Snape walked quickly down the cobbled street, searching for the man that he was supposed to meet with that night. As always, the buyer was late, and Snape was left standing alone on the side street, staring blankly out onto the shimmering waters of Lake Pontchartrain. Snape pulled his cloak more fully around him. The nights could get cold in Mandeville in the fall. He often wondered if he had made the proper decision in moving there. The city was much more temperate than Scotland, but it was cold in its own way, though the city was less to blame than Snape's own frame of mind.
Louisiana was incredibly far away from London. Mandeville, the city where Snape lived, was north of New Orleans, connected by a bridge over Lake Pontchartrain. It had one of the largest wizarding communities in the world. If Snape were to survive, he had to work. To work, he had to live near other wizards. Living near other wizards was a problem for which Mandeville provided a solution. No one knew who he was there. To help him with the transition, he cut his hair short, the most difficult decision of them all. He was wishing he still had it as the chilly October breeze prickled the hairs on the back of his neck.
Only two months had passed since Snape had finished transferring his things to the large apartment on Lakeshore Drive. The apartment had taken his fancy immediately. The loft style of the floor plan possessed few walls. The ceiling rose high to exposed ductwork, filling him with a sense of great openness and freedom. That was a plus, considering that it had not been long since his release from prison.
Three months ago, the Ministry of Magic handed down his pardon. The six months before that Snape spent in Azkaban, wondering if everyone had forgotten about him yet.
Dumbledore would not have forgotten him, Snape had thought while sitting on the cot in his cell. Of course, since he had killed Dumbledore, he wasn't likely to come to Snape's aid. A wave of bitter cold trickled through Snape's gut at the thought. His life had been in turmoil since that fateful night on the North Tower.
Before that night, Snape and Dumbledore had argued about the Vow, Dumbledore saying that Snape was to do what was necessary to stay within Voldemort's good graces. They had worked out a plan, but the Death Eaters laid that all to waste the night that they attacked the castle. Unprepared, Snape did the only thing that he could. He killed Dumbledore, who had saved his life so many years before. Snape could feel his own self-respect falling with the old man as he plummeted feebly to the ground below.
"Ahem," Snape heard a voice behind him. His appointment had arrived at last. The dark-complected young man was hovering just inside the shadows off the pier. "Do you have it?" he hissed at Snape.
"Of course," Snape answered as he turned and walked toward the voice. The man before him reeked of stale gin, as well as the foulness of habitually forgotten showers. "You have the money?" asked Snape.
"Yeah," the filthy man said as he flashed a bag of gold, and proceeded to put out his hands like a child at Christmas. "Hand it over," he instructed Snape.
Snape drew the plain steel flask from his pocket and held it out to the pathetic man. Squealing with glee, the chap seized it hungrily. At once, he twisted off the cap and put it to his lips, moaning as he drank the viscous liquid.
"Does it pass inspection?" Snape asked impatiently.
Flinching as though he had forgotten Snape were there, the man recapped the flask, and slipped it into an inner pocket of his cloak. Retrieving the bag of gold, he dropped it into Snape's proffered hand.
"The same price as Anderson's, right?" the man asked.
"One hundred galleons," Snape answered.
"It's all there, then." The man's eyes were dancing dangerously now. "You can count it if you want. I'm sick, but I'm not a crook."
Snape slipped the bag into his pocket just before he said, "Good evening." Turning back toward the main thoroughfare, he strode purposefully toward the street.
From behind him, he heard the man holler, "Where can I find you next time?"
Snape waved a hand in the air and kept walking. He wasn't interested in servicing the whole of Mandeville with their tonic of choice. All he was concerned with was paying his rent. If he kept using Obliviate on the superintendent, the man wouldn't be able to remember his own name.
As Snape stepped briskly down the deserted sidewalk, his thoughts returned to Dumbledore. He certainly missed the man. Snape chuckled ironically when he thought of how much easier it had been to be alone when people had surrounded him. Now, his isolation was complete. Nowadays, he would give anything for a conversation with someone who wasn't in need of a fix.
He turned the corner onto Lakeshore Drive. People were teeming in the road, waiting for the start of some show at one of the nightclubs. Many of them were dressed in a gothic style. At least his heavy, black cloak would likely go unnoticed.
Climbing the stairs to his apartment, he passed the superintendent. The pudgy man glared at Snape ominously. He was late with the rent, but he couldn't pay the man until he had exchanged the Galleons he had just earned.
Upon entering his flat, Snape threw his cloak across the back of the couch, and crossed the room to the small refrigerator. It had come with the apartment, so he made use of it. After pouring a glass of ice-cold bourbon, a predilection of his, he put it on the little kitchen table and sat in front of it.
Staring at the tawny liquid, Snape wondered why he had to drink. He didn't want to drink alone anymore. Dumbledore used to join Snape in his rooms at Hogwarts. They would sit in front of the roaring fire, sipping fine mulled mead, discussing the war or the school, the topic was unimportant. Snape missed the camaraderie.
A fireplace was something that Snape wished he still had. His apartment didn't have one. Instead, radiators warmed the giant room with its humid, musty heat. How Snape wished he could change the last few years of his life, or the last twenty.
Snape spent the entire year following Dumbledore's death trying not to die. Caught unawares, Dumbledore had not yet managed to relay their plan to anyone, or the details of the Vow that Snape had taken out of necessity. The Order, the Ministry, and Harry Potter were out for revenge. They all looked upon him as a traitor, and a coward. Neither of which were true, but nothing would change their minds. They wanted to see Snape caught, and more than likely, put to death.
That whole year was wasted, Snape could do nothing for the Order, but he did manage to pass anonymous messages to them from time to time. He was sure that he had saved a few lives with his diligence. Another year passed before Potter had destroyed all the Horcruxes, with the help of several of Snape's messages, making it possible for Harry to seek out Voldemort. The time of reckoning had arrived, and Snape was eager for it. After Harry defeated the Dark Lord, Snape could reveal himself and clear his name, or at least he hoped that would be the end of it.
In July, a little more than a year ago, Snape had accompanied the Death Eaters to a staged attack on Hogsmeade, which also happened to be the day that the Order chose to strike. The time had come for Snape to expose his true allegiance, and he did, turning his wand on the other Death Eaters immediately. That move backfired hideously. Now, he was not only dodging curses from the Death Eaters, but from the Order as well. Fighting doggedly, Snape held off a handful of Death Eaters at once while Potter fought Voldemort. No matter how difficult it was for Snape to admit, Potter had fought bravely, finally winning the battle. Voldemort was dead, but before he died, he had managed to wound the boy badly.
During the fight, one of Snape's spells had saved Lupin, and one appeared to have rescued the Granger girl. Snape was not expecting praise, but he hadn't expected hatred either, when the Order turned their wands on him. They thought that he had turned coat to save himself. That was partially true, but it wasn't true in the way that they chose to perceive it. They thought Snape was evil, merely turning at the last moment, instead of the truth. The truth was that Snape had spent the last two years mourning Dumbledore's death, just as they had, except that Snape had to feel the guilt for having been the one to send the curse that killed the man.
Realizing that his last chance at redemption seemed lost, Snape Apparated before they could detain him. He managed to elude the Aurors and the Order for almost six months before his capture. Just before Christmas, they had found the hostel where Snape was staying, surrounding him in his sleep as if he were a hunted animal. The year passed into the new millennium, and Snape turned forty, while he was in jail.
The trial was swift. No one came forward to speak on Snape's behalf. Moreover, Potter had witnessed the murder. As Potter sat on the stand, he leered at Snape, who knew that he deserved it. He only wished that the boy could understand why he had to kill the wise old man. During his testimony, Potter had to take multiple breaks. The fight with Voldemort had wounded him permanently. He couldn't stand for very long and became short of breath easily. Snape actually felt sorry for the boy.
When the guards came to collect Snape upon his conviction, it wasn't the worst day of his life, but it was certainly close. Dumbledore would have fixed this, Snape thought, as they led him out of the room in shackles, to the hoots and hollers of the crowd.
Six more months passed in jail. Thankfully, the Dementors were gone, but the guards were merciless. They barely allowed him to sleep, prodding him with silly spells from across the room. More than once, he thought of killing himself, if for nothing more than hastening the process. He was set to die, following a one-year imprisonment. That year was to allow time for any evidence to surface that might vindicate him. As much as he may have welcomed the unconsciousness it would have induced, Snape wasn't holding his breath.
When half of his sentence was complete, Snape received word that an appeal was before the Wizengamot concerning his case. They had reviewed the new material, setting a date to hear fresh evidence--evidence Snape had not even heard himself. He was at a lose, considering he had run out of money months before, leaving him without legal counsel, or the means even to continue fighting his case. Apparently, to Snape's bewilderment, someone had stepped in on his behalf.
The following morning, a man in fine, navy robes came to visit Snape at the prison. Through the hazy, magical partition, the man told him that he was Elijah Hargrove, and that he was Snape's new lawyer. Astounded, Snape asked the man who was sponsoring him, but Mr. Hargrove refused to give a name, saying only that the person had uncovered evidence of Snape's innocence, and had directly contacted Mr. Hargrove to proceed with an appeal.
The new evidence was a letter, written by Dumbledore only days before his death, exonerating Snape of any wrongdoing, should Dumbledore meet an untimely end at Snape's hand. It substantiated Snape's story in full.
That very afternoon, Snape was in court, listening to Mr. Hargrove explain the details of the discovery. He said that he had received the evidence, along with authentication, but the person who uncovered the letter wished to remain nameless.
The court heard the evidence, examined the letter, and deliberated for an agonizing hour before handing down a verdict of not guilty. In that instant, Snape was a free man, no longer condemned to die. Upon his acquittal, Mr. Hargrove handed Snape a sack of gold, saying that it was a gift from the anonymous benefactor. Overwhelmed with relief, Snape hadn't yet considered how difficult starting over was going to be.
Returning to Hogwarts was out of the question. Snape couldn't return to the memories of the friend he had killed, nor would he have been welcomed back. He spent a few weeks moving between hotels. Many people still believed in his guilt, making it increasingly difficult just to leave his room.
When it had all become too much, Snape made the decision to move to the United States, where he could have a new life, a better life. He tried to find work in Mandeville and New Orleans, even the smaller surrounding cities, but nothing suitable was available. There were already plenty of legitimate potion masters in the area. Subsequently, he began brewing elicit concoctions to sell. He became a victim of circumstance, reduced to peddling "medicine to the ill" as they called it in the pubs. Snape didn't consider the addicted ill. He thought them weak. Nevertheless, without their addictions, he would have been unable to live in the city. He rationalized the best that he could. As soon as he found other work, he would stop selling, which was bound to be soon, he hoped.
Picking up the glass of bourbon, Snape downed it quickly, cursing his own weakness as it burned a path down to his stomach. The liquor no longer warmed him. It merely emphasized how cold he had become.
Setting down the empty glass, he let his head drop to the tabletop. When was it that he had become so pathetic, he wondered? Why did everything have to go to such hell? Snape sat up swiftly, seizing the glass and hurling it at the wall. It gave a satisfying crunch and tinkled to the concrete floor. Too soon, the noise was gone, and his thoughts inundated him again.
He sighed deeply, repaired the glass, and retrieved his cloak from the couch. If his thoughts wished to persist, he would silence them somehow, but not alone this time.
As he emerged back out onto the street, he heard the clamor of the band from the club. Snape wondered how people could consider that racket music. He turned onto a boulevard that would take him to a wizarding bar that he had visited a few times before. A good old-fashioned pub it was not, but it was always full of people. If he could surround himself with people from whom he longed to escape, then perhaps his solitude would be more fulfilling.
Snape was a block away from the bar when an inebriated man accosted him.
"What have you got on you?" the man mumbled.
"Nothing," Snape replied as he brushed past the man.
"Come on," the stranger cajoled. "A good business man is never empty handed."
"I said that I have nothing," Snape stated firmly. "Now, piss off."
The man lurched forward to confront Snape, "Oh, yes you are," but when the tip of Snape's wand pressed against the man's temple, he stopped speaking.
"I am selling nothing," Snape hissed. "I suggest you crawl back into whatever filth you were born from before I make crawling the least of your worries."
Wide eyed, and a bit sobered, the man backed away a few steps before breaking into a run that carried him out of sight.
Shaking his head, Snape crossed the street toward the pub. As soon as his feet hit the sidewalk, he was aware of someone walking closely behind him. When he reached the door, he paused, as did the footsteps. He turned quickly, but he saw only those loitering outside the door.
Unnerved by his paranoia, he decided not to enter the bar, and continued down the street. The footsteps behind him resumed. Picking up his pace, Snape turned left, passing between two buildings. His pursuer persisted, their footfalls echoing off the brick walls on either side.
Exiting the alley onto the next street over, Snape turned right, aware of a cul-de-sac that would allow him to dispatch his follower with the least number of witnesses. The footsteps were getting closer, close enough that he was going to have to act. As soon as he passed out of the glow of the street lamp, he swiftly spun around, grasping the person behind him with his hand over their mouth. Snape directed them easily into the nearest alleyway.
"What do you want with me?" he asked furiously as he turned the attacker around. In the darkness, it was impossible to make out their features. He put his wand to the person's throat before he removed his hand from their mouth.
"I didn't mean to startle you," a scared woman's voice answered. "I shouldn't have followed you."
Without removing his wand, Snape said, "I don't have anything. And don't follow people."
"I know Professor. I apologize," she said shakily.
The word professor stunned Snape. Lowering his wand he asked, "What did you just say?"
"I said that I apologize," she answered confidently. "I only wanted to see you."
"Why?" he asked.
"I should be the one wondering why," she with sarcasm, adding more sincerely, "Because I was worried about you. But you can obviously look after yourself."
Recovering from his shock, Snape became impatient. He strode forward, grasped the woman's arm, and pulled her out under the street light. Snape released her immediately upon seeing her face. The person he had just attacked was undeniably Hermione Granger.
Confounded, Snape asked, "What are you doing here?"
"To see how you're doing," Hermione answered slowly as she rubbed her arm. "And you're apparently not much friendlier than before."
Shocked by the situation, Snape asked, "What responsibility am I of yours?"
Hermione sighed, "You're not. I sent a couple of owls and both came back when they couldn't find you. I worried."
"I don't need your concern," Snape said coldly.
She laughed, "I gathered that. But I thought maybe you could use some money."
"Why would I need money?" asked Snape.
"Because I know you don't have much," she replied.
Caught off guard, Snape said, "I have never needed anyone's money."
Hermione laughed again. Her voice irritated, she said, "You would rather be in prison?"
Through his confusion, Snape asked, "What are you talking about?"
Looking exasperated, she explained, "I found the letter. I helped pay Elijah. Should I have let them kill you?"
Confused, and suddenly very tired, Snape said quietly, "Perhaps." When he saw her looking strangely at him, he added, "Thank you. There's your gratitude. Now go away, and make sure you tell everyone how brilliantly I'm doing."
Cursing herself for her inability to back down from a challenge, Hermione grabbed Snape's sleeve as he tuned to leave.
"Not so fast," she told him. "Have you found work?"
Snape maintained his stare down the dark street. Hermione was about to repeat the question when he answered softly, "Not yet."
Before she could stop herself, she asked, "Then how are you paying for your apartment?"
"How is that your business?" he asked irritably.
"It's not," she said as she let go of his cloak. "I just want to help."
"I don't want your help," he ground out.
Hermione watched him walk down the block and disappear into an alley. He didn't once look back.
Taking a few steps to the street bench, she collapsed onto it. What had made her think this would be easy, she wondered. Snape was a proud man, and he wouldn't be quick to beg for assistance. She also shouldn't have allowed herself to become annoyed with him. He hadn't asked her to drop by unannounced. It seemed only yesterday that she would never have considered offering him help. It would have been more likely that she would have struck him with a string of curses. That had all changed a few months before.
After seeing Harry injured, Hermione refocused her career on healing. She was still new to the profession, and was sometimes required to take paperwork to the Ministry for filing. On one such occasion, she was delivering a will. The woman working in the office was hectic. After the woman notarized the document, Hermione offered to file it for her.
Trudging through the stacks of disorganization, she found the seemingly endless room lined with filing cabinets rising clear to the ceiling. She found the appropriate drawer easily enough. Whether it was fate, or purely dumb luck, the will that she was filing belonged to a man named Dumbley. The file directly in front of his belonged to Albus Dumbledore.
Curiosity getting the better of her, she removed the file and started flipping through the papers, periodically checking over her shoulder so as not to be caught.
Hermione skimmed the first few papers, coming to one document dated three days before Dumbledore's death. It was a letter that gave a complete account of Snape's work with the Order, and of the agreement between Dumbledore and Snape. Aghast at the information, she gaped at the letter until the notary caught her, yelling about privacy issues and discretion.
Once Hermione explained the significance of the discovery, the woman calmed, and allowed her to make a copy of the letter. Hermione immediately went into action, contacting Professor McGonagall. They agreed that Snape needed help, and that he would be more than unwilling to accept it from them. Together, they collected a substantial amount of money, and contacted Hermione's friend Elijah Hargrove, who happened to be the best wizarding attorney in London. Though the evidence was solid, they wanted to ensure that the Wizengamot found no loophole through which to sustain Snape's imprisonment.
Hermione attended the hearing accompanied by Ron, but Snape never once turned to view the crowd. Many people had come, some hoping the conviction would stand. Harry was too sick to attend. He had been in St. Mungo's that entire month with little improvement in his health. Harry had wanted to be there even more than Hermione had. He felt horribly for Snape, knowing how being wrongfully accused felt, though it hadn't been for murder. Harry wanted to apologize, and tell him that he understood. Hermione promised to pass along the message, but she never got the chance.
Snape was ushered from the courtroom by Elijah shortly after the reading of the verdict. Elijah told her later that Snape was immensely relieved, but had left the Ministry quickly hoping to avoid the press that had gathered.
Hermione had spent the last three months wondering daily how Snape was doing. She voiced her concern often. Ron told her that it was none of her business, and that she should be more worried about Harry, whose health was failing rapidly.
The last thing Hermione wanted reminded of was Harry's condition. No matter what she or the other healers tried, how many ancient books she consulted, nothing seemed to make him better. All they could do was keep him comfortable, hoping for a miracle, while they tried every treatment known to man.
Harry was the catalyst for her trip. So far, that trip had led to her attack, and had left her sitting alone on a street bench in the chilly October haze. The previous day, she had visited Harry, who asked about Snape's welfare. Just like every time that Harry had asked, she had nothing to tell. The lack of information upset Harry. He told her then that they were responsible for Snape now because Dumbledore was gone, adding that Dumbledore would not have let Snape suffer after sacrificing so much for the Order. Hermione adamantly agreed. All they knew was that Snape was somewhere near New Orleans in the United States. She told Harry that she would take a few days off work to find Snape. This allayed Harry, and gave Hermione something to focus on, besides Harry's deteriorating health.
Ron wanted to join her, but he was too busy with his final year in Auror training. Since Harry was unable to continue, Ron had thrown himself into it. Pleased by his focus, she had been positively ecstatic when he rose to the top of the class.
Hermione laughed softly to herself that she had come to the city to visit a man who did not appear to want visitors. She had experienced worse days, she thought, as she stood to head back to her hotel. Choosing not to Apparate, she started walking, hoping it would clear her head.
Her hotel was on the next street over, so she entered the same alley that Snape had taken. Tightening the grip on her wand, she marched resolutely into the pitch-black alley. As soon as she entered the darkness, she walked into something very solid, falling back swiftly onto the ground. As she hit the concrete, she illuminated her wand. The sight the light revealed sent her into hysterical fits of laughter. Standing before her was Snape, who looked visibly shaken, until he noticed the light, and her laughter.
"What is so damn funny?" he asked tetchily.
Through her giggles, Hermione said, "I thought you were a bloody brick wall."
Snape sneered at her as he held out a hand. She took it, cured of her laughter by his stare as he pulled her to her feet.
"What are you doing, walking through dark alleyways, alone, at night? Have you forgotten how to Apparate?" Snape reproached.
Annoyed, she replied irreverently, "What are you doing, standing in a dark alleyway, alone, at night? Have you forgotten where you live?"
It may have been the dim wand light, but she thought she saw the edges of his mouth twitch.
"Pardon me," he said lowly. "I was coming back to ask you how Potter's treatment was coming along."
Surprised, she dropped the sarcasm when she answered, "Not well."
"It is a shame," Snape said. "He defeated Voldemort, but has been wholly unable to enjoy it."
Hermione nodded, "He feels the same way about you."
Snape's eyes widened at her words. "I am not dying," he countered.
"I know," she said, "but you almost did. I promised Harry that if I got the chance, I would tell you that he is sorry that he didn't believe you. He also wants you to know that he doesn't blame you for what you had to do, what Dumbledore asked you to do."
"Ah," Snape said quietly. After a moment's hesitation, he added, "Tell him that I do appreciate that."
"I will," answered Hermione.
They stared awkwardly at each other for a moment, until Hermione checked her watch.
"It's not terribly late," she said. "Would you mind some coffee?"
Snape's eyes darted nervously before he responded, "I should be getting home."
"Nonsense," she replied. "It's just coffee. And I can catch you up on what everyone has been up to."
After a deep sigh, he answered, "All right."
Again, they stared awkwardly, neither attempting to lead the way.
Finally, Hermione spoke. "Did I mention that I have no idea where to get coffee in this city?"
Again, the corners of Snape's mouth trembled, returning quickly to the practiced scowl.
"This way," he said, his cloak billowing as he turned and headed away from her down the alley.
She followed, almost running to catch up. "I hope it's not far," she said, "I really don't like to jog."
Snape glanced down at her quickly before slowing his speed. At the same time, she wondered how exactly she was going to ask him to return to London.