A/N: You're probably wondering why I didn't update this story for nearly two years. Well, aside from the general "life" happenings, I was sort of put off when I read Deathly Hallows. I really enjoyed the seventh book, but when it came out, I realized that the story of Snape was almost a duplicate to the Lily/Snape implications I was going to put into this story. So I figured I'd give up on it. Then a friend said "how exactly is that a problem??" So, here I am, returning to the story. Thanks for reading!
Setting: I'm going to follow most of the plot of Deathly Hallows from this point out, but the chapters will be spaced so that you don't see many of those events in the book (quite a bit of the story is in memory form). I don't promise to stick exactly to HPatDH, though, so prepare yourself for AU moments.
Chapter 3: Perfect Ignorance
The wait was over. The day had come for the plan to go into action, one small step at a time.
"Dear, I don't know about this," Mrs. Granger said, her worried eyes refusing to meet her daughter. She stared, instead, at the carrot she was chopping and bit her bottom lip with perfectly straight teeth.
"But I always go to the Weasleys, Mum. And to Hogwarts, of course," Hermione answered, a small smile on her face. "This trip isn't any different."
Her mother blinked, as if thrown off by the softness of the plea. She knew her daughter well, and Hermione was almost never soft when denied something she cared about. With a tilt of her head, Mrs. Granger studied the young woman.
"Is it safe?" she finally asked, knowing that her husband had already received an answer to the same question.
Hermione nodded, the serene grin remaining.
"I don't believe you," her mother said. There was no mutter, no stutter, no hesitation. And, though she was calling her daughter on a lie, the woman didn't receive more than a bat of thick eyelashes for her confrontational tone. Something was wrong. "Is everything alright with you, dear?"
"Can we talk about this in the morning?" Hermione asked. Her face was drawn, her gaze tired, and the enthusiasm pushed into her voice would have sound forced even to a stranger's ears. "Can't we just go settle in front of the telly for a bit? Dad's already beat us to the remote."
"I'm making tomorrow's lunch," her mother answered, smiling slightly.
"The salad can wait."
Hermione's lip twitched. The sentence hadn't been the one floating through her mind: tomorrow isn't going to happen. That wasn't quite correct either. Tomorrow would happen, but not the way the Grangers were planning it to. They'd never drop off their daughter and return to work for a four o'clock appointment. Instead, they would board a plane to Australia and never remember their old plans or their old lunches. Or their old daughter.
The witch swallowed hard. "Please," she insisted.
"I didn't realize you were looking forward to an old episode of Dr. Who this much."
Hermione raised a brow. "It's not as if I can watch it when I return to Ron and Ginny's," she laughed. "Though, I think Mr. Weasley would find it right amusing."
Mrs. Granger scooted the vegetables into a pile. "I suppose I can save this for the commercial break," she submitted. She circled the counter and wrapped her arm around her daughter's shoulders, leading her towards the main room.
Hermione settled into the sofa beside her father, who was gently snoring to the sound of an antiques' show though the evening was still young. She stole the remote from his loose fingers, resting her head against his shoulder. The channel quickly changed, she propped her legs over her mother's thighs and squeezed the older woman's orange-stained fingers with one hand.
Her mother smiled at her before looking back to the screen. "I'm glad you still enjoy spending time with us oldies every once in a while," she chirped during the familiar theme song. "You've been growing up so quickly lately."
Hermione stared at her. The heat in the witch's eyes was unbearable but she couldn't look away. A part of her was angry that she was delaying the inevitable for so many more hours. Angry that she'd left her wand upstairs on purpose. Angry that she even thought that this solution was a solution.
"I wish I wasn't," she finally answered. "I wish we had more nights like this."
"We do, dear," her mother replied. But she was no longer paying attention, enraptured by the television again.
Hermione stared at the television and thought it was unfair that she wasn't simply an actor pretending to fight evil. Actually being one of the good guys, making the awful decisions necessary to protect loved ones, that was fair too complicated for her liking. She wanted to be somewhere else, space maybe, where those decisions weren't hers to make.
The sounds around her seemed to lull her eyes closed, and she found herself slipping back against the cushions. Fighting the sleep would have been easy, but she didn't want to. Let the hours until morning pass quickly, she decided, her last rational thought before she drifted away.
Her eyes were not her own.
Hermione wanted to close them, but couldn't. She panicked, but didn't feel her heartbeat quicken. It took her another moment to realize that she was in no danger. It was her dream, someone else's memory. And the hand holding tightly to her sleeve was actually holding to his, all those years ago.
"Sev, you've got to stop this," the woman said. Her voice was low, but strained, the backdrop of books framing her body no doubt the reason for the whisper.
Hermione took in the details in a quick rush as the eyes, Snape's eyes, quickly lifted to look away from the woman holding so tightly to his arm. The books were tagged. A store, not a library. The air was musty, appropriate, and his throat was so dry that it ached. Hermione didn't like this view. She didn't like seeing the memories this way. She preferred the other, being a simple onlooker; it had been more like watching a television show the first time.
The witch felt herself wince in her sleep. That had been the reason, she was almost sure. That was the reason she was in his eyes. She'd been thinking so hard on what it meant to not been real, to be a character in a show, watched by an audience. And this was where her imagination had made contact with Snape's memories.
There was a tightness in the man's chest. It was painful. It crawled up him, down him. It made his eyes burn and his stomach quake. Hermione couldn't take the uncomfortable sensation. She wanted out.
She blinked. When her eyes opened, she was still in the dream, but she was now staring at Severus Snape's profile, the curtain of stringy black hair over his gaunt cheeks, the unmistakable slope of a nose he had no doubt sported since birth. He was younger, as he had been in the other dream, and she had the distinct feeling that this moment was before the last, as if the memories, from his suicide to his conversation with Voldemort to this bookstore, that his chain of memories was moving in reverse.
Hermione watched as if she were another shopper, curious to hear what was said, but before she could contemplate the man's pained, angry expression, she finally caught a decent look at the woman standing directly in front of him. Her red hair was splayed over her shoulders, hiding most of her face, but Hermione knew her almost at once from Harry's photos.
Lily Potter. Lily Potter holding tightly to Severus Snape's sleeve, not allowing the man to fully turn away from her. Her pregnant belly, swollen and hanging low, almost touching his side.
"Harry?" Hermione said, unable to stop the tiny smile on her face as she stared at that bump, covered by a strained brown robe.
Her attention was torn from her unborn best friend when Lily pushed herself closer to Severus, as if to make him look at her.
"You must stop. There's no 'us'. And there never really was," Lily insisted, her brow wrinkled in pity. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry you're still. . . But it's not my fault that you haven't learned to move on."
"Who's to say I haven't?" Severus snapped.
Lily let go of him as if she had been stung and quickly slapped his forearm. "That," she hissed, "doesn't count."
His black eyes widened in shock, and he folded his arms against his chest, as if to hide the offending arm.
Hermione understood why almost at once. The mark. That's where it was. She shook her head, somewhat surprised at his expression. She'd expected denial. After all, the man could hide his true intent from anyone.
"Perhaps a skill you learned later in life?" Hermione reasoned.
"You know?" Severus breathed, staring down into Lily's eyes as if he were watching his own death. In a second's time, his eyes narrowed, his face stiffening into a blank slate as if he'd washed the emotion away. He snorted. "I don't know what you're referring to, but I was discussing your willingness to settle for that bastard Potter. Personally, I don't believe that's anyone's definition of moving on."
Lily shook her head, suddenly looking exhausted. She held her stomach with one curved arm, as if afraid it might drop off. "Fine. Play your games, Sev. But I won't be there to help you again."
"Promise?" he sneered.
"I have a family," she said. As if she'd heard her name, she turned, looking back at the stack of books behind her. She took one step away and then turned to Snape again. "I can't," she said, her voice near a sob. She wiped at her mouth with one hand, as if she could brush away the words flowing out. "I can't watch my friend become this. I just can't. Don't look for me again, Severus. I mean it. I won't be there."
Her footsteps were quiet as she stepped over the open, ancient tome on the ground. It had been marked with a slip of parchment, as if someone had studying the text.
"Lily," Severus said. He glanced from side to side, as if afraid the name would be heard. His disregarding eyes swept right through Hermione.
Lily stopped at the end of the aisle but did not look back.
"I thought it was what was best for you," he said.
"I can't even begin to understand that," she bit, anger rising in her ruddy cheeks. Her fists curled against her robe pockets, as if aching for her wand. She took a breath and blinked the heat away. "We'll be fine. We'll be safe."
His eyes became ice. "I don't care about your family, Lily. Just you," he replied.
She smiled, though he couldn't see the expression. "Liar." Her hand crawled up her belly. "This child, he's as much me as he is James. And you can't hate any part of me, Sev. No matter how hard you try."
Severus did not thaw. "But I can hate every part of James Potter."
"True," Lily whispered and walked away.
Hermione watched as the woman faded, and the books dripped away into grains of color. The dream, the memory was dissolving away around her. Her last image was of Severus Snape watching his scuffed shoes with a look of forced contempt.
"You cared about her?" Hermione asked. It didn't make sense. It didn't fit. She refused to think on it, not until she knew more. A part of her wished another memory would begin to play so that she could confirm something, anything, but it did not.
She could recognize the scent of her mother's favorite laundry soap before she even realized that she was awake. Pulling her face away from the textured surface of the cushion, she blinked, staring at her father's shoulder and remembering that she was supposed to be awake, supposed to be enjoying what could be the last normal evening she'd have with her parents.
The television had been turned off, a blue fleece throw spread over her short-clad legs. Her mother must have gone to bed and left the other two Grangers where they'd fallen. Hermione stood, and turned back to her father. The motion hadn't woken the man. She left him there and took her stairs, two at a time, reaching her bedroom in seconds. It didn't look the same. It hadn't changed in nearly a decade and now it was suddenly white walled and barren, her things transformed and put in boxes to be restored later. Only the items coming with her were left out.
Her wand was under her pillow, waiting for her. It felt cold in her hand. A small folder was sitting beneath it. It contained new papers for her parents. The names read Wendell and Monica Wilkins.
It wasn't tomorrow yet. The clock had not even struck midnight, but she couldn't wait any longer, and she refused to ask for help in the execution of her plan. No one else could take her parents' will, could meddle with their minds. No one but her. She took a breath.
Some things could not be put off for another day.