Forgive Us Our Debts
December 25, 2006
Hermione Granger slammed an unwrapped package down on the desk in front of Headmistress McGonagall with a loud THUMP. "What am I supposed to do with this?" she said in a tone of disgust.
McGonagall raised her eyebrows in surprise. "It's a book," she said. "I suggest you read it."
"Read it? I don't even want to touch it!" Noticing McGonagall's look of surprise, she added, "It's a Christmas present from him." There was no need to explain who. Nine years after the fall of Voldemort, Severus Snape was usually referred to as him, in tones of disgust and anger. A six month sentence in Azkaban had not satisfied the wizarding community's desire for vengeance, despite Harry Potter's grudging admission that he would never have defeated Voldemort without Snape's help.
"Ah," said McGonagall with a sigh. She paused for a moment. "Hermione, you're now head of Gryffindor house, deputy headmistress and his supervisor. He obviously felt obligated to give you a gift."
"Well, I'm not giving him anything in return," said Hermione firmly.
"I doubt he expects it," said McGonagall quietly, looking at the empty portrait-frame of Albus Dumbledore.
Severus Snape was a murderer, Hermione reminded herself, ignoring a faint twinge of guilt. He had killed Albus Dumbledore, tortured Neville Longbottom and done nothing as Bellatrix Lestrange had killed Ron Weasley. She hated Severus Snape more than any person alive. She had no reason to feel guilty. None.
It was 2 AM and Hermione was still awake. After leaving the staff Christmas party early because the sight of a tipsy McGonagall flirting with Hagrid had been too much for her, she'd tried to go to sleep. However, after tossing and turning for three hours she'd given up and gone to Astronomy Tower for some fresh air.
She was about to go back to her room when she spotted something moving by the edge of the forest. Her eyes narrowed in suspicion when she realized it was Snape. As far as she knew, no potions ingredients were picked this time of year and no staff member would ever ask him to go near the Forbidden Forest. Since Snape never left his rooms during the Christmas holiday unless it was required, there was no good reason for Snape to be in the Forbidden Forest at two in the morning. Five minutes later, she was creeping through the forest towards the glow of a fire.
As she crept closer, she was surprised to see Snape sitting by a fire at the edge of the forest, as close as he could get to Dumbledore's tomb without leaving the cover the forest provided. What surprised her even more, once she was close enough to hear him, was what he was saying.
"And then the cauldron exploded," said Snape. "That was her seventeenth destroyed cauldron this year. I do hope that the Yaxley and Longbottom families never breed. I'm not sure if Hogwarts could survive. I'm sure my classroom wouldn't. Speaking of Longbottom," he said, taking a swig of firewhiskey, "he married Lovegood a few months ago. Apparently they went to Brazil on their honeymoon in search of the Great South American Snufflebeast. Unsurprisingly, the blurry pictures that they returned with haven't convinced anyone that the Great South American Snufflebeast exists, much to Lovegood's shock. Longbottom is apparently one of the top Herbologists at the Ministry. How someone so good with plants managed to be so abysmal at potions astonishes me, though I must admit that his essays made more sense than anything Crabbe and Goyle ever wrote."
There was silence for a few minutes while Snape stared into the fire. "I got your present," he said finally. "I have to admit, I've never seen socks with pink and purple snakes on them before. They're not quite as creative as the Gryffindor Quidditch socks from a few years ago but they are colorful." There was a pause while Snape took another drink of firewhiskey. "I suppose you're wondering where your present is. It's not quite as creative as yours, I'm afraid. Muggle choices tend to be limited but these are rather amusing. They don't even live on the same continent."
Snape took a pair of socks out of a pocket and held them up. Squinting, Hermione could make out a pattern of polar bears and penguins on a blue background.
"Merry Christmas, Albus," said Snape, raising his bottle in a toast and tossing the socks on the fire. "There's only one more year until I win our bet. You've always had too much faith in people."
In the silence that followed, Hermione walked away as quietly as she could. During Snape's trial, Harry had admitted that Dumbledore was aware that Snape might be forced to kill him. That Snape was still receiving Christmas presents, nine years after Dumbledore's death, meant that Dumbledore had seen it as a certainty rather than just a possibility.
Hermione was confused and she didn't like it.
Hermione hated shopping. She hated shopping during the post-Christmas rush even more. Unfortunately, she was in desperate need of new robes before the Christmas holiday ended. Braving Diagon Alley was her only choice. She groaned at the line in front of Madam Malkin's but when she spotted a familiar pink head she perked up – at least she'd have someone to talk to during the wait.
"Hi, Tonks," she said, smiling.
"Are you here to get some robes too?"
"I wish," replied Tonks. "I'm actually working."
"Working?" Hermione looked at her in surprise. "How does going to Madam Malkin's qualify as working?"
"I'm not in line for Madam Malkin's. I'm actually keeping an eye on him," said Tonks, gesturing at the apothecary next door. "He needed to order supplies and run some personal errands."
Hermione spotted a familiar black figure through the window. "The Ministry wants you to follow him? I can't imagine he'd be foolish enough to curse someone in broad daylight."
"At this point in time, it's for his protection," said Tonks.
"His protection?" Hermione couldn't keep the confusion out of her voice. "I think he's perfectly capable of protecting himself."
"Hermione," said Tonks slowly. "Don't you know anything about the terms of his release?"
"There were terms to his release?" said Hermione in surprise.
"Well, the Ministry did keep them classified," admitted Tonks. "Still, I was sure you would have heard about some of them from Harry."
"Harry and I never talk about him," said Hermione. "We don't talk about the war either. After his trial was over, it seemed like the best way to move on with life."
"I guess that explains it," said Tonks.
"So, what are they?"
"I only know two of them, although according to rumor, there were at least ten. Currently, he's required to have an Auror escort him every time he leaves Hogwarts," said Tonks. "They also limited his magic to basic charms and transfiguration. He can't cast any offensive spells."
"He needs an Auror every time he leaves Hogwarts? Doesn't that take up a lot of Ministry resources?" asked Hermione.
"Less than you'd expect," said Tonks. "He only leaves three or four times a year."
"How often do the other Aurors need to escort him?"
"I'm the only one who does," answered Tonks. "Everyone else refuses to. If I didn't owe him a life debt, I'd refuse as well," said Tonks bitterly. As Tonks finished her sentence, Snape came out of the apothecary. "See you later, Hermione," said Tonks. Snape paused for a moment, looking around. Spotting Tonks, he turned and walked towards the Leaky Cauldron, not waiting for her to catch up.
Curious, Hermione decided to follow them. In the bustling post-holiday crowds, it was easy to avoid being seen. Following Snape through the crowds was easier than she had expected. Glares and whispers followed him as he walked down the street, everyone giving him a wide berth. She even noticed a few children throw stones at him, as if he were a stray cat. The only time Tonks stepped in was when a wizard drew his wand and started to curse him. Snape continued walking, head held high, as if oblivious to what was going on around him.
It must be humiliating for him to depend on the reluctant Tonks for help, realized Hermione. Then again, why should she care?
Valentine's Day had never been one of Hermione's favorite holidays. Sharing a room with Lavender and Parvati had made her dislike the holiday even more. They constantly giggled over the cards and presents they had received and debated over who they should send cards to in return. They had driven Hermione crazy. Even Dumbledore's usually infectious enthusiasm for holidays hadn't influenced her opinion of the day.
This year, McGonagall had decided to celebrate the holiday with more than the usual flare. Hermione groaned as she walked into the Great Hall for dinner and saw the decorations. Pink and red heart-shaped bubbles floated in the air and a heart-shaped fountain sprayed alternating pink and red water. Cupids flew around the room, delivering valentines to various students.
Most of her fellow teachers showed the same lack of enthusiasm she did, Hermione noted.
"You know, this is one of the times when I wish he ate in the Great Hall," whispered Professor Sinistra to Professor Vector. "I always thought one of the reasons why Albus decorated so extravagantly was to see his horrified expression when he walked into the Great Hall."
"I miss his descriptions of the decorations," said Vector. "'If only the students had as many brains as there are hearts.' 'They say red is the color of love. It looks like the color of insanity to me.'" Her voice lowered and she did a remarkable impression of Snape's voice.
"Did you hear that Diana Perkins had one of the cupids deliver him a Howler during class?" asked Sinistra.
"What did he do?" Professor Vector's voice sounded both delighted and scandalized.
"According to the students, he just continued his lecture through the noise. When it was finished, he gave her a detention and then gave the class a pop quiz about his lecture. Everyone failed."
"Potions is starting to get out of control," said Vector.
"So?" said Sinistra.
Hermione stared at the decorations thoughtfully. She had never seen Snape eat in the Great Hall, she realized. It had never occurred to her to wonder where he ate – or even if he ate. She tried to imagine eating alone for nine years and failed. While she enjoyed the occasional quiet meal, she enjoyed eating with friends just as much. Eating every meal alone would be awful.
Hermione was woken up at midnight by the pounding on her door.
"Professor Granger, please wake up!"
Hermione sleepily recognized the panicked voice of Sarah Creevey, a seventh-year Gryffindor prefect and cousin of Colin and Dennis Creevey. Quickly getting up and tossing on her robe and slippers, she opened the door.
"What's wrong, Sarah?" she asked.
"You're up," said Sarah, a look of relief on her face. "Thank goodness. It's Gertrude. She's really, really sick. She's been throwing up for hours and I think she has a fever. She passed out a few minutes ago and I came to get you as soon as I could."
"Right," said Hermione. "Go wake up Madam Pomfrey. I'll bring Miss Jackson up to the Infirmary."
Sarah nodded and took off down the hall, running as fast as she could. Hermione used the passage from her room to the tower. When she arrived in the seventh-year dormitory, Gertrude was awake but clutching her stomach grimacing in pain.
"Let's get you to Madam Pomfrey," said Hermione gently. "Can you walk?"
"I don't think so," answered Gertrude, gasping.
"Okay." Picking up her wand, Hermione cast a levitation charm. "Go back to sleep if you can," she told the other students as she was leaving, levitating Gertrude in front of her. "I'll be back with news as soon as possible."
Madam Pomfrey was awake and waiting when Hermione and Gertrude made it to the Infirmary. "Put her on the bed," she said. After asking a few brief questions about the pain and symptoms, she cast several quick diagnosis charms.
"She has a ruptured appendix," she said quietly to Hermione, taking her aside. "I can give her some Pain-Relief Potion and heal the colon. However, someone needs to go to St. Mungo's to retrieve an anti-infection potion."
"St. Mungo's?" Hermione was startled. "Can't you just ask him to make it?"
"He's not allowed to make potions for the students," replied Madam Pomfrey flatly.
"He's not? But this is an emergency."
"It doesn't matter," said Madam Pomfrey. "It's one of the conditions of his employment."
"I had no idea." Hermione shook her head in disbelief.
"Professor Granger," said Madam Pomfrey, "Miss Jackson will be fine as long as someone leaves soon."
"I'll leave right now," said Hermione.
After talking to Tonks in January, Hermione had known that Snape's movements were restricted. However, she was beginning to realize that he was more restricted than she had ever imagined.
Hermione hadn't seen Harry since Christmas. While she usually used the Easter holiday to prepare for finals, she also tried to spend at least one day with Harry, Ginny and their children, since she was rarely able to see them during the school year. This year, she was particularly anxious to see them.
Spending time at Harry's house was fun, though exhausting. Ron, James and Sirius were delighted to see 'Aunt Hermione' again, especially since she came prepared with bribes from Honeydukes. Ginny had a full day planned; they spent the morning at a Muggle zoo, the afternoon at a Chudley Cannons match and ate dinner at the Burrow. Later that night while Ginny was getting three sleepy children ready for bed, Hermione finally decided to ask Harry the question that had been plaguing her for months.
"Harry, there's something I need to know about," she said.
"What?" Harry asked.
"I want you to tell me about Snape's trial," said Hermione.
"You want to know about Snape's trial?" Harry repeated. He sat down on the sofa across from Hermione's chair and looked at her seriously. "What happened?" he asked quietly. "I haven't even heard you say his name in the last nine years."
"I haven't," said Hermione. "I was so angry with him after the war. The things he did … and he was on our side the whole time? It didn't make sense!"
"I'm not sure I understand myself," said Harry. "Ron might have, I think. He was brilliant at chess and understood the need for sacrifices. I always hated losing pieces."
"So did I," whispered Hermione, tears in her eyes. "Ron never understood how I could be so good in class but so awful at chess."
"After Snape's trial, Remus told me Snape was an excellent chess player," said Harry. "That's when the memory Dumbledore left me in his Pensive finally started to make sense."
"Dumbledore left you a memory?"
"He did," confirmed Harry. "It was a memory of a conversation he'd had with Snape. In it, Dumbledore told Snape to kill him and said some sacrifices were necessary. I found the Pensive before Draco started bringing us messages so I didn't know what to believe. Snape made killing Dumbledore look easy."
"I always wondered why you were willing to trust Draco," said Hermione.
"Trusting Draco was the best decision I made during the war," said Harry. "Even though I knew Draco hadn't wanted to kill Dumbledore, I would never have taken the risk if I hadn't seen the memory. By the time I was sure his information was coming from Snape, he'd already helped me locate and destroy the fourth Horcrux. And then Ron died," said Harry, his voice wavering. "I didn't understand it until I remembered what Dumbledore had told Snape. 'Sometimes, sacrifices are necessary,' he said. I realized that if Snape had saved Ron, then there would have been no one to pass information to the Order. I suppose Snape saw Ron as another sacrifice – another pawn in the war."
"I still don't understand. Ron was a person, not a chess piece," said Hermione. "How could anyone view a person like that?"
"I don't know," said Harry. "But I'm not sure we would have found all the Horcruxes without his help," he admitted reluctantly.
It was the day of the final Quidditch match of the year. It had been thirty-three years since Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff had last faced each other to determine the winner of the Quidditch Cup. This year, one of them would win. Flitwick and Sprout were ecstatic and their enthusiasm had even affected Hermione, who only supported Gryffindor Quidditch out of obligation.
Of course, excitement hadn't prevented her from being late to the match. That was why she saw Draco Malfoy come through the Hogwarts gates. Curious about Draco's reason for coming to Hogwarts, Hermione decided to wait for him. After fifteen minutes of waiting at the entrance, she realized that Draco must have entered the castle through a separate entrance. She knew he wouldn't have come to see a Quidditch match between Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff, nor was anyone at Hogwarts on particularly good terms with him except herself. Then she realized there was one other person in Hogwarts Draco might be on good terms with.
Hermione walked down to the dungeons where Snape's quarters were. Even though she knew she was eavesdropping, her curiosity about Snape was beginning to overwhelm her.
"Muggle London was awful," complained Draco. "I got lost three times."
"I sent you a map," said Snape, sounding amused.
"I had problems reading your handwriting as a student," said Draco. "It's even worse now. But I did get a date out of it," he added. "The Muggle seamstress you found is very attractive."
Snape snorted. "Are you going to be able to figure out how to pay for the meal?"
"Of course." Draco sounded wounded. "I'll just give the waiter several large bills and wait for the change. She thinks you're my eccentric uncle, by the way. She couldn't understand why you needed so many sets of robes for a play. I told her you insisted on having a new one for each performance."
There was a sudden increase in noise and Draco stopped talking. "The match must be over," said Snape. "You should go."
Hermione quickly walked back up the stairs. Snape hired a Muggle seamstress to make his robes? It made sense, she supposed. Even Draco had been refused service once or twice – and he'd been cleared of all charges.
Dumbledore's Memorial Service was held as soon as the students left for the summer holiday. While the first five Memorial Services had been well attended, the subsequent ones had grown smaller and smaller every year. Only Order members and Hogwarts teachers had attended this year, Hermione realized. Even several Order members hadn't made it this year; Neville and Luna were in Japan and Mundungus Fletcher had been caught selling flying carpets and was currently serving a month sentence in Azkaban. However, Harry, Ginny and their three children were there and Hermione was startled when she noticed a small bump on Ginny's stomach.
"Hermione!" Ginny ran up and gave her a quick, enthusiastic hug.
Ginny?" she questioned. "Are you …"
"Pregnant, again?" finished Ginny. "Yes, I am."
"Hello, Hermione," said Harry coming up behind his wife. "I assume Ginny told you the news."
"She did," confirmed Hermione. "So, are you two trying to have a Potter Quidditch team?"
Harry grinned. "I keep trying to convince Ginny that it's a brilliant idea but for some reason, she thinks four children is enough."
"Four Potters are more than enough," said Ginny dryly. "With 13 Weasley children running around, there are already enough children for two Quidditch teams."
They continued to banter until the service began. Not only were fewer people coming, it was shorter this year as well, Hermione noted. The first year there had been speeches by the Minister and several prominent witches and wizards. This year, there was only a brief speech by McGonagall and a moment of silence before everyone headed back to the castle for dinner. Several of the visitors left socks on the top of the tomb, an action that had always puzzled Hermione. By the time the visitors had left it was midnight, though McGonagall, Flitwick and Sprout were still talking.
Dumbledore's obsession with socks had always confused her. After seeing the sock exchange between Snape and Dumbledore at Christmas, Hermione was more curious than ever. "Minerva, why do so many people leave socks on the headmaster's tomb every year?" she asked. "Harry told me once that the headmaster loved socks but it's something I never understood."
McGonagall smiled softly. "I don't think many people understood. Even most of those who leave socks don't know the true story."
"How did it start?" asked Hermione.
"It started …" McGonagall paused for a moment before she continued. "Well, it started with Severus, actually."
"Him?" Hermione couldn't keep the surprise out of her voice.
"Him," confirmed McGonagall. "The first few years after he started teaching here, Severus was … distant. Unfriendly. Mistrustful. He had reason to be, I suppose," she sighed. "I don't think any of us realized how difficult his home and school life had been and misjudged him. Albus felt particularly responsible. He was always trying to get Severus to have fun, socialize and trust. It took years but Albus was a patient man. On Christmas day during Severus' fifth year here, Albus told me that Severus had given him a Christmas gift. The socks were hideously ugly – purple and blue plaid with a bright red blinking heart on the front – but Albus was ecstatic." McGonagall smiled at the memory. "The next year Albus sent Severus a pair of silver socks decorated with jumping pink rabbits. After that, it became a contest to see who could find the ugliest, most absurd socks. It was one of the few times I saw Severus smile."
"Ah," said Hermione, the exchange she'd seen at Christmas suddenly making sense. Harry was wrong, she realized. When Harry had said it had been easy for Snape to kill Dumbledore, she had believed him.
What Hermione had seen, however, had been an unexpected level of devotion. To kill Dumbledore, she realized, must have been far more difficult than she or Harry had imagined.
Hogwarts was mostly deserted during the summer. Other than Hagrid, Filch and McGonagall, the other teachers were free to come and go as they pleased. Hermione usually took the opportunity to catch up on her reading, visit family and friends and work on a research project with Professor Vector. Every year, she also attended Harry's birthday party.
Since Harry had defeated Voldemort on his 18th birthday, the Ministry sanctioned victory party was held on July 31st. However, Ginny always made sure that family and friends had a separate party, knowing that Harry would far rather celebrate his birthday than the day Voldemort had been defeated.
Harry's birthday party had been fun, although the combined forces of the Weasley and Potter children always left Hermione with a greater appreciation for the quiet Hogwarts summers. It was dark by the time she returned; so dark she heard the argument before she could see it.
"It takes thirty-two hours to make wound-cleaning potion and you're giving me one galleon!" Hermione winced as she heard the anger in Snape's voice. Deciding to wait until the argument was over before she returned to the castle, Hermione continued to listen. "You offered four."
"I'll give you four galleons, if you have the other potions as well," said an unidentified female voice.
"Five galleons for potions I could sell for five hundred?"
"Who else would buy them from you?" The scorn was evident in her voice. "Five galleons are all you're going to get. Take it or leave it."
"Fine," snapped Snape. "Take them and leave." He thrust a basket into her hands.
"Here's the list for next week," she said. "Send me an owl with the ingredients you require. The pay will be the same."
Snape grabbed the list and walked towards the castle without responding. As the woman left, Hermione recognized her as the shop assistant at the apothecary in Hogsmeade.
Hermione waited a few minutes to ensure Snape was inside before she started towards the castle. Hermione couldn't understand why Snape was making potions for the Hogsmeade apothecary, nor why he had accepted such a paltry sum. While no teacher was rich, even the lowest pay offered was adequate. Why was he allowing himself to be demeaned?
Hermione was not snooping, she told herself. Just because she was looking for Severus Snape's personnel file didn't mean she was snooping. Teacher pay authorizations were due in a week and Professor McGonagall was on vacation. Hermione's position as Deputy Headmistress allowed her to sign Gringotts bank authorizations in McGonagall's absence. She needed to look through the personnel files in order to discover how much to authorize them for. Even though McGonagall would be back tomorrow, Hermione was saving her work.
Even though her curiosity about Snape's apparently desperate need for money was overwhelming, Hermione Was. Not. Snooping. If helping the headmistress just happened to satisfy her curiosity, so be it.
"Finally," Hermione muttered to herself, as she found a thick folder labeled S. Snape. She quickly sorted through the file, noting with amusement the stacks of complaints from parents, students and staff. Finding the salary information, she began reading.
By the time she reached the end, she had an answer to the reason why Snape was so desperate for money. Unfortunately, the answer only led to more questions. Before Dumbledore's death, Snape had received an excellent salary. His normal salary had steadily increased each year. He also received an extra stipend for being Head of Slytherin and for supplying the infirmary with potions.
After Snape's time in Azkaban, everything had changed. His pay had been reduced to that of a first year teacher – 153 galleons, adequate for a job which included room and board, though not particularly well-paying. However, in the past nine years, Snape had not received a single raise, unsurprising given people's opinion of him. What was surprising was the note in the folder stating: I, Severus Snape, authorize Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to deposit 150 galleons per month in my name into account 51 with the Ministry of Magic.
Hermione tried to imagine living on 3 galleons a month. Even though room and board were supplied, teachers had to buy their own toiletries and clothing. Even the simplest robes cost 10 galleons. A Muggle seamstress would undoubtedly charge more. Books and firewhiskey must be rare treats, she realized.
That night, Hermione read the book Snape had given her for Christmas for the first time.
Hermione nervously knocked on the door to Malfoy Manor. While she and Draco had developed a tentative friendship during the last months of the war, she wasn't sure how he would react to her question. In fact, she wasn't even sure how to phrase the question without seeming nosy.
"Hermione?" Draco opened the door and stared at her in surprise. "What are you doing here?"
"I need to ask you a question and I'm not sure how to ask you about it." Hermione bit her lip and looked at him in trepidation.
"Okay," said Draco slowly. "Come in, I guess." He called a house-elf to take Hermione's coat and ushered her into his library.
Hermione had been in Draco's house only once before and as she'd been searching for a Horcrux at the time, she had paid little attention to the library. While the sight of the books distracted her briefly, she was too stressed to pay much attention to them.
"So, what do you need to ask?" said Draco.
"What were the terms of Snape's release from Azkaban?" Hermione blurted out.
"And why do you want to know that," said Draco softly, dangerously.
"I don't know!" said Hermione. "That's the problem. I saw something last Christmas and I've learned things about Snape since then and I just don't understand what's going on. I know it's none of my business but for some reason, I need to know."
Draco gave her a piercing look and Hermione suddenly wondered if he knew Legilimency. If he did, she knew the confusion boiling at the top of her mind would convince him she was telling him the truth, though that still might not convince him to tell her what she needed to know.
Legilimency or not, whatever Draco saw in her eyes was enough to convince him, and he relaxed in his chair. "I must admit, I'm surprised you even care," he said.
"So am I," admitted Hermione. "I just know it feels like more than simple curiosity."
"Obviously, you know about his six month sentence in Azkaban," said Draco. "What else do you know?"
"His magic is restricted outside of Hogwarts and he's required to have an Auror with him whenever he leaves," said Hermione. "Also, they've placed strict restrictions on what he's allowed to do at Hogwarts. He can't make potions for students, personally oversee detentions or take points."
"I only know of one other thing," said Hermione. "For some reason, he's been paying the Ministry 150 galleons of his salary every month."
"Do you know anything about my sentence?" Draco asked abruptly.
"Nothing, actually," said Hermione. "You didn't go to Azkaban and your lifestyle didn't change. I actually didn't even know they'd given you a sentence."
"The Wizengamot generously decided to fine me 100 million galleons in lieu of time in Azkaban," said Draco. "Oh, they didn't actually expect me to pay it," he assured Hermione when he saw her look of astonishment. "My family is rich but not that rich. When they imposed the fine, they chose such an absurdly large sum of money that it would be impossible for me to pay, even if I emptied the family vault and sold Malfoy Manor along with everything I own."
"Severus, however, was not that lucky," continued Draco, who stood up and began to pace. "He was fined 55,000 galleons. It's a sum small enough that they expect him to pay it but so large that it should take most of his life to do so. I owe him a life debt; my mother owes him a life debt. I offered to pay it for him and the stupid, stubborn bastard refused! Instead he sold the dumpy Muggle house he owned and has been paying the Ministry back ever since. He won't even let me give him a decent Christmas present."
"So that's the story," said Draco, sitting back down. "Does that help?"
"Yes, I think it does," said Hermione slowly. "In fact," she continued after a moment, "I think it tells me more about Severus Snape than I ever knew before."
"All it tells me is that he's too proud to accept help, the obstinate idiot," said Draco.
"You really don't understand, do you?" Hermione looked at Draco wonderingly. "You can't pay his debts for him, Draco."
Hermione grimaced as she looked at the note in her hand. She hated assigning detentions and she hated assigning detentions for other teachers even more. Worst of all were the detentions that she and the other teachers were forced to supervise for Snape, who was no longer allowed to oversee detentions. Snape seemed to be giving detentions with even greater frequency than he had when she had been a student. Even though his detentions were split between all teachers and the Headmistress, it was her turn at least every other week. Staring at the mountain of ungraded Transfiguration essays on her desk, she decided to have them write lines again. However, as she approached her office that evening, her plans underwent a sudden change.
"Don't worry, Hestia," said a voice Hermione quickly identified as Diana Perkins, second-year Gryffindor. "All we'll have to do is write lines, or something like that."
"But Diana," said Hestia Yaxley, another second-year Gryffindor. "The last time I had a detention with Professor Granger, she made me clean the Owlery. It was awful!"
"That was a detention she gave, right?" asked Diana.
"Then that's completely different," said Diana. "This is his detention. None of the teachers takes the detentions he assigns seriously. The last time I had one of his detentions with Professor Flitwick, I had to teach him how to whistle. Professor Granger usually has us write lines or do nothing."
"That doesn't sound too bad," said Hestia cautiously.
"It's a bit boring but nothing horrible. Trust me, jinxing Burke was worth it."
Hestia giggled. "It was funny. I may have exploded a few cauldrons but at least I've never covered the entire class in boils. The expression on his face after his fingers disappeared and the porcupine quills dropped into the cauldron was one of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen." She sighed blissfully. "He'll never tease me again."
"And we didn't even lose any points for it."
Diana sounded positively gleeful, Hermione realized. She was also absolutely right. None of the teachers were particularly hard on the students during his detentions. Remembering her own school years, Hermione had always assumed that the detentions were unjustified. After overhearing their conversation, Hermione had a sinking feeling that she had been wrong. Not only was Claudius Burke's crush on Hestia Yaxley well known, casting spells in a Potions classroom was incredibly dangerous. It was obvious to her that Hestia and Diana had planned on humiliating Burke in the most public way possible without thinking of his feelings or the danger involved.
Making an impulsive decision, Hermione walked around the corner. "Miss Yaxley, Miss Perkins, follow me." Hermione led them down to the dungeon and knocked on the Potions classroom door.
"What?" Snape answered the door, looking hot, flushed and obviously angry.
"Good evening," said Hermione, taking an instinctive step back. "I understand you gave Miss Yaxley and Miss Perkins detention today." Snape was still looking annoyed while Hestia and Diana were looking confused, Hermione noted. "What punishment would you like to assign them for detention? I can grade essays in the Potions classroom just as well as I can in the Transfiguration classroom."
Snape looked faintly surprised but stepped back from the classroom door. "Miss Perkins. Miss Yaxley." He smiled unpleasantly and both students looked distinctly nervous. "I believe there are some cauldrons in dire need of scrubbing. When you're done with those, you can repair the damage you caused to the classroom." They nodded glumly and began to scrub while Snape began to methodically prepare ingredients.
Hermione walked into the classroom and sat at one of the few clean worktables. The classroom was a mess. She'd never seen the room look this bad, even after Neville's most disastrous explosions. The faint feeling of guilt she'd been feeling intensified. The detention had been deserved; there was no doubt about that.
By the time the cauldrons were scrubbed and the classroom was clean, it was curfew and Snape was still preparing ingredients. As Hermione walked the students to Gryffindor Tower, she couldn't help but wonder how long it would have taken Snape to finish without the students' help. Most of the night, she imagined. How many nights had he spent cleaning his classroom, she wondered. Quite a few, she suspected. It bothered her, though she wasn't sure why. By the end of the week, she had decided that she needed to bring the subject up in the weekly Head of House meeting.
"Is there anything else?" asked Headmistress McGonagall.
"Actually," said Hermione slowly, "I have one more thing I think we need to discuss." As the others listened, she repeated the conversation she had overheard. Professor Sprout looked faintly embarrassed when she mentioned Diana's reaction to her detention assignments and Professor Flitwick looked positively mortified.
When she had finished, the headmistress sighed. "I had heard rumors that Potions was becoming a bit rowdy but since he never complained, I didn't take them too seriously."
"Someone could have been seriously hurt," said Hermione. "It seems obvious to me that the students no longer respect his authority. Since he can no longer take points or personally oversee detentions, his authority is limited."
"But what can we do?" said Professor Sprout. "His contract was stipulated by the Ministry."
"We could ask the Ministry to restore his ability to take points," suggested Professor Sinistra.
"That's not a good idea," objected Professor Flitwick. "The second he starts taking points, parents will start sending us Howlers."
"I have a different suggestion," said Hermione. "Instead of asking the Ministry to allow changes to his contract, which would be highly unlikely, there's a simpler solution. He assigns the detentions; we oversee them."
"Won't that take too much of our time?" said Professor Sprout. "He assigns so many detentions that it's hard to keep up with grading."
"If Professor Granger's theory is correct," said McGonagall thoughtfully, "once he starts assigning punishments, the number of detentions will decline and we won't have as many of his detentions to oversee."
"We could also combine personal detentions with his detentions," added Hermione. "His detentions always were horrible."
"It's the best idea so far," said the headmistress. "We'll give it a month's trial and see if it's working. Potions is a dangerous class and we can't risk the students getting out of control."
Although some teachers grumbled and the students were horrified, Hermione's plan was a success. Detentions decreased dramatically. Hermione was surprised when she realized she didn't feel guilty for making Snape's life easier.
Hermione left Flourish & Blotts reluctantly. She rarely got the chance to go to Diagon Alley during the school year. The bookstore in Hogsmeade only had a limited stock of books and catered to student tastes more than adult tastes. Ordering books via owl-mail wasn't the same, though she always enjoyed getting the packages. As she stepped outside, she noticed Snape and Tonks heading towards the bookstore. Deliberately, Hermione walked towards them.
"Professor Snape." She nodded her head in greeting as she walked by.
There was a brief pause before he replied. "Professor Granger."
She had been greeting him for the last month, though this was the first time she had done so in public. Smiling, she decided to visit A Novel Idea, Diagon Alley's best used bookstore.
"Professor Granger!" Marcus Alderton, the proprietor greeted her enthusiastically when she came in. "A book just came in that I think you'll love. I can even give you a good deal on it, since I was able to buy it at a bargain price."
"What book?" Hermione asked.
"Transforming Arithmancy," he replied. "First edition."
"Really?" Hermione was delighted. She'd been looking for a copy for several years and had almost given up hope of ever finding it. "How much?"
"Fifty galleons? The copy I saw when I was a student was priced at one hundred." Hermione looked at him suspiciously. "Is the condition good?"
"There's some writing in it," said Alderton, "but otherwise it's in excellent condition. As I said, I got an excellent deal on it." He smiled grimly.
The smile gave Hermione an unpleasant sensation; she had a feeling she knew who he'd bought the book from. "Can I take a look at it?"
"Of course." Alderton handed her the book.
As she looked through the book, her suspicious were confirmed. She'd seen that handwriting in Harry's sixth-year Potions textbook. Alderton had bought the book she coveted from Severus Snape for a ridiculously low price, taking a vindictive pleasure in doing so. Snape had gone to Flourish and Blotts after selling books. He only left the castle three times a year. It was late November. Hermione had a feeling she knew what he was doing with the money and she didn't like it. "I'll take it," she said firmly.
For the first time, Hermione realized she no longer hated Professor Snape.
December 25, 2007
Hermione stood in the snow at the edge of the Forbidden Forest, nervously clutching the gift in her hands. She knew she should give him privacy and follow tradition but letting the house elves deliver her gift on Christmas morning seemed oddly impersonal. Still, she hated to interrupt what was obviously a private tradition.
"Merry Christmas, Albus." Snape lifted a tumbler of firewhisky in a toast and took a sip.
Hermione shifted uncomfortably, knowing that she had to make her decision soon. If the scene she had witnessed last year was any indication, Snape would shortly be drunk and in no condition to understand or accept her gift.
"It's been ten years, Albus," said Snape, sitting down by the side of the fire. "Not much has changed. The Ministry is still incompetent, students are still dunderheads and the magical world still despises me."
Hermione bit her lip and made up her mind. She would deliver the gift tomorrow and leave him his privacy. As she turned around to leave, Snape stood up abruptly.
"Who's there?" he hissed, drawing his wand.
Hermione winced and took off the invisibility charm. "It's just me, Professor Snape. I was just taking a walk," said Hermione lamely.
"Professor Granger," Snape said. "It's 2 AM. It's cold. There's a foot of snow on the ground. Even if you were having trouble sleeping, it's hardly likely that you'd be walking outside and if you did, the Forbidden Forest is a highly unlikely place to walk. You're a terrible liar." Snape stalked forward, wand still in his hand. "Why are you here, Professor Granger?" he hissed softly.
Hermione opened her mouth to respond, but no words came out.
"Let me guess," he said in an almost conversational tone. "After returning home from Christmas with the Potter's, you saw me walking towards the forest. Obviously, I had evil intentions, so being the Gryffindor that you are, you decided to follow me. Even when it became apparent that I was doing nothing wrong, you decided to stay." He moved forward again and Hermione stepped back instinctively, realizing too late that she had backed into a tree. "So, what do you plan to do now? Tell the Aurors, so that they can fine me for leaving Hogwarts without permission? Tell the students, so they can mock me behind my back? Tell the headmistress, so she can ward the grave against me? Tell Potter, so the two of you can laugh at my expense?" His voice became louder with each question and the last line was almost a shout.
"That's not it," said Hermione, breaking the silence that followed.
"No?" said Snape, skeptically. "Then let me repeat my first question. Why are you here, Professor Granger?"
Hermione looked down at the package in her hands, then stepped forward impulsively. Standing on her toes, she kissed his cheek quickly. "Merry Christmas, Professor Snape," she said, placing the package in his hands. She blushed when she saw the astonished look on his face and quickly began walking back towards Hogwarts.
For several minutes, Snape stood in silence, watching her until she was out of sight. Then, he slowly unwrapped the package in his hands. He tossed the box and wrapping paper into the fire and stared at the socks in his hands thoughtfully. "Perhaps you were right, Albus," he said quietly.
The next day, Professor Severus Snape attended his first meal in the Great Hall in ten years.
Author's Note: This story was written for selened during the 2007 summer sshgexchange using the following prompt: Severus has regrets. Is it too late to put things right?
Thanks to Rap for putting up with a lot of pestering from me during the writing process. Also, thanks to Shiv for Brit-picking for a complete stranger. The title is from the Lord's Prayer, found in Matthew 6:12. A Novel Idea is a real bookstore. In my opinion, it really is the world's best used bookstore. Unlike most used bookstores, I can find something to buy every single time I go there. If you ever happen to be in the Lincoln, Nebraska area, I highly reccomend it. I hope Cinnamon doesn't mind me stealing the name of her store (and they treat their customers far better than Marcus Alderton treated Snape.