great power and some of them know it.
They recreate the past, changing it to fit their own interpretations.
Thus, they change the future as well.
--Leto II, His Voice from Dar-es-Balat
Heretics of Dune, Frank Herbert
8th October 2016
When Hermione appeared next at Malfoy's doorstep, she was clinging to the Pensieve and anxiously waiting for him to answer. Once he had, she was greeted with a crooked smile and a jaunty:
"You know, Granger, there are these marvelous beasts called owls. We magical types like to use them to deliver our post."
Hermione scowled. "How can you just stand there? Do you know what's in here?"
"Why, yes. As it was I who deposited the memory, I do believe I know what the Pensieve contains." He sighed. "Which if you're not careful, it will no longer. You are nearly spilling it onto the porch."
Hermione forced herself to settle down and not jostle the contents to the point they lapped up and over the rim. "I'm not going anywhere until we talk about it."
The stern threat only served to amuse him more. He swallowed the next retort at the narrowing of Hermione's gaze and stepped aside to let her pass.
"Get in before I become the topic of neighborhood gossip. I fear what they should think if they found that I was keeping an hysteric on my doorstep."
Despite herself, Hermione glanced around and immediately felt foolish for doing so. The nearest, neighboring house was so far away that it would have taken an impressive set of Omnioculars to even know they stood here. She pursed her lips and stalked past Draco and into the house.
She ignored his smirk.
Draco relieved her of the burden of the Pensieve and set it down on a high table on his way to the kitchen, where he plucked two glasses out of the cabinet and rummaged through the ice box to grab a chilled bottle of wine.
Hermione started in on him the moment the front door was shut and locked.
"Why didn't he say anything? Why didn't YOU say anything? They railroaded him in there. Why hadn't they asked for any of us? How did you get in there anyway? Who was that man?"
Draco brushed past her and went into the room they had occupied the last time she visited, and took his seat.
"I can only answer one question at a time, so please sit down," he began pouring the wine, "and drink something before you give yourself an aneurism."
With bad grace, Hermione swallowed her ire and joined Draco in his sitting room where she grudgingly took the proffered glass. He countered her second burgeoning stream of questions with one of his own.
"Tell me, Granger. What have you deciphered already? Certainly a mind like yours has pieced together some theory."
"Well…" Hermione stalled, "I know the Ministry was eager to prosecute the remaining Death Eaters. I know most of them incriminated nearly everyone they knew to name, but…"
She shook her head, "No, he didn't."
Draco left that alone for now and topped up Hermione's glass.
"You asked why I was allowed to be there, yes?" When she nodded, he continued. "Simple enough. They didn't want to give me any grounds to try to reverse the conviction. For as much as they wanted to get it over with, they weren't going to chance any of them walking free."
"But no one else was allowed to attend, I'm sure there were other children… what about your mother?"
"Mother was in St. Mungo's… no, don't ask, and you're forgetting two things. One, you have no idea who attended the other trials, and before you ask, I don't either. More importantly you must remember that this occurred before you froze our accounts." Draco leaned in conspiratorially. "The Malfoys had quite a bit of money."
The last bit was spoken so blandly it took Hermione a moment to catch that he was mocking her; she glared back at him.
"That still doesn't explain why Snape didn't say anything. He just sat there!"
"What do you want me to say, Granger? I couldn't read the man's mind. For all I know he could have been so bloody surprised to be alive that he couldn't believe it was happening."
"Oh, be serious! There was plenty he could have said; things he could have told them about the Order – things they would have had to verify."
"Of course, because they were oh so very interested in fact checking."
Hermione acknowledged the point. Frustration crept up at the realisation that there would be no simple answers here. She blew out a heavy breath. "Like that man."
"Yes, him. As I was not party to any of their dealings first hand – oh, come off it, Granger. Do you really believe I'd be sitting here, plying you with elf-made wine if I had? I don't know who he was, so your guess is as good as mine. He could easily have had a grudge against Severus – "
"A grudge?" She found it hard to believe that someone could do something so… so… malicious for such a petty reason.
"Yes. Hard as it is to imagine, Granger, Severus had the habit of rubbing people the wrong way – paragon of geniality that he was… is."
"It was all rubbish! He said the trolls had attacked Hogsmeade, when everyone knew it had been the giants." Hermione could not believe people could accept something so fundamentally wrong without so much as thinking about it logically for one moment.
"Was it? I assumed that the little worm had told the truth about that."
"Are you kidding? You would have had to be living in a cave not to know what happened!"
"You're not far off," Draco muttered.
"I beg your pardon?" Hermione broke off. She took a hard look at the wizard in front of her who, she noted, looked marginally embarrassed.
"I didn't spend the war tucked in my warm bed being doted upon by house-elves while you all were fighting. I was in hiding and it wasn't particularly comfortable."
"Hiding? We assumed…" Hermione trailed off and then shook her head to clear the train of thought. This was all most confusing and she didn't need to muddle it further by gossiping about the idle speculations of the time. "Snape hid you?"
"And Father, but this is hardly the point of the conversation, Granger."
"Together? But they… didn't he know what Snape was doing?"
"You mean did he know that Severus had long since defected? I don't know. I don't think it mattered much to him."
"I don't understand," Hermione said plaintively.
"That, Granger, is patently obvious."
"Why did your father… during the trial… they were…"
"Yes," Draco said, encouragingly.
"They… he should have turned your father in… but…" Hermione groped around for a way to explain it, "but they were…" practically hugging, her mind supplied, "friends." She stared at Draco helplessly in the hope that he would provide a better theory, one that would fit tidily within her understanding of the universe.
Draco simply nodded.
"But Snape betrayed them!"
"For good reason."
That stopped Hermione cold. It didn't make any sense to her and she said as much to Draco. "I can see why you would say that, but your father-"
"Was an evil lout. Yes, yes… no one is disputing that fact here." Draco waved his hand and leaned forward to refill both of their glasses. "I rather suspect Severus was given the choice of cake or death."
"Cake or death?"
"Of course. Spy for me, or go to Azkaban. Dumbles looked the 'cake or death' sort." Hermione, tripped up by the Muggle reference, found that her mind could not spin fast enough to keep up with Draco's logic. "Severus never had Father's connections or the means to buy his way out. Father would have understood Severus' choice – or lack thereof."
Hermione slowly nursed her wine, head tipped down, lost in thought. "I would have thought he would have hated Snape."
"But just think, Granger," Draco took a drink of his wine, "of what had happened. They were old friends, went their separate ways, et cetera, et cetera, and still both of them ended up bent over a table with Dumbledore's cock up their arses." He grinned merrily as he watched Hermione splutter over the imagery.
"Eughhh," Hermione shuddered.
"It's rather ironic, really."
Hermione, in a desperate effort to rid her mind of the unpleasantness induced by Draco's metaphor, emptied her glass. Acknowledging it was long overdue, she began to organise her thoughts into some semblance of coherence. The pieces refused to fit cleanly together and forcing them to did more harm than good. She furrowed her brow and swirled a golden drop around the bottom of her glass. Hermione looked at the man sitting placidly across from her.
"I don't see how you can be so accepting of all this."
Draco's face took on a hard look as he rallied against her assessment of his state of mind.
"Simply because you haven't given the matter any thought in the past seventeen years, doesn't mean I didn't take the time to come to terms with the reality of the situation. My mother is dead, my father would be better off if he were, and my godfather has been released from an unjust prison sentence only to face permanent ostracism. If you don't think I am angry at the situation, it's only because you are too consumed by your guilt to have noticed."
Hermione, cowed by the vehemence of Draco's accusation, blushed furiously and sat back in her chair.
He saw that Hermione was stumbling over old patterns. It was amazing to him that, having seen all she had, she was still convinced that being right was enough, in and of itself, to triumph over injustice.
"I only meant that I don't… never mind." She took a breath. "The Death Eaters never struck me as a particularly forgiving group."
Draco stared at her for a moment before waving in an off-hand manner. "Who's to say they forgave him? Sometimes it's enough to have been there, and, well, misery loves company and all that."
Hermione was still unhappy. Lucius Malfoy did horrible things, and she could only assume Snape had as well before he defected. Defected and nearly killed the other man. One just didn't remain a friend after that sort of betrayal.
"Would you like me to explain the fundamental difference between Slytherin and Gryffindor? We're not all that different for everything that's been said. Here it is: a Slytherin would never put loyalty above survival. You'll never find a Slytherin martyr, except for maybe a strange few exceptions."
"That sounds so… selfish."
"Self-preservation is, by definition, selfish."
"There must be beliefs that supercede any…"
"Of course. Voldemort was a belief. Killing Muggles was a belief. How many of his followers died for the cause? True, not all of them were Slytherins, but enough were to prove the example."
Hermione paused, slowly shaking her head. "I can't believe you can sit there and defend the- "
"Merlin's arse, Granger. The first chance I have for a decent conversation in decades and you had to ruin it by doggedly clinging to twenty-year-old, adolescent dogma."
Hermione goggled at him. "You sent me the Pensieve… told me all of this… because you wanted an argument?"
"Not entirely, although I do confess it is definitely a perk," Draco said, smiling. "We all have our secret motivations. Did you truly think there was a think either of could do? Us talking like this, it doesn't mean anything. Tomorrow Severus Snape will still be a criminal in the eyes of the public and in their minds deserve to be sent back to prison."
The mention of Azkaban sent a frisson of anxiety through Hermione. She could see the haunted, lumbering figure of her former professor before her: his eyes bright with sudden fear and bereft of any intelligent thought.
"He doesn't deserve that." Hermione bit her lip before murmuring, "I should have followed him."
"Maybe," Draco answered with a clairvoyant understanding of her thoughts. "But now you know more than you did then."
"You seem awfully disinterested."
"You'll find him. You always did manage to find yourself hip-deep in the mire without much effort."
"What about you?"
"What about me, Granger?"
"Don't you want to see him?"
Draco hesitated and then set his empty glass to the side. "It's more complicated than that," he answered, finally.
"If he remem- I can't imagine him not wanting to see you, Draco."
"For having worked for the Ministry for so long, you are remarkably naïve when it comes to politics."
"Does that mean you can't visit him?"
"What I can't do is go into it with you or anyone else, Granger." Something occurred to him then, which he hadn't thought to ask until now. "Why are so concerned? He was never a favourite of yours, and this is more than your usual compulsive need to help anything weak and abused that crosses your path."
Hermione shifted uncomfortably again and despaired when she saw the wine bottle was empty. "I forgot you weren't there for the battle."
Draco leaned forward eagerly and grinned. "Oh goodie, this sounds like a story."
19th December 1997
It hadn't been the last of the fighting, or even the most crucial encounter with the Dark Lord's forces. It hadn't been as heartbreaking a day as when Remus met his end, or as bloody as the day the werewolf pack had been loosed on the Dark Forest. It hadn't been the first time Hermione Granger hexed an enemy in self-defence; nor had it been the day she found Ron Weasley face down, having been Stupefied near the outset of fighting. Who, it happened, not five minutes after she released him went on to earn his Order of Merlin by tripping over an unconscious Lucius Malfoy and boasting that he had taken down the notorious wizard single-handedly. It also hadn't been the day Harry fulfilled the prophecy.
Nevertheless, it had been the day the wards around Hogwarts fell.
Snow had blanketed the school in a layer of white down, though no more fell from the sky. The stillness of the landscape broken when the first giant heaved a bolder through the wall of the Three Broomsticks, but the quiet enfolding the castle had only been shattered by the thunderclap of ruptured magic. The very stones shook under the force required to break the anti-Apparition wards.
They had fought bravely for a small group of teenagers facing scores of masked intruders. The snow was a stunning backdrop of stark white punctuated by black hooded figures – all the more horrifying when made crimson by the wounded.
Hermione had become separated from Harry and Ron once reinforcements had arrived. She hadn't seen who had come up behind her, or even heard what had been cast. It had been Snape sprinting across the grounds who had been in time to deflect the curse. It shot past her shoulder and ricocheted off a tree to hit the wall of an already unstable part of the castle. He had incapacitated her attacker when she had only time to turn around and feel her heart jump into her throat.
She had been about to say something when the wall began to give way. Snape had grabbed her and hurled them both out of the path of tumbling stone, shielding her with his body. He had never asked if she were okay, merely held her head still while he bore his gaze into her. Whether he was checking her pupils or scanning her thoughts, she couldn't say. Satisfied by whatever he had seen, he had pushed himself off her and ran back into the battle.
It escaped her memory whether Snape had made his allegiances known by that time, but she did remember that the warmth from his body had lingered long after she picked herself up to rejoin Harry…
8th October 2016
By the end of her story, Draco was laughing with abandon.
"I don't see what could possibly be so funny."
"You…" Draco said between breaths, laughter turning his face a bright red. He tried again, "You owe Severus a life debt."
"A what? No… this is stupid. That's not how it works."
"Not how – Merlin, Granger, there's no ceremony to it. You don't have to cross wands and chant an oath to the new moon in order to declare it."
"But… Draco, it can't just happen."
This only served to set him off again. Hermione blushed. She stared up at the ceiling and worked to swallow the humiliation she felt at him having a laugh at her expense.
"I'm sorry," Draco said. He wiped the tears from his eyes. "I forgot how charmingly obtuse you could be."
"So I owe him a life debt," she stated, trying to convince herself of it more than anything.
"Oh to be there when you explain this to him." Draco smiled, obviously enjoying whatever imagined scene of discomfort between two socially awkward people he considered to be unavoidable.
Something about the way he continued to refer to Snape caught Hermione's attention. "You know where he is, don't you?"
Draco gestured eloquently with a wave of his hand. "I don't think it's time to change my name to Serendipity, but should you feel the need, I might feel amenable to indulging you this once."
"Bloody Slytherins," Hermione complained. "Can't you ever be straightforward? It wouldn't kill you to forego the mystery once in a while."
Draco gave a surprisingly elegant, Gallic shrug and grinned. "Maybe we like being mysterious."
4th October 2016
Snape made his way downstairs with the reticence of a man who had yet to come to terms with the inevitable. He approached the table at which a mass of unruly gray hair was seated.
"Sev'rus." Aberforth greeted.
Snape nodded and, with a carefulness that was uncomfortable to witness, lowered himself into the chair opposite. He gently set his wand on the tabletop, and rested his hand nearby (he was hesitant to put it out of sight, but not willing to chance being relieved of its burden by a light-fingered patron).
"Stew?" Aberforth asked, already pushing the bowl across the table.
Snape silently pulled the bowl closer and lifted the spoon. He prodded a piece of unidentifiable piece of meat before lifting an unhealthy looking piece of potato to his mouth. Unappetising though it was, he was not inclined to quibble when it was his first chance at a hot meal (lukewarm, tepid, or otherwise) in a great many years.
Aberforth drew out a pipe and began to pack down the tobacco as he leaned back in his chair to survey the room. It was lit in a brief flicker of orange before the light was smothered in a plume of smoke. Wizened eyes turned slant-ways to peer across the table. Severus' head remained bowed over the bowl, most of his face obscured by the limp strands of hair that fell forward. He titled the bowl and spooned the last of the dregs; soon, the bowl was emptied.
"Bit of a change from your normal fare, eh?"
The glare leveled at him in response was heartening, if lacking in force. Severus set the spoon down and pushed the bowl away. He froze momentarily before he gripped his wand and moved his hands into his lap. Only Snape, Aberforth mused, could make a movement look simultaneously unconscious and painfully deliberate. Aberforth sucked on the end of his pipe and waited to see if Severus would speak.
He didn't, nor did he seem inclined to meet Aberforth's eyes; however, the sound of coins clinking together drew a sharp look from the man. Severus paled and grew steadily more haunted as he stared at the bag of galleons on the table.
"For you," his benefactor said.
Snape grimaced, absently rubbing a spot on his chest. Aberforth sat passively. He ignored the look of contempt Severus leveled at the harmless gift, and drew on the end of the pipe, tipping his head back to blow rings of smoke toward the ceiling. Severus warred with himself; the battle with his pride forcing a scowl to crease his face. In the end, he picked the bag off the table and drew it down into his lap to be held next to the wand.
"I suppose," Snape said haltingly, "I owe you my thanks."
Aberforth chuffed, "What gave you that ridiculous idea?"
Snape blinked at the wizard. He glanced down once at the gifts residing in his lap, and snapped his mouth shut. He worked his jaw several times before vocalising a response.
"It is what one does in this situation."
Snape bristled and made ready to argue the point when Aberforth held up a hand to stop him.
"I'm just the barman, Severus."
He sat digesting that statement, and found it lacking. Barkeeps rarely nursed released convicts back to health.
"I'm just the barman. A businessman, if you will."
Sensing that this Dumbledore-sized circular argument could not be countermanded, Severus nodded and slowly rose. He felt winded and eager to return to his bed and away from the crowd. There were only a few patrons, but their presence was excruciating all the same. Clutching his belongings to his chest, he began the labourious journey upstairs.
"But if you're dying to prostrate yourself before someone," Aberforth said. Severus stilled, turning to stare at the back of his head. "I'm sure we could pass a letter along to the proper person."
Severus watched the wisps of smoke spiral from the cobbled end of the pipe. He leaned heavily on the banister and frowned. Dumbledores, he thought. Would they ever be anything but cryptic? At least this one had the decency to get to the point sometime in the same decade. Snape said nothing in return and returned to his room.
It had taken six tries, but in the end, the letter was written. There had been times when he would have gladly burned a mark on his other arm in exchange for just one Dictoquill. The writing – not as crabbed as it once had been – was a considerable improvement over those first miserable attempts. The effort, however, was staggering. Still, he was doing his damnedest to ignore how demeaning the entire situation was, and the possibility that he guessed the identity of his true benefactor incorrectly.
Draco, it read. It would seem I owe you my thanks. From the silence of those around me on the subject, I believe I am unable to deliver them in person. How serious is it? S.S.
He would pass the letter along and trust that Aberforth knew what he was doing.
6th October 2016
One would think that after so much time, you would have been broken of the habit of fretting needlessly over those for whom you feel responsible.
No thanks are necessary. It's good to have you back, godfather.
Do spare me the unnecessary and wholly undesired outpouring of filial affection and tell me what danger you're in.
7th October 2016
Muggles do the most curious things, don't they? Take, for example, their propensity for creating arbitrary and inconsequential 'holidays.' I wonder if they've selected one off the calendar in honour of godparents' day.
I could send you a gift. One of my more obtrusive neighbors bestowed upon me an electric kettle as a 'housewarming' gift, and still after ten or more years I have yet to discover how it was meant to warm my home.
Would you like it?
Your loving godson,
I've asked that this be sent in the most convoluted manner as is feasible to ensure your safety.
I ask again, what danger are you in and why are you hiding among the Muggles?
Don't be ridiculous; I'm not in hiding.
I'm under Ministry watch, but it's nothing to worry about. So long as any communication from me goes through a trusted contact – one who isn't on the Ministry's subversive list – there is nothing they can do to me.
Now do stop worrying and take care of yourself, for once.
I conclude meeting is out of the question, then.
8th October 2016
Never fear, it's only been twenty years. What's another twenty more? I'm certain by then they shall have realised we have no desire to overthrow the government and these restrictions will be lifted.
I never pegged you for an optimist.
Blame the company I keep these days.
9th October 2016
Where are you?
If you continue in this manner I will pay that bedraggled goat-tending excuse for a bartender a considerable sum of money to hire you a horrifically attentive and Hufflepuff nurse.
Then stop wasting your energy on me and rest
10th October 2016
I would be grateful if-
Do refrain from-
He scratched through each half-begun sentiment. The letter sat unfinished. What could there really be after that? Draco needed neither platitudes nor this incessant dither over his well-being. The effort to piece back together the life he remembered continued to prove unsuccessful. He found the remnants of his past slipped between his fingers, no more substantial than the nightmares that plagued his rest.
Snape pressed his head into his hands and ignored the throbbing in his joints. If he were to be honest with himself, it was futile for him to struggle against what he felt. It went beyond the impotence he felt when his magic was being a bit bolshy, or the helplessness he felt when his hands trembled uncontrollably. He reflected on what he remembered of himself and what he had been to others and attained the answer: he had fulfilled his purpose. What was there for him? Nothing. Oh, he had been a marked man before – it wasn't the stigma following him around that wore on him. He simply wasn't needed.
It left Severus Snape with only one, final course of action.
AN: Hello! An update! My readers die of shock. Plus a cliffie! Well... as much of a cliffie as I know how to do. I hate hate hate hate this site. It ruins all my formatting, especially with already tricksy bits like the letters. So I apologise on behalf of this crap code.