Hermione moved about the darkening streets of Muggle London, hurrying between the shoppers and people heading home from work. She was rushing to get to the Leaky Cauldron.
“I should have run errands yesterday,” she mumbled to herself, eager to get to her destination before the first three stars became visible in the night sky.
A group of older children, just as rushed as Hermione to reach their own destination, barreled along the sidewalk in the opposite direction and almost knocked her over. The gaggle of urchins dressed in costumes, unaware that they almost pushed over a real, living and breathing witch, continued on their way without an apology or a glance back.
Hermione paused in her trek and turned to regard the variety of costumes. The sight of one tall, lanky youth dressed in a billowing black cape and mask made her heart stop for a moment. There was something familiar about the way the boy's cloak moved as he walked quickly that made something deep in her chest ache.
Turning back to the direction she was originally heading, Hermione squared her shoulders and concentrated on getting to the gateway to the magical community.
Stepping through the door, Hermione lifted up her head and dropped the hood of her cloak in time to see Jim, Tom the barkeep's son, serving up a flaming cup of dragon-scale tea.
There were only a few patrons left in the Leaky Cauldron on this All Hallow's Eve. Most everyone else would be waiting near Hogsmeade, like Hermione, for the veil between the living and dead to become gossamer-thin.
After throwing a few Sickles into the tin atop the mantle, Hermione grabbed a handful of Floo powder and called out her destination.
“The Three Broomsticks.”
Grates and fireplaces swirled by, but not fast enough. She began to think that perhaps she should have ducked into an alley to Apparate straight to Hogsmeade instead of traveling by Floo.
It was safer to travel by Floo on this night, as Hermione always found herself too distracted to Apparate safely over such long distances.
Arriving at the most popular pub in Hogsmeade, Hermione gave a cursory wave to Madam Rosmerta as she hurried out the door.
Hermione stepped into the cool autumn air and noticed it was almost time. She ran towards the place where she knew he would be. It was easier for him if she was there already waiting for him, for if he found her not there, he might assume she had forgotten about him and never return.
Hermione could never forget about him. The moment she had found him was firmly imprinted in her memories. Sometimes she would dream everything had turned out differently, and other times the brunette witch would dream it as it exactly happened.
It was an unseasonably cold June day that had turned into a bone chillingly rainy night. The last Horcrux had been found and destroyed, and Harry knew that Voldemort could be coming for him soon.
Hermione, along with her fiancé, Ron, stayed by Harry's side throughout the battle. When the smoke dissipated, Ron lay in a crumpled heap, like a rag doll dragged through the mud. Hermione wasn't too surprised, as Ron had stated frequently to Harry that he would lay down his life for his friend, and he held good to his word.
In the aftermath of the battle, Hermione wandered about to see who else was alive. That was when she came across him.
"Professor Snape?" Hermione called out.
The tall, lean figure that seemed to be wandering aimlessly about the edge of the Forbidden Forest spun about quickly with his wand at the ready.
For a brief moment, in the fading dusky light, Hermione could see his eyes pleading for help, a momentary lapse of control, mixed with confusion.
"Miss Granger," he said silkily after regaining control of himself, "I am not a professor anymore and haven't been for the past year."
That was when she saw him falter and sink to his knees in the slick mud, coating his boots, trousers, and cloak with peaty muck.
Rushing over, Hermione knelt in the wet earth and scooped Professor Snape's head up into her lap.
"Professor," she said shakily as she saw the large wound on the left side of his torso. It could have been any number of curses that had ripped the flesh from his ribs. The raven-haired wizard bled profusely. "You're hurt. I should go for help."
Severus' eyes, which gazed about the darkening night sky in an unfocused fashion, turned to look at the witch speaking to him. The clarity in his eyes returned, and he softly asked, "Do you honestly think the Healers will want to save a murderer and Death Eater like me?"
Tears welled up in her eyes, and she tried valiantly to not let him see them fall, but failed. Hermione choked out, "We know what you did for the Headmaster. We know why you had to do it. You don't have to die like a martyr."
A sardonic smile graced his lips. "Perhaps dying is the only way I will be truly respected and get that Order of Merlin, First Class."
Hermione laughed weakly at his black humor, but soon the tears returned. Sniffling, she sobbed, "Please don't die, Professor."
"I told you not to call me that," Severus said sourly, turning his head away from gazing up directly into Hermione's face.
"I should do something," she replied, feeling helpless.
"Then just stay awhile. It won't be long," he sighed with relief.
"Long for what?" Hermione asked, perplexed as to what Professor Snape was referring to.
Severus looked up into the face of the witch holding him. Not many men, wizard or Muggle, had the benefit of dying in the arms of a beautiful young woman. He never thought of her as a woman until the moment she lifted him into her arms and rested his head on her lap.
Miss Granger's hair framed her face like some great silken halo, tendrils of her chestnut mane trailing over her shoulders and around her arms. The way her soft hands kept stroking the hair away from his face was soothing and relaxed Severus, making him wish to close his eyes prematurely, but he knew once they closed they would never open again.
"Just stay here and keep me company," he breathed, and smiled genuinely for once.
As he exhaled, his heart stopped beating, and his eyes drifted to stare blankly at the now inky black night.
Hermione began to wail as she clutched his head to her chest and began rocking back and forth. She mourned not just for him, but for Ron, too. She mourned for all the people she would soon discover had died in the final battle.
Hermione saw the second star of the evening sky appear and she quickened her pace. As she rounded the bend in the road, the third star in the evening sky revealed itself.
Severus shimmered and manifested himself in the same spot she saw him wandering aimlessly seven years ago.
The ghostly vision of the Potions master turned and smiled. It was only in death that Severus Snape learned to smile without some malicious intent behind the grin.
"You came," he said, sounding surprised.
"I always come. You asked for me to stay and keep you company. How could I deny a dying man's wish?" Hermione explained.
On this Halloween night, when the fabric that separated the living and the dead was its thinnest, and the departed who had not gone on in the afterlife remained, Severus returned to the world of the living briefly. He was not solid, but solid enough so that he could almost feel Hermione’s hand on his brow once more and nearly feel the warmth that radiated from her body and spirit.
And so Hermione stayed with Severus all evening, catching up on the latest in the wizarding world. Professor McGonagall was still Headmistress of Hogwarts, dressed in black, and continuing to mourn for Albus Dumbledore; the Falmouth Falcons had just missed out on winning the English Quidditch Cup that year; Hermione was still married to a Ravenclaw ten years her senior.
"Does he know where you go on Halloween night yet?" Severus asked Hermione, regarding her husband.
"He knows I was there during the final battle. He probably thinks I come here to see Ron, but Ron moved on. You should have too when you died," she replied.
"Heaven, Valhalla, or whatever version of paradise that exists for the dead would probably not take me. And I have spent most of my short life repenting for serving a different kind of devil, so hell is no place I wish to spend the rest of eternity. The only other alternative is here," Severus surmised philosophically.
"Maybe it's not too late for you to move on," Hermione said sadly.
"But if I go, wouldn't you miss me?" he asked.
"I would miss you, but at least I would know that you do not spend the rest of the year wandering about as a black shadow, keeping errant students from going into the Forbidden Forest. The rumor alone of Professor Snape's ghost waiting for any curious student has been enough to guarantee that no student for the past six years has gone near the Forbidden Forest," she informed the apparition of the former professor.
Severus looked smug at the news of this, and arched a brow at the witch. "Really? I had no idea."
He did, but he liked to hear it directly from a reputable source instead of overhearing the odd whispers of students egging first years to enter the Forbidden Forest as some initiation-cum-bet.
The hour of midnight approached too quickly for the ghost and witch.
Off in Hogsmeade, the village clock began to chime the stroke of twelve.
Each year it was the same; Severus would suddenly stand and begin to wander about as if lost. Hermione would call to him and he would fall to his knees before she could lift his incorporeal form into her lap and begin to stroke the ghostly, lank strands from his face.
It was that minute while the village clock chimed out twelve bells that Severus would lie in Hermione's arms as his silvery blood began to ebb from his body and onto the cold ground.
He would remark how she looked a bit older and a little more beautiful with each passing year.
Just before the last bell was struck, Severus would make one last request: "Just stay here and keep me company."
"I will, Severus, until it is my time to join you," Hermione would reply before Severus would evaporate like smoke in her arms.