth years are holding them at the doors, while Neville and Harry have gone down to the gates to try and let the aurors in, but they are losing ground. Voldemort has somehow warded the grounds so they can't get in here easily. We need to know where Madame Pomfrey keeps her supplies, she's too busy to show us, and, we need a teacher, Sir." He leant closer to him, forcing Severus to maintain eye contact. "Professor McGonagall can not help us at the moment, Severus. She is ..She just can't. We need you."

Snape drew a shuddering breath deep into his lungs, and forced his arms to release his burden into the waiting embrace of Minerva. She bowed her head over Hermione and cradled her close. Snape fought his way to his feet, stilling Ron's instinctive move to help him with a single glare. Ron watched him stalk towards the doors, black robes billowing behind him. Ron bent down and wordlessly brushed his finger along Hermione's cheek. Knowing there was nothing more he could do for her, he followed Snape's path, determined to do what he could for those still living. He comforted himself with the thought that Hermione would have wanted that. The Severus Snape they knew had returned to them, with only one exception. His heart lay broken and bleeding in the arms of Minerva McGonagall.

Finis




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Authors Notes:

Well, I am just a bit nervous posting this. No happy ending, the very real possibility I slipped over into complete and utter melodrama, the cheating of having Hermione and Snape together without any relationship building...


Please let me know what you thought; if anything worked, if anything didn't, I would love to hear your thoughts. I am not normally such a depressing writer! I do have an idea for an epilogue, but it is not written yet, and I would prefer to get some feedback before I finish it. I am not sure if it would kill what came before or not.




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