Hogwarts Chronicles (or "How We Won the War")
Standard Disclaimer applies - it's all JKR's.
Many thanks to my wonderful friend whitehound, who edited this story with patience, care and affection as ever.
After nearly a year of constant flight and fight during which she and the boys had barely saved their own skin, Hermione Granger had thought that once she would be back at Hogwarts to complete her studies, even the most soporific of Binns's lessons would be a welcome change.
After a month spent listening to the new DADA Professor's tedious lectures, however, she was beginning to regret her decision to come back to the school. At this point, really, she could nearly understand why her two best friends had decided otherwise.
Looking at the weird old wizard who was asking the class the easiest of questions about Hex-Deflection, she wondered for the umpteenth time about that particular course.
Harry and Ron had always maintained that the curse on the DADA position had ended after Voldemort's final demise, and they had probably been right. She wasn't sure that this outcome was the relief that it should have been, though: if this helpless professor was going to keep his teaching post for more than a year, for sure a whole generation would be utterly spoiled by his incompetence.
As the minutes passed, slowly, her mood became more and more sour. Then, unexpectedly, a slip of paper glided onto her desk. Despite sporting a false appearance of interest in the teacher, Draco Malfoy had been aware of her attitude for some time, and now he had thrown the young witch a moving picture. It wasn't the first time in which he had attempted some such cheerfulness to enliven her temper, so she appreciated his joke and smiled at him.
Unbelievable as it might seem, a short way into this last school year Hermione had found that he, of all people, was actually the person with whom she felt most at ease, without embarrassment, without having to wear any kind of mask. With the exception of Luna, and Ginny who had heard about it from the boys, no-one but Draco had any idea of what she had gone through at Malfoy manor even if, when they had met for the first time once more on school ground, nobody could have anticipated the understanding that gradually followed.
It must be added that Ginny had never been her confidante, it had rather been the other way round and that reliance on Hermione's advice had also lessened during their last few school years… whereas Luna, well, she was Luna, and albeit that she was sweet and sometimes very insightful in her comments, she wasn't Hermione's confidante either. Separated from her formerly closest school-friends as she now was, Hermione had discovered quite how lonely she was.
Then there had been the quite morbid interest of the youngest students, and it had annoyed her to the point that, after a while, she had felt driven to share Malfoy's distance from everyone.
Given the awful curriculum in force under the Carrows' tenure, when the school had reopened many students had been sent to re-take their seventh year, and Draco Malfoy had been one of them. Draco's parents, however, in their anxiety to distance their son from the troubled times they knew the family to be facing, hadn't considered how the rumours about his affiliation to the Dark Lord and the memories of his actions during his sixth year would make his stay at Hogwarts miserable. In spite of everything in their past Hermione had never been able to witness misery and do nothing, no matter how well concealed it was behind challenging defiance. And, after a while, she had found an ally in him.
Looking at the magic sketch in front of her - in which her windswept hair, like a mane, made her resemble a lioness roaring at the trembling old teacher, now reduced to a tiny little figure – even before seeing the words appearing and disappearing intermittently: "Come on Granger, you'd make mincemeat of somebody of his standard!", Hermione smiled again and a mischievous idea, a project, grew in her mind.
After all those months spent in the dull atmosphere of St. Mungo's, while slowly recovering from his near death experience, even the prospect of returning to Hogwarts had seemed to Severus Snape appealing, for a change.
After a week in the school, however, re-established in his quarters and back in his old routine, he was already regretting his decision.
A very contrite Minerva McGonagall, who had visited him as soon as he had been able to meet people, and had gone on with regular calls for some time, had been the at the root of his present situation, he recalled, losing himself in memories before deciding if it was time to go and tell her a thing or two.
"Look, Severus, I wouldn't ask this of you, not after everything you have endured in that place… but I can't think of a better option…"
He had felt slightly pleased hearing his former colleague present such praise, rather than putting him and his teaching methods on the lowest scale of teaching models. It had been… flattering, yes, even if not to the point of rushing to an immediate decision, of course.
So that day the old witch had had to content herself with the fact that her offer had not yet met with an utter, irremovable rejection. But Snape, later, had continued to muse on the proposal, and on the news.
In spite of all the massacre and debris it seemed that the school had been restored in time to re-open on the same date as in any other year: to have the place functioning once more had been one of the first goals of the new Minister, and a great deal of magic had been used to return the building to its ancient glory.
Given Minerva's report, however, it was evident that the same care hadn't been put into filling the vacant posts with capable teachers. If what they had done for Muggle studies could be considered wise - it was no longer an optional course, and its hours had been increased - the same couldn't be said for the new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor: Snape had listened with amusement to Minerva's account of the wizard's exploits and understood that that course was still the most troublesome one.
"I don't know what went on in the Governors' minds, really!" had been the final comment by his outraged colleague.
"Perhaps they wanted to downgrade the subject, after recent events?" he had suggested, without making any effort to conceal his bitter tone. "Have they finally realised that they can no longer rely on boys and girls who are barely of age to give them victory in war?"
It seemed that, actually, this Obadiah What's-his-name, who had been hired to teach Defence, had been such a bore that students had started to hex each other under his nose, showing disrespect, provoking danger, until it had been necessary to suspend his lessons and to sack the wizard. It was imperative, thus, to find a replacement for the remainder of the term.
"Mmm... I suppose that something will have to be done or this year is going to exceed Lockhart's score for uselessness, isn't it?" he had commented, smirking.
"If you do decide to return, Severus, you'll see that there are also some improvements, among the changes. And I dare say that you won't dislike all of them" she had added with an amused glint in her eyes, ignoring his barb.
Then, just before leaving, and after having promised to come back soon, she had thrown her final blow.
"By the way, Draco Malfoy decided to attend, in spite of the fact that he was present almost the whole time during seventh year. Oh, and in case you are still bothered by that, Potter and Weasley are enjoying themselves out of school. Miss Granger is the only one who has come back to complete her studies."
"And what a surprise that is" he had muttered in answer, closing eyes that felt as tired as his mind after such a spread of novelties, and putting off any decision until the coming days.
And days of decisions and realizations they had been, as well as of comparisons and remembrances. Minerva's visits and her sincere show of affection and remorse had been a first, in his life, it being a fact that such care was a thing which he had never truly experienced before. Bitterness and pessimism had been his only companions throughout his life, and especially during those interminable seventeen years in which Snape had suffered the prolonged retribution that had started on the night in which, annihilated by his guilt, he had consigned all of himself to Dumbledore.
His sacrifice, then, when it had occurred, had been the last event in a doomed life where nobody had ever comforted him, shown him the good side of himself that he had learnt to conceal so well… Dumbledore's rare attempts to know his feelings, and his trust in his commitment, didn't count, always mingled with second plans or provocations as they had been… no, none of Severus's memories could attest to the simplest of care, by anybody, for his life, for his soul, for him.
He had isolated himself more and more, and his only way to relate to others had been characterized by sarcasm, harshness, seclusion… Until, when reprieve rather than retribution had been given to him, he had noticed that he no longer felt guilty to be alive, nor so sure as he had always been about what he deserved.
It had been a new sensation, then, to be considered, even missed maybe; and if ulterior motives, like the need for his abilities, had been behind Minerva's offer it didn't matter too much: she had been sincere in declaring her reasons and her first visits hadn't been related to such ulterior purposes. They had just been for friendship's sake. A few days after the Headmistress's proposition, thus, as soon as he had also realized that his schedule and his options for the future were blank, he had finally accepted her offer to go back to Hogwarts.
It was just a temporary supply post, mind, and he had no obligations, this time, so it could well be worth a try.
And thank Merlin for that temporariness, he thought, putting an end to his remembrances and entering the classroom with a sigh.
"And this is why this idea could work, Professor; it would be something very similar to what students do in Muggle schools. Also, it would have the side-effect of putting an end to all those speculations and silly theories that are circulating around," Hermione ended, looking with hopeful eyes at Andromeda Tonks, who had willingly accepted the task of teaching the controversial subject of Muggle Studies to all young witches and wizards.
Remembering that little speech Hermione smiled to herself, then addressed her Editorial Board, as she proudly called it. "Well, then, what's the summary for the next number?" she asked her assistant, Luna Lovegood, whose familiarity with the press had gained her this important position from the outset.
Listening to the list, which her friend was enunciating with her customary softness, Hermione intercepted Draco's smirk and silenced him with a mischievous glare.
HogwartsChronicles, the school magazine that they had been producing for two months, was published and distributed around the school every two weeks, and it was amazing to see how much interest and collaboration it had elicited. Each House had given its own peculiar contribution, and gossip columns by Slytherins, historical anecdotes by Hufflepuffs, photos or pictures by Gryffindors, riddles and games by Ravenclaws had been handed in to the editors in large quantities with every edition, so that they always had enough material for many issues to come.
What all the students eagerly waited to read, though, were the central pages, in which a comic strip told, chapter after chapter, the truth about Harry Potter's adventures, under the title HowWeWontheWar – a title which, by its reference to a Muggle black comedy, was already in itself a good hint at the way in which the events would be depicted.
The content of that page was a secret to everyone until the last moment, and only one other person besides Hermione knew of it before publication: the illustrator of the whole thing, Draco Malfoy, whose sarcasm and whose drawing skills had been the starting point of the whole idea. Hermione's writings wouldn't really have been the same without his magic pictures, which animated the tale in a teasing, intriguing way.
Even if all the students knew that those had been times of constant, impending danger, only a few of them knew the exact details of what had happened to the Trio during those seven fateful years; this was why, to the majority, it was so enthralling to know about the various stages or the absurd aspects of their adventures. They had avidly read the tale of three ickle-firsties thrown in front of a three-headed monster, laughed at the sight of Ron and Harry's escape from Acromantulas thanks to an old car so very handy in the Forest, and the oldest of them had finally understood why Granger's presence in several different places at once had made their heads spin at the sight during her third year…
When the meeting ended, and everyone had left with his assignment given, Hermione stayed alone, meditating. Next time she would have to write about the events of their fourth year.
She still didn't know what she could make of them.
She wanted to continue with her attempt to distract the readers from the most horrible sides of the story, showing the humorous aspects as a means to point to the fact that they had been so very young, and normal, just like those boys and girls now attending the school. But now she was at an impasse, and it couldn't have been otherwise, because that had been the year in which everything had changed, showing the deadly face of evil, and not just its moronic side.
And, she anticipated, things would worsen as the tale approached its end: the cheerful mood could hardly be maintained until then… She wondered, for the first time, if she had committed herself to an impossible challenge rather than an amusing distraction.
In the end Hermione sighed, postponing her worries and finally leaving the room, musing as she did so that now, with the return of Professor Snape, challenges worthy of commitment were no longer in short supply and nor, thanks to him, were courses and lessons any longer boring.
"What the hell is this, Minerva?" was the inquiry with which a very irked Professor Snape entered the Headmistress's office.
After a few months in that place, and after a couple of weeks spent dealing with him again, Minerva McGonagall was starting to understand why Albus used to calm people down by offering them sweeties, and words like "Sherbet lemon?" were on the tip of her tongue.
"Please, sit, Severus" she greeted him instead. Then she noticed the offending object that he was holding. So, anticipating his rant on whatever he had to say about HogwartsChronicles, she prevented it by giving her opinion.
"It is a brilliant concept, I must say, if you look at the deeper aspects of it. This place has re-discovered room for jokes, the children are excited about something not life threatening, for a change, and the central pages are priceless, really." The witch Accioed a stack of parchments from a shelf in front of her, and gestured to him to have a look: "You can't possibly miss the previous numbers…"
Snape, who when he had learned the names of the miscreant authors had been intrigued by their odd new alliance, decided to oblige, and to put off further comment until he had read the pages in question. Carrying the papers under his arm he left, then, but not before having muttered, not so far under his breath as to avoid being heard: "Moaning Myrtle ogling Potter's bits…? Really!"
At first he had felt relief, seeing that the account of the Trio's third year had not indulged in details of the tale of the – still hurting – way in which he had been disarmed by the children's Expelliarmus, nor of Black's escape or of Longbottom's Boggart with its ludicrous dress. Also, when he had read what the young witch had made of the events of fourth year he had had to admit that she had been able to manage those painful memories, too, not too badly.
But, knowing all too well what would follow, he decided that in regard to the résumé of that particular time, he couldn't take the girl's carefulness for granted.
"A word, if you please, Miss Granger" Snape thus demanded, right after the end of his lesson. Hermione, who was already leaving, turned slowly.
"Close the door."
She complied, and then approached his desk.
"One would have thought that after seven years spent surviving life-threatening experiences you would wish, by now, to stay away from dangerous waters…"
She looked at him, befuddled. Recalling the last hour to her mind, unable to find a reason for his accusation, or to see what she could have done wrong while practising duelling hexes, she awaited the rant that his whole demeanour suggested was imminent.
"How do you expect to handle the coming issues of this?" he spat, showing the last number of HogwartsChronicles. "Have you ever considered that there was more than one reason for the secrecy required by Dumbledore during your search for the Horcruxes?" he went on. "Do you really want to make everyone aware of the possibility of achieving eternal life through murder, or to go searching for the available Hallows once more?" he hissed.
She blushed, as understanding and then the awareness of past and present common purposes hit her. She felt the sudden wish to reassure and to apologize, a need that, each time she had been in front of him, had defined her, lately; but then, recollecting herself and her self-confidence she raised her chin in challenge.
"Yes, Professor, I think I know what you are saying. I also know that it will become harder and harder to find something entertaining in the story as it progresses. It was already difficult - very much so - to write this chapter, while remembering how that year ended" she went on, pointing at the magazine that Snape had put in front of her during his tirade, where the events of her fourth year were told and drawn. But she hadn't finished with her explanation.
"I also remember that, during the duel with Voldemort, Harry mentioned Horcruxes and they argued about the Elder Wand, too, in front of everyone. But, assuming that people had more important things on their minds at the time, and that they didn't investigate what they'd heard at a later date, you can trust me when I say that I won't be the source of more detailed information on those matters, Sir."
"Gryffindors!" he muttered but there wasn't more than a slight exasperation in his tone, as if he, too, had understood and partaken of her internal struggle. "Very well, then. See that you live up to your word, Miss Granger" he ended, dismissal and warning perfectly mixed in his bearing.
Hermione nodded, and didn't linger furthermore. Yes, from now on her task would be something very demanding: she knew that and she had already admitted it to herself, previously. And she realized that she wasn't intimidated by the challenge as she should have been… rather she felt that to be engrossed in such a demanding task might, actually, be what she was truly searching for.
After she had furiously scribbled down the first draft of her account of her experiences, in order to sort out which elements of the story could safely be made public, Hermione stopped and sighed.
Up to that moment she had succeeded in her job, Skeeter being very useful as an object of everyone's loathing: Hermione's clever revenge on her had, in fact, humorous aspects which could easily be offered up for the student body's amusement. Snape's words, though, were now echoing in her mind, and she was also starting to fidget about Draco's reaction to her choices regarding the tale of the final three years. What had begun, with the boy, as a way to alleviate boredom and to lighten the burden of common memories, would no longer be such a source of relief as they came closer to the most horrible events that both had lived.
Suddenly she felt as if all that effort to retell the story might really be useless, and the safe escapism in which she had lulled herself until then seemed to fade. Plus, these forthcoming problems coincided with the approaching end of the school year, and she knew that the need to make great decisions about her future would then become inescapable. A sense of futility crashed down on her, generating a feeling of apprehension about her options, her choices, the meaning of everything.
Hermione closed and shrank the journal. Then, having safely hidden it in her robes, she decided that career advice from the only one of her professors whom she hadn't visited, yet, could no longer be procrastinated. Sensible and determined, she set out from the Library.
At the moment even a chat with Snape seemed less demanding and trying than to rack her brains with writings and worries, and who knew whether some helpful suggestions or advice might also come of it.
Life at school was less difficult than in the past, Snape had to give Minerva that. His duties at present included nothing but teaching Defence, whilst being Head of House, and Potions master – with the extra job of preparing supplies for the Hospital Wing - were, now, other people's responsibilities.
If one added the fact that he didn't have to survey the students during breaks from lessons, nor to keep his cover as spy or as imposed Headmaster, it wasn't a surprise that, after a while, Severus discovered that he could truly enjoy some of his time. Students could see him walking towards the Forest, whether to collect potion ingredients or just for a stroll they couldn't say, but certainly the Professor no longer sported the constant scowls and glares that had been the only expressions they had previously seen on him. Hermione, looking at him after having entered his study, noticed his quiet look and felt quite at ease.
It wasn't a feeling that lasted long, though.
After having asked him for advice regarding her options after school - as she had done without great results, already, with all the other Professors - when he spoke she found herself once more on the receiving end of his sarcasm, as in the old days.
"As your… ah, achievements attest, Miss Granger, and in case you are interested in Academics or teaching, Charms would probably be your best option… Albeit," he added, "I must admit that the improvement in your ability to brew Polyjuice – from the fiasco during your second year to your recent ability to have such a potion ready to hand and with the long-lasting effects attested to by your adventures at the Ministry and at Gringotts - perhaps is evidence that Potions, too, wouldn't be a bad choice."
"Why is it, Sir, that any time you speak to me you have to sound so condescending?" Hermione replied, unable to restrain herself. "This would be your idea of encouragement?"
For a moment he didn't speak, and his silence suddenly made Hermione aware of her own daring, of which she hadn't been conscious during her impulsive reaction. A bit dismayed, she was wondering about the source of her behaviour and waiting for his rebuke; but, showing the same quiet with which he had received her at the beginning, Snape stood up and ended her embarrassment.
"If I were in your shoes, Miss Granger, I'd try to remember what exactly I've just said to you before continuing with your invective. Then, in due course, you may perhaps be able to continue this conversation."
Nonplussed, the young woman nodded and hastily crossed to the door, any hesitation or wish to argue completely vanished.
The staff meeting had just ended, and Snape was collecting his things, ready to leave the Headmistress's office, when her voice stopped him.
"So, Severus, you didn't say anything about our magazine. I remember you coming here to complain about it… then nothing. And I've noticed that Miss Granger, lately, seemed rather upset… I hope it's not because you've been going on at her about it… if something still bothers you, you should talk to me, you know…"
Snape, who had put aside, for the time being, his worries about HogwartsChronicles, but who on the other hand was still thinking about the recent confrontation with the young witch who had been so incensed, shrugged. Minerva sighed, and poured him a measure of Old Ogden's which he accepted in silence.
"You should have seen her, Severus, when she first entered the Great Hall, in September. You wouldn't have recognized her, thin, nervous, and as serious as she was. Well, she was always serious, but this was different, and painful to look at. Now it's a joy to see that she is once again the girl that we knew in the old days."
Having been looking at that young woman for some time, and with much more attention and curiosity than during the said old days, Snape wasn't sure he agreed with this last statement, but he didn't argue and went on listening.
"She came determined to complete her studies, but it was probably too soon, too little time had passed since the awful year that she had just been through… The fact that her friends, especially young Mr Weasley, weren't on the same wavelength as her over this choice didn't help, either."
After a sip of firewhisky, the old witch went on: "I'm sure that, if you speak with your godson, you'll see even more evidence that this divertissement has been helpful to both of them."
"Yes, thank you very much Minerva. I wouldn't had thought of it without your suggestion" Snape answered, slightly teasing the witch. "There is no need for you to defend the girl, however. She does it very well by herself, and even I must admit that so far she has managed the whole thing quite well."
Then, having emptied his glass in one gulp, he stood up and walked out, concealing behind his determined stride the slight confusion of his mind.
Everyone was commenting on the last issue of HogwartsChronicles, and the buzz of comments, the small cries of surprise and the giggles were heard from every corner of the castle. Almost all the teachers, as enthralled as the students were by those tales and pictures, closed more than one eye on such hubbub.
Even if he was less annoyed by the thing now than when he had first heard of it, Snape still showed no complicity with those who allowed it to distract them from paying attention during lessons. Of course the student body, after the first rebuff – and consequent detention – carefully avoided looking at or even mentioning the school magazine in front of him; this was why, after a while, he noticed a feeling of exclusion, as if he was missing something, and it wasn't a nice sensation. Thus, when he spotted Malfoy and Granger talking animatedly, thinking themselves to be safely hidden from prying eyes – and ears – in a corner of the castle, it seemed like a good idea to Disillusion himself in order to eavesdrop.
"Draco, I'm not saying this to put salt on the wound, you should know this, by now!"
"Ah, yes, you mean you're showing me the same consideration that you showed when you wrote about me being Transfigured into a ferret, eh?" he drawled, feigning nonchalance - without really succeeding, since his old whining tone was in danger of coming out at any moment.
"You know that we agreed to put in something funny about us, too, each time, or we wouldn't be believable… And, if you remember, when we discussed third and fourth year we agreed on that episode rather than showing the time when Harry threw mud in your face…"
"Yes, well, that was in exchange for silence about your rows with the Weasel after the Yule Ball, or did you forget the bargain?"
"That's a low blow, and you know it" she protested, lowering her voice.
"No lower than your current proposal to make me draw the way in which the Weaselette hexed me with the Bat Bogey Hex in Umbridge's office," he countered, pouting.
"Well, we have to put something else in, not just the Centaurs' charge on dear Dolores, if we have to soft pedal on your father's fiasco at the Department of Mysteries…" she went on, thoughtful.
"Merlin's beard, sometimes it seems really impossible to go on with this thing!" Draco erupted and Snape could quite see the boy's discomfiture, while he was giving voice to his impotence and regret about the past… it reminded the older wizard of an expression that he had seen a lot of times in his own mirror, too.
"We'll sort it out, don't worry, we always have" Hermione affirmed, and if she wasn't completely self-confident about that nothing in her voice showed it. "After all Ginny was famous for that hex, so I'll find someone else to be depicted enduring it!"
A slight noise indicated that they were moving, and that the encounter was probably ending, so Snape went away, adding that little scene to a series of moments in which, unexpectedly, he had found himself considering the young witch in a new way, discovering merits that in the past had probably been concealed from his eyes by her former tendency to show off.
After a couple of days Hermione knocked at the door of Snape's study, in order to resume the conversation about her future choices. He hadn't expected her visit to come so soon but, then, Gryffindors weren't known for their impulsiveness for nothing… and anyway he was feeling somehow pleased to have that opportunity to dispel misunderstandings, even if he would not admit it even to himself.
"Assuming that you are here with less inclination than previously to jump to the wrong conclusion, Miss Granger, we'll start by considering the subjects related to my areas of expertise."
After a little pause his tone turned from lecturing to slight teasing.
"Would your possible knack for Defence and recent field-expertise make you wish to join your friends in the Aurory, at the risk of ending up with a wooden leg like Moody? Or would you like to become a Potions mistress and reduce your hair to a state even less tameable than it already is, by labouring over a steaming cauldron in front of a class full of inattentive brats?"
She shook her head, as if to deny it, and barely concealed her amusement.
"Very well, let's see, then. Which are your favourite subjects? Surely, by now, you must know which ones they are, unless you came here just to hear praises of your skills…"
This time Hermione smiled, openly. After a short but very interesting exchange with Draco she had calmed down, especially because the boy had given her some useful hints that had made her able to translate Snapeish.
"Yes, I see your point, Professor," she answered. "But what I meant to ask, last time I came here, wasn't primarily about my greatest abilities. What I would find most useful to know is to what degree it is wise to follow one's preferences - regardless of what those preferences may be - or whether there are different criteria..."
She paused, then went on: "I'd like to say, if I may, that I've printed in my memory the speech which you gave us during our first Potions lesson, and also the fascinating lecture with which you started teaching Defence; those speeches were evidence of a passion for the subjects, and I know that everything you taught to us was crucial… Harry learnt Expelliarmus from you, the utility of a Bezoar… and I could go on with a long list of lessons that served to save our lives."
Hermione paused, but only for a moment, before going on with the little speech that she was feeling the urge to address to him. "In spite of all this, though, would you say that teaching was the best choice for you? Have you ever considered that you could have chosen differently? This is what I want to know, before considering my future, my options… What is it that makes a choice right."
His long finger on his pursed lips, he took his time before answering, while the witch waited, a bit apprehensive of his reaction, and aware that she had, perhaps, once more exceeded the limits of his patience.
"You still have some time left, Miss Granger, to weigh each possibility and to decide whether you want to go on with your studies, or to try a job... Probably it will suffice to clarify things a bit. I'll have to make a choice, too, by then, and this will actually be the first time, since I was more or less your age, that I will be free to make one. Do consider such a decisional limbo a gift, then, not a burden."
Hermione nodded, seeing the truth behind those last words, and realizing with some embarrassment what he was referring to. And she mentally acknowledged the fact that even though he hadn't answered her question, he had given her an even more personal and detailed response than she had the right to expect. So she thanked him and left.
He watched her leaving, and didn't move.
When he had listened to her praise of his influence and actions, a sparkle of warmth had spread into his chest, melting something that had been restricted and calloused for a long time… unsure of how to respond to such a sensation, he stayed, bewildered, for a long time, looking at the now-empty chair in front of him.
As soon as the account of sixth year was published, Snape was even more confused, especially because, as he recalled all the things he had read in those damned Chronicles, he was putting things together and realizing a disconcerting fact. And the said realization caused him to go through a very mixed mix of responses: hurt, at first, and the sudden return of the feeling of being neglected which he hadn't felt so strongly for some time; then angst, and then again bemusement.
In the end, however, he suspended his judgement, especially because his prevalent feeling was curiosity as to Granger's motives. And, being Slytherin, before taking the bull by the horns and Gryffindorishly confronting her directly, he went in search of his godson.
"I would have thought, Draco, that your attempts at murder, and my succeeding at one, would have been relevant enough to deserve some space in the tale of your sixth year … surely they were more important than, I quote 'the many useful uses of Felix felicis', don't you think?"
If the young wizard was surprised by the way in which Snape had spoken of those fateful times he didn't show it. "That's just the kind of thing that we didn't mean to go into too much detail on in these writings, and even less so in the pictures," he answered briskly.
Then, showing a more cooperative spirit, he went on: "What did you think those lines 'Meanwhile, in spite of the most tragic events, we were still able to concern ourselves with frivolous matters like the following' meant? She put in words like those whenever they were needed, starting with the account of Diggory's death, then of Black's demise… what happened to Dumbledore, in comparison, is almost excessively detailed in the way it gives all those explanations about the curse that was slowly killing him or about the impending threat from Greyback…" The boy seemed lost in his thoughts, for a moment, before going on.
"With regard to my own actions she was merciful… after all one of the reasons she convinced me to start this thing was that it offered me the possibility to return to being seen as a boy who made some wrong choices, just as many others did, not as an irredeemable failed murderer. As for you, I don't know, but you should know that each time I've asked Granger why she did or didn't put something into the story, or skimmed over it, she flushed and kept on babbling something about responsibility, and how inadequate she felt… I didn't want to see her upset so I stopped asking".
"You like her, don't you?" his godfather inquired softly.
"Yes" Draco answered simply, recalling the first time in which, after some skirmish which both knew meant no more than the old bickering, he and Granger had really talked to each other.
"I know that you couldn't do anything for me" she had said, when after a Defence lesson which had dealt with the Cruciatus curse he had seemed unable to look her in the eyes. "You already did something good by denying Harry's identity whereas mine… well, mine had been uncovered from the outset by Greyback and by your mother…"
Feeling Snape's meaningful gaze on him, Draco roused abruptly from his reverie. "Not that way!" he hastened to add. "She wouldn't want me like that, anyway, and she has had her fair share of being everybody's big sister… Even I can see how she would like to lighten her burden by laying it on someone else's stronger shoulders, for a change," he went on, "but yes, well, she is forgiving, and who knows how everything would have gone if we had been friends since the beginning…"
Then, quite regretful of his confidence, he warned: "Well, don't look at me like that. The subjects for the last picture gallery haven't been decided, yet! And if I insist I can still draw you in Augusta Longbottom's outfit!"
To Draco's surprise, though, Snape didn't got angry at his impertinence: absent-mindedly waving to the boy to go, he lost himself in his thoughts, considering those words about forgiveness, everything that he knew about that matter, and much more.
Someone else, though, didn't share Draco's trust in Hermione's capacity to let go and forgive. Nor did he share with her such a benevolent trait of character.
For chapter after chapter Granger hadn't written a lot about the main events of the war, which were in any case well known to everyone; on the contrary she had identified those episodes over which people could have a good laugh, or be surprised at the discovery of unexpected details… Zacharias Smith, though, hadn't been happy to see how his behaviour during fifth and sixth year – and the infamous Bat Bogey hex that he had got for it - had been derided in Draco's sketches. He was dreading, therefore, the way in which the last number would depict the battle, asking himself if it would mock him once more by showing the disgraceful way in which he had deserted it.
He spotted the plotting duo on the grass, near the greenhouses. Granger and Malfoy were, apparently, preoccupied by their plans. Probably he would just have warned them, but he wasn't to know that the two accomplices, being engaged in discussing some particularly difficult choices, were not in the best of moods to hear his rant. As soon as Smith started to shout Malfoy stood up, wand at the ready, and at that sight Granger tried to stop both of them and to calm the situation down.
Zacharias, though, didn't stop to listen. The blow hit the witch rather than its intended target, and Hermione, stunned, lost consciousness.
Panicking, the two boys ended the fight in shame, then searched for help, while the remorseful Hufflepuff went on saying, sincerely for once: "It was just meant to block, not to make someone faint like this… I don't understand…"
Hermione could hear voices speaking, but kept her eyes shut and didn't move, too weak to do so, and also interested to hear what they were saying while they thought she wasn't listening. Madam Pomfrey was talking with Professor Snape, and explaining the reason why the girl's reaction to the Freezing Hex had been worse than the usual stiffness and temporary paralysis of the wand-arm which the spell was intended to invoke.
The matron went on to say that the girl had sustained one blow too many, with this last one, and enumerated the various healings that she had had to receive since her second year.
"But don't look like that, Severus. It's nothing that can't be fixed," she ended.
"Nevertheless I'd like to cast my own diagnostic spells, if you don't mind" he answered, and Hermione couldn't help herself and feebly opened her eyes, to be sure that the soft, caring tone with which the wizard had spoken hadn't been a fragment of her imagination or of a dream had while still unconscious. He noticed, and said to her calmly: "I won't say 'I told you so', but… those were dangerous water, after all…"
Coming closer then, he started to chant incantations. When he had finished and lowered his wand, his smile seemed one of relief, and it brightened his expression in a way that she had never seen before.
"I take it that I don't need to worry?" she asked, in a whisper. He nodded, and was going to leave when she grasped his arm.
"Thank you, Sir. And, please, make sure that Zacharias won't be punished too hard… I should have known better than to make that kind of petty mockery of him."
He didn't give his assent, this time, neither to her plea nor to her self-recrimination, but his words seemed all the same meant to reassure. "Rest, now, girl. I'll come to check on you tomorrow, and probably there won't be any worse consequences than you've already had."
The following day Hermione woke up very late, feeling well and completely healed. After having asked Madam Pomfrey if she could leave, she was informed that, while she was still sleeping, Professor Snape, too, had given his positive response.
She decided to go and thank him, and headed towards the dungeons. During the short conversation of the previous day she had discovered that he wasn't just a powerful, protective and brave man, as she had already learnt. He was, also, kind. "Kind" and "Snape" in the same sentence still seemed weird, like the soft smile that had suddenly appeared on his face when he had noticed her awakening. But she had witnessed both kindness and smile, and weirdness wasn't the only word that defined her feelings at such a sight.
As soon as she was in front of him, Hermione started with her grateful speech, which he listened to in polite silence; but when she proceeded to ask what had happened about Draco and Zacharias, he cut her words off with a sign of dismissal.
"I've read all of your accounts, and there were far worse jokes on yourself and your friends there than anything you said about Mr. Smith. For everyone's sake he and Draco agreed on a truce, so, as they say, all's well what ends well" he answered, quite nonchalantly.
Then, abruptly changing tone and attitude, he went on.
"I've seen that you have been faithful to your purpose, and to date you haven't actually raised any deplorable issues. Many people have had their fair share of teasing but I have to concede that none of it was really offensive, and all my colleagues are enthusiastic about the whole thing. But," he ended, lowering his voice, "Why is it that I'm never present in those vignettes?"
Hermione stared at him, speechless.
"Far be it from me to try and influence your editorial choices but… you would concede that it's something that catches the eye. One wonders… Were your memories of me so disgusting that you and your accomplice couldn't choose at least one?" he hissed.
"I… there's a reason, yes, but… I didn't think that you'd interpret it like that. I didn't ever consider…" she babbled, blushing, then, unable to say more, she stood up and fled to the door as if to escape. Once there, though, she turned and whispered: "I'm sorry… and I hope you'll forgive us, Sir. Please… and I'll explain later, I promise".
A grey owl delivered the fourteenth issue of HogwartsChronicles to his chamber, that morning, right at breakfast time. There was also a letter attached and, in his haste to see the celebrated central pages, he put it aside, momentarily forgetting it.
But, he saw, there wasn't a chapter this time. The title, in fact, said: "Time to say good bye"-Editorial.
And he read it.
Here we are, at last.The last issue of Hogwarts Chronicles has been published.Time to say farewell, then.
I know that you have all turned first to the infamous central page, and that now, having found something very different from what you expected, you are searching for a possible explanation. So here it is.
Yes, we didn't depict the final battle. We all lost friends and relatives that day… many of you were there, so you know why we didn't write about it.
The events reported in our penultimate number will stay as the last to be told, absurd and even funny as they were even during that terrible last year. Magic could be mighty, as that horrible statue – now, thank Merlin, shattered - stated, but it can also put you in situations like these!
Reading that last issue you have surely revisited your knowledge of Muggle literature: Mary Poppins's magic bag, a locket that behaved like Sauron's Ring and other odd things like the huge amount of long-lasting Polyjuice always handy… sometimes all this was hard to believe, I know.
What didn't need to be written, and certainly not in this little divertissement of ours, were the sacrifices made, the lives offered up to achieve victory. These sacrifices will stay with us like an inscription carved in our memory: we who were there will never need to be reminded of them.
Headmistress, Professors, thanks for having permitted this adventure, and forgive us if for our farewell we have chosen to remember all of you, one last time, as targets for our humour in the final gallery. But these vignettes show all of you in the glory of the Battle, and a sight to remember: Professor Slughorn in emerald pyjamas, Professor Trelawney and her crystal balls, the Headmistress's army of statues and armour, Professor Flitwick duelling, Professors Sprout, Vector, Sinistra… And then, there is Professor Snape… well, we said little about him during the previous accounts… and even here at the end we haven't parodied him, no.
People made a caricature of him for too long and we simply couldn't do it again, not now. That's why his portrait is of a different kind.
In telling our story we didn't say everything we knew about him, and about the way in which he was misjudged, always, by nearly everyone. Just as with all the ways in which others died before the victory, this wasn't the right place to tell of his sacrifice: but it could be the one in which, at last, we show our gratitude and respect.
Yours, for the last time here Hermione Granger.
The small letter at which Snape was now staring showed the original pencil drawing made for the gallery. Plus, a few words were written on it:
"Like eagles transcending mockery, fly, fly, fly high"
Hermione's handwriting said, and Draco's ability had given to his flight the appearance of a black eagle in the middle of an enchanted sky, with no resemblance to bats or ravens or anything else less regal or more sinister.
Astonished, and touched by the gift, he tried to decode his feelings, both those elicited by this sight and those which he had felt so often, lately, each time that he had considered the girl. Wisdom said to him that with her writings she had shown trust, admiration even, but that it wasn't safe to suspect something more than that behind her words…
He was still musing on all the possible meanings, and what to do about them, when Draco announced himself by knocking and entered the room.
"I thought that you would still be here, reading those," the boy said, smug at the correctness of his own deduction. Then, without waiting for a reply, he put a small notebook on the desk. "Granger said to give this to you… she said that you'll understand better when you read it" he added, just before leaving, as a knowing smile brightened his grey eyes.
Sometimes it takes a blink of an eye to recognize one's feelings, sometimes a lifetime isn't enough. Hermione didn't know what her emotions might mean, but she knew that when she had given her last writings and her farewells to Draco and Luna, she had had to flee. After the N.E.W.T.s, during the few remaining days before the end of term, she and her friends had assembled the last number of the Chronicles but then, without waiting to see the students' reaction, she had Apparated home. That was where she was now, spending a few days alone while her parents were in Europe on holiday. Despite the many questions and doubts that were troubling her mind, she was almost enjoying her peaceful solitude on her first day far from the school, when the doorbell rang.
Snape was on the threshold, in front of her.
"Professor… come in," she almost whispered, slightly dumbfounded.
"Draco told me where to find you" he started, once he was inside. "You didn't linger a minute longer than you had to, did you?"
She waited for him to continue.
"This belongs to you, I think" he went on, handing her the little diary in which she had written the whole story, in order to select what she was going to put in the Chronicles. With some trepidation she took it, and looked at him. She didn't see disappointment there. On the contrary, she saw a warming light in his eyes and a spark of amusement.
"I'm grateful to have seen the full story, especially those parts that you spelled to be visible to my eyes only," he said. "They were very… enlightening."
Again, she didn't reply, but her smile widened.
"I understand your discretion, now. There are and there will be appropriate places to honour and remember those who sacrificed themselves for the victory, but I can quite agree that the Chronicles, and the school, wasn't the right forum for your panegyric on my behalf… I've had already my fair share of that from your friend Potter, you know…"
Hermione blushed, and felt a growing wish to continue this revealing dialogue; but she couldn't seem to find the right words, and for a moment the silence seemed unbreakable.
"Well, since I'm here…" he finally said, not completely able to conceal his uneasiness, but going on, all the same. "I have no further reasons to stay at the school either, and I'm deciding on my next course of action. I remember your questions about jobs, choices, decisions, so perhaps you might still be interested to hear something more on the subject…"
"Yes," she interrupted, interest and relief at his change of topic clearly showing through her tone. "Yes, I am, very."
"It seems that, recently, there has started to be room for new potions enterprises, if the Malfoys are reliable judges of economic and politic tendencies. Seeing how good my godson is at teamwork I'm thinking of giving such a business a try with him, and then," he added, "in time we would no doubt require employees, other partners…"
"It's a great idea, Professor!" she exclaimed, nearly applauding in her excitement.
"Severus. If you would accept an offer to be that partner you should learn to call me Severus, Hermione."
It seemed that, after those words, there could be no more room for doubts: the recognition that had been offered had been reciprocated and, no matter how sudden such an exchange might have been, now both sensed its promising implications of a hopeful future. But Hermione, wishing to continue talking and to know more of his plans, finally came up with a more articulate answer, spoken in a light tone which concealed her emotions. "And what would you need, Prof… Severus, from a partner? Help, assistance, holiday cover, research? Not something involving too much exposure to potions fumes, if I remember correctly, though?"
Seeing his silent amusement she went on, in an even more teasing tone: "I should value my options, you see."
Closing the little space between them, and taking her hands in his, he answered seriously: "You have, still, always, the chance to choose whatever you prefer… what you like most."
"Whatever I choose, yes… I know. But now I think I also know what matters more" she repeated, definitely loosing herself in his gaze, hoping that through her expression he would be able to see everything which words could not yet express, but would do so in time, and sooner rather than later.
Eighteen years later, Hermione, at breakfast, received by owl the latest issue of the DailyProphet and took it absent-mindedly, eager to get to King's Cross to give her good wishes to Scorpius Malfoy and to Harry's and Ron's children before their first trip to Hogwarts. As soon as she saw the front page, though, she handed the paper hastily to Severus, and they looked at each other in simultaneous amazement.
"So, in the end your lost diary has been found…" Severus succeeded in saying, eventually. "I told you that your mother hadn't put it into the dustbin…"
"Yes, but I had completely forgotten about it and then, when I packed to come here, it wasn't there anywhere, so I thought I must have hidden it somewhere else, and later the house was sold, and…"
"And the house was bought, or rented – it isn't clear in the report - to this Muggle writer who found the notebook and had the bright idea of putting your incomplete notes into her stories" he concluded, astonished.
"Oh, Severus, but it wasn't just like that… there was so much more that wasn't included there" she commented, whining. "And who knows what she will make of you, of all people, since I omitted so much of your role there… How she will fill the gaps… what she'll do with the events of the last part… the battle… Merlin… she could think that you died, if she reads my draft for the last editorial!"
"Well, don't worry Hermione," he said, cutting off his wife's ramblings and trying to give a reassuring answer - whose effectiveness would have been more successful if he hadn't sported his most mischievous tone - "all this will probably add some more mysterious traits to my character…"
She exchanged a long, understanding look with him. Then, relaxing in his embrace, she felt for the umpteenth time the great joy of being the one lucky person for whom, more than for anyone else on earth, that fascinating mystery was no longer cloaked in darkness.