After the battle
At least it had stopped raining. When Hermione arrived at the café, however, Snape was gone.
Damn, she thought, and what now? She couldn't search all of Stratford for him. But perhaps he'd come for the play, just like she had? After all, why should one come to Stratford in the middle of winter if not to watch a play? She'd just have to wait and see.
Glad to have come to this decision, Hermione left the café again and went back to the bookshop, shivering in her damp clothes. She needed to get warm again if she didn't want to sneeze through Macbeth.
A few hours later Hermione was sitting in one of the cheaper seats of the theatre, her gaze sweeping over the audience. With a jolt she saw Snape entering on the other side of the room and taking his seat in one of the more expensive rows. He never saw her. Hermione's pulse quickened. She'd approach him in the interval when there would be lots of people around and he hopefully wouldn't start shouting at her.
Although Hermione's eyes were fixed upon the stage, she hardly perceived what was going on there. She had always thought that Snape was still alive. There were eyewitnesses who claimed that they saw him die, but there had never appeared a portrait of him in the headmaster's room, and somehow she had just never believed that he was really dead.
It had been a shock when Dumbledore's portrait had finally told them the truth and they had found out that Snape had been on their side all along. Hermione had not been in a state to take it in at that moment, but later, when she had grasped what had happened, she had been staggered by what the forbidding Potions master had been willing to do and suffer to keep up his cover.
When the interval finally came, Hermione hovered in Snape's vicinity without him noticing her for several minutes, building up her courage to approach him. You're not his pupil anymore, she thought, angry because she was so nervous. Get a grip and go! And so she stepped next to him.
He jerked around and glowered at her.
Hermione gulped and hurried on. "I came to apologize. My behaviour this afternoon was inexcusable. What I said to you…was terrible and childish. I am very sorry. And I forgot to pay." She held out a few pound coins to him.
Snape stared at the money, his brow furrowed, not saying anything. Hermione felt increasingly nervous. "Please, take it," she said. She hesitated a little, then went on in a low voice, "I acted like that because…I don't know, because I thought you were there, you saw what happened, you would understand…" She gulped and looked down on her hand which was still holding the coins. "But I was stupid and I'm sorry for it. After all you didn't even like them."
Snape still didn't say anything but suddenly his hand reached out and took the money. "Your apology is accepted," he said in a flat voice.
Hermione looked up again but his face didn't show any emotion. She felt extremely relieved and gave him a tentative smile. "Thank you, Professor." She hesitated, but that had been the worst thing she had said and it weighed on her mind. "I'm especially sorry for what I said about Dumbledore," she said hesitatingly. "I can't even begin to imagine how terrible it must have been for you to do what you had to do. I am truly sorry."
His face, which had not been relaxed in the first place, tensed until it seemed to be made of stone. He didn't say anything and Hermione had the feeling that she'd made a terrible mistake. "Is this your first time in Stratford?" she blubbered out, immediately feeling the need to kick herself for this unsophisticated attempt at small talk.
Snape's face was still frozen. After a few moments of silence he said "No, I come here every year."
Hermione was surprised, she wouldn't have taken him for a lover of literature. Then again, she knew hardly anything about him. "So…what did you see last year?" she asked, feeling rather awkward.
"And was it any good?"
"It was adequate."
It didn't seem that Snape was keen on talking and Hermione was saved from further embarrassing small talk by the ringing of the bell which announced the end of the interval.
Saved by the bell, she thought wryly. She drew herself up, met the glare of Snape's black eyes, and said, "Professor, I wish you a pleasant evening," then turned around and went away, extremely glad that this encounter was over.
Snape remained standing, looking after her for a few moments before he as well returned to his seat. But although Macbeth was one of his favourite plays and although it was an interesting staging, his mind couldn't stay focussed on it. She had come to apologize. Well, that certainly was only right and proper after the way she had behaved earlier. But he had been rather harsh as well, he knew that. Potter and Weasley had been her best friends and it was only understandable that she was devastated by their loss.
So he had accepted her apology. But then she had mentioned Dumbledore again and he had been close to lashing out at her once more. He didn't want her or anybody's pity. When he had looked into her eyes, however, he had seen only pain and understanding, and that had halted and strangely touched him.
He shook his head in annoyance. He should stop pondering about Miss Granger and concentrate on the play, after all that was the reason why he was here. But just like in the afternoon his mind kept coming back to that night in May when the Dark Lord had finally fallen and taken her friends with him.
Four years earlier
Before Snape left the shelter of the Forbidden Forest, he took a small phial out of his robes, opened it and drunk the purple potion it contained. To get to his quarters he would have to walk right through the castle and he didn't want to be seen. The potion wouldn't make him invisible, but for about 60 minutes it would make him so uninteresting that people wouldn't notice him at all.
The closer he got to the castle, the more people he met. And the more wounded and corpses he saw. He tried not to let it get to him, but there were far too many and they were far too young, mere children like Colin Creevy who had died for some ridiculous notion of stupid Gryffindor bravery.
When he passed through the Great Hall he was confronted with the rows of dead laid out and surrounded by grieving family and friends. His breath caught when he saw Molly Weasley, her daughter and one of the twins next to the corpse of the other twin. And they didn't know yet that their youngest son had died as well. Turning away from them he spotted the still form of Remus Lupin lying next to the corpse of the young auror he had married. So they had died as well. Snape stood looking at them for a few moments, feeling an unexpected sadness. He had never really liked Remus, but of the group of boys who had made his teenage-life hell he had been the least cruel. And he had been intelligent and a capable teacher. What a waste.
Finally he turned away and left the hall, heading towards his rooms. The moment the Dark Lord had informed him that he was on his way to Hogwarts, Snape had started removing his personal belongings, so there wasn't much left. It took him only a few minutes to gather everything, shrink it and leave. The potion wouldn't work much longer and he hurried through the castle and out into the darkness. He didn't know how many of the protective wards were still active and he didn't want to find out by trying to disapparate. When he arrived outside the Hogwarts boundaries he looked a last time at the looming castle and disapparated.
He didn't apparate to Spinner's End right away, but apparated instead to an abandoned cottage in Dartmoor. The Dark Lord had hiding places like that all over Britain, providing him with shelter and a secure place where to stow away the considerable amount of funds he didn't want to deposit at Gringott's.
Snape murmured a complicated spell and when he had finished a large cabinet became visible. Opening it he found several rather heavy sacks and stacks of muggle money. A small smile tucked at his mouth. Here was enough gold and money to enable him to live the life he wanted from now on. He certainly wouldn't go back to Hogwarts. For one thing, he had had enough of teaching dunderheads to last for a lifetime, and he didn't fancy meeting his former colleagues, even though now they would finally learn the truth about him. It was also very possible that not all Death Eaters would be caught and that some of them would come looking for him to punish the traitor. Oh no, he would travel the world, something he hadn't really had a chance of doing yet, and then retire to a nice cottage he had bought in the Scottish wilderness. At last he would live without constant danger, demands and pain.
He didn't have any qualms about taking the money. Sure, it didn't belong to him, but neither had it really belonged to the Dark Lord. And Snape had certainly earned it. There were more hideouts like that and he would give Dumbledore the locations so the Ministry could claim the money stored there. But the money from this hideout he would take.
He left the cottage after only a few minutes and apparated to his small and dingy house in Spinner's End. When he arrived there he lit a fire in the living room, went to the cellar to get a bottle of wine, opened it, poured himself a glass and sank down into a comfortable armchair.
It had been a long day. Snape took a few sips from the red wine, staring pondering in front of him. It was a very rare and very expensive bottle, and he had bought it right after the Dark Lord had returned and saved it for just this occasion – to celebrate his fall.
So why didn't he feel more triumph? Snape rubbed his brow. He was glad that it was over, no doubt about it. More than glad. But there had been too many casualties. So many dead, many of them no more than children, children he had taught, had been annoyed by... After a few minutes he stood up, opened a heavily warded drawer and got out a framed picture. He sat down again, took another long sip of wine, and looked down at it. It showed himself when he was fifteen years old, standing rather stiffly next to a beautiful, red-headed young girl who was smiling at the camera and had one hand casually draped around his shoulder. Lily.
He had revenged her, hadn't he? He slowly traced her face with his right index finger. It was a muggle photo and thus didn't move, and in a way that made looking at it bearable.
It wasn't his fault that her son had died, there hadn't been anything he could have done. Certainly Dumbledore had shown few qualms in sending Potter to his death. So why did he feel guilty? He hadn't even liked the boy, he was just too much like his father. Snape's mouth grew very thin. Not only the looks, but also the behaviour. Reckless and without any regard for consequences or rules. And Dumbledore had always indulged him. Had made him feel special, important, loved. But in the end it turned out that the Boy-who-lived, just like Snape himself, had only been a pawn in the old wizard's game.
And yet, he had been the last thing that remained of Lily, and now he was gone.
And those eyes. When he had first met him he had been shocked by the boy's resemblance to James. But at the same time his heart had been pierced by his eyes, so much like Lily's. He could hardly bear to look at them.
Snape rubbed his brow again. He couldn't help it now, could he? And the most important thing was that Voldemort was finally defeated for good.
Unexpectedly another image came into his mind. Granger, kneeling between her two dead friends, holding their hands, her body shaking with unbearable anguish.
Poor girl, he suddenly thought. She had spent the whole year looking after those two dunderheads – actually she had done nothing else for the last seven years – and now they were dead nevertheless. Another victim, he thought gloomily, another of Dumbledore's pawns.
He sat in the dimly lit living room for another hour, staring at the picture and into the fire. When he had drunk about half of the bottle he got up and got together the few things he wanted to take with him. Finally he shrank everything so that he was left with only one rather heavy bag. He didn't give a last glance as he left the house. Although he had grown up in it, it had never been home for him. Standing outside the house, Snape hesitated for a few moments. Then, instead of disapparating, he started walking purposefully down the street. During the next minutes his surrounding changed from the run-down area in which he had spent his childhood to a prim middle-class neighbourhood. When he had walked for about fifteen minutes he suddenly stopped in front of a house with a large front garden, enclosed by a low stone-wall. He looked around to make sure that nobody was near, but it was still some time until sunrise and apart from a few cats he had met nobody on his way there. Then he climbed over the low wall and went towards a thicket of large rhododendrons which stood in a corner of the garden. It had been easier when he had been smaller, but even now he could hide in their shelter without difficulty.
He turned towards the house across the road, another inconspicuous middle-class house probably built in the 1950s. There was nothing out of the ordinary about it, but nevertheless Snape's eyes were riveted on it, staring at a window on the right side of the first floor. Her window.
He had come here so many times, had spent countless nights just looking at Lily's house and the window behind which he knew that she was sleeping. He had come there to be close to her, certainly, but also to get away from his parents, from the yelling and abuse and fear that suffused their house so much it enveloped him like a choking garment every time he stepped over the threshold. Here, close to her, in the shelter of the night and the rhododendrons he had found peace.
Snape had started coming here not long after he had first seen Lily and realized that she, like him, could do magic. How happy he had been when they had become friends, and even happier when he knew that she would go to Hogwarts, too. Those years, until his terrible mistake in fifth year, had been the happiest of his life. And even after he had lost her he had come here whenever they were both at home. He had never let her know he was there, of course. It would have been terrible if she had found out. But being here, knowing that she was close and thinking back to the days when they had still been friends, he could at least for a few moments pretend that nothing had changed. And when Lily had died he had still returned from time to time even though her family had long moved out and a stranger now lived in her room. But even then this place and the memories of happier times had been soothing to him.
Snape stayed until the dark of night changed into twilight, a very still and very upright figure, his face stony and his curiously bright eyes fixed on the house across the street. Then he picked up his bag and disapparated.
When Snape left the theatre he found it had started raining again. Walking down the street towards his hotel, he suddenly saw a familiar figure not far down the road. Granger. She was standing at a bus stop, seeking shelter from the pouring rain in the door frame of a nearby shop.
Snape's steps faltered, then he strode on purposefully. He wasn't that keen on having to talk to her again, but it would have been silly to cross the road just to avoid her, and it would be just as silly to ignore her since he would have to walk right past her. What was she doing standing there anyway?
He stopped in front of her and the thought crossed his mind that, judging by the way she stared into the night, she probably wouldn't have noticed him anyway. "Miss Granger, what are you doing here?" he asked rather coldly.
She blinked, her eyes widening when she recognized him. "Oh, Professor. I'm waiting for the bus."
He raised an eyebrow in surprise. "And why are you doing that?"
She looked at him defiantly; just like she had looked at him in Potions when she had answered his questions although she knew that, even though her answer was correct, he would demean her in some way. Bloody Gryffindor bravery, Snape thought.
"Because the Youth Hostel is a little outside of Stratford," she said.
Snape snorted. "You know that's not what I asked. Why are you standing in the pouring rain waiting for the bus when you could just as easily apparate?"
Her eyes flickered away for a second, then she faced his gaze again. "I haven't done any magic since I left Hogwarts," she said quietly.
Snape was nonplussed. He knew she had returned to the muggle-world, but he would never have thought that she would stop using magic altogether. There certainly was no need for this. Why should Granger, who, as he grudgingly had to admit, was certainly one of the most accomplished witches he had ever taught, give up magic? "But why would you do something so ridiculous?" he asked, his tone derogatory.
Anger flashed up in her brown eyes. "I don't think that's any of your business, Professor."
Usually he would have lashed back at her, but somehow he didn't. Perhaps you're getting mellow with age, he thought wryly as he silently scrutinized her face. "You are right," he finally said in a neutral tone. "It is none of my business."
She looked at him in surprise. Obviously she had prepared herself for another harsh comment. Suddenly she looked tired and sad and strangely unguarded. "I know you think it's silly and childish," she said quietly. She didn't meet his eyes but looked out into the rain. "Everybody does. Well, apart from my parents. They are really happy I'm 'normal' again. Not surprising when you think what happened to them." She paused for a few moments, then went on. "I just couldn't do it anymore. I mean I could all right, I just didn't want to. All my magic…all my learning didn't save them, and so there really was no use in it anymore. There was nothing which kept me in the wizarding world." She gave a bitter laugh. "I suppose I was just running away. Trying to forget. And it was surprisingly easy. Not to forget, oh no…" She stopped, her face suddenly very tense. "But to lead a 'normal' life." She stared out into the rain for a few more moments, then suddenly looked back at Snape again, a strange expression in her eyes as if she were surprised that she had told him all this.
Snape felt oddly touched. He didn't know what it was, probably the memories that had haunted him all day long, but suddenly he was keenly aware of her pain and desperation and self-reproaches. And he knew how that felt. "There was really nothing you could have done," he said. "Even with all your learning."
She looked at him, surprised by the uncharacteristic softness of his voice. "I know," she replied, her voice full of underlying anguish. "I really know. But it doesn't help." She gulped. "I didn't leave Hogwarts immediately, you know. I finished my last year, and I spent months researching. I… I thought I could somehow go back in time, try to change the past. I read everything on the subject, including all muggle literature. I even managed to do some research in the Department of Mysteries. But it was all to no avail. I still couldn't save them…"
Her voice trailed off and Snape suddenly had to work very hard to keep the noncommittal expression on his face. So she has done the same I have, he thought, thinking back to the hours he had spent in the library. She probably read just the same books I read, and with the same mixture of desperation and hope. He suddenly felt very strange. "Your friends were very lucky to have you," he said without thinking, surprised at his words and the slight hoarseness of his voice. "Without you they wouldn't have survived even that long. I know it's hard not to, but you shouldn't feel guilty, not for their death and not for surviving."
She stared at him, her face very vulnerable and her eyes wide with surprise. Snape averted his gaze and turned to look down the road. "Your bus is coming," he said, still looking out into the night.
There was silence for a few moments. "Thanks for listening," Hermione said quietly as the bus drew nearer. "And thanks for talking to me."
Snape turned back to her. "I am sorry for your loss," he said rather stiffly.
Her face was lit by a sudden, crooked smile. "Thank you, Professor," she said softly. "And all the best to you."
"Good night, Miss Granger."
The bus stopped and she boarded it. Snape remained standing at the bus stop even when the bus had left, lost in thoughts. The look she had given him when he had expressed his condolences had strangely touched him, and suddenly he knew why. She hadn't looked at him like that for many years. Not ever since her first Potions lessons, when she had faced him with this open and trusting expression on her face, so innocent and eager to learn and please, before his cruel comments had wiped away that look and made her hate and fear him like everyone else.