Disclaimer: This is a non-profit tribute to the works of JK Rowling who created and, together with her publishers and licensees, owns the characters and settings elaborated herein.

A/N: This chapter follows on from the second-last letter in ch 7 as the second part of a two-chapter DH (and epilogue)-compatible ending. Thanks to all my reviewers and especially to my previewers, Bellegeste, Cecelle and Lady Memory, and to Whitehound my brainstormer, who inspired the turn this chapter takes. I apologise for the wait: a combination of real life and rewriting.

The story till now: Since Harry's first year, Snape had eased his troubled mind by sending time-spelled letters twenty years into the future to Hermione. Twenty years after the Battle of Hogwarts, she thought she'd received them all, and despaired. But there was still one letter to come...

Dear Hermione,

It has been fifteen years for me since we last met, but I do not need the familiar weight of your Time-Turner against my chest to remind me. Doubt has held me silent until now, but here I am, at last, ready to tell you.

I hope you're there to read it. Your rashness still terrifies me. You might as well have thrown yourself headlong off a cliff as travel back thirty-two years to save me, with no certain way of returning home after. But has there ever been a cliff you wouldn't jump off to save a friend? I wanted to shake you when you told me, insanely matter-of-fact, "All I need to get home is something to halt my aging, somewhere to wait through the years, and someone to revive me at the end."

(I'm still not convinced that Petrifying yourself with a Basilisk memory in a Pensieve was safer than Transfiguration. You were afraid you'd lose yourself, that you wouldn't be the same person after losing and regaining your humanity, but I don't see why. You saw Draco Transfigured and Untransfigured once, and he did not seem changed by the experience.)

What could I do? You'd already come back for me; I couldn't stop you returning for your children, and I was too raw, too scarred, to accept your invitation to go with you; I could not be a man for you until I could be a man for myself.

Surely Iwasn't worth your bother. What pitch of desperation led you on, not knowing even if I could be revived? How did you sustain the mad desire for twelve years, while you waited for your children to grow and become independent? You only shook your head when I asked you.

"Life is risk, Severus," you told me, and I still recall the exasperated lift of your eyebrow as you said it. Sometimes I think you haven't changed at all from the know-it-all child whose antics I fretted over for seven years. Other times I've wondered if there was any of her left in the grave silent woman you became, torn with regret for having watched me die.

There's nothing to regret, Hermione. Let it go. For my sake, if not for yours. I spent too many years bound to a treadmill of guilt and self-loathing to wish the same on anyone, least of all you. Especially for such foolishness.

The only thing I wanted from you then, the only trust you had to fulfil, was to stay with Lily's boy for as long as he let you. Could you not tell from my dying conduct that he was everything? (And, no, that wasn't a reason to waste time that was his on saving my wretched life. I was hardly the only person on your side who died that night. Why turn for me, when you had not for them?)

You have been back in your time (I hope) for three weeks, and our discussions must still be fresh in your mind. For what it's worth, they're still fresh in mine, and I find myself more eager to revisit the familiar than to relate the new. I have not played Do-you-remember since I was about sixteen, with that other friend, when memory and habit were the only bonds left to tether her.

(The worst pang of losing her was realising it had happened already; she was his. And then he dared tell me I was "lucky" she was there. Lucky!? The insult was out before I could stop myself, and I saw, when I tried to apologise, that she was not saddened, but freed. And I was voiceless.)

There was no one after that, not even Dumbledore: my confessor, but never my confidant. I walled away my past behind strong shields of Occlumency and set my back to the wheel. I never expected to be anything but alone. Even death, I thought, would not change that. But it did.

I remember dying. Peace. Completion. My task was done and I with it. I closed my eyes on green, shielded by glass, and woke to soft brown: your eyes and your tumbling hair, shorter, but still rebelliously wild. You were grey with weariness from nursing me; you looked like your own grandmother, I thought hazily.

In between, there had been pain — crushing, choking, overmastering — of breath forced into my lungs and the cramp of it in my gut, of my heart flittering and jerking about like a landed fish, and the sizzle of returning twitch to my fingers and feet. (And the rubbed raw burn and itch in places mentionable and unmentionable. By the time I realised how much of me you must have seen, I couldn't bring myself to care. What did skin matter when you had seen my soul?) But there was no smell of blood any more, only dizziness and soft blankets and the remembered throb of a ripped-out neck.

And you.

I don't think I'd ever felt languid before. It was quite a pleasant feeling and I couldn't work up any self-reproach at not fighting it. I shouldn't have felt safe with the best friend of the boy I'd sent to his death, but I did, and the thought occurred how differently my life would have gone if it had been you in the playground when I was nine. (One thing, at least, would have improved immediately: no spiteful Petunia dogging our footsteps, the first in a long line of naysayers. Perhaps the only surprise is that Lily resisted them so long.)

My first waking was over almost before it had begun. I slept and woke and slept and woke, and always you were there, sponging my face, chafing my limbs, pouring noxious brews down my throat. (You used too much Doxy Venom in the Nerve Restorer. Two drops, not three, or the drinker's toenails may turn green.) I asked how many years I'd been asleep. It was not years, you said, but days, and we had won. Then I wondered if you'd been hit with an aging curse and why you were wasting time on my care instead of your own.

"I've come back from the future to see you right," you said. "It didn't seem fair for you to die just when you could finally live. I'm sorry if you didn't want that. I was never quite sure from your letters if you did or not."

I had not been sure either.

I still wasn't. The war was over. My life was – not over. The boy. The boy was dead. What was there left to fill up the hours till my next death? (My final death, I hoped.) And then you told me the boy was not dead, after all.

I remember. How could I forget? You told me his life had been tethered to Voldemort's with the taking of his blood, and that he would live through anything, even a killing curse, unless he chose to let go. But when did that boy ever choose to let things go? I could not think then of how luck and determination had carried him through, nor be grateful for the qualities that had so often infuriated me. I could not think any thought but one: Dumbledore had known the boy would survive, known and kept it from me.

"He couldn't tell you," you pleaded. "It was a bigger secret even than Harry being a Horcrux. We could still have found a way around that, maybe Polyjuice or something. But if Voldemort knew Harry would keep coming back to life every time he killed him, he would simply have destroyed the body so there was nothing to come back to."

(I can say it now without shuddering. Voldemort. What a fool he was, after all. To trust the task of checking the boy's death to an underling whose loyalty he'd destroyed himself.)

Even now my chest aches, remembering Dumbledore's reply when I taxed him with having raised the boy like a pig for slaughter. He did not even try to offer comfort or excuse, but brazened it out, completely impenitent.

"This is touching," he said. "Have you grown to care for the boy, after all?"

I cast my Patronus, knowing he would misunderstand – glorying in being misunderstood, as I had learned to do in the days I styled myself the Half-Blood Prince.

(When there is no likelihood, not even a possibility, of being comprehended, one learns to glory in one's solitude – or at least to pretend convincingly. "Pining for the impossible," I thought then. But you do not let the impossible stop you, Hermione, and I have learned to view the word with scepticism. Once I'd have said hearts could not find each other across time. I know better now.)

He thought my Patronus meant eternal love, and I chose to let him, but it was not love, only faithfulness to my promise. I was her stand-in, protecting her son in her place; how could my Patronus do other than show it?

I've wondered often if she shaped her own life after her favourite movie, a silly story about a doe with one fawn, and hunters in the forest. (She even had the record, full of even sillier songs about April showers and sorrow making hearts sing. It never did mine.) Did she remember that when she stood between her child and death, and refused to move aside? How often I've wondered what went through her head in those last moments.

In those days, my only comfort had come from knowing I was repairing – clumsily, incompletely, with large gaping stitches that didn't conceal the rip – the damage I had done her. (Them.) And Dumbledore had taken that from me, taken it too late for me to change my course. But my promise remained. I lived for her, and I died for her, and I told you, when we talked of her, that I was done; we were quits.

And it was the truth. What more can I owe her after that?

She was my first, my only friend, but I have clearer vision now. I know what friendship is, how long-suffering, how ready to excuse. I have seen it in you. (Do not deny it, and do not blame yourself, as I know you do, for your differences with Weasley that grew too large to mend. How many times in your schooldays I saw him hurt you and slight you, not valuing what he had, and you forgave and forgave and forgave. It takes two to build a bridge across a broken friendship, or a broken marriage; there must be sound footing on both sides for it to stand.)

I treasure those twelve days precious days you nursed me, though they were full of anguish. You had the answers to every question I had about the war and Dumbledore's machinations, the boy's part in it, even my own, and they were not pleasant hearing, soften them as you could.

Worse, everyone knew – how I had been Dumbledore's puppet and why, the strings he pulled to set me dancing. To set me killing, in his name. (There was even a book, you admitted, Snape: Scoundrel or Saint? Scoundrel or Saint? Dupe or doormat would be more to the point. Liar and laughingstock. Mug and murderer.)

You should have hated me, Hermione. I sent your friend to his death, believing it to be permanent. I am as guilty as if it had been.

You demurred when I said that, blamed it all on Dumbledore, reminded me the boy would not have listened anyway. But whether he listened or not, I should have tried. He deserved a choice, a real choice, and time to think it through. Not to be moulded into a kamikaze before he knew his right from his left. Before he knew his rights from his left-overs.

(Would Lily have kept silent? Then how dared I?)

The greater good for the greatest number: what is it worth when it comes at the price of betraying a child? The toad under the harrow thinks differently than the farmer. It is a bitter thing to be that toad. But it is bitterer yet to be both toad and farmer (and harrow!) in one. As I was. As Dumbledore had made me.

Perhaps I was the coward some have called me, but I could not endure to stand before those who had known me or known of me, conscious of all they knew of me. Let them hate me as they may; I had solaced myself with the knowledge that they saw not me, but only my cloak. The boy meant well, you assured me. Nevertheless, he had stripped me naked and I could not stand amongst the clothed. Not then.

The present was unbearable, unless I lived in a cave; the future you were returning to even more so. So I accepted your Time Turner instead and made my first jump. With all of history and geography spread out before me, I chose to jump to 1945 and travel to Germany. For the better part of two years, I helped mop up after Grindelwald's war, as I could not have done after Voldemort's. (Not even inner trembling at that name, now, so free have I become. But not so free that I can say it without caring. I shall never be quite that free.)

I needed to see the aftermath of war. I needed to close that door on my life, to help instead of hurt, to sow instead of scythe. You had told me I had helped build the future, and that the fruits of my labour contained more of sweet than bitter. Forgive me if I could not believe it till I had watched for myself how burnt earth blooms again.

It was good to be unknown, to be helping people who did not first pause to wonder if they should spit in my face or refuse what had touched my tainted hands. (I did not even know how painfully I had walked in shame till I had none left who chose to shame me. Had it always been them, even before it was me?)

People were grateful. Some even smiled at me, and slowly I learned to smile back. (I hope that pleases you. You said I did not smile enough, and I read in your eyes that you meant "at all".) But I could not stay in that time, even on the continent. It was too close in every way, and Dumbledore's name fell too often in my ear. He was famous and beloved, and I still too rubbed by his betrayal.

So I journeyed further back and further, jumping thirty or fifty years at a time to wherever my fancy took me. I have participated in many of the discoveries of past ages under assumed names: brewed potions at different phases of the moon with Hesper Starkey, love potions with Laverne de Montmorency and Pepperup with Glover Hipworth, studied alchemy with Cornelius Agrippa and Paracelsus, and metallurgic transmutation with Nicholas Flamel.

Nowhere have I found a home or any replacement for those I had left behind. I have encountered kindness, hospitality, acceptance – all new to me, all welcomed – but not commonality. The further from you I journey, the more I know you are where I want to be. You are what comes to mind when I hear the word home.

So, as I said, here I am. Ready to see again Narcissa, Draco and Lucius, even if they hate me for betraying them. To see the boy (the man) I once wound my life around, that I parented for six horrendous years without us ever growing warmer towards each other. Perhaps we can at least acknowledge now that we were allies. To see the world I helped create, even if no one welcomes me but you. You are all the welcome I need.

You have guessed it, haven't you? (It was your idea, after all, that I could not trigger my first letter's condition that "I no longer exist in your time", if there was no "I" while I was in transit to "exist".) Did you guess from the start and skip ahead to here? Return at once, if you please. Nicholas promises me to spell this so that no one can read it but you, and you must read the whole screed aloud to reverse me. You and no other. You or no one. I like that thought, that I regain myself at the sound of my words in your voice. My name on your lips.

It seems fitting to come as a time-spelled letter. Thus I captured your heart, so you told me, and thus I give mine into your care. Transfigure me back now, if you wish me there. Or leave me as I am until the end of time. I shall not know; I shall not suffer.

Yours ever,
Severus Snape


A/N Since I'd made a point of Time-Turners going backwards only, I had to provide at least one plausible alternate method for Hermione (and Snape) to reach the future. They don't actually jump through time, they just wait in stasis for the chosen time to arrive.

One difficulty was that, unlike fanon, canon seems to have no stasis or age-halting spells or potions. Snape describes the Draught of Living Death as a "sleeping potion". Dumbledore's spell of enchanted sleep in the Triwizards Second Task doesn't remove the subject's need to breathe. Petrificus Totalus immobilises the body, but not the mind. However, those who were Petrified by the Basilisk in CoS appear to be without awareness and stiff as stone, so, though we're not explicitly told, I've chosen to interpret that as stasis.

As time-spelling (like Lily's love of Bambi and "too much Doxy Venom" turning toenails green) is my own invention – and also a pre-existing condition of the story – I had more latitude there. I decided it works by folding small and light inanimate objects, such as letters, outside of time, winking them out and in again.

According to Dumbledore's notes to Babbity Rabbity in Beedle the Bard, Transfiguring oneself into an animal removes human consciousness. ("Transfiguring oneself into an animal ... one would become the animal entirely, with the consequence that one would know no magic, be unaware that one had ever been a wizard, and would need somebody else to Transfigure one back to one's original form.") I see no reason why Transfiguration by another and/or into an object would be any different, Slughorn's armchair trick notwithstanding. (In fact, that may have been a glamour of some kind rather than a Transfiguration; canon doesn't specify whether he became an armchair or only seemed to be one.)

We do see Draco Transfigured into a ferret and back without Minerva getting hysterical, so it seems that wizards believe this does not constitute any risk of annihilation, but I've taken the liberty of having Hermione be more sceptical of received wisdom than she was in canon. After all, she had to grow up sometime ;~P

I've used a couple of DH quotes and a paraphrase (Dumbledore's comment in DH, ch 35, "He tethered you to life while he lives!"), and one word from SWM, OotP from James's admonition, "You're lucky Evans was here, Snivellus..."

The historical figures are from HPL Timeline and list of Famous Wizard Cards.