A/N: Quick note – I believe someone asked me in review if Severus had been awaiting trial for five years, and I said yes. Actually, I was wrong – at the end of DH (which JK Rowling has said was May), Hermione was 18 (almost a year older than Harry), and would have turned 19 in September. So this story is set four and a bit years after the final battle – In this universe Severus spent an entire year recovering from his injuries at St. Mungo's, and then he was sent to Azkaban to await trial for just over three years. Hope that straightens out the Math! And thank you for your kind reviews. They make my day every time, so keep 'em coming!
Severus Snape looked through the bars of the small, solitary window of his Azkaban cell and across the rolling grey waves of the North Sea. He spent at least an hour each morning thus engaged. It might have looked to the casual observer as if he was enjoying the monotonous view, but he was, in fact, otherwise occupied.
His gaze fixed upon a tiny island on the horizon, he spent this time completing psychological exercises of his own devising. The pursuit had helped prevent him succumbing to mental stagnation over the years. It had, he believed, kept him relatively sane. The Dementors might have been long gone, but many a prisoner had lost their mind to boredom and inactivity. He might never need it again, but he rather thought he'd keep his sanity for the moment, thanks very much.
When he had completed his intellectual workout, he gave a small shake of his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. He walked to the other side of his cell and glanced at the calendar on the stone wall. Today's date was circled in red ink, which meant it was the day Hermione Granger had said she would return to reconvene their interview.
Her reaction to his bombshell when last she'd graced him with her presence had greatly amused him, and he wondered what conclusions she'd reached in the meantime. As soon as he'd confessed that all the Lily Evans memories were false, Hermione had risen from her seat, her face scarlet.
"You mean to tell me," she'd said, her face aghast, "that eleven of these twenty memories are completely fake?"
"Indeed, I do," he'd muttered, his expression smug.
She'd stared at him in mute disbelief before slamming the box of memories closed and tucking it under her arm. "It would seem I've some work to do," she'd murmured, clearly mortified. "I'll return in one week."
That week had crawled by, but the day had arrived at last, and although he wouldn't have admitted it to anyone but himself, he was looking forward to her visit. She'd improved with the years: her unruly curls were no longer so unkempt, and she'd gained the generous curves of womanhood. It had been years since he had set eyes on an attractive woman, and she was easy on the eye. But more importantly, she offered some relief from the tedium of his usual routine, and he was longing for another opportunity to tease her. Like all Gryffindors, she was easy to rouse.
There was a tap on his door, and Albert the security guard poked his head into the room.
"Your young lady's just arrived at the front gate," Albert announced. "I hope you ain't intending making things difficult for her. She's a nice lass."
Severus rolled his eyes. "I'll behave myself, Albert. You have my word."
Albert gave him a curt nod and closed the door again.
Severus looked around the room, wondering where he should position himself. He took his seat at the table, but changed his mind and crossed instead to the side of his bed. No, that would look entirely too pathetic. Her voice came from outside the door, and he heard the rattle of Albert's keys, so he quickly moved back to the window, deciding it would look best if she found him gazing pensively at the sea.
She stepped through the door, and he waited for a moment before he turned to greet her.
"Good morning, Professor Snape," she said, an uncertain smile on her face.
"Miss Granger," he replied, inclining his head. He thought she looked exceptionally pretty today, her cheeks tinged pink by the breeze and her hair tied back in a ponytail. He returned her smile with a frown to ensure she could not sense his approval.
"May I take a seat?"
"You may," he muttered, joining her at the table.
She sat before him and extracted her beaded bag from beneath her black cloak. Taking the wooden box of his memories from within, she set it on the table between them.
"Before I ask why," she began, "I need to know how. How did you do it? There are people in the Department of Mysteries who've been trying to create convincing fake memories for decades. I've seen a few of reasonable quality, but yours far exceed anything they've produced. How did you manage it?"
He shrugged. "I'm cleverer than your colleagues."
"Have you always been this conceited?"
"I'm merely stating a fact," he said, an eyebrow raised. "Besides, I had plenty of practice, over the years."
"You've had practice? You've done this before?"
"Miss Granger, it was rumoured at one time that you were intelligent. Must I really spoon feed you? Why might I have needed a number of simulated memories at my disposal?" He watched as she lowered her gaze to the box of memories once more, her forehead creased.
"For Lord Voldemort. You needed the memories there to guard what you really knew and to give him false information."
"At last, the girl actually uses her head. Well done, Miss Granger," he said, his voice heavy with irony. "Albus Dumbledore always believed the Dark Lord would return, and as a result, I spent many long years perfecting the technique of fabricating memories, as we believed Occlumency might be insufficient. It wasn't enough to block him from my mind; I needed something to show the Dark Lord, or I wouldn't have lasted a day."
"And he never suspected?" she asked.
"No. As you've noticed, there's a subtle difference between the false and the real memories when they're viewed in a Pensieve, but that difference is undetectable when the memories are viewed in the mind, through Legilimency. When those memories were made, I'd always assumed I would transfer them to Potter while I was conscious, through Legilimency, but unforeseen events necessitated that they be given to him in corporeal form and viewed in a Pensieve." His hand rose unconsciously to his injured neck.
Hermione extracted a length of parchment and a quill from her bag and quickly scribbled a few notes. "This is fascinating," she said breathily. "So Voldemort, despite the fact that he was an incredible Legilimens, never realised he'd been lied to?"
He shook his head. "I doubt I'd be sitting here if he had. In fact, I doubt either of us would be sitting here if he had."
She regarded him for a moment. "I'm afraid this is going to complicate your trial, Professor. I've already spoken to your legal team, and they were disappointed that the Lily Evans memories weren't real. Their entire defence revolved around the memories you gave to Harry."
Severus gave a grunt. "Yes, I'd a visit from that idiot, Pythagoras Trottering, yesterday afternoon. He most eloquently expressed his displeasure."
Hermione chewed at her bottom lip and then said, "Why did you do it? You said that you and Dumbledore concocted the Lily Evans story between you. Why?"
"Knowing Harry Potter as you do, don't you have a theory?"
"I've thought about little else all week. Harry distrusted you; worse than that, he hated you. And we all know Harry has a weakness for heroism. You were charged with the task of eventually telling him that he needed to die, and the only way he was ever going to trust you was if you convinced him of your reasons for having turned spy …"
He slowly clapped his hands. "Brava. I needed him to trust me, and what better way to get a Gryffindor onside than to tug at the heartstrings with a tale of deepest romantic angst and tragedy. Tell me, Miss Granger: You've viewed those memories; you even thought that the vague, silvery instability about the edges was due to the depth and breadth of my emotions. Were you moved? Did you think me the bravest of men? The most romantic of war heroes?"
She didn't answer, but she blushed, and he could tell that she'd been taken in by the tale of Lily Evans.
"You are a complete and utter bastard," she muttered eventually.
He held up his hands. "Guilty as charged. Have you told the charming Mr Potter that the memories were fake?"
"No," she admitted, rubbing her brow. "I presume the whole story will come out during your trial; I dread to think what his reaction might be. I, for one, have no intention of telling him."
Silence fell for a moment, and then she picked up her quill once more. "So we can verify that the memories labelled in white are all true. Even the one in which Lily Evans after your Defence Against the Dark Arts OWL paper?"
Severus gritted his teeth. "Yes."
"So, most importantly, all the memories concerning your reasons for ... ending Albus Dumbledore's life ... are real?"
He nodded. "Indeed."
"Well, that's good. You are, after all, on trial for his murder, so those particular memories are of vital significance. My only concern is that you might be judged on your reasons for turning spy rather than the death of Dumbledore itself. If the Wizengamot are not convinced that you really did renounce Lord Voldemort, you might be in trouble."
"Why would you care, Miss Granger?"
Her cheeks flushed again. "I just ... I'd hate to see you spend longer than you already have in this prison."
"Touched as I am," he said sarcastically, "don't confuse me with the fictional character in those memories. I am, as you've so rightly pointed out, a complete and utter bastard."
"Yes, but sometimes even utter bastards are innocent," she said simply. "Before I go, Professor Snape, might I ask why you turned from Lord Voldemort's service? If not for Lily Evans, why did you do it?"
"Bastard though I may be, Miss Granger, it does not necessarily follow that I am evil incarnate."
"You mean there was no reason, as such? You just ..."
"I was young; I was foolish; I hated my drunken, violent Muggle of a father. I joined the Death Eaters for misguided reasons, and I saw the error of my ways. I was the one who carried the words of Sybill Trelawney's prophecy to the Dark Lord, and I deeply regretted having condemned an intelligent woman and her infant son to death. I turned to the light to repay my debts: it was as simple as that."
"I see," she murmured.
"I might be an unpleasant man, but it does not mean I'm evil. Conversely, there are many pleasant people who are not necessarily good."
"Your Defence team have requested access to a number of memories relating to Albus Dumbledore and your turn to the side of the light. I have an official list in my office, which I'd like to show you." Hermione scratched her forehead. "We have much work to do: Might I return tomorrow?"
He felt his heart soar at the news, so he quickly controlled his face and gave her what he hoped was a menacing scowl. "If you must," he growled.