The owl delivering the message that would determine the end of the war was a common barn owl, likely chosen to avoid notice. Hermione had been surprised to see the owl come through the window of the Burrow’s kitchen that morning, and even more surprised to see her name on the front of the envelope.
The familiarity both confused her and aroused her curiosity. Who had sent the letter? Both Harry and Ron had just returned from destroying the last Horcrux, and could not have possibly left soon enough to have any need to send her a note, especially by an unfamiliar owl. Harry always used Hedwig if there was ever a need, and Ron was hardly seen away from Harry’s side these days.
The identity of the sender quickly became quite certain. Though there was no signature at the bottom of the page, Hermione was very familiar with the handwriting, and the scathing remarks she had read in the very same scrawl on her returned Potions assignments. The content of the note, however, unsettled her:
”Tell Potter to remember the prophecy. ‘… And either must die at the hand of the other, for neither can live while the other survives…’ Therein lies the key; the Dark Lord is also aware.
“Use that renowned mind of yours, Hermione. Who is the other?”
Before her shaky hands could drop the parchment into the porridge, a hand reached over Hermione’s shoulder to take the letter. A prolonged pause followed.
“Who sent this?” Ron’s voice was tinged with both anger and confusion.
Hermione remained silent, letting Snape’s words repeat over again in her mind. “Who is the other?”
“Hermione?” Ron began pacing about, working himself into a panic. “Who else could know about the prophecy, that it’s either Harry or Him?”
“Ron…” Hermione started.
“It’s not… No!” Ron cried.
“Dumbledore trusted him.”
“Yeah, but look where that got him!”
“I am not about to listen to anything Snape has to say, unless it’s a full confession of guilt and the notice that he’s turning himself in to Azkaban for a nice, gloomy Kiss!” yelled Ron, face reddened with fury.
Hermione drew her hands up to her face, rubbing them over her eyes. It was still so early in the morning, although the early hours had already brought the weariness of countless days of research and tension to the forefront of Hermione’s mind.
“What the bloody hell is all the shouting about?” Hermione turned to see Harry standing in the doorway of the kitchen.
“Hermione’s got a letter from Snape,” said Ron through gritted teeth. “Something about the prophecy.” He held the letter out for Harry, who took it quickly.
“What does he mean?” he said.
Hermione sighed. “I haven’t had the time to work it out yet.”
“It may be nothing, but I’d really like to know just what it is that Voldemort thinks he knows,” Harry said, still staring with furrowed brows at the letter.
“So you’re going to believe the traitor?” Ron spat.
Hermione whispered, “What can it hurt us now? We’ve taken care of the five definite Horcruxes, leaving only Nagini and Voldemort himself. It may be possible that Voldemort has found a way around the prophecy, or he could simply be pulling at straws in another attempt to further his life. If Dumbledore trusted Snape, how can we ignore him?”
“I don’t like it one bit.”
“Not one bit, do you hear me?”
Harry rested a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Don’t worry. We won’t give anything up.” He suddenly drew back, a pained grin spreading over his face. “In fact, there’s nothing to give up, now that we’re so close.”
Hermione’s attention refocused itself on Harry. “You mean you’ve found him?”
“Mr. Weasley told me that a witch that lives near Godric’s Hollow reported her husband missing a few days ago. Aurors went searching for him immediately. His body was found this morning,” said Harry with a grim expression.
Ron, who was sulking by the sink, cut in, “What does any of that have to do with You-Know-Who?”
“I’m not done,” Harry explained. “He had clearly been tortured with hexes and curses before he was killed with the Avada Kedavra. And…” Harry’s voice cracked with emotion. “And… he had the Dark Mark, on his left arm.”
“A Death Eater?” Hermione exclaimed.
Harry quickly shook his head. “No, not a Death Eater.”
“How are they sure? He had the Dark Mark!” said Ron.
Harry swallowed. “It wasn’t burned in like the Death Eaters’ tattoos. It was carved in, with a knife.”
Hermione’s stomach clenched in disgust at the mental imagery. A wave of nausea wracked over her thin frame, urging her toward the sink for relief. As soon as she released the meager contents of her belly, blackness rushed in.
Who is the other?
“Hermione?” She heard a concerned voice, though it was somewhat faint over the dull roar in her ears. She slowly drew back into herself, regaining her conscious mind.
“Hmm?” Hermione managed to grunt a half-response to the urgent pleas of Molly Weasley.
“Goodness, girl! You gave us all quite a fright!” Molly said. “Ron came rushing into our room, giving us a fantastic scare, saying that you’d hit your head on the sink and were bleeding all over the floor!”
Hermione snorted quietly. “I’m sorry for the mess.”
“Are you alright, dear?” said Molly, looking with concern into the girl’s eyes and, seeing nothing, drew her gaze up to the large swelling bump on Hermione’s forehead. “Do you need anything?”
“I suspect I’ll be fine. Just let me lie here for a while.” Hermione looked around to see that someone had put her into her usual bed at the Burrow, in the makeshift cot in Ginny’s room. “Where is everyone?”
Molly’s face tightened in fear. “Arthur, Kingsley, and Nymphadora returned from the Ministry with more news on the murdered man near Godric’s Hollow. As soon as Harry and Ron heard exactly where the man had been found, they left.” She wiped a tear from her eye. “Not even Arthur could hold them back, dear boys!” The Weasley matron broke into sobs, leaving Hermione feeling very awkward.
“I’m sure they’ll be fine,” Hermione said in an attempt at comfort.
Molly drew a handkerchief from a hidden pocket and none-too-daintily blew her nose. “They said they’d be back soon, but that was hours ago!”
Hermione started. “How long was I unconscious?” Looking out the window of the room, she could see a nearly-full moon, hovering just above the trees.
“All day, dear! We really were getting worried about you! There was no way we could risk St. Mungo’s, what with the Order business and all…”
“No, it’s all right. I understand,” Hermione said. Suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, she saw an owl land on the windowsill outside. “Mrs. Weasley, could I trouble you for a glass of water or a cup of tea? I’m parched.”
“Oh, of course!” The woman hurried out of the room, shutting the door behind her.
Drawing up all the energy she could muster, Hermione threw herself out of her bed and over to the window to open it for the waiting owl. Taking the envelope in hand, she absently shut the window again, startling the bird off its stoop. She tore the envelope open, not even bothering to see to whom it was addressed, though she was certain it was for her. Upon reading the contents of the letter, her face paled and her hand slackened its death grip on the page, letting it flutter to the ground.
There are eight, Hermione. Potter is the other.
“Voldemort’s Horcruxes,” she whispered.
Seven months later…
Hermione stood over the graves of her two best friends. Though the graves were no longer fresh, the memory of the deaths of the two boys was still painful to her.
With hours of explanation and argument over Snape’s messages, Hermione had convinced her two friends of the former traitor’s veracity. And in the end, Snape had been right.
There were eight Horcruxes, including Voldemort himself. Voldemort himself knew that Harry was a Horcrux, although he hadn’t realized it until Harry’s fifth year, when their mental connection became obvious. Such a strong connection of emotions could only be explained with a link of the souls. Voldemort, in all the confusion of the final night of his reign previous to his first downfall, somehow made Harry his Horcrux with the death of Harry’s mother.
Harry experienced the so-called dream of attacking Mr. Weasley in his fifth year because he possessed a piece of Voldemort’s soul, just as Nagini did. With his connection to the serpent, he had ultimately managed to find Voldemort’s hiding place and had killed both Nagini and Voldemort once and for all.
But that hardly left everything at a happy ending.
Hermione drew her handkerchief to her nose, leaving her tear-stained cheeks as they would gather even more tears after she wiped them. There was little victory in her grief.
The crunching of leaves behind Hermione snapped her attention back to reality. She twisted around swiftly to meet the dark eyes of the man watching her.
“You’re losing your touch, Professor.”
Snape stepped closer to Hermione after her acknowledgment. “I am no longer your Professor, Miss Granger. And, now that it has ended, I have no reason to hide myself from you.”
Hermione turned again to face the tombstones.
“How did you know?”
“The Dark Lord trusted me enough to discuss the matters of his Horcruxes with me, although I’ll never know why,” he replied. “He was never my master.”
Hermione sniffled. “Harry and Ron certainly thought he was, for a time.”
“Yes,” he admitted. “Although they had more than a few false beliefs about me.”
Snape came up behind Hermione and brought his hand to rest on her shoulder. “I was thankful that Potter believed in me, at least at the end.”
“I’m sure you’re glad that he managed to obliterate not only Voldemort, but also Ron, Lucius, and himself.”
“I can live without Lucius and Voldemort, but I did not wish for the young Mister Weasley to die as well. And,” he said, “I will be forever grateful that you were not nearby when that final spell took them.”
Hermione turned again to face the dark man, who was physically closer to her than she realized. “Professor…”
“I…” she started. “Just… Thank you.”
Hermione reached herself up to brush her lips across Snape’s cheek.
“For saving the Wizarding world.” And with that, she Disapparated.
Snape stood where he was for several moments, the warmth of Hermione’s lips upon his cheeks rooting him to his spot. Finally, he shook himself and made to leave, but not before paying his respects.
On the two tombstones in front of him, in the grass in front of Hogwarts, which was now in shambles upon its once prestigious hilltop, were the names of the two boys who became men upon their deaths.
The first, Ronald Weasley: A Hero, and always a friend.
And Harry Potter: The boy who lived to save us all.
A bit dramatic, of course, but Severus Snape could not imagine the death of the boy in any other way. After all, annoying as Potter was, he really did give his life to save the world.
With a flair of black robes, Severus Snape Disapparated, and was never heard from again.
Neither was Hermione Granger.