A Settling of Affairs
It was no surprise to Hermione Granger that at one point or another she would be called upon to assist as someone's ad hoc executor, however she was surprised at the letter when it arrived from her former Head of House and current Headmaster of her beloved school.
The surprise morphed itself into shock when she read the list.
The names…there were so many names.
This was a form-parchment asking those who received it to review the fallen in hopes that they would volunteer their time in order to lessen the load.
Hermione's lip twitched but her eyes remained dry as they read. Several times, her eyes settled on a name here or there, her mind demanding that she relive a memory, short or long.
It was happening all over the wizard world, hundreds of family members or friends were asked to come forth to settle the estates of their fallen loved ones.
Of course, not all who perished in the war had loved ones to tend to settling of the deceased's affairs. In cases such as these, associates were requested to assist in tying up loose ends instead of placing, as a last resort, the burden on the already hobbled Ministry.
Her fingertips stroked the underside of the parchment, to reveal that Minerva had sent a second correspondence that was directed specifically to her.
My Dear Hermione,
I hate to impose, but I am asking that you assist me in a very delicate matter. It is of great importance that you contact me regarding one name on this list, namely Severus Snape.
There are those who would assist me gladly in order to gain access to his personal affects, due to his recent-found celebrity, others in hopes that they would find his research and possibly gain wealth from either or even an equal measure of both.
Some would help out of nothing but good intention, however I resist having them help due to the possibility of wards Severus might have used during his tenure (It would be sad to lose a kind-hearted person of mediocre wizarding skill), potions that are still in the process of curing and need to be completed, accounting that needs to be done to assure the next potions master will have the stores needed to teach the upcoming year's student body and of course, and most importantly, tend to Severus' personal affects with care.
I need your assistance, Hermione, in order to assure that the deed be done honestly, safely, and tactfully. In you, I am assured of all three of these. Please accept this request, and advise me of the date in which you wish to arrive.
With warmest regards,
Her bag was packed, and Hermione trekked to her former school once again on the Hogwarts Express, which had just been reopened after the post-war repairs to the track and engine.
Through her reflection which seemingly kept watch of her, she surveyed the countryside, scrutinizing the view and unintentionally looking for signs of damage, scorch marks from magic, bodies that were removed months prior. Her mind whirred and performed these functions without any effort, still engaged in automatic responsibility.
She willed herself to stop, and for once in her life, Hermione Granger did not want to analyze herself.
Arriving at the train station, Hagrid stood, dusting the top of a lamp post with his finger then wiping the soot on his trousers, while passing time waiting for Hermione. She bounded towards her friend and gave him a fierce hug which he returned unabashedly. "Good ta'have you back 'Ermione!" He roared into her voluminous hair.
She smiled into his fuzzy vest, "Good to be back!"
Upon entering the front doors, Hermione was met at the doors by none other than Headmaster McGonagall. Instead of the handshake Hermione expected, she was drawn into a hug that felt like those her mum would give her during the hols. She knew this hug. It felt like "You are home…You are safe."
They walked through the empty halls to her office and sat for tea. Minerva's eyes looked tired. Although there were no students currently at the school, her tasks were many.
She spoke as soon as Hermione picked up her cup and saucer, "I'm sure this whole request comes as a bit of a shock—not necessarily the task, but for whom the request was made."
"Not at all, actually. You gave me all the information I needed." Hermione replied, "I would help you regardless of the task."
"I know, dear girl. But I also know that you didn't quite get along with Professor Snape for, well, ever, in truth.
"If I ever had a daughter, she would be you... And although it might prove a bit dangerous, I feel that I owe so much to Severus that I chose the one person who I knew I could wholly trust.
"You know the entire story, you know every detail either first-hand or vicariously, but you do. You are respectful, and caring, and smart enough to do this and not get killed. And if he has any personal property-"
"If? Headmaster, you haven't been in his private rooms yet?"
"No. No one has, and for goodness sake call me Minerva!"
"Yes…Minerva…why haven't you been, if I may ask?" Hermione gently prodded.
"I…I…" She tilted her head slightly as she silently stirred her tea. Hermione couldn't help but notice that Minerva had intentionally broken eye contact, "I treated him so badly, thought the worst of him, I just didn't feel right in doing so, to be quite frank."
"You, however, have always carried that shard of belief in him, even after—" She stopped talking and sipped her tea. She wasn't going to say any more on the subject. Hermione looked up at Dumbledore's portrait whose eyes twinkled as he rocked back in his chair, fingers steepled. He waved a very small hello and went back to rocking.
Hermione waited a few moments and nodded. "Right. I'd best be off now. Where shall I stay while I'm working?"
Minerva advised her of the minutia and invited Hermione to dine with the staff at the head table, since they were the only ones present at the school save the elves. "Besides, you've always been looked upon as teacher material in all of our eyes anyway!" McGonagall ended their conversation with a parting hug and walked Hermione to the door.
"Thank you for this, Hermione." Minerva's small smile almost erased the ever-present sadness in her countenance. Hermione thought it almost erased her own, too.
Upon reaching the dungeons, Hermione began her task. She started in the classroom, hours later, she moved to Severus Snape's offices.
It was no surprise to her that Professor Snape had detailed every necessary order, invoices for outstanding supplies which were to be received, outlines for lesson plans, everything needed for even the most idiotic replacement to follow and succeed in teaching at least SOMETHING.
Looking around, Hermione had figured that this is how Severus Snape would operate his tightly-run ship. Since his position was precarious at best, and just suicidal at worst, she speculated just how long he had kept his affairs just so.
At this pace, she would be done with the entirety rather quickly.
Very late that evening, or more appropriately, early the next morning, Hermione decided to finish her initial task and use that as a stopping point.
As for his personal affects, she figured that it would take her hours, if not days to break into the professor's private rooms, deciding she would allow herself some much needed rest for focus. Recognizing the door that Minerva described as his, Hermione walked past it only to hear the soft click of the lock.
Hermione's head snapped toward the door, and her footfalls stopped. She listened carefully for either movement or signs of anything from the other side, or perhaps a noise that could mimic what she thought she heard. Pulling her wand out, she reached for the door handle and pushed. The door glided effortlessly open and Hermione murmured "Lumos" as she entered.
Uneasiness would be an understatement, to say the least. Hermione's senses, though, were still keen enough to recognize that she felt there was no harm or foul play here.
She narrowed her eyes, with the assumption that Severus Snape had planned all details to even this; Her entry. And how he would ever speculate and plan that she would be the one to handle his affairs, she would never know.
His rooms were sparse, save for the filled bookcases. Hermione drew references from the austere rooms of clerics, and was able to freely draw comparisons between his cleanliness and order and theirs.
I should have guessed this would be short work as well, Hermione thought to herself, then she saw a box on the floor in the middle of the rug, between the fireplace and a large leather chair. A scroll lay on top of the box, tied with a single black ribbon.
"What?" She scoffed, unable to resist.
You are probably feeling odd at finding yourself in my private rooms, which were completely unguarded to your entry, and are wondering why this box has your name on it.
She lit the fireplace, and noticed that the box did, indeed, carry her name.
The fact that you are here means that my assumptions on the outcome of the battle were correct. Had I survived, you would have never received this box nor its contents, unless I was able to deliver them personally.
Had you died, the contents would have instantly incinerated.
But here you are, and to get to the point, here I am not. The contents of this box are intended to be seen by your eyes only. However, if you wish to show anyone else, that is not my concern as they now belong to you to do with them as you see fit.
Hermione began lifting bound groups of parchment and notebooks, and began laying them on the floor beside her in order of placement. She moved to sit from her crouched position, realizing that this might take some time to investigate. She rolled more of the scroll and continued to read:
This is so complicated and complex, yet I find that in my final hours, it is necessary for me to say all of these things to and for you.
Perhaps I am hoping that in doing this, I will have tied up my only unfinished business. Perhaps when I am dead, I will not be one of those spirits that remain due to not completing their responsibilities, since I intend for this to be as comprehensive as possible.
Before you begin sorting all of this, I just wanted to tell you that I am sorry.
Hermione flinched involuntarily. Had a fist swung through the paper to sucker-punch her in the face, she would have been less surprised. Shaking off the initial blow, Hermione thought briefly that this was some sort of joke or trap, or some sort of forgery, then dismissed the thought, for she knew in her heart it was not.
She tried to shake off the chill that didn't seem to want to leave her.
May this box and its contents be considered an apology of a sort. I'm hoping it serves as some sort of compensation for all of the slights you've suffered by my hand, deed or word.
The first set of journals and notebooks are my research which, for the reasons you will soon understand, I was unable to publish due to my position.
Time is of the essence with much of the completed research, as you will see. It is my hope and wish that it be used to assist any of the survivors of the war, as it is a comprehensive breakdown of spells and counter-curses which I was able to transcribe up to the minute before I took pen to paper in writing this letter to you.
Please owl these to St. Mungos after you've made copies for Shacklebolt—and for yourself, if you would like.
Please use any and all of it, in whole or part, and expand or expound as you see fit in the coming years. Some of this is merely theory, which I've detailed later. Some of it is complete, but untested. There is a wide spectrum in between with this set.
If anyone could analyze and complete this research, it would be you. I only hope that you will fulfill your obvious destiny as a potions mistress, since you have more than aptly shown your strong suit.
The sound of her own gasp startled her. She hadn't realized that she had stopped breathing. Her fight for breath was forceful and jagged. Her eyes caught the sentence she had read last and continued. She dismissed the pains she was feeling in her chest and back from sitting in the odd angle into which she had settled, but made no attempt to move in her haste to continue reading:
The third pile, you will note with some smug satisfaction, your own handiwork. To say that I've collected everything you've ever written would be a gross overstatement, though I would have to admit that I've compiled (actually, I would care to insert a small jab to say amassed)—Hermione chuckled despite herself—a goodly portion of those papers I would have, in any other life, liked to speak with you at length, or respond with criticism that wasn't ruthless, harsh or negative.
Any other life. Hermione's eyes glazed over a moment, but then refocused.
Please note, I've even cross-referenced your papers with the calendar enclosed, so you could see how anything you questioned, either by raising your hand, or put to paper was answered by either a subtle change in my course outlines or assignments. I'm sure you would eventually figure this out, but I will just lay it out for you by mentioning that I would usually time my responses to your questions three school days after you made mention to that particular idea, thought, item… Just enough for others to forget you had asked the question. If you had figured out my system already, then let this be validation for you. Had you suspected…Had you figured out the method and reasoning, I appreciate your discretion by not mentioning it to anyone else.
Hermione felt an unwanted lump in her throat. She had guessed? Hoped? Wondered this very thing hundreds of times. Each and every time she chastised herself for daring to be so presumptuous that Severus Snape would actually give a fuck that her myriad of questions were answered.
She frowned as she felt an ache that wasn't exterior this time. Her heart felt like it was sinking, the truth that she was right didn't make her feel at all better.
She recalled the pain that she put herself through, the arguments between her emotions and her logic made her feel like a literal pinball from his game for as long as she could remember. Her ache, her need to be recognized by him (she wondered why it meant so much…. More times than she wanted to admit) had gone on for so long, it had grown a callus, but this letter seemed to jiggle that splinter around which that protective emotional skin had grown.
At this moment, Hermione had wished that she had said no to Minerva's request.
Even with his apology, she was once again forced into reliving the pain. She frowned and read more of the letter.
Your parchments, you'll find have my notes—the ones I would have liked to have spoken with you regarding, which I've notated when I used your idea to conduct research. You'll see I've done that quite a bit.
It is for this reason that if you do decide to pursue said career, I have enclosed a letter addressing any one of the mentioned potion masters whom I trust to have you guided by in your future education.
Please, I've chosen these names not only for their benefit to the wizarding community, but they are also patient, kind men and women who I know for a fact have no ties to that evil snake I assume is dead by the hand of your best friend. Please choose one of them to help you achieve your success. I hold them in high esteem, and any one of them will provide you with an exemplary education.
"A letter of recommendation," Hermione spoke aloud, her eyes threatening to spill a tear that had been bothering her for a better part of an hour.
Hermione looked at all of the supporting documentation for a moment, realizing that there was still an envelope at the bottom of the box, slender but present. She left it there for now, as she was certain that in a few minutes, all would be revealed anyway.
You may ask yourself why would I do this? Why would I spend any of my time to attempt to assuage any bad feelings that I caused? My answer is this—
I intentionally hurt you, Hermione.
I made it into an art form. I strived for perfection in hurting you every day I drew breath. My reasoning was simple.
When you were younger, I hated you for having intellect on par with mine, but with friends who would support you. Call it petty jealousy—You'd be right. I was so jealous of your good fortune that I felt sorry for myself. Had I had one good friend who stuck by me, perhaps my life would have turned out differently. Perhaps a good friend might have persuaded me to stick to the right path, even if that path seemed so much harder to traverse.
And you had two, which was hard to swallow for an emotionally stunted man like me.
When you got older, I hated you because of your goodness. Your kindness and generosity had no bounds, even including your defense of me, your belief of me… Your belief that there could be a better world made me hurt inside. Had I had that belief in goodness, I would have never ended up in the path I had chosen.
Looking at you was like looking at the sun-A light so bright, so powerful, that a field of black obscures your vision the second you look away…the blackness that takes hours of recovery before being able to see right again.
And I recognized you had it all, brains, beauty, and purity. You were the sun which could destroy me if I dared to come too close.
Those days I was especially nasty to you were those days which angered me because I wished nothing more than to talk candidly to you but couldn't. Wanted to share something with you but couldn't.
When you were older, there was a day when I recognized—even with all the terrible things I had said to you—admiration in your eyes! Of course, you know my skills through Potter and what I am able to extract from a mere glance, and there it was.
I was afraid for you and for me at that moment (How I hate being afraid, and once again you were able to illicit such an emotion from me, it is so aggravating). I had to wonder if anyone without my skill of Legilimency could read your face. I wondered where that admiration could lead. I couldn't let anyone know how you felt for me at that moment.
Think, for a moment, had anyone known you admired me. I would have been asked to cultivate it to rope you into a false confidence. To hurt you. I couldn't have that. That is when I used my sharp tongue in an attempt to cut your figurative heart out. Later that day I had the opportunity to stop any burgeoning feelings you may have been cultivating.
What a public display. So many students were on hand to see your embarrassment, it was really the ultimate opportunity.
You covered your face and ran from me that day in humiliation.
Even in tears, you are beautiful.
Hermione felt the first sob, it tore itself from her and echoed in the empty room.
You see, I had to be cruel to you. I wouldn't want to have your blood on my hands. My cruelty was my own protection and your talisman to ward away evil.
Finally, the envelope is filled with pictures that I had confiscated from Colin Creevey. Each time I heard the pop of a bulb, I'd hold out my hand for him to hand over that blasted camera. I'm thankful for that tell-tale flash and sound. The pictures say it all.
Her eyes were blurry, and she fought back the tears as she grabbed the envelope.
He was right to have terrified Creevey.
Plain as day, in every picture where both Hermione and Severus appeared, there was no denying his feelings in that split second.
One, she noted, he actually looked proud as peered over her unknowing shoulder in the Library. Another where he looked on with unrestrained jealously as Hermione was being hugged by Viktor, while she desperately tried to keep her hat on.
There was one of her at the ball, Severus' mouth dropping, only to have him catch himself and slam it shut quickly. In this photo, it showed Severus immediately glaring at the camera's owner and stalking toward him to snatch away said camera.
There is no wonder why Potter gravitated toward you. You are so much like his mother. Such an absolute wonder—she and you. And I loved her. I did. And I tell you this because I knew that had there been a chance, I would have wanted to at the very least become your mentor. Possibly a friend, had I had any good fortune at all.
Since you had already been born when Lily was murdered, since both of you were alive at the same time, well, to say that one only has one true love in their lives is erroneous. I believe that one person has the potential of having several loves, just as strong as the other. In her, my love was full-blown, but in you, I felt the components were all there just waiting for the right moment to grow. Desperate but knowing it would never be- Could never.
Love?Hermione's eyes were unaccustomed to the stinging tears welling up from genuine sadness at this laid-bare agony.
For me, my feelings were cultivated by inner beauty, in each of you. While you both had outer beauty in ample measure, your sweet dispositions were the siren's call to my heart. The components that made both of you were like rare ingredients my black cauldron of a soul begged to gain just a drop of to feel fulfillment.
Although the amount of pain I've felt in my life made my senses dull, I thank you for being so special that I was able to pull myself out of the numbness of my life and feel your presence.
I feel wrong to say you are the child I never had, because I would assume that comparison would prove uncomfortable for you, given the information in this letter. I can say that you are a woman worthy of everything I have and so much more, and therefore I give to you all that I can.
In parting, All that I have is yours. And if anyone attempts to insinuate any ulterior motives on my part, I approve of you hexing their bollocks off as painfully as possible.
Hermione laughed out loud through her pain.
So, I once again say to you, I am sorry. I beseech that you accept my apology. I beg you to follow your dreams. Please, Hermione, have a happy life.
She ran her fingers over his name, stroking the parchment softly. Hermione looked at the mess she had made of his rooms—the box's contents strewn around her—and at that precise moment, she was overcome by his absence.
She drew her knees up to her chin, hugging her legs, and tilted her head to rest on them. It was in his rooms that she allowed herself to grieve.
She grieved for him, her friends, her childhood which was now as dead as those they had buried, had burned, those that had been obliterated to the point where there was nothing left.
Her tears were silent, but flowed steadily while she reached out to touch a parchment occasionally, or a book, or one of the telling photographs. Her heart swelled up and the emotion flowed out from that seemingly dried up well inside her.
Hermione read the last paragraph again when her eyes cleared up, dabbed dry with her sleeve. She quietly gathered everything and placed it back into the box, closing the lid and using it to help herself back to her feet. Lifting the box, she began walking to the door leading back to the classroom.
She stopped and said quietly, "I do accept your apology, and I will have a happy life. I promise, Severus."
And with that, she exited his rooms.
It was quiet for a long time in Severus' rooms.
As the fire burned to embers, the empty room was again accentuated with the soft scrape of pages being flipped in a book, and the occasional clink of ice in an unseen glass of firewiskey.
And for the first time, the air in the dungeons wasn't oppressive.