A/N: Hi, guys. I wrote this for the fabulous curia_regis for the 2011 SSHG exchange. I tell you that to reassure you all that, yes, this one is finished. I'll publish a chapter a week (maaaaaybe sooner depending on my work schedule), and it will be complete in four installments. In this story, there is: Sex. Language. Angst. Rape is mentioned in the first chapter. It's not a graphic description, but I don't sidle up to it obliquely, either. Please read with caution (if at all) if it is a difficult or triggering subject for you.
Also, I know I haven't updated Potion Master's Storeroom or Memory, Snape, and Bird in aaages, but neither one is abandoned. PMS (heh) in particular is something that I've been tweaking a lot. Sorry you faithful readers have been kept waiting. I will be updating some point soonish.
That said, I hope you enjoy this one. It's not terribly long, but it's heartfelt. (HEART.)
Edited to add: DERP. I can't believe I forgot to thank Aurette. AURETTE. Thanks as always for the alpha read. Wubs.
They say that 'time assuages,'-
Time never did assuage;
An actual suffering strengthens,
As sinews do, with age.
Time is a test of trouble,
But not a remedy.
If such it prove, it prove to
There was no malady.
Whitville burrows like a tick in the skin of the Poconos. The mountains are lovely, but poverty fades the town into shades of grey: cement, ash, exhaust, smoke. Unemployment is high. So are illiteracy rates. It's nothing but pubs, rain-rotted clapboard houses winking with broken windows, and a one-room library, the town's first and only, established in 2005.
Snape walks over pavement pitched willy-nilly by tree roots. He tucks his hands into the pockets of his trousers and then pulls them out. It's too hot and humid. When he breathes, the air doesn't satisfy. When he exhales, he feels faint.
It's sufficient, though. Snape is used to discomfort. His life has become an eternal quest to move from pain to less pain, from fear to less fear, from anger to apathy. Yes, he's deuced uncomfortable, but that is only because he hasn't yet moved to less uncomfortable. That search means he's not dead yet. He finds that satisfactory for now.
He turns onto a seedy side street and stops in front of a white house just like every other on the road.
Jenny Farmer lives on the second floor of the home of Mrs. Ethel Llewellyn. From what Snape can see, the old bird is a cranky bit of baggage, but Jenny has a rusted exterior staircase that allows her to bypass her landlady and enter directly into her flat. That's how he approaches, noting with displeasure that she has no wards on her property, nothing to protect her from either Muggles or the odd passing Wizard.
He casts a nonverbal Alohamora on the door and steps inside her flat.
When she arrives home at 2:30 PM, he's sitting on her couch, elbows resting on his knees, wand unsheathed, but held casually.
She stops dead in the doorway and drops the brown bag of groceries she'd held in her left arm. Her right hand still clasps her key as she has been arrested in the motion of pushing her door open. They stare at each other in a frozen tableau as the bottom of the paper bag turns wet.
She seems taller than he remembers, maybe five foot seven, and she has no tits to speak of. Her rag-and-bone frame swims in a Sparky's waitress uniform, an arse-high blue dress complete with a frilly apron. Fishnets criss-cross her legs. It reminds him of an adolescent wank fantasy. Her hair is long and dyed red, and her brown eyes are hard.
"What the fuck," she says finally in a flat American accent, all nasal vowels and mushy consonants. "What the fuck are you doing in my apartment?"
Snape taps his lips as if pondering the question. "After eleven years, is that really the first question you want to ask me?" He watches her, but the blank expression she wears makes it unsatisfying.
Jenny stares at him, panting, nostrils flaring at every breath.
"I'd have thought the first question out of your mouth would have been an inquiry after Mr. Potter or Weasley." He whispers, but the air in the room seems to shudder. "Or even a 'How did you find me?' Because really, it's quite obvious what I'm doing in your apartment."
She backs toward the door.
"Potter and Weasley are both fine, by the way, although still stupid. And neither one has ever given up hope of finding you." He looks over her shoulder. "I gave up, of course. You didn't leave me much choice, did you?" Snape tries to smile, but it is a tremulous attempt, and he gives it up when she just looks horrified. He leans back against her couch and gestures with his wand. The door shuts behind her, and she startles. "I've just Portkeyed across the ocean to speak with you. I'm rather insulted by your silence."
An immeasurable pause, and then she sighs and slumps against the frame, smiling bitterly. Her arms cross in front of her chest. "Wouldn't want to insult you, would we?" She pushes herself upright with her hips and then bends to pick up her bag of groceries. "Fuck. There go the eggs. Thanks for that, Snape." She cradles the paper sack from the bottom and carries it into the kitchenette. The yellow and orange linoleum is peeling in long, sun-burned strips, and Jenny deftly avoids tripping on a loose piece. She plunks the bag on the counter and turns to face him.
"Why are you here?"
"Because you are alive. Because you are alive, and you are here. And because it's time for you to come home." With me, he thinks. "Although I certainly can understand your reluctance to leave all of this." He gestures around the dingy flat with a curled lip.
She turns and begins putting her groceries away. "It's not anyone's choice but my own."
He gets up and walks over to her front door. There is a yellow snotty spot on the floor where she dropped her eggs. "So, you faked your own death, did you? Seems a coward's way to me." He Evanescoes the mess.
"I didn't fake anything. I just left."
"Directly after a cataclysmic battle in which half of the combatants perished." He walks to the kitchen and leans against the worktop. "You let everyone who loved you think you were dead. You let me think you were dead. I'd say you are splitting hairs."
She shows no reaction, just mops up the sticky sludge the bag left on the counter.
"Farmer. Jenny Farmer," she corrects immediately. Her eyes remain on her hands. Her voice does not shake.
"Granger," he says again, frustrated, squeezing the worktop hard enough that his knuckles bloom white. He's imagined this conversation a thousand times since discovering she was alive. He pictured her spitting angry; soft and sad and still in love with him; he'd pictured her married, a frumpy housewife with five children. However, he'd never once imagined that she'd act indifferent. He narrows his eyes. "I'd never have guessed you'd become so cruel. You, the girl who championed house-elves and Potions masters alike."
"I won't respond to that name."
"Granger," he repeats.
"Your name is Hermione Granger, and you are a coward. Say it."
Her mouth thins, and she whirls to face him. She pokes him hard in the chest, and it hurts wonderfully. He leans into the pressure. There she is. "Fuck off," she hisses. "Fuck off, Snape. You don't know a goddamned thing about me, so shut your fucking mouth." Her eyes burn colder than he's ever seen.
"You know what your problem is, Granger?" Yes, more, he thinks as he sees her bristle. "What it's been since I first met you as a frizzy-haired eleven year old? You've always thought you were smarter than everyone else. Did you imagine that I would see the name Perdita Farmer on the incoming Hogwarts student register and somehow miss the obvious connection?"
Her face is pale, but she has two manic spots of color high in her cheekbones. She clutches at the edge of the worktop as if she needs physical support.
Snape isn't going to tell her that he almost did, of course. Hermione had been presumed dead for so long, his eyes had skimmed over the damning "Perdita" the first few times he'd read the register. Some tickle of subconscious sent him back again to scan the lists, and when he lit upon the name it burst upon him with all the force of a Bludger to the gut. Hermione. Perdita.
"Clumsy, which is unlike you," he says. "Did you think I was illiterate? That I hadn't read Shakespeare simply because he was a Muggle? I'm shocked that after everything, you still thought so little of me."
"Not that it's any of your fucking business, but I thought if she were a Witch, she'd appear on the roster of the Spindleford Academy for Witches and Wizards in Philadelphia . If she were a squib, she'd attend the local school here in Whitville." Her eyes burn, and Snape wants to bask in the warmth of the fire he's set in her. "She is my only link to who I was. Perdita, the daughter of Hermione, raised in ignorance of her own lineage on a far and distant shore."
"And Hermione, who died only to be restored to life by the end of the play?* Was that a bit of a joke on the rest of us? The ones who mourned you?"
She shakes her head but doesn't respond, and she won't look at him.
"And where is the little ankle-biter? I have to admit I'm interested to see what sort of horror occurred when your genes mixed with—I'm assuming she's Weasley's, yes? If she were mine, you wouldn't have felt the need to run." He looks around the dingy flat as if expecting to see a pre-teen witchling with furious red curls poke her head around the corner.
"Here." Granger pulls her wallet from her back pocket and throws it at his chest. He catches it deftly and flips it open. It's completely empty except for four or five photos of a pretty child tucked inside a cheap plastic picture insert.
Snape brings it closer to his face and feels his blood drain into his toes. Perdita is blonde with grey-blue eyes, patrician nose, and pert, pointed chin. His gaze cuts to Granger.
She smiles, but it looks like a sneer. "Cute, huh? She's the spitting image of her daddy."
"Lucius?" he whispers. "Draco?"
"Please. Draco was stupid, but incapable of real viciousness."
Snape remains silent. Before he'd been Kissed, his godson had been capable of many things.
"No, it was Lucius, the night we were trapped in Malfoy Manor. I'd just been Crucio'd by Bellatrix, and I was shaking so badly, I couldn't have fought him off if I'd tried. Took me right there on the rug I'd sicked up on, surrounded by half of Voldemort's goddamn Inner Circle." She laughs suddenly. "I'm surprised it didn't get back to you… what happened." Her eyebrows furrow, before she adds, "Well, I suppose by that point in the war, things were moving awfully quickly, and once it was over, there weren't many people left alive who knew anyway."
She turns her back on him and crumples up the grocery bag, throwing it in the rubbish.
His brain is buzzing, and he hurts as if he's just taken a gut punch. "I'm so sorry, Hermione." He chokes on the words.
"Jenny, Snape. Get it right. I've been Jenny for a decade. I'm not Hermione any longer."
"I'm sorry." He doesn't want to call her Jenny, but he acknowledges that she bears no resemblance to the girl he knew. She'd been reborn from an act of violence, and she had the right to call herself whatever she goddamn pleased. "Jenny." He stumbles over it.
"Yeah, well, it happened a long time ago, and your apology doesn't do much for me now, does it?"
"Nonetheless, I am. I… I can't believe that I didn't know. Maybe I could have…"
"No," she says sharply. "You couldn't have done anything. You had a different role to play. If you'd been there, you would have sat there and watched, because you were a fucking spy. And how I would have hated you for watching that, even knowing that it was the right thing to do. At least I was spared that."
She rubs her eyes, and when she drops her hands, he sees how exhausted she looks, how dark the circles under her eyes are. He hangs his head.
"You can't change the past, and I'm not the woman you knew," she says, propping her hand on her waist. "Now get the hell out of my apartment. Perdita will be home soon, and I don't want her to see or hear any of this."
He leaves because she demands it, not because he wants to leave.
A/N: *The play he is referring to is "A Winter's Tale." I'm sure all of you clever kiddies got that already, though.
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