Chapter 17 – Was it Worth It?
Air whistled through Ron's teeth. "1980? And you didn't think to contact us? To have us come and make sure you were okay? What did you do with him?"
Hermione, embarrassed and ashamed, turned back to the scene at a loss for words.
And quickly, memory after memory, the boys observed many of the events of the last week. Hermione screaming at the empty portrait. The nosebleed… Harry looked positively green, and she was sure he was thinking of the Shrieking Shack.
They watched her create and deploy her charm, the one that changed names and removed years. She was pleased that Harry and Ron seemed suitably impressed.
She watched herself give her speech to Snape, the one about not trashing her apartment or going through her things. Memory-Hermione looked a mess, having not slept, and her voice possessed a screeching quality she had not realized.
"Brilliant, but scary." Ron smirked.
She smiled, remembering the first of many times Ron had said that to her, all those years ago when she had hexed Neville.
Her return up the stairs that night, food in tow, to find a drunken Snape. Their conversation about his albums and his ripping apart of her flat. She witnessed Harry's face—amused, horrified, baffled—as he encountered a different side to this man who he had once reviled and now idolized, a man nearly the same age as them and just as flawed.
"How long have I been dead?"
Ron shook his head. "That man was always too smart for his own good."
Hermione remembered thinking the same thing.
The scene quickly shifted. They were now in the dining room, Pensieve-Hermione slouched over the table, pouring through research. She looked as disheveled as she remembered, with broken quills holding up her hair and ink smeared on her skin. It did not help when Harry snorted…
"What? Reminds me of school, that's al!"
She shot him a glare.
They watched her Pensieve-self become frustrated, and then a look of clarity, followed by despair, crossed her face.
She was on her way to Grimmauld Place.
Ron must have realized it, too, because out of nowhere, Ron's hand came to rest upon her shoulder. She tilted her head and pressed her cheek against his hand briefly. He squeezed her shoulder, and somehow she knew that she was forgiven, a little.
The scene became dark: she was in bed awaking to the sounds of Snape's nightmare. They watched her awaken him, saw the look of panic on his face, and then… Snape pulling her into his arms. Ron exhaled angrily, but Harry seemed to understand.
"Just like when we were camping…" Harry's arms wrapped around her from behind, his chin resting on her shoulder. She leaned back against him, gaining some comfort from his gesture. The worst of it was about to come, and Harry's touch was the only thing that would ground her.
Their conversation about Regulus' death. Her quip about liking lost causes.
"Lost causes? What, like house-elf liberation?"
"Dunno, first ridiculous cause I could think of off the top of my head."
"You sound like Harry and Ron."
"Never mind, Snape."
Ron looked confused. "Kind of strange that Snape came up with that example…"
Hermione frowned. "Not so surprising… keep watching."
Early the last morning Severus had been there… They saw her come from the bathroom in her wrapper looking confused. A quick glance to the couch and…
"Where is he?" Ron's eyes were transfixed by her Pensieve self's fear.
Harry and Ron both seemed to realize what was about to happen the second they noticed the attic stairs were open. They quickly ran after the memory-Hermione, watching her make her way through the house, skidding behind her into the dining room.
"What happened?" Harry immediately noticed how clean the table looked. They rushed behind the memory, reading the note over Hermione's shoulder.
I had to go home. When you read my journals more carefully, you will see it had nothing to do with my… regard for you.
Try not to pour turpentine on my portrait.
PS: The password is "permissum lacuna videor."
Ron frowned. "What does he mean, his 'regard for you?'"
Hermione blanched. "I don't know. You know how cryptic his notes on our papers were." She had to be careful with such answers to not test the parameters of the oath.
They watched her attempt to open the journals, but with no luck. Finally, they observed as the journal unlocked. Harry and Ron attempted to read the pages, but she pulled them aside, purposely having chosen far more of this memory than necessary to give them a chance to talk.
"What did that spell do, Hermione?" Harry asked.
"It's Latin. It means 'let the words appear.' Basically, it revealed entries that had been hidden."
Hermione swallowed… the hardest part yet. "Professor Snape found the gallery the night before he left. He talked to his portrait and found out everything about his life… He even found his… wand."
Ron's eyes bulged. "But that means he knew—"
"—Everything." Hermione interrupted. "He used his wand to make copies of all the notes, even Rita's horrible book, and he took them back with him."
Harry looked confused. "But how do you know?"
Hermione gestured towards her self. "Because it's all in the journals. Written for… me." They turned to watch her jabbing at the journals, finally writing in the flyleaf.
"So he knew everything that was going to happen in the war. He was a bloody Death Eater when he got here, Hermione. How could you let him escape? He could have ruined everything!" Ron was livid, as she knew he would be. As careful as she had thought she was being, in hindsight, she really hadn't thought through most of what had happened with Snape very well, and the methodical side of Ron reared its head in response.
Harry seemed to get it, though. "That's not how time travel works, Ron. This had already happened before we were born. Time is… cyclical. You didn't go back with Hermione and me third year when we saved Sirius. I can't really explain it. But if Snape came forward in time, this was always part of how history played out…"
Ron shook his head. "If he knew that he was going to die, why didn't he just stay? Live his life now and never return?"
"His mum. Voldemort threatened to kill his mum if he didn't come back with the information he wanted."
"And that was...?" Ron still seemed thoroughly unconvinced.
Harry's face paled. "Me. He had to find out about me, didn't he? 1980… He'd just heard the prophecy, and Voldemort sent him to find out it was me, didn't he? That's the only reason Tom would have chosen me over Neville, isn't it?"
Hermione nodded. "From what I read in his journal, Professor Snape came to find out if the prophecy had been fulfilled. Getting jailed by me… didn't factor into that plan. He managed to break out of the attic one night, spontaneous magic… and met his portrait. I am not fully aware of what they discussed, but apparently it changed his mind. Snape needed more time to research in the museum, so he came back one night, hiding his wand from me. He went back for the rest of the information.
"Something his portrait said changed his mind. I'm not sure what. But it was coming here that caused him to switch sides."
"And he had a script for the whole war. Brilliant. No wonder he was such a great spy—he knew how every move would play out before it happened…"
It was the only remotely nice thing Hermione had heard Ron say about Snape in years.
"Must have been weird seeing you as a firstie, though," Ron added. "All buck toothed and bushy haired."
Hermione blushed. "I suppose…"
The scene finally shifted once again. Hermione looked at Harry and Ron. "This was a horrible fight. I've brought you to the end of it, as I did not want to see it again."
Well, that was one way to protect the secret of their liaison.
They watched as Severus' portrait stared down at her, Hermione with tears in her eyes.
"And what do I have now? I lived the last two years of my life trying to make up for what I did to you, just letting you die like that. And now you're telling me otherwise—that you had to die, that there was nothing I could have done to stop it. That you do not hate me and that there is no way we can actually be friends. I gave up my life, my education, my friends, to make sure you were remembered properly, and I am learning today that I do not even know you—me, the expert in your life! What do I have, now that you have taken everything away from me?"
"Ron. You have Ron."
Ron blanched. "What?"
Not able to look Ron in the eyes, she muttered to her feet, "Professor Snape has kept up with our lives via the other portraits at Hogwarts. He apparently thinks I'm an idiot for ruining my… relationship with you... I can't say I disagree with him."
Her tears turned to hysterical laughter. "Ron? I have Ron? I barely have Harry anymore, and you're going to throw my mistakes with Ron at me? How dare you. How dare you!"
Snape frowned. "I know you have had your differences—"
"No, Snape, you don't. You really don't. We no longer speak because of you. I took this job to protect your bloody memory, and he didn't understand—"
"He did understand, Hermione. I've talked with Minerva and Harry both about the breakup of your so-called Golden Trio, and Ron did understand. In the end, all he truly cared about was you being happy, and he knew that you keeping yourself holed up in my attic, which is exactly the path you were heading down, was not what was best for you."
"So you're saying Ronald Weasley, of all people, knows what's best for me? That he is the expert in my life?"
"No, what I am saying is that you threw away one of the best friendships you've ever had over a dead man. You've had your eighteen months to mourn your losses in the war. When I say, "You have Ron," it is only to say that you still have people who care about you that you must seek out. You never really lost Harry, but if you don't do something, something very soon, one of your oldest childhood friends will be gone to you forever. I know far better than you the pain that causes."
"So I'm just supposed to forgive and forget everything? Run back into his arms and act as if nothing happened? Marry him because everyone expected it of us, in spite of all of our differences?"
"Yes, Hermione, that's exactly what I am saying."
His voice dripped with sarcasm. She bit her tongue, knowing that on some level he was right; he wasn't suggesting that at all.
"What I am saying is that man cares for you more than you have ever given him credit. Do you honestly believe I am commanding you to throw yourself at another man? I can barely stand the thought of you living on without me. I am saying that there is far too much between you and Ronald for you to just let him go, especially over me. I chased away everyone in my life that cared about me. I would hate to see that happen to you."
She felt her heart breaking afresh with the realization that she really was walking down his path. The miserable nights she had spent alone for so many months ripped through her mind, the evidence of her depression and sorrow in such clear focus.
"You just don't know… how hard it was, the days and weeks after the war. Visits to the Burrow and not seeing Fred. Watching Harry play with Teddy and knowing both had lost their parents to these wars. The museum was a salvation; no one there expected anything of me, because the only person I had to care for was already dead."
"The museum hasn't been your salvation, Hermione. It's been your prison."
Yet again, she felt it wasn't fair. He shouldn't be allowed to be so right all the time.
"So what am I supposed to do now?"
"I think you know."
Before Ron could respond, the scenes shifted once again. They saw her guilty face as she read through the journals, the desperation as she pored through his words. Finally, they witnessed her writing the note that had come to them just that morning, and then they tumbled out of the Pensieve, landing in their chairs at Grimmauld Place.
Before Hermione could speak, Ron had already shoved his chair back, storming from the room.
Her breath caught in her throat—even now, he did not understand.
Harry quietly Summoned the bottle before refilling all of their drinks. "Give him some time, Hermione. You know he doesn't handle shock well. I'll know if he leaves—the house tells me."
She wrapped her hands around the glass of liquor, staring numbly into the amber liquid. It had all been for nothing, sharing this week with them. She was barely aware of Harry replacing her memories into the vial and returning the Pensieve to his office, then returning to sit next to her.
A slamming door broke her reverie. Ron reentered the room, plates and silverware in hand, a casserole dish levitating before him. The dish landed in the middle of the table as Ron handed out plates, knives, and forks.
"Come on, we all know I can't think without food…" Ron flashed them a smile, timid and lacking its normal cheerfulness, but clearly an olive branch.
The three of them dished out their food, Ron digging into his as if nothing had happened. Harry made a valiant attempt to keep up, but Hermione only poked at her food, still not sure what to make of the situation.
The click and clack of forks hitting plates echoed throughout the room. Ron's voice eventually cut through the awkward silence amongst friends.
"Hermione, dear, I'm sorry, but you really are the worst captor I've ever seen…"
Harry chuckled before trying to regain some semblance of a straight face. Hermione's face broke into a grin.
"Funny, Professor Snape said the same thing…"
As they ate and drank together, for the first time in months, they began talking in depth about Hermione's experience. It brought to mind so many other memories of their childhood, and they talked well into the night.
At some point, they all hit that semi-philosophical stage of inebriation, trying to piece together time-travel, life, the universe, and everything.
"It's so strange… For the first time since the war, I feel as if I can take care of myself again—that I'm not just tied here. Professor Snape spent all those years making sure we would all survive and be together, and to throw that all away now seems… cruel. Nothing is going to bring those we lost back, but if I lost you all… then everything he did would have been for nothing."
Harry reached across the table and clasped her hand in his. "That's never going to happen. Never."
Hermione smiled. "I've reread everything Professor Snape wrote, including the new passages… and all of the terror of the war has lessened somehow, knowing how much more terrible it could have been if he had not been watching over us. All I knew about the war and our childhood has changed somehow…"
Ron nodded. "Yet everything stays the same."
One week later
Hermione closed down the museum. Starting next week, there would be a new curator. She had decided to go back to school, to finish her NEWTs and pursue a career in law. Luckily, the Headmistress had been sympathetic once Hermione had finally explained the reason behind her visit to Hogwarts two weeks before. Hermione would be allowed to live at the school, working one-on-one with the faculty to prepare. She hoped to attend Oxford University's School of Magical Law the following fall.
As she began straightening up the kitchen, she heard a knock at the front door.
"We're closed," she called out.
The knocking came again, more insistent this time. Annoyed, she threw down the rag she had been using to wipe out the sink, drying her hands on her jeans as she went to the door.
She opened the door to find a familiar man standing there in clothing she had not seen for far too long. The look of him was incongruous with how she had last seen him, paler, his features slightly drawn, nervous almost. In his hand was a bouquet of tulips, which shook slightly.
She could not believe he was here, standing at her door after so many years and yet really just a few days. Her mouth did not work—words would not come out.
He smiled at her, and her knees nearly gave way; it had been so many years since she had seen this face smile at her so genuinely.
"There's a new restaurant open down the street that I hear is pretty good. I was wondering… if you were hungry? After all those meals you made for me, I think it's only fair…" His eyes searched her face, so clearly hopeful.
Doubt raced through her mind… and hope. She had thought of nothing but him in the days since she last saw him, the memories of that time together plaguing her. Was this the right path to pursue? As much love as there was, they really were so different in so many ways… Could it even work? Everyone in her life just wanted her to be happy, but would he make her happy?
If she said no, would she live the rest of her life wondering if she had made a huge mistake? If she said yes, would it ruin everything else in her life?
She owed it to him, to herself, to try. And she was hungry…
"That sounds lovely, Ron. Let me grab my bag."
He stared down at the little girl, his trademark sneer affixed on his face. She looked terrified, as did most children who entered this office. And, like so many others before her, she had nothing to worry about—the Headmistress only had praise for this child. This one in particular had apparently done quite well on a project, and Minerva had brought her here to congratulate her (and then would make her swear to tell the others she had been punished—the only way the older woman felt she could keep her stern public face affixed at this late point in her career).
This girl had to be a Weasley, though a softer form of one. Instead of the ubiquitous freckles, she had only a spray over her nose. Her eyes, wide with fear, were a honey-brown instead of the normal blue or green. He was about to write her off as entirely unremarkable, with her askew blue-and-bronze tie and shirt half-tucked in and her red, curly hair an absolute mess, when he saw the book lying across her lap - Asiatic Anti-Venoms.
But she cannot be more than a second-year.
"Young woman, whatever are you doing with that book? It is far too advanced for a student your age."
Her eyes immediately found his portrait, and she blinked at him; her hands shook nervously, and she almost dropped her book.
"I just find it interesting, sir."
A Weasley that finds a fifth-year Potions text remarkable in any way?
"Oh?" It was all he could muster in his confusion.
"Yes! Uncle Harry said he read part of it once, doing an assignment for your class, and he said I would like it. And I do! Surely, you must understand that."
How dare she speak to him so familiarly? He may only be a portrait now, but he was once the most feared Headmaster at Hogwarts.
"Must I?" He was beginning to find this conversation to be quite tedious.
"Oh, yes! Mum said you were ever so clever with Potions. And that you were the bravest man, besides Uncle Harry, that she ever knew! But whenever I bring home good marks in Potions, she always says I'm the only Weasley other than Uncle Fred and Uncle George that would ever have made you proud!"
The young girl looked as if this idea pleased her, indeed.
"And which Weasley, dare I ask, is your mother?" Obviously not Ginevra—those brown eyes would never have made it through the sludge of her and Potter's genetic makeup.
"Hermione Weasley, sir."
What was only hinted at before in her features now stood out to Snape in stark obviousness. That hair could only have come from her mother, even if the hue was her father's. And Hermione was absolutely correct: the only Weasley besides the twins that he ever could be proud of in Potions would be one she mothered. And her eyes, staring up at him like they had so many times in class, searching for approval… At least this time, there was no harm in giving it freely.
"You do know you are not in trouble, correct?"
The teeth that had been worrying at her bottom lip abated, and her face broke into a brilliant smile.
"Yes, really. Headmistress McGonagall was just going on about some student who was coming to visit who was to be treated to pasties and tea for achieving the highest marks in her year. Could that be you?"
The girl blushed from her neck to the roots of her hair. "I suppose…"
"Rose!" She clamped a hand over her mouth, looking ashamed and slightly concerned that she had interrupted him. At least his reputation for stern behavior still held.
He decided not to pursue the error and gave her a small smile. "Rose, then. Do not ever be ashamed for being brilliant. You come by it honestly, in spite of your father's poor record. Actually, he was far smarter than most people gave credit. If you truly are as excellent at Potions as your mother seems to think you are, savor it. People with the skill are few and far between."
She beamed. "Really?"
He nodded. "Really."
She tilted her head slightly, considering him. "You know, Professor Snape, you're not nearly as mean as people say you are."
Trying so hard not to smile, he glared at her with his worst detention-stare. "Don't. Tell. Anyone."
The girl had the audacity to giggle, and he couldn't help but grin right back at her.
He knew Minerva would be back at any moment—she usually only let the children stew for about ten minutes before she whisked in—and he knew this might be the last time…
"Could you please pass along a message for me?"
She looked confused but quickly recovered. "I suppose…"
"Tell your mother… tell Hermione that I miss her. I miss her every single day. Will you tell her that for me?"
An odd look passed over her face, so like her mother's when she was thinking hard, a look almost as if she understood something she had no business knowing.
"Of course, sir. I think that would make her happy."
He was so glad portraits could not cry, or he knew his eyes would be welling up at this very moment. "Thank you, Rose."
The door to the Headmistress' suite creaked, and he took that as his opportunity to exit. Safely back at his portrait in the museum, he started when a hand clasped his shoulder.
"Was it worth it, Severus? In the end?"
He turned and fell into that piercing blue gaze, his former master looking at him with such concern.
There was not much to do as a portrait but think about your life, especially when your portrait was not one regularly sought out by those looking to chat. These days, his only conversations were with Phineas and Minerva, and even they seemed only to want to rehash the old days or, in Minerva's case, to complain about growing old—something he, for obvious reasons, held no sympathy for.
Coming back to his reality had made him hard, bitter. He knew he had it in him to be so cold—he had had flashes of it his entire life. But he could not help but think sometimes that maybe he would have ended up a little more well balanced if he had stayed with the Dark Lord. Or had stayed in the future and never looked back.
He only thought these things at his most maudlin. His portrait—himself now—had been absolutely right. Even now, well over a decade after the war, very few people had kind words to say about him. And knowing his own propensity to get angry first and to actually try to fix things second, he was sure that if he had survived to deal with the nincompoops, he only would have made his reputation worse.
Severus Snape had lived a hard life; no one could argue that—even his biggest detractors conceded that point. He had no doubt that, had he returned into the Dark Lord's service, he would have been killed by the time Lily and James had been murdered—either in a skirmish or by the Dark Lord's own hand. His ability to duel came during the quiet years before the Dark Lord's return, as had his skill in Occlumency and Legilimency. He spent those years learning everything he could to keep himself alive… until his life was no longer needed.
And those years had not been exactly awful. He'd been with a few women, had actually had been able to study the things he loved in addition to the skills he needed to survive… and a few students came and went that made teaching worth it.
The day Hermione Granger all but skipped into the Great Hall to don the Sorting Hat had been the single most painful day of his life, prior to his last. People always thought portraits could only remember what they knew at the time of painting, and that was true of most. But his, like all the other Headmasters' portraits, was uniquely magical. A single drop of their own blood, shed at death and mixed in with the black paint of the backgrounds, gave the portraits far more sentience than any portrait had a right to—and his painter had had access to buckets of it.
So yes, he remembered everything. And on most days, those memories told him he had done the right thing. On most days.
Had Albus asked his question even an hour before, he wasn't sure he would have been able to answer the question either way.
But seeing this little girl—Rose—today… She was so happy and so perfect. The kind of child he never could have raised. All her mother's curiosity and father's energy and a chance to live in a world without war. Neither in 1980 nor when he died would he ever have been able to create something so wonderful.
Rose had finally given him what he needed: the knowledge that Hermione had moved forward. He got the reports from Minerva—her picture-perfect wedding, her quick rise from law school to the top of her law firm, first Rose, then Hugo's birth—so he knew she was successful. Now he had to know she was, at the very least, happy. How could you not be with such a child?
The answer was clear for the first time in nearly thirty years, and the weight of all those years finally left his body. Had it all been worth it?
Ridiculously long AN: To start, thank you so much to everyone who has been involved in this story directly or indirectly, especially my reviewers. Special thanks to clairvoyant, dragonhideboot, aurette, tonksinger, dickgloucester, and linlawless for their various involvements as my beta team.
Well, that's it. I told you I wasn't lying. For those of you who read it and hate me, I can only fall back on the fact that I did warn you.
For me, canon is important. Does that mean I don't love AU fics? Absolutely not. Go look at my favorite stories lists on the different archives and on my LJ. What it does mean is that I find "Canon Compliant" as warning to be… well… offensive. Following what JKR wrote isn't a warning; not doing so is something to flag.
Nearly everything I've written prior to this has been DH-noncompliant/EWE in some way, because it's very difficult to write anything at this point that is canon compliant completely. And, frankly, it's way harder to do. As much as I've said that this story is canon compliant, I definitely took advantage of the fact that we only have Harry as a narrator and there are no guarantees to how reliable he is in that position (or how honest any of the characters that interact with him are).
But in the end, as I said from the get-go, this story follows the major arc, and it stays in-character (because, ultimately, if something isn't in-character for a reason, like potions failure, poisoning, backfired spell, severe psychological trauma, injury, death, etc., it's just your own thing, which is awesome, so make up your own character/place names and call it o-fic). Because, ultimately, the story is why we fell in love with this universe in the first place. Snape dies because he must, as must Dobby and Hedwig and everyone else. Every death allows Harry to do what he has to do, and without these details, the story could not have ended the way it did. Of course I cried when Dobby died (you'd have to be lacking a soul not to), but I understood why it happened. And I don't reject it just because it made me sad.
The same goes for Snape. RIP, old buddy. You're the best.