A/N: A Walking Shadow is dedicated to Anastasia/TTFS and PRose, for their unquenchable faith and friendship.
To my readers, a final, quill-flourishing bow of gratitude. If you think this story is about you, it is.
Dona Eis Requiem
(Grant Them Rest)
Hermione saw it, and her arm fell to her side, and she whispered, "Mine." The tears that had sprung unbidden to trail her cheeks clean of blood were echoed behind Severus' mask.
The tears that had sprung unbidden to trail her cheeks clean of blood were echoed behind Severus' mask.
Thoughts stilled in the deep, silent place where he focused his will, Moody scarcely registered the Order angling their Shield Charms between him and Severus. A rush of voices beat outside the quiet in his mind – shouts, a shrill, sharp command, all telling him to stand down, that Severus was with them – but if Moody heard them, he betrayed no sign. His wand twitched as Severus turned slowly to face him.
The reflection of Hermione's Patronus faded from Severus' eyes. "Arrest me."
Moody dropped his weight a fraction lower, poised, tensed, drawing breath to cast.
"Perhaps you need an ear to match your eye?" Severus drawled, cocking an eyebrow. "Arrest me."
"And me," said Draco, his voice a hollow echo in his ears as he turned to offer his wand to Tonks. "Cousin," he acknowledged, with a nod.
Tonks' voice was low and thick as she murmured the words of a shackling spell.
Severus' eyes locked darkly on Moody's. "Take them," he ordered.
"Them"? Moody's magical eye swiveled downward to find two wands resting in Severus' open palm. Two? Jerked by surprise out of his lethal focus, Moody swore, and, with two quick slashing motions, he bound Severus' offered wrists.
The bonds cut deep.
And Severus' face revealed nothing.
Hermione stood, breathing heavily, as the Order erupted into motion around her. Between moving bodies and flowing robes she caught only a glimpse of Severus' hair before Minerva swept her aside.
"The Ministry has arrived," Minerva hissed into her hair, pulling her into Side-along Apparition. "I'm taking you back to Hogwarts."
The trial of Severus Snape became, of course, the social event of the season. Witches and wizards from around the world came to see, be seen, to listen and be heard, and, although the testimony of Dumbledore's portrait and Pensieve were finally allowed, the trial stretched from one week to two, through July, to the beginning of August.
From their rooms at St. Mungo's, Harry and Ron read each day's reports in The Daily Prophet with increasing confusion, arguing what little they had seen into blurry memory that finally defied recollection, colored as it inevitably was by biased reporting, the accounts of the Order members who visited daily, and the way of young men to remember their own embellishments over the evidence of their eyes.
Neither had seen very much, after all, although both had seen far too much.
One afternoon, after a visit from a still-limping but ever-beaming Hagrid, Harry sat by the window, distractedly rubbing his shoulder, which was sore from a particularly misty thumping from the half-giant. "Ron," he said quietly.
"Mmphg?" Ron asked, around a mouthful of Chocolate Frog. Stacks of get-well cards and sweets were piled high by both boys' beds, and more came in daily from wizards and witches (mostly witches) throughout Great Britain.
"Where do you suppose they're keeping Hermione?"
"Homphrts," Ron said, then swallowed and tried again. "Hogwarts," he said. "Ginny told me, last time she nicked out of Bill's room to get away from Fleur."
Bill's recovery was slow, slow enough that Mrs. Weasley was still driven to tears at the thought of her eldest son's suffering, but the Healers expected a nearly full recovery.
"You'd think she'd give them the slip, to see us," Harry said.
"Yeah," Ron agreed, reaching for another envelope and opening it. "Hey, Harry. This one sent a picture… take a look at her - "
Whatever Ron had been about to say was drowned out by the entrance of Ginny and Fleur in full cry.
With a fleeting smile at Ginny, Harry turned again to the window.
Hermione spent the weeks of the trial ignoring the copies of The Daily Prophet that Dobby brought her every morning with her breakfast. Minerva and the staff watched her, worried, as she grew more silent and spent more and more time on her own, withdrawing from interaction as soon as was polite, claiming a desire to spend her days preparing for classes and N.E.W.T.s. But as the trial dragged on, Hermione dropped even the pretense of studying, sitting for hours at a time by the arched Library windows, watching Tayet zooming over the lake, apparently lost in thought.
Her fingers were never far from the two-way mirror she carried in her pocket.
She could hear every word of the trial. Every description, every detail of every act the man she loved had committed, twisted for maximum horror, maximum effect, a leaden, measured prosecution pointing toward the annihilation of a soul they had, between them, so recently rendered whole.
And bound as he was to the accused's chair, Severus could not reach his own mirror, but he could feel her touch – every time she flinched, every time she recoiled, and every time she frowned at a particularly inept rhetorical move.
Whenever she frowned, he smiled, causing no small consternation in the galleries.
Each night he returned to his cell to find her jackal waiting for him.
It carried no message, and was all the message he needed.
In the end, it was Mad-Eye Moody who proved that Severus Snape was no threat to Wizarding Britain. For a month, Moody's accounts of Severus' inglorious service to Lord Voldemort kept the Wizarding world titillated, with each new atrocity he recounted to be savored and discussed over countless tea-tables and endless frothy pints.
But finally, by special arrangement, Dumbledore's portrait was allowed to examine the witness.
He asked only one question: "What would it take, Alastor, to prove to you that Severus Snape poses no threat to these good witches and wizards, nor to any anywhere?"
Moody's eye whirled angrily, and he thumped his wooden leg beneath his chair for emphasis. "Foe-Glass," he spat. "I want a look at him in my Foe-Glass."
And not only Moody, but the entire Wizengamot, and much of the population of Wizarding Britain, were given just that chance.
For three full weeks, Severus Snape stood shackled in the Ministry atrium, positioned before Moody's Foe-Glass, and any who wished could stand between them to see for themselves that he cast no shadow in the mirror.
Hermione's touch remained with him throughout.
And every night, when, unbound and alone, he could finally reach his own half of the mirror, his breath whispered the same words against Hermione's skin: "Have faith."
"But he cast Unforgiveables!" chorused the more conservative members of the Wizengamot. "He's admitted it! There can be no leniency – they are, by very name, Unforgiveable!"
"I have long thought that perhaps the name should be changed," Dumbledore's portrait mused, calmly, and not long after the trial the Wizengamot issued an administrative decree stating that the Unforgiveable Curses be renamed "Unthinkable." For reasons no one seemed inclined to explore, that name that seemed to deepen the twinkle in the canvas' eyes.
Finally cleared of all charges, Severus Snape disappeared from public view for a full week. His whereabouts caused much speculation. "Durmstrang," said some. "Family estate on the coast of Ireland. Unplottable," said others. One rumor even placed him on the outskirts of Havana, but, as that rumor was found to originate with the Weasley twins after a particularly exuberant evening in the Leaky Cauldron, it was quickly dismissed.
Hermione awoke just before dawn to his voice on her cheek, and opened her eyes to find her hand curled around the mirror.
"I'm here," she murmured to the mirror, blinking awake to see Tayet's cocked head reflecting in the mirror's smooth surface. As it did every morning, Hermione's hand rose to the phoenix's neck, which was arched over her own.
Hermione rolled onto her stomach, holding the mirror before her on the pillow.
Severus felt her hair fall over its surface; Hermione felt his breath catch.
"Squirp?" Tayet asked hopefully, stretching her neck out to nudge the mirror with her beak.
Hermione laughed softly, and felt Severus' answering smile.
His amusement dry, his voice gentle, "I'm not under the mirror, little one."
"Squeeeeep," Tayet complained, climbing over Hermione's shoulder to poke at the mirror again. "Squeep!"
"Where are you?" Hermione whispered.
"I'm right here." His voice came not from the mirror, but from the doorway, and whether Tayet was first to his shoulder or Hermione into his arms was a matter for later -
For now they stood, his eyes locked, dark, with hers, hers darkening her answer, and, in the stillness of time, after innocence, before forever, they stood, together, against a past receding into tomorrow, in the slow, lingering knowledge of a shared silence too strong for words.
Some hours later, they awoke to Tayet's talons clicking on the stone window ledge.
"Squirp!" she announced, peering through the panes at the sun sparkling on the lake. "Squirp!"
Severus arose to unlatch the window, and as he watched her take wing, he felt Hermione's hand sweep under his hair to his neck. Her arm curled around his waist, resting gently on his hip, and, feeling her warm at his back, he exhaled, his arm coming up to cover hers.
They stood thus for a moment, in the warm sunlight, and he turned to face her.
"Hermione, I – "
His gaze fell on an iridescent silver fox that was pacing the floor, and he closed his eyes. "Minerva," he sighed.
Hermione stiffened, and turned in his arms.
A few short, hasty, and decidedly awkward minutes later, they were standing in the Headmistress' office, each holding a creamy white envelope.
"Albus told me about these, and their contents, this morning. He left them for you, before… well…" A fleeting shadow crossed her face, but it soon passed, and she regarded them with sparkling eyes. "Now, if I may, I will excuse myself for a moment - I have things to attend to. Mr. Filch is driven to distraction by the Slytherin emerald, and will not listen to reason about its permanence. It simply will not re-set to zero..."
The closing of the door echoed a bit too loudly as they looked at their names, spelled out in Dumbledore's spidery handwriting, and then at each other.
"Well," Hermione began, but Severus' hand was on her cheek, his lips were on hers, and then they looked at each other, not moving. For a moment they stood, still, touching, then they separated and opened their letters.
My dear Miss Granger, With tremendous hope and faith I imagine you reading this letter as I write. I do so hope that day will come, and if it should, I trust that what you have learned and experienced will steady you through the next year and provide a foundation for the glorious future you so richly deserve. An old man's fond indulgence, perhaps, but, as you are reading this, not misplaced. And it is with tremendous pleasure...
With tremendous hope and faith I imagine you reading this letter as I write. I do so hope that day will come, and if it should, I trust that what you have learned and experienced will steady you through the next year and provide a foundation for the glorious future you so richly deserve.
An old man's fond indulgence, perhaps, but, as you are reading this, not misplaced.
And it is with tremendous pleasure...
Hermione's eyes flew over the letter.
Well done. Wishing you the best of times, as always, I remain, Yours, Albus Dumbledore
Headmaster, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Wishing you the best of times, as always, I remain,
It had been almost his last official act as Headmaster.
Severus, I trust that you will someday find it in yourself to forgive yourself for fulfilling the unthinkable burden I placed on you. Perhaps never quite completely - although I do hope and wish it for you. For you, I think, forgiveness will have to come from without before it can begin within. Dear boy, do try to embrace both. I dare not ask that you try to forgive me as well, but perhaps, with time... But time grows short (a phrase I've always found particularly delightful), and although there is much to be said I must limit myself to two topics. The first, which will, if you read this, come as a small shock, is...
I trust that you will someday find it in yourself to forgive yourself for fulfilling the unthinkable burden I placed on you. Perhaps never quite completely - although I do hope and wish it for you. For you, I think, forgiveness will have to come from without before it can begin within. Dear boy, do try to embrace both.
I dare not ask that you try to forgive me as well, but perhaps, with time...
But time grows short (a phrase I've always found particularly delightful), and although there is much to be said I must limit myself to two topics. The first, which will, if you read this, come as a small shock, is...
Severus found himself blinking quite forcefully to keep the thin handwriting in focus.
As for the second, know that even now, hearing Harry on the stair, I thank you, my dear boy, for everything. With gratitude, and, whether you will it or no, love, Albus
With gratitude, and, whether you will it or no, love,
Severus and Hermione looked up from their letters and regarded each other with wide, serious eyes.
Finally, Hermione raised an eyebrow. "Professor Snape, I presume?"
He inclined his head formally. "Miss Granger... " His mouth twisted wryly. "I assume congratulations are in order?"
She nodded, unable to keep the sparkle out of her eyes.
He raised his hand gently to touch her hair, but stopped himself, his fingers closing against the stare of the collected Heads of Hogwarts on the walls. His hand fell to his side, and he found he had to clear his throat. "Then may I be the first…"
Her eyes sparkled, and her smile revealed a dimple he'd never paused to appreciate.
He cleared his throat, and finished, "… to congratulate you?"
"Thank you... sir."
The collective hush of the Heads' portraits was palpable.
Had they looked out the window, they would have seen a small flash of purple over the sparkling lake, but their eyes were for each other.
A long look, in which everything that had passed between them, everything that was still between them, and the glorious unpatterned unknown of what might yet be, after... a long moment of laden silence, and then they smiled.
Very complicated smiles. Proud, wistful, dry, amused, profound; smiles of tribute, accomplishment, acknowledgment; of courage and strength; of love, honor, and respect...
... and patience.
Glancing at Dumbledore's portrait, Severus made a decision. "Because I should hate to endure the lengths to which your Housemates will no doubt go to overcome even a token advantage - for the defeat of Voldemort, I award one point to Gryffindor."
She couldn't help a small laugh.
"For faith, Hermione."
Her laugh quieted.
"I shall deny it, of course."
"And do not expect any more."
She snorted. "If I earn them, then of course I shall expect them. And you... Professor," she blushed, then rolled her eyes, "I trust you will not fail to award points that are rightfully earned by any House this year?"
Their eyes flashed in mutual challenge.
A quiet "Bravo" from Dumbledore, a sigh of rustling pages from the book resting in his lap, and the collected Heads of Hogwarts stood in their frames and broke into applause.
"Shove over, Phineas!" came Mrs. Black's piercing whisper. "I can't see!"
"You daft old bat!" Phineas Nigellus barked, his monocle dropping out of his eye as she elbowed him aside. "You're not allowed in here!"
Below the portraits, the witch and wizard turned to smile at the Blacks, and then the two who had entered the headmistress' office as Severus and Hermione turned and left it as Professor S. Snape, Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, and Miss Granger, Head Girl of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It was a complication that neither one of them had foreseen.
High over the lake, Tayet was soaring, her eyes sweeping the surface for a hint of the elusive shadow that dwelt below.
Time matters differently to a phoenix, and the complication of a year, more or less, mattered not at all to Tayet.
It was a glorious morning, and she felt like flying.