POST TENEBRAS, LUX (After Darkness, Light.)
Obligatory Disclaimer: If I owned any of them, believe me, things would have ended rather differently. I'm just borrowing them for a while; sadly, I have to give them back eventually.
Warnings: Eventual SS/HG romance, eventual M rating, eventual lemons. Don't like, don't read. But the key word is 'eventual' - this is a long story. Around 300,000 words long, in fact.
Author's Notes: This story begins ten years after the end of Deathly Hallows. It is fully canon compliant except for Snape's death and most of the Epilogue-That-Must-Not-Be-Acknowledged. Chapter lengths will vary; I write novel-style so parts don't always break down easily into separate chapters. I will be updating around once a week, but not on a set day - every time I have tried to commit to a regular update schedule, something has gone wrong and stopped it. Instead my updates are determined by my mood, my review count, and certain friends prodding me - you guys know who you are! See, I told you I'd start this before Christmas, didn't I? I will respond to every signed review. Criticism is accepted if it's constructive. I hope you enjoy.
"Serendipity is the gift of finding things we did not know we were looking for."
– Glauco Ortolano
Waterloo Station during rush hour was always total and utter chaos. Really, Hermione thought as she dodged through the crowds, she was a fool to be here. It wasn't as if she even needed to use Muggle transport anyway, and given that it was the summer holidays there was no reason for her to be travelling at all. Threading her way through the hordes gathered beneath the big screens showing the arrivals and departures, she wasn't paying any attention to her surroundings, focusing entirely on getting out of the station and finding a cup of coffee that wouldn't cost the earth; as a result of this inattention, she walked straight into someone as she rounded the corner of a newspaper kiosk.
The man she'd just collided with hissed sharply, jerking back to try and avoid spilling his own coffee. She looked up and her apology died on her lips, unspoken, as she saw his face; scowling, he looked down at her, and his snarled injunction to watch where she was going cut off mid-syllable. The two of them stared at one another in stunned silence as her mind scrambled to try and make sense of what she was seeing; it felt as if the world had tilted on its axis.
She had never had much luck interpreting the emotions in those dark eyes, save for icy anger, contemptuous disdain or malicious amusement, but now she read an instant of pure shock, followed rapidly by dismay that faded equally rapidly into resigned weariness. She took a moment to look up at him, struggling to take in what had just happened. In some ways he looked the same as he had the last time she had seen him, in other ways far different.
That distinctive hooked nose was still more or less the same, although its line was slightly distorted from what looked like an old break, but other features had changed. Ever the dentist's daughter, she noticed that he had apparently finally attempted to fix his teeth, which were no longer yellowed although still somewhat crooked. The greasy hair that had practically been his trademark was certainly cleaner now, although it still hung in slightly lank curtains around his face; there was a thin streak of white above his left eye and the end of a scar showed at his hairline. One or two grey hairs wound through the black, but not many. His skin was still pale but not quite as sallow as she remembered; bereft of his robes, she saw how thin he was. His face looked gaunt, and the shadows beneath his eyes were deep. He looked... tired.
He was dressed in Muggle clothing, and unlike many wizards actually looked at home in it. His jeans were worn, faded, fraying around the bottoms and with a hole in one knee; he wore black boots and a black t-shirt spattered with what looked like paint. Not what she would have expected to see. There was an elastic sports bandage on his left arm, extending from beneath his sleeve over his elbow and half way to his wrist. As her eyes travelled to his face once more, she saw the two faded, jagged scars on his throat; she had been there when he received those wounds. It really was him.
Now I've really lost it. I'm starting to hallucinate. Snape is dead. She should know; she had watched him die, almost ten years ago now. Yet the resemblance was uncanny – oh, there were new scars, and he looked older, but whoever the man was he looked very much as she would imagine Severus Snape to appear had he survived. And it was uncomfortably true that his body had never been recovered. By the time it had occurred to anyone to retrieve him from the Shack – to their collective shame, that hadn't been until almost a day after the battle had ended – there was nothing there but a large bloodstain and the fragments of his broken wand.
There had been searches over the years, she remembered as she stared at the man. Mostly out of guilt, as the Order slowly began to realise just how much the world owed him. No trace had ever been found, and they had finally given up. Surely nobody could remain hidden for a decade when half the wizarding world were searching – it had attracted more media coverage than Elvis sightings – yet she found herself wondering how well a professional spy could hide himself, if he truly did not wish to be found.
"Enjoying the view?" he asked quietly, without any real emotion behind the words. The voice was almost exactly the same as she remembered, the same cool silken drawl, perhaps slightly quieter and with a faintly husky quality, and without the note of hostility she associated with him.
Shaking her head in disbelief, Hermione stared at him. "It really is you, isn't it?" she marvelled softly. "You're really here."
"Unless I am having a nightmare," he replied sarcastically, "and whilst that is hardly a rare occurrence, I highly doubt that I have started to dream about you, Miss Granger. I haven't quite lost my mind yet."
Well, that was the Snape she remembered. "I'm surely allowed to be a little shocked," she retorted. "Until two minutes ago I thought you were dead." There were so many questions buzzing through her mind that she herself had no idea which one would make it out first when she spoke again. "What are you doing here?"
He tilted his head slightly, eyes narrowing, then looked around the crowded station and gestured vaguely with a long-fingered hand. "Look around. Do you think any of these people have noticed us? Do you think any of them are thinking of anything beyond their next destination?"
That wasn't exactly what she had been asking, but she could see his point. There was something anonymous about being in the midst of a crowd. Following the gesture of his hand, she looked around them, and saw him move out of the corner of her eye; stiffening, she spun back to face him, and he rolled his eyes. "Don't be foolish. I am hardly going to draw my wand and hex you in the middle of Waterloo. Besides, if I intended to harm you I would have done so immediately I recognised you, while you were still gaping like a fish."
"You were as surprised as I was," she snapped, stung. He didn't reply; instead he turned abruptly and began walking away through the crowd. Taken by surprise, she was frozen for a moment before scrambling to follow him; as she caught up with his long strides, she noticed that he was limping. "Wait!"
"Whatever for?" he asked in a bored tone.
"I want to talk to you."
"And what on earth makes you suppose that I would want to talk to you?" he asked, turning to face her. "In fact, I –" His eyes tracked to something over her shoulder and narrowed as he stopped talking abruptly; turning to see what he was looking at, she caught movement and looked back in time to see him disappearing into the crowd.
I can't believe I just fell for that, she told herself in disgust, knowing that there was absolutely no point in following him and yet doing so anyway. He was closer to the exit than she was; he'd find somewhere out of sight and Disapparate. She'd never catch him. Still utterly stunned by what had happened, she pushed through the crowd in the direction he had gone, trying to wrap her mind around this. After all this time... Snape's alive.
Despite her best efforts, she lost him in the crowds of rush hour in London, and finally abandoned the attempt and headed for home in an extremely thoughtful frame of mind. One thing was certain; if Snape was out in public in London, then it was a very long way from wherever he was actually living. If he hadn't been found in over nine years, it was because he didn't want to be. And she could hardly blame him; after Voldemort, he was almost certainly the most hated wizard in the world. It wasn't fair, she knew that now, but until seeing the contents of the memories he had given Harry for herself she had hated him as much as anyone.
Very few people had seen those memories, in the end. Harry had insisted on that. Privacy seemed the least they could do for the man now – although admittedly Harry had blurted out the biggest secret in front of the entire battlefield; fortunately the wizarding public as a whole still didn't know. Less than a dozen people had seen any of the memories; Hermione was one of the very few who had seen them all. They had cleared his name as best they could, declaring that they had evidence proving that Snape had been on their side after all and publishing a transcript of the conversation when Albus had requested that Snape be the one to kill him and explained why, but the loss of Dumbledore and the horrors that had been perpetuated at Hogwarts during the final year of the war had left scars too deep to heal. As far as most of the wizarding world was concerned, Snape was a villain whose death had been too easy.
The surviving members of the Order saw things differently now. As Headmistress, McGonagall had spent long hours conferring with Dumbledore's portrait and those of the other former leaders of Hogwarts; they had confirmed everything, and slowly the Order had realised just how much they owed the man they had all hated for so many years. Without him, it was certain that they would have lost. In the course of those discussions, more had been revealed than any of them had ever wanted to know about just what he had endured for them – "and I was certainly not privy to the worst of it," Albus had said sadly. "He would never talk about it and never once asked for help."
Thinking of the portraits brought Hermione's mind back to that very subject. Whatever the circumstances, Snape had legitimately been Headmaster for a year, recognised by Hogwarts itself. Unlike Umbridge, who had found certain areas sealed to her, the castle had acknowledged Snape as its master. If he had been killed in the Shack, he would have died in office, and his portrait would surely have appeared in the office with the others. Albus had refused to either confirm or deny this theory, probably because he genuinely didn't know rather than out of contrariness, and in the end they had stopped dwelling on it. Stopped searching. They had given up on him – again.
They had only been searching out of guilt anyway, she acknowledged to herself over the next few days. It had been almost with relief that they had reached the decision to abandon the search. None of them had really wanted to find him. What would they have said? "Oops, sorry"? No, perhaps it was better that he remain dead.
And now she had seen him, alive and – certainly not well, but as well as could be expected in the circumstances. The question was what should she do about it? If she could persuade anyone that she wasn't crazy and that it had been a legitimate sighting, what then? It was very doubtful that the Ministry would find him. They were more efficient now than they had been before the war, but not by much, certainly not enough to track down a spy who had spent most of his life learning how to hide. Searching privately was unlikely to be any more successful. He simply didn't want to be found.
Or did he? I'm hardly qualified to know what he might be thinking. I don't think anyone ever has. That was a problem. If he didn't want to be found, surely it would be kinder to respect his wishes and leave him to whatever life he had carved out for himself. But he deserved so much better than that. In the end, Hermione decided, she would try to find him on her own, in her own time. If she succeeded, then she would worry about what to do with the knowledge.
"Harry, it's me."
"Hello, Hermione! What's up?"
"Listen, I need a favour. It's going to sound a little strange, though."
"I need a copy of everything the Ministry has on Snape."
"You won't believe me."
"Well... I think he's still alive. I want to try and find him."
There was a long silence. "Hermione..."
"I know it sounds insane. I know it's probably impossible, after all this time. That's why I'm not making this official. This is just something for me to do to pass the time until term starts again – call it a pet project if you like. Please, Harry."
"You really think he's alive?"
"I'm positive. I'm not sure I can find him, but I think it's worth trying. Will you help?"
"You know I will. I'll send it over as soon as I can. Let me know if you find anything."
"I will. Thanks, Harry. Don't tell anyone else yet, though, please? I'm probably wrong about this."
"Okay. Good luck."
"Thanks. I think I'm going to need it."
Where should she start her search? At least she knew he was in Britain still, or had been. Thinking like that was counterproductive; if she had to search further than Britain's borders, she would never find him. It wouldn't be anywhere in London, and nowhere with even a small wizarding presence. He probably wouldn't be in any of the larger settlements, although she couldn't be absolutely sure – she couldn't be sure of anything, really, not where this man was concerned.
She spent the next few days reviewing what was known about him – which wasn't much – and recalling what she had personally observed over the years – which was even less. He was the most secretive man she had ever encountered; she had learned more about him in ten minutes of staring into a Pensieve than she had learned in seven years of knowing him. If he had had any ties to his former home in Spinner's End, they would do him no good; when the Ministry had checked the address a few weeks after the war ended, it had been burned to the ground. It couldn't be proved, but the general consensus had been that it was unlikely to have been Snape who had done it. His colleagues had agreed that it was too dramatic, too obvious.
It seemed likely that he was living as a Muggle. He had been wearing Muggle clothing when she saw him, and clearly hadn't had access to a Healer since the end of the war. To live in the Muggle world, he would need identification, a false name perhaps. That gave her an advantage over anyone else who might be looking; as a Muggle-born, she had a better idea of how to look for him, and she settled in front of her computer a week after that first sighting and connected to the Internet. No matter how good he was at hiding, she doubted he would know how to conceal himself electronically.
Unsurprisingly, there was no recent record of anyone named Severus Snape. Hermione had known that, but thought it worth checking anyway. Searching for just Snape found several matches, including the record of his parents' deaths, but he would be using a different name. Thoughtfully tapping a finger on the keyboard, she stared blankly at the screen, thinking hard. Snape was a creature of habit, or at least he had been when she had known him, and she knew many people when creating an alias generally ended up with something connected to their true identity whether by accident or design. The Half-Blood Prince... She picked up her notes again, and ten minutes later ran a search for the name Tobias Prince.
It took her a week to systematically go through the addresses she had found. This was the last possibility on her list, and as she stared at the building she felt her heart sink. It seemed her guess had been wrong; she'd have to come up with another name to search for. This couldn't be it; wherever Severus Snape was hiding, it seemed very unlikely that it would be here. Although I suppose it would certainly be the last place anyone would look. She suppressed a smile; what had she been expecting, some crumbling Gothic mansion? Taking a breath, she walked into the lobby and approached the overweight, balding man behind the desk.
"Excuse me. I'm looking for Tobias Prince?"
He grunted. "Oh, him. He's parked other side of the site. Lot 57." Without taking his eyes from the newspaper, he handed her a grubby piece of paper that turned out to be a crude map of the caravan site. "He don't like people, if you're selling stuff or whatever."
"Has he been staying here long?"
"Couple of years, maybe. Van's his, he just pays rent for the ground. Don't see him around much." Pointedly turning the page of his paper, he made it clear that the conversation was over.
Hermione studied the crude map and followed the road through the site to a distant corner where a battered old caravan was parked, its generally shabby appearance in sharp contrast to the fairly well maintained site surrounding it. This was Snape's hideout? Lurking on the other side of the road under a Disillusion charm, she watched the van for some time. If this was where he was hiding, she was surprised that it wasn't hidden; there weren't even the most basic Muggle-repelling charms protecting it. This couldn't be right. She was about to give up when an equally battered-looking old jeep rumbled past her and pulled onto the patch of bare ground beside the van.
It was Snape. His limp seemed worse today as he got out of the car and locked the door, unlocked the caravan and went inside. She stayed where she was as darkness began to fall, armed with her old and now somewhat battered Omnioculars, and settled herself on the opposite side of the dirt road to watch the van intently.
Late in the evening, when she was half asleep and had almost convinced herself that this was a mistake, the side door opened and he stepped outside onto the folding steps and lit a cigarette. As far as she knew, Snape didn't smoke, but then again he could have been on fifty a day and she wouldn't necessarily have known. They had all spent so long discussing him and his past in such depth that she had to stop and remind herself that really, she knew virtually nothing about him, and she suspected that nobody had ever really known the real Snape.
Lifting the Omnioculars, she pressed the button for the night vision mode and focused on him, and felt her breath catch. He was wearing a plain grey T-shirt; the neck was low enough that she could see the two ragged scars on his throat, clearly visible against his pale skin. As if that wasn't enough confirmation, the short sleeves showed his arms, and as he lifted the cigarette to his lips she focused on the inside of his left forearm. The Dark Mark too had faded with the years, but it was still faintly visible.
The Hermione that he had once called an insufferable know-it-all would have charged up to the door instantly to speak with him. She was older now, and hopefully wiser, and chose to walk away instead. That was the deal she had made with herself; find him first, then work out what to do with the knowledge. Inside, her thoughts were in turmoil; I've found Severus Snape.
And so it begins... A happy Christmas to all of you, or other winter festival of your choice.