De Mortuis nil bonum

He knew he was dying, although Poppy did her best to pretend that there was some hope; he'd lied to too many people too often not to be able to detect falsehood in all its varieties. As his illness had developed, the stream of visitors had increased. People he hadn't seen in years dutifully trooped into to say their goodbyes, to make their peace with him but mostly to make their peace with their past. They mouthed their platitudes and then left, determined to leave the faint, sweet smell of decay and the memory of something even ranker behind them as quickly as possible.

Hypocrites, he wanted to say, hypocrites and fools. Not one of them had the courage to say what they really felt; convention bound them to soothing his passage into the next life.

Remus had come to see him, looking older and shabbier than before. He had tried to comfort him with thoughts of the others waiting for him on the other side, the happy reunions with his old friends and colleagues. That was how he lived his life, waiting to be re-united with Sirius. Ten years of waiting and never living. The thought of that had kept him wide-awake with terror for several days after that.

The sound of the door disturbed his contemplation of the ceiling. It had become an old friend to him over the last months; he knew its every crack and stain well, had conned it like a favourite book and committed it to memory.

Well, well, Miss Granger, this was a surprise. She sat beside him in the chair thoughtfully provided. Not too comfortable, as he mustn't be disturbed; he had to husband what little strength he had left. Poppy wondered at the way he clung to life so determinedly; little did she know what nightmares kept him awake after Remus's visit. Surely he had said something once about death only being the next adventure to the well- prepared mind, something like that anyway; another lie. He had told so many it was hard to keep track of them all.

A black figure stood behind her, a hand placed comfortingly on her shoulder. Miss Granger no longer, he must try harder to remember these things. She had been so right about so many things, and yet so wrong about him. If you can't trust Dumbledore, who can you trust? In the end he thought she found that the hardest thing to forgive, proving her fallible, rather than anything he had ever done.

"Albus," she said crisply. "They tell me that you can hear me and understand me even though you can't talk."

That was Miss Granger of old. No one else had mentioned his infirmities: the drool that tracked down from his twisted mouth, the clawed hand, and the inability to speak. They had tried to pretend that his silence was due to having nothing to say and then babbled enough for two: how they forgave him, how they could see with hindsight that it was all for the greater good, how in the end it didn't matter.

"I hear you've been having a lot of visitors. I think a lot of people must want to be sure you're really on your way this time. So many false alarms, so many raised hopes in the past, only to have you recover." A pleasant tone, but barbed nonetheless. Marriage to Snape had obviously meant some of his viciousness rubbing off on her.

Albus felt a spark of something burn in him; indignation perhaps, respect possibly, anger certainly. How dare she talk to him like that?

"Severus made me come. He thinks it will be good for me to say how I feel, to get it off my chest once and for all."

Severus always was a sentimental fool, something that was easy to miss if you only looked at the surface; all that bitterness and cynicism was the mark of a disappointed romantic. The world never quite lived up to his expectations, so he rejected it wholeheartedly. The man was soft to the core, and for all his Slytherin worldliness had been so easy to manipulate.

Until Hermione.

He had tried to keep them apart, once he sensed his control slipping, but it had only pushed them closer together. She should be more reasonable about his 'interference' as she called it. Severus would never have stayed with her so long if it hadn't been for his opposition. He had been burning to play the role of rebel for so long, to reject Dumbledore's carefully extended hand. Hermione was just an excuse, nothing more. Severus didn't consider that he had been treated well by him, thought he deserved more, thought he deserved to be trusted.

Trust an ex-Deatheater? That would have been foolish. Harry was the important one, the one that was the focus of the prophecy; everyone else was just there as a backdrop to the main action. So he had concentrated his energies on making sure Harry was in the right place at the right time, and it had worked, Voldemort had been defeated. So what if a few people lost their lives along the way? It was regrettable, but you couldn't make an omelette without breaking eggs. And it was all for the greater good. Surely she could see that?

He remembered her face after the final battle when Severus had brought in Harry's body. Severus, weak man that he was, was the one to cry. She had held him while he wept, crouched at her feet, arms wrapped tightly around her waist. She hadn't cried at all, there had been no visible sign of emotion other than a cold stare levelled at him. All she had said was, "It's not your fault, Severus. You did all you could. You are not to blame." Her gaze made it clear who she did blame.

Impertinent child.

She and Molly and Ginny had laid Harry out. They wouldn't let anyone else touch him: three queens to take his body to Avalon. Fortunately there had been no undignified scenes from her at the funeral, although there had seemed to be a distinct chill in the air. He had been subtly excluded from the tide of humanity shifting round the graveside, and somehow there hadn't been a space for him to pay his last respects.

Hermione was telling him all about her present happiness. Severus had left Hogwarts at the end of that year, and taken a job in research. Albus had tried to stop him going, but oddly he found that Hermione's opinion counted for more in the new world than his. And she was determined to have Severus out from his clutches, out into the real world where he would presumably make friends.

Albus hadn't thought it likely that marriage to Hermione would have wrought such a sea change that people would suddenly discover they liked Snape, but he and Ron had bonded on the battlefield, and the Weasleys had opened up their ranks and swallowed him whole. And where the Weasleys went, the rest had followed. He wasn't ugly any more, but striking looking; not vicious and mean, but witty; no longer an ex-Deatheater with a shady past, he had come out into the sun and blossomed.

Severus had blossomed, it couldn't be denied. Apparently, Hermione blamed him for keeping Severus in the dark for so long; held him to account for the decision not to punish Sirius Black all those years ago. She couldn't see that it was Severus' destiny to become a Deatheater, and then a spy for him.

He didn't follow what Hermione said after a while. It had become harder to concentrate lately. Speech was often reduced a buzzing in his ears.

She said cheerfully, "We have to go now." She leaned closer. To Poppy, watching carefully from a distance to make sure he wasn't upset or overtired, it would look like she was kissing him on the cheek.

"I just want you to know, that I will never forgive you," she whispered. "Give Harry my love when next you meet."

A/N - the phrase is normally de mortuis nil nisi bonum - don't speak ill of the dead; my latin consultant assures me this modified version means don't speak well of the dead, or in this case the soon-to-be-dead. I bought him Ursus nomine Paddington for Christmas, he knows his stuff.