A final thanks to MysticDew and orlando switch!
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!
William Butler Yeats' epitaph for himself, 1939
11AM, 10th of August 2014 – Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Scotland
The second funeral of Severus Snape was sparsely attended, like his first. This time it was not due to a lack of willing participants, but instead intended as a mark of respect. Snape had always despised sentimentalism and would have made short shrift of the wizarding world flocking to celebrate his memory long after the prospect of it being of any actual benefit to him had evaporated. The list of attendees had therefore been restricted to those who actually had known him, to the chagrin of many who had been sitting on the fence during the war, finding it more convenient to bask in reflected glory afterwards.
When Snape had died, not a single soul had known his true allegiance. Hermione knew well enough what that was like, and her heart had ached for him ever since she had dived into Draco's Pensieve.
Since her return to the wizarding world the villains and heroes of her youth had traded places in a bewildering way. Dumbledore had sent Harry to die with no visible qualms and Snape had fought to save him. Not even Lucius Malfoy could be dismissed as simply an opportunistic Death Eater anymore. Even if he would never see the outside of Azkaban again, he could still reach her through the people they both loved. It was a curious echo of her warning to Draco from long ago, not to use the people she loved against her.
Eventually Narcissa had forgiven Draco for sending his father back to Azkaban; there wasn't much else she could have done.
As predicted by Draco she had remained on friendly terms with Hermione through the rift with her son, but her bookish Muggle-born daughter-in-law was a poor substitute for her only child. Surprisingly, Draco had insisted on terms before they made their peace. He had refused to entertain Narcissa's reprieve until she acknowledged that Lucius had been at fault, both for bringing their family to the heart of the war and for his machinations afterwards.
In her youth, Narcissa had been quite the blood zealot, albeit been satisfied to let others get their hands dirty. Time had much diminished her beliefs; the rub had been that she had sworn to stand by Lucius no matter what.
While Narcissa had taken her sweet time to consider Draco's demands, Hermione had struggled to restrain herself from charging in to talk some sense into her mother-in-law. Afterwards, she had realised that interpreting the situation as a Muggle feminist would have been wide off the mark: Narcissa had expected to receive the same fealty in return, which was what ultimately had swung the scales.
Hermione had been a guest in her home and a valued friend when Lucius had decided to summarily dispose of her to clear the stain on the family name. Young Miss Black would have turned a blind eye, but Narcissa Malfoy knew friends could be fickle and had learnt somewhere on the way that there were things more important than blood.
Narcissa was there today, dressed impeccably in dark Slytherin green. The colour made her blond hair shine as it was spilling down over her cloak, dancing in the wind.
Even after the war, Narcissa had never suspected that Snape had been anything other than what he had pretended to be. Nevertheless, she seemed to take an odd sort of pride in him after the truth had been revealed. Slytherin House had played its part to the end, and Snape had used its most distinctive qualities to deceive even the Dark Lord until he had fallen.
Other Slytherins who had fought on the wrong side of the war bore the same, almost defiant expression. Hermione found their pride in Snape somewhat baffling since he had betrayed them as much as he had broken faith with Voldemort, but after years of being marginalised by the Ministry's worship of Harry Potter she could understand their desire to link themselves to Snape.
The Ministry itself was different these days; the old boys and girls network was less powerful than it used to be and the public was able to scrutinise the inner workings of wizarding bureaucracy to an extent hitherto unimaginable, if it ever tired of Quidditch and gossip. Draco's public exposure of how the Ministry had collaborated with his father had seemed to turn the tide against the incumbents. There had been nothing as sinister as a putsch, but very slowly members of the old guard had been replaced by younger officials who were untainted by the war. Some, but far from all of them were League members. The League was meeting less and less often as a result, to Augusta Longbottom's approval. An insurrection was hardly worth the bother if you turned into what you had displaced.
If you knew where to look, the new Ministry still had seedy undercurrents of nepotism and the trading of favours. The big achievement of the League had been to ensure that the whole structure wasn't rotten, and on the whole Hermione believed that they had succeeded.
A Ministry which made wise decisions all the time may be a pipe dream; as long as it got most things broadly right, occasional failures didn't matter so much. Exercising constant vigilance, Hermione was satisfied that they were not about to lapse into civil war again anytime soon. Bar a truly disastrous epidemic the wizarding population seemed sustainable; Draco was funnelling funding into St. Mungo's research department, just in case.
She wasn't quite as satisfied with the fact that house-elves still were enslaved; Hermione wasn't quite done reforming the world. The Malfoy elves had been emancipated several years ago, however – Draco had agreed to liberate them in exchange for Hermione dropping the hyphenated Granger from her surname. She still hadn't told him that she would have agreed without anything in return. It wouldn't do to make Draco think he could get everything his own way.
Hermione spotted Ron and Jane on the other side of the makeshift aisle and gratefully started to make her way through the prong of people still scrambling for a good seat. Ron was attending the funeral in his capacity as the best friend of Harry Potter. When Hermione finally couldn't put off telling him any longer, he had unenthusiastically thrown his weight behind the campaign to clear Snape's name, but he had never made a secret of the fact that he always had loathed the man when he was alive.
Had Snape been the sort of man to make public concessions, Hermione rather suspected that Ron would have won some plaudits from him for his unbending stance. At least he was honest, unlike the undignified shuffle which had ensued after Hermione's book had been published. Grown wizards and witches had fallen over themselves on the flimsiest of pretexts to claim that they always had suspected there was something else beneath Snape's uncompromising façade.
Clearing a path with her elbows and muttering apologies as she went, Hermione laboriously squeezed past Neville and the other Hogwarts teachers who never were Snape's peers and thus had been relegated from the front rows. After fortifying the rickety chair, she sat down with a relieved sigh. As she turned to greet Jane and Ron, who were talking to someone on their far side, Hermione started.
It couldn't be, she told herself. She must be mistaken; it had been almost twenty years since she had last seen that face.
"Hermione!" Jane had finally spotted her, frozen mid-turn with her mouth hanging open. Hermione tried to regain her faculties and mumbled her greetings; one look at Ron's discomfort and she knew she was right. It was indeed Harry's Aunt Petunia who was sitting on Jane's other side. She was even thinner than Hermione remembered her from Platform Nine and Three Quarters, from when the Dursleys grudgingly had come to pick up Harry from the Hogwarts Express. The years had not been kind; all that bitterness had been carved deep into the furrows of her face.
"Mrs Dursley," Hermione said heavily, unable to summon any enthusiasm. Yet, she was grateful that Harry's aunt was there; she was possibly the only person alive who had known Severus Snape when he still had been a scrawny child with his whole life before him.
Chalk it down to the perversity of fate that Mrs Dursley, of all people, was the last surviving thread of the rich tapestry of love and loss that connected Harry and Lily and Severus Snape.
Long ago, Hermione had learnt that Dumbledore had been right when he said that there were far worse things in this world than death. The truth in his words was etched into the grim face of Petunia Evans Dursley.
"This is Hermione Malfoy – she used to be Granger before. She went to school with Harry," Jane helpfully filled in, and Hermione gave her a wan smile. Jane knew, now, why the combination of Granger and Malfoy once had been unthinkable and what had happened to make the two meet. She also knew the story of Harry Potter and where all Ron's scars really came from, and why Mrs Weasley still got tears in her eyes when she mistakenly laid the table for nine.
Still, it hadn't happened to her, so Jane was able to prattle on about the past in a way that made Hermione wish that she would just shut up, in a miserable little corner of her soul. It wasn't Jane's fault that she hadn't been there and Hermione knew it was a terrible thing to wish on anyone, but it would have been so much easier if she had been more like the rest of them.
They were tattered and bruised, worn rough around the edges; in comparison to the veterans of the wizarding wars surrounding her, it was painfully obvious how just how whole Jane was. The years had served to dull their nightmares and heal their wounds, but there was still a sharpness to them that endured.
You don't forget the taste of despair or the smell of battle, or being confronted with your most base self that is willing to do anything, anything at all, to make the pain stop.
Hermione honestly didn't know if she ever would have found any common ground with Draco, if they hadn't both known what it was like to make a bargain to survive for another day. What would you be willing to trade to see the sun rise again – your dignity? Your friends? Would you give someone else's life? Their answers may have been different, but they had faced the same choices while teetering on the edge between life and death.
Somehow Ron seemed to flourish with Jane, who miraculously didn't seem overly perturbed by being surrounded by people who had fought to kill more times than they could remember. After all, it wasn't her war they had fought in, so perhaps the blood on their hands didn't shine so bright to Jane.
Hermione wondered if Jane even noticed the little things that were off about them; the flinching at sudden movements, or that all of them who had been in the war insisted on sitting with their backs to the wall even if it meant three or four of them sitting on parade, with Jane opposite on a lonely bar stool.
"Congratulations," Mrs Dursley said in a cold voice, breaking the uncomfortable silence. "When are you due?"
Hermione bottled up the impulse to deny that she was pregnant, sternly telling herself that it would have been petty; this was a funeral, and she ought to show respect even to those who didn't deserve it.
"In three weeks. I can't wait," she added, letting some sincerity creep into her voice.
"A little old, aren't you? You must be– what, thirty-four now?"
"Wizards live a lot longer than Muggles, you know," Hermione said, with a smile as sickly sweet as she could manage. Mrs Dursley escaped having to come up with a retort by the ceremony commencing; everyone but the irredeemable stragglers seemed to have found a seat by now. Charlie was blushing as he squeezed in next to Fleur on the row reserved for members of the Order of the Phoenix; as far as Hermione could remember, he had never been on time for anything in his life.
As Draco delivered the eulogy Hermione had to resist the urge to mouth along the words. They had written it together, over weeks of bickering and heaps of parchments with discarded ideas. For every Muggle quote about love and courage she had proffered, Draco had found a rebuttal and some obscure reference supporting his point. The way he had dismissed her, referring to his superior knowledge of Snape, had been absolutely infuriating. It was testament to how Draco had come to terms with his past that Hermione often had resorted to the only retort open to her; the fact that she, at least, had fought on the same side as Snape. Pointing it out didn't make Draco bat an eyelid nowadays.
He was looking pale and serious up by the makeshift rostrum, with none of his usual lazy nonchalance visible in his demeanour. This was not just about the wizarding population's perception of Snape; this was Draco's only way of repaying what he had been given by this complicated man. He owed Snape his life, his sanity and his redemption, and he had grown into a man who did not weigh such gifts lightly.
Finally, he reached the end of the eulogy. The crowd, which had been sniffling and coughing and rustling in the way of large gatherings, fell completely silent. Hermione noticed Mrs Dursley's knuckles were turning white as she clung on to her handbag. Without fanfare, Draco unveiled a stark grey headstone next to Dumbledore's white tomb with an elegant flick with his wand.
The inscription on the tombstone was simple:
1960 – 1998
There was no epitaph; no fond farewells from his loved ones; no words of faith and hope and love.
Briefly, it had occurred to Hermione that Snape's affirmation to Dumbledore of his abiding love for Lily Potter would have been a fitting imprint. She had imagined a simple inscription: 'Always', and had cringed immediately in embarrassment at her own stupidity. Snape would have hated it; she had never met a more private person.
She had no doubt he would have resented her book deeply, too, had he been alive to see it. As long as it was the only way of clearing his name Hermione would still have written it, even in the face of his disapproval, but Snape would certainly have made her feel his displeasure keenly. He had been that sort of man.
Hermione couldn't find it in herself to grieve for the cold, bitter man who had been her teacher for six years. Until his apparent defection she had respected him, but the treatment he had meted out to her and her friends had ensured that she wouldn't waste any sympathy on him. Undoubtedly, that had been Snape's intention all along. Nevertheless she could mourn the man he could have become, if he miraculously had survived the war and the ensuing trials.
It came as a shock to Hermione to realise that Snape had died when he wasn't much older than she was now; back then, he had seemed so very old in her eyes.
The survivors of the war had been swept forward on the relentless stream of time, and it was only when she tried to take stock that Hermione realised how quickly year followed upon year in peacetime. Victoire was fifteen already, and Teddy Lupin sixteen; very soon he would be older than Harry had been when he died.
Only the dead were left standing at the shore, unmoving and unchanging.
As the service was concluded the crowd rose. Hermione battled an impulse to corner Mrs Dursley and refuse to let her go until she understood about Harry. Hermione wanted to explain who he had been and why he had been so important, and how it had nothing to do with magic and everything to do with the sort of person Harry had been.
She knew it would have been useless. The sort of woman who would let a little boy live in the cupboard beneath the stairs for ten years, calling him a freak and lying to him about his parents, didn't deserve to know anyway.
Suddenly Draco was in front of her, and Hermione gratefully leaned on him to take some weight off her sore feet. She let her arm slip around his back, taking comfort from the warm firmness of his body against hers. The faint whiff of his scent felt like home; the smell of parchment, incredibly expensive cologne and a slight trace of danger seemed to envelop her like an old friend.
Draco looked down his long nose at Mrs Dursley with endless contempt, and Ron quickly guided her in the opposite direction before she could say anything.
For once, Hermione and Draco didn't need any words; they just exchanged a long look that seemed to convey everything they could possibly have said. Draco kissed her forehead, briefly wrapping her in his arms before releasing her again.
They started moving towards Hogwarts with the rest of the crowd, leaving the final monument to the war against Tom Riddle behind them.
-oO THE END Oo-
This is it; we have finally come to the end. Thank you very much for reading, I hope you enjoyed it!
I'd love to hear if there was any part of the story you particularly enjoyed, or if something almost made you stop reading. Anything you want to share that helps me improve the next story will be much appreciated.
I've got one or two stories lined up, but real life will get very busy soon so I'm not sure how active I'll be on FFN. I don't think I'll disappear completely, though, so do follow me if you want to get updates when I post something new.