Author name: Flourish
Author email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Keywords: Snape Hermione Ron Voldemort SS/HG
Spoilers: SS/PS, CoS, PoA, GoF, QTTA, FBaWtFT
Summary: SS/HG. Severus Snape and Hermione Granger have one thing in common: they remember because they must and they forget because they can. But one cannot run from the past forever. It eventually catches up to you, for good or for ill.
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author notes: What Little Things Remain is dedicated to my parents, without whose never-failing sympathy and encouragement this story woud have been finished in half the time. The cover illustration for this fic is at http://www.blotts.org/fanfiction/bookdrop.jpg. Check out my LiveJournal (http://flourish.livejournal.com) and Obscurus Books (http://www.obscurus.org, a Harry Potter fanfiction writing group). My contact information is all in my profile. Further notes on the text (and thanks to everyone who helped me out!) are avaliable at the following URL: http://www.blotts.org/fanfiction/wltrnotes.html
The light of memory, or rather the light that memory lends to things, is the palest light of all. I am not quite sure whether I am dreaming or remembering, whether I have lived my life or dreamed it. Just as dreams do, memory makes me profoundly aware of the unreality, the evanescence of the world, a fleeting image in the moving water.
Part 1. When Soft Voices Die.
New York, New York. The Empire State building was tall, but it seemed even taller to the wizards who knew how to get to the United States' Department of Magic floors below ground. Hermione Granger, however, was not below ground. She was a tourist here, like any other tourist, carrying around a camera that looked similar to a Muggle's but had a tiny WizPerfect logo stamped on its side. Here she could be a part of the crowd, unnoticeable even with her bushy hair. She preferred it this way, liking nothing better than to never run into an old school chum.
Things would start off fine, at first. She'd smile as best she could, depending on how she was feeling; they'd grin with what she was sure was tremendous enthusiasm, happy in their own insular little lives. The conversation inevitably turned to Harry. When you know a famous person, someone always feels compelled to mention that fact; when they are famous and recently dead, it's a topic of rumor, of discussion, of media coverage and conspiracy theories.
Hermione pushed her hair back from her face and glanced sidewise at the other passengers, waiting impatiently for the lift to finish its run to the top. It was so easy, when someone was alive, to hate them. Occasionally love only comes after they're dead, when there's nothing more to complain about and all that's left is the gravestone and the ground and their legend.
The yellow light hooked Hermione into that day, of course, the way yellow light often did, or the setting sun, or ringing bells, or Hogwarts. They had been together in the common room, she and Harry and Ron, having a quiet moment together while the battles raged outside. It wasn't the sort of battle where people got killed, but rather a magical battle between the wards and the spells thrown at them, the sort of battle where the people you need most devote themselves to the wards, throw themselves into them, hoping that perhaps someone will stop the Death Eaters before they break in. Harry had the sort of childish face that some people keep, never growing older but rather hovering in a prepubescent state that made you want to pinch his cheeks and tell him to go run and play.
"I'm going out there," he had said, decisively. He had been staring at the fire, its orange glow licking his face red with heat, and the words had come out of nowhere. At first, Hermione wasn't sure he had even said them. She waited, and Ron did too - they both looked at him, softly, as one looks at a madman. "I'm going to stop this. Nobody else has to die."
"I'm going with you, then," Ron told him quickly, glancing sidewise at Hermione before he set his mouth in a thin, adversarial line. His teeth worried the inside of his bottom lip.
"You haven't got a plan, have you?" Hermione finally said. The words choked their way out of her mouth. It was hard, in some ways, for her to do it - not only because she longed to say something else, something more basic of Harry, no, you're my friend - if they all want to sacrifice their lives for you let them, but for God's sake stay here, even if it is cowardly, even if it is almost Slytherin, but also because her throat was suddenly dry from the fire. She wondered if it had been dry from the first.
Ron and Harry looked at each other, and with a sudden draining burst of surprise, she knew that they had spoken already. "We've a plan, Hermione," Harry began. "And, well - I suppose there's no easy way to -"
Harry leaned forward, his gaze searching, trying to find something to hold onto in her countenance that might suggest sympathy. There was nothing. Ron slouched backwards, hiding his face behind Harry's back, stretching his long legs out in front of the sofa. "And it doesn't include me," she half-whispered.
"No, it doesn't," Harry confirmed. Like oil on water, anger dipped into and glossed over Hermione. A part of her was dead, she felt - the part that was Gryffindor. It was rotting and crystallizing within her, waiting to push its frustrated self out, waiting to come out her throat and mouth and bite the uncomfortable expression off his face. It was ready to erase the common room, erase the softly flickering fire, erase everything and just leave her where nobody could touch her, but it wasn't there yet. All she could feel was the anger dripping off her, never quite reaching her heart.
"Go, then," she told him, standing violently, motioning to Ron as well. "Go get yourself killed. Go kill yourself. But don't - don't expect me to be here." But after her violent beginning, she couldn't finish. The warm air of the common room was no longer flushing. It failed to go to her head. As they hugged her, whispered I know you'll understand, you'll be thankful when it's over in her ears, she stood stock-still. And then - then they were gone, and she hated them more and more for it.
The doors opened. They were out onto the top of the building, fenced in so that no-one could jump. Especially not suicidal witches, she thought. Can't have too many more ghosts haunting it. Not enough room. But her magic would have kicked in anyway, would have saved her. After all, it always had before.
There was a piano player in the next flat over - or a player piano, but it didn't matter which. Hermione wondered how it had fitted through the door. She had only rented this place for six months. She expected to be long gone after that. New York one day, Los Angeles the next, then Sacramento to settle down for a few months and gather funds; her parents hadn't left her enough money to tour the world without working, even with the aid of Apparation. She was quite as talented at Apparation as she had been untalented at divining. In fact, the Ministry had offered her a position on account of her skills. She had turned it down.
"Don't you want to track down the people who did that to Harry Potter?" Cornelius Fudge had asked her, the pathetic lame-duck excuse for a man. He had been so pleading. He had wanted another famous Auror to credit his Ministry with. "We'll bend the rules for females - we'll bend the rules for age. But surely you'd like to get revenge."
"No," she'd answered. "Not really."
She was no closer to finding out if that was true now than she had ever been.
The piano kept playing, jazz classics, a once-familiar tune; then it swung into Haydn, Liszt, Bach, a plethora of songs. Hermione had never played an instrument, but through the thin walls she thought she could tell that this person was excellent. It had to be a person: such a medley would never have been mechanically created.
The sofa she lay on had come with the flat. It was slightly dingy, stained. She was spilling ashes on it from her cigarette, but she didn't particularly mind; after all, it wasn't hers. Nothing in this place was hers, except the toiletries and clothing that still lived in her super-expanded suitcase. Not much time was spent here, in any case. The job she had taken - a Herbologist's job, really, ferreting out some of the more obscure river weeds that Muggles tended to ignore and organizing potions ingredients for a large think tank - required her presence all over the region. The company had been more than happy to take her on for such a low wage. She didn't have a university education yet, but her reputation preceded her. It was on all her school reports: undeniably the most intelligent and delightful witch of her generation, sure to succeed in anything she does, sharp as a tack and more determined to make something of herself than any other Muggle-born student I've seen in my teaching career.
"Oh, will you never let me be," a pleasant baritone sang from the other side of the wall. Jazz again. "Oh, will you never set me free -"
It stopped, suddenly, and the piano with it. Hermione was almost glad. The English accent had reminded her of home and the voice had reminded her of Harry. She absentmindedly crushed her cigarette in the ashtray that lay on the floor; she didn't remember when she'd first had one - probably when she was with Viktor in Bulgaria - but they were an on-and-off habit now. The ashtray was filled with butts, traced with reds and pinks and purples from her lipstick. Without Hogwarts, she had little to tie herself to, especially not her schoolgirl persona. She took some glee in trying out every color on the Lancôme counter, buying some of them, leaving the others with as much disdain as she could muster. Fashionable? Hardly, she had scoffed to the lady who worked at the counter. After all, with Lavender and Parvati long gone, there was nothing to rebel against.
Some days the lipstick made her feel pretty. Other days it made her feel bloody. On the cigarettes it looked like blood, about to ooze into the ashtray. Macbeth. For the first time in ages, she laughed out loud at her own non sequitur: "What dagger do I see before me, its handle toward my hand -"
Never let it be said that Hermione Granger doesn't know when she's hysterical. She does. It's how she stopped herself, how she sat up on the sofa and knocked over the ashtray. Her foot ground ashes into the carpet as she headed out into the cool night air, twisting her fingers in the chain around her neck, grasping the tiny book that hung there till her fingers turned white. How late is it? Too late, if it's cool outside in the middle of this miserable summer. You might as well not even sleep. You're collecting spatium blossom at dawn. The sky was quite black, mostly because a redwood grew directly in front of her balcony. Renting it, she had thought it was nice; it shielded her from the street. Now she scratched her arms against it and wished she'd thought of this sort of evening, when the faint whistle of a train in the distance unnerved her and she stumbled and fell at the slightest disturbance. Now she rubbed at the scratches, thumbed the book partway open and closed her eyes, bracing for the rush of brilliant whiteness she knew would come -
There was a noise behind her. She turned as quickly as she could, padding softly in her socks and grasping the wrought-iron railing for support. It was a man on the balcony next, tall and thin, dressed in fine tailored clothing. Some part of her made the connection instantly; another part had to run to catch up. Severus Snape, the ex Potions master, now a shadow on the outskirts of public life, a vague and vacant memory at the back of one's mind. The Daily Prophet must have run a story about him at some point - she still read it, every once in a while, keeping herself pleasantly out-of tune with most of the United States' wizarding community. He'd barely been seen since the fall of Lord Voldemort (since Harry's death, that demon on her shoulder reminded her). She hadn't missed him at all.
She stood there, staring at him. For one horrible moment she expected to cry, but no tears came. He had never been particularly important to her, but in that one moment, his coloring and the way he stood reminded her vividly of Harry and Hogwarts. Funny, how one person could remind you of someone else, and not know it. Funny, how the most unlikely connections seemed to be getting made.
His voice was just as she had remembered it, but surprised, an emotion she had never heard him have before. A slight flush was in his cheeks. She was suddenly certain he had had something to drink. "Miss Granger!"
Old school chums, she thought glumly to herself. Old as in what - three months? No. Two months. Less. Old school chums. Ha. He saw her wan face, and although his expression didn't change, she knew he could smell the cigarettes. "You look awful."
Unwashed hair, lipstick rubbing off all over, muddy jeans and shirt - yes, she looked awful. "You look wonderful."
"Thank you." The thin lips formed even thinner words. "And how has your summer been so far?"
She looked at him, sure he wasn't serious. He wasn't. She took him seriously anyway, trying to pull a reaction from him. "Obviously not so wonderful," Hermione told him. "I'm feeling like a killer, if you want to know the truth. A feeling you've had much experience with, I'm sure." The flimsy metal floor of the balcony caught on her socks and clattered a little as she turned on her heel and returned to the bare flat. She felt better, somehow.
When was the last time you talked with someone you knew at Hogwarts? A month, surely. Ron's owls all returned unopened. The fees for long-distance owls were exorbitant, and he still sent them once a week. What was in them was immaterial. Nothing from him could interest her. Nothing could interest her, as a matter of fact, except a normal life, and that wasn't about to present itself in an owl.
There was a noise behind her. The glass door. No visual check was necessary to see who it was. "I'm sorry, Hermione isn't in right now," she said, giving her words a stupid, puerile whine. "Please come back during normal business hours - for instance, not in the middle of the night?"
"Ah, but if you are awake and I am awake, this transgresses none of the rules of civilized conduct," Snape replied smoothly. "Perhaps it isn't gentlemanly of me - but I never recall acting as a gentleman, towards you at least. I don't intend to begin now, when you are so obviously upset."
Hermione stared sharply at him. Upset. Now that he had said it, she could feel the tears behind her eyes, pushing outward. Her eyes were hot and the air indoors was hotter. She hadn't put the air conditioner on - had forgotten to, for this was a Muggle flat in a complex of Muggle flats and there was no house-elf service here. Snape left the door open, though, gusting refreshing cool air through the room along with mosquitos and a slight smell of exhaust. "It's not your lookout, is it?"
He frowned as he circled her, throwing a shadow over her face as he stood quite close. The overhead light was dim; he was tall enough to blot it out. "I may not be your teacher any more, Miss Granger, but I am hardly disinterested in why you are here. The most promising student, up and disappeared - didn't even give her acceptance letter to Oxford an answer? You must know the youngest Mr. Weasley has been frantic."
"I know." She sat on the pinstriped sofa, kicking the ashtray out of the way, soiling the carpet further. Snape remained standing, hands on his hips; it would have appeared far more congruous had he been wearing a cape, and Hermione suddenly imagined him in his teaching robes. She shuddered, despite the heat.
"So. Do you plan on putting him out of his misery anytime soon, or shall I write and inform him that you have died of a - a severe chill, in Paris or New York or some other place almost as unlikely as this one?" His countenance was so severe she was almost tempted to say yes, go ahead, let him think I'm dead. But he would have known somehow; there would be records.
"Why are you here?" she asked instead.
"I might ask you that question," he responded. His voice was slippery. "But I don't think I shall. Not yet, anyway. To answer yours: I live here. The United Center for Alchemical and Potions Research employs me."
The pieces clicked into place. "The Center - I've just been hired, to organize their potions ingredients," she informed him.
"I had wondered how they would find a specialist they could afford," he mused. "It makes no matter."
There was silence, then, of the densest sort. Hermione stared at the burn marks on the sofa's arm, the stain beside it, anything but her ex-professor's gaze. Finally, she whispered out the words she dreamed of saying, repeated Harry and Ron's perspectives, flatly listed her reasons for leaving.
"Exhaustion does you no good, Miss Granger," was Snape's chilling response. "Sleep now. I will wake you in the morning." She found herself relieved to take orders, and only muttered wake me by three o' clock before she stumbled to her bed.
The morning was surprisingly chilly and dark, for the summer. Hermione's
head ached from the jangling noise that came from the envelope sitting on
her nightstand. Of course he couldn't actually wake me up. Had to pick
the most jarring charm he knew.
Lying carelessly on the sofa to wait, she beat a simple rhythm out with the Portkey, tapping it on the fabric, on her stomach, her fingernail, her nose. The beat reminded her of days in class when she was younger, in the back of her history lesson, tapping her pencil impatiently against the paper as she tried to write that perfect essay. History had never been her strong point. She had rituals, then, tapping her pencil long-short-long if she was in a mental holding pattern, tapping it in a frantic motion if she couldn't remember an event, tapping it slowly and meticulously on each corner of her paper when she finished an exam. The rituals were much harder to carry out with a quill. Sometime during second year she had realized that her little magics were merely superstition.
Maybe it'll help something. Pen-tapping as good luck charm.
The spatium blossoms were relatively easy for Hermione to locate, although she did have to reach into a patch of blackberry bushes to get to the largest flowers. She could see the light in the sky where the sun was rising, and knew that she was running out of time. Jumping over the worst patches of mud, she clambered right down to the water's edge to look back up at the hillside. There, a few feet farther down, was another patch, and she gratefully picked her way across to the tiny specks of blue. The blackberries scratched her arms, but nothing that couldn't be fixed easily. As she felt for the telling fuzzy leaves of the spatium, she looked over her shoulder at the river. The sun was tracing yellow lines across the current.
There was something hard in the soft dirt she had just felt - hard and warm. Irritated at the interruption, Hermione scratched at the dirt around it, then finally turned back to look.
For a second she didn't know what it was. Then she realized - it was a thumb, severed neatly at the finger, partially pushed into the earth. She had been scraping at its fingernail, worrying the cuticles until blood welled up over it. Behind it, deep in the underbrush where she hadn't looked before, stared two milk-white eyes in a slack-jawed face. It was a person, and it was dead. As she filled her lungs with one sharp, startled breath, the Portkey pulled her from where it was clipped to her shirt and she vomited onto the floor of her flat.
Morning was not something Tom Riddle had considered much, before. Light spilled pink across the room, lighting the white walls with a strange iridescence. Always in his youth there had been stolen moments, but they were mostly spent contemplating spells and theories, considering Grindelwald's mistakes, planning a rise that was inevitable. Now he stood calmly, considering the sunrise. The Malfoys had so many properties across the world they often forgot all they owned; this house, purchased from a wealthy Muggle, was the least of them. Draco Malfoy, heir to the family fortune, had certainly been happy to lend it him. The location of the house was hardly optimal - a suburb of Sacramento, a medium-sized Muggle city - but it did come with one bonus: nobody would recognize Harry Potter here. The only notable wizarding activity in the area was the United Center for Alchemical and Potions Research, and it mostly carried on farther downtown.
After all, Riddle considered, none of them have ever seen
Potter, barring photographs. Glamourie works well enough on those who are
Seating himself deliberately in a crimson leather chair, Tom Riddle stared out the seamless mirror-glass windows. Down the slope below him lay the river, a thick ribbon of brown and silver; on the horizon the sun rose, peeping between the trees of the forest on the far bank, letting its rays color the sky. Yes, the view was lovely; it nearly made up for the stench of Muggles that washed over him every time he left the gated sanctuary of the grounds. Here he could allow himself reversion. Here there was nobody to remind him of the past failures. In the end, the war was not lost. As long as he survived in spirit, the war was not lost.
Lucius Malfoy had reported it to him once, several years before - Albus Dumbledore's words of leavetaking when he had been removed from Hogwarts. I will only truly have left this school when none here are loyal to me. Riddle's lips curled into a smile, deliberate, as he carefully traced patterns in the air with one of Harry Potter's hands.
Yes. I will only truly have left that school when there are none there who are loyal to me. And there will always be those who are unhappy. There will always be those who seek guidance from an intelligent source - and perhaps, now that Dumbledore is finally gone, I will be the one to give it to them.
Hot tears ran down Hermione's cheeks as she fell against Snape's door, pounding on it with one open hand and willing it to open. Part of her wondered if he had really been there, if he was merely a fever dream - but here, he curled around it to face her, only his hands and face showing. It was almost a childish gesture, and not one she would have expected from her Potions master. She was not in a state to notice, and only thought of it later, when she lay on the sofa and sifted through things in her mind. Instead she mutely stared up at him, taking in air in great gasping breaths.
"Yes?" Snape's dark eyes traveled up and down her frame, narrowed at the expression on her face. "What - Miss Granger!" His actions belied the vitriol those words carried as he grasped her upper arm and propelled her into the flat. She stumbled as she followed him, allowing herself to be pulled to the sink and roughly washed with warm water. As her sobbing subsided, Snape stepped back from her, going to fetch a towel. It was white and clean, and she smeared it with dirt before she had finished drying her face and hands.
"I'm sorry," she muttered into it, scrubbing hard as though that would erase the puffiness from her eyes. "But you have to come. There's a dead body at the river, where I was gathering your precious spatium blossoms -"
"Pull yourself together, girl," Snape replied as he paced away from her. She could almost swear he was embarrassed, now. He had touched her, comforted her, if in an odd way. It had been effective. But greasy, sneaky Snape of her school days would never have done it. He should have let her go into hysterics, let her cry and moan until he grew tired of the noise. Then he should have kicked her out.
Yet he hadn't.
"Will anyone notice if we Apparate?" His voice cut through Hermione's thoughts, and she realized she was quite thoroughly dry.
"Perhaps; sometimes there are fishermen who might see. Why can't we drive? It wouldn't be as fast, but we wouldn't be using magic."
"If you drove or Apparated in this state you'd likely kill yourself, and I have not yet studied the art of driving automobiles. And never shall, if I have any say in the matter." He grasped her wrists in his long hands, tightly and quickly enough that she didn't even start. "Think of the place we're to go, and I'll think of its name -"
"Sarah Court Park. The American river," Hermione said automatically.
"There. Now, think of it!"
She forced an image of the river into her mind: the staircase, the tangles of blackberry, the hard clay and the blue-brown water. Joint Apparation was not something she practiced every day, and it was certainly not something that she wished to experience more often. The feeling of being taken apart and put back together that one always got from Apparation was doubled. For a moment, she felt as though she had been recombined with pieces of Snape. The nose and the high cheekbones only found their correct positions a moment before the river snapped into view. They had almost not concentrated hard enough to return themselves to their whole selves.
"Come on," Hermione found herself saying, and she clattered down the stairs - not falling this time - to the bottom. She stopped on the tiny bluff the water had carved in the side of the hill, waiting for Snape to arrive behind her. "Go down there and look up at the hillside. It's where the blue flowers grow," she instructed, her voice slipping into a monotone. "Go on!"
"No, you don't get away from it like that," Snape told her grimly. He grasped her wrists again, as he had done when they Apparated, and tugged on them. "You're coming with me. It won't help to hide from it."
Not quite resisting, Hermione followed Snape down. He found the place almost instantly, and she stared at the ground as his long fingers pushed the thorny branches out of the way. His voice was as cold and dry as when he had described Potions ingredients in class. "They cut off one thumb," he noted. "And left him so deep in the underbrush. I wonder why."
"Please don't," she said softly, but he had moved on to other thoughts. The wet ground scuffed under her shoes as Snape muttered incantations.
"Worthless Muggle," he finally decreed. The hair on the back of Hermione's neck stood up, and she finally looked into his face, though she risked seeing the body.
"Did you just say worthless Muggle?" she asked, feeling the emotion she had spent earlier come back anew. "Because you do know you're speaking to a Muggle-born, you know it better than most I'm sure, and I could have been that worthless Muggle - "
Snape's baritone won out, of course, making her sound shrill and shrewish. His words were carefully measured, paced exactly as they had been for so many years. "I did say it, and I am sure you expected no less of me. Please do not let your paranoia get the best of you. I am not now a Death Eater, if there are still Death Eaters. And clearly whoever killed this man was magical, and was viewing him as merely a worthless Muggle. Or couldn't you tell the sign of the Killing Curse when you saw it?"
The pure white eyes. Of course. "I wasn't in a frame of mind to think of that," Hermione said primly. But she knew why she had been so repulsed. It reminded her of Dumbledore's body, carried in from the Forbidden Forest by Ron. Rigor mortis had not set in yet, and he was limp as a rag doll, his white eyes staring blindly out of a white face. Ron had stared, too, off into the distance as the Aurors took him away for questioning.
"Come, girl," Snape told her. "I've erased your fingerprints, and mine. The Muggle police will find the body, but we won't be around to be questioned."
"Are you sure we should? We could call them now -"
"And have them suspect you, or me, or both of us? Why would we be out on the river at dawn? No, it's simpler this way. We don't need more from the body, and someone will find it before long. It's been very hot, and I understand Muggles go rafting here when it's hot." His face was stern, but she knew he was disturbed. Nobody clipped their words so unless they were disturbed. Quickly, she clutched at his wrists to Disapparate back to the apartment complex. The smell of the spatium blossom clung to her even as they disappeared.
END PART 1