It was quarter to ten in the evening, and Harry had long been in bed. Severus was rummaging around in the wooden crates that had been rescued from his old home on Spinner's End. Right now the boxes rested in the far back corner of the laundry room. There were only a few, and most contained books. There were a number of personal items among them: old photographs, childhood memoirs, and so on. One crate, however, Severus was particularly glad had been saved, for Petunia's words kept running over and over in his head, making his neck tense. He rummaged around through the sawdust and wood shavings with his left hand, kneeling as well as he could on the floor. The dust made him want to sneeze, but it had been a necessary evil in packing these away. He'd done so a few months ago, for he had sensed that the Dark Lord was ill at ease. In fact, all these boxes had been packed months ago. It was a good thing too, for otherwise the Order might not have gotten anything out of the house before the Death Eaters got to it.
"Aha," he murmured, a crooked grin on his face as he felt the cool glass. He pulled it out of the box carefully, mindful not to get dust everywhere. He carefully took the bottle and wiped it with a cleaning rag until he could see the dark wine within it.
Smirking, he carefully lifted the bottle, holding it against his chest with his good arm so he would not drop it, and he walked out into the kitchen. To his surprise Miss Granger was in there, sitting at the kitchen table. She was staring down at a closed book of some sort, looking rather pale. Severus made to back out of the kitchen, but she spotted him, although not before he had thrust the wine bottle behind his back. The teacher in his had made a brief appearance.
"Hello," she said rather curiously. "You look guilty."
"I haven't the slighted idea what you're talking about," he said quickly.
"What do you have behind your back?" she said, her lips quirked as though she was holding back a smile.
"For the love of ..." Severus muttered darkly beneath his breath. "Oh alright, but do not tell Dumbledore. I'm not sure he would approve of me drinking around a former student, even if it's just one glass ..."
Severus set the slightly dusty wine bottle on the kitchen table, and went over to the kitchen drawers to hunt for a corkscrew.
"Wine?" Granger said, a little amused.
"My mother's collection, actually," said Severus as he searched the drawer. "She made it herself. It was a talent of hers, and I thought that the time was ripe to open this particular bottle."
"I helped my parents made wine once," said Miss Granger, blinking rapidly. "It was ready this summer. They opened a bottle and we all tried it."
"How did it turn out?" Severus asked curiously, at last finding a corkscrew.
Miss Granger suddenly smiled, although she looked like she was trying not to.
"Awful," she said quietly, her voice quivering. "It was practically vinegar. Pity too."
Severus sat down at the table and took the bottle. He lifted it down and put it between his legs to stabilize it, as his right hand wasn't much help with that. He drove the corkscrew in the bottle, and began to twist it. It was rather difficult, but he worked at it slowly. At last, the cork gave way, and he set the opened bottle on the table.
Severus looked over the book Miss Granger had before her.
"Is that a photo album?" he asked her.
"Yes," she said, looking down at it with sad eyes. "From when I was little. I thought ... I thought maybe I'd chance looking at it, just a little to try and ... well ..."
"Remember the good times," finished Severus.
"Yeah," she said. "Only, I can't seem to work myself up to open it."
"I know what that is like," muttered Severus under his breath. He scoffed at himself. "I turned every picture of my mother around in the house for a good year after she died. Seems stupid now, really, but back then ... it wasn't." She did not respond, and Severus got up to grab a wine glass. There were a few on a rack in the pantry, which he had seen earlier. He opened the door, and as he took a glass he saw the troubled look on Miss Granger's face.
The Professor in him said hell no, but the human in him said yes.
He took down a second glass.
He strode over to the table and set the glasses down.
"Normally I wouldn't offer, but seeing as Dumbledore seems allergic to this place ... why not?" said Severus, holding up the glass. "That, and he cannot fire me now. Would you like a little bit of wine, Miss Granger? I daresay you are old enough, and responsible enough."
Miss Granger looked at him in surprise, but she smiled, and whispered yes.
Severus poured out a small amount into the glass, and nudged it toward her, then poured one for himself, and took a sip. It was a good bottle. A very good one. Miss Granger seemed pleased as well by it. Severus had a feeling her parents had been wine lovers, because not many teenagers he had met appreciated much besides whatever had the highest alcohol content. Miss Granger, however, seemed to genuinely like the flavour. She stared thoughtfully down at the photo album.
"Oh, I just can't do it," muttered Granger, her hand poised over the cover.
Severus frowned. Then he closed his eyes for a second, wondering what on earth he was doing, but having the strangest feeling it was the best bet.
"Well," he said slowly, "would it help if I showed you my photo album first? It might ease you into looking at yours."
"What, and see pictures of you and your parents?" Granger said, taken aback. "You would really show it to me?"
"Why not?" said Severus with a shrug. "Besides, as a Professor, if you ever tell stories about me, I can send the worst recommendation letter that has ever been written when you try to get a job."
It was said lightly, and to his surprise, Granger actually laughed.
"Alright," she said. "I'd love to see it."
Severus returned in a few minutes with the old leather album under his arm. Miss Granger moved over so that he could put his chair on the same side, and then he dropped the heavy book onto the table before taking a sip of wine.
"A lot of the pictures are muggle pictures," explained Severus. "Magical film was more expensive. We really didn't have a lot of money. We were lucky at all to have the awful camera we did. It was a wedding present to my parents. Ready?"
"Are you?" Miss Granger said with a small laugh as she took a small sip of wine.
"Not really, but what the hell," he admitted, rolling his eyes and opening the book. "Page one ... in which Severus Tobias Snape is brought home from the hospital, and Tobias Snape's horrible, awful sixties moustache steals the show."
Miss Granger looked down at the first picture curiously, at the man holding a small baby with dark hair.
"Wow, is he scary looking," Miss Granger whispered, as though afraid Tobias would hear.
"Tell me about it," said Severus gloomily. "And the worst part is that I keep seeing him in the mirror."
"You do look a lot alike," said Granger seriously, taking a side glance at him. "Is that your mum?"
"Yes," said Severus, looking rather fondly upon the picture on the next page, black and white and yellowing with age. She was wearing a polka dot dress, and smiling tiredly as she cradled a tiny baby with just a few wisps of black hair.
"Aww, you were so cute," said Miss Granger.
"You are lucky I cannot wave a wand," said Severus lightly, "or you would have just been hexed."
"It is true though," said Hermione, snickering. "Bet the Slytherins would love to see it."
"If they ever do, I know who to blame," said Severus, rolling his eyes as he flipped the page. "I'm a little older here. This one here was taken when I was two, I think. Some of the pictures are a little spread out, time-wise."
They flipped through a few more pages, and Severus added sparse commentary. He felt his stomach drop when he flipped the page and saw a picture he had long forgotten.
It was of his father, smiling and holding him on his lap. Severus remembered that picture being taken. He was four, and was holding his favourite stuffed toy.
"That's a good picture," said Miss Granger.
"Yes, it is, isn't it," said Severus heavily.
"Just memories," said Severus, caressing his wine glass. "Memories."
"A mixture of good and bad," he told her.
"How so?" asked Miss Granger thoughtfully.
He frowned, debating whether or not to say what was on his mind. He looked over to Miss Granger, at the bags under her eyes and the subtle sadness that seemed to have been so permanent upon her face since she had come to Bell point. He got the feeling that maybe it was time to lay some of the ghosts to rest, and voice some of his past aloud. Perhaps she needed to hear them more than he did. He thought of how sometimes for him, hearing another person's trials, however different from his own, made his feel less alone. Perhaps it would do the same for her.
"My father was a good father sometimes," Severus said to her, trying to think of all the ways he could say this as he felt the old confusion rise up in his gut. "What I've said of him probably doesn't seem to make sense of that. The problem was, my father had a tendency to be a really awful parent, but then there would be moments when you would think that he was okay. It would have been so much easier if he had simply been all bad."
"You don't have to answer this ... but what made him so bad?"
"A lot of things," said Severus quietly after a moment. "But the biggest of those was that he drank. He drank whisky, beer, gin, anything. The only thing he didn't touch was wine. He said with was for women. I guess that's why my mother wasn't afraid to make it. Everything else he kept in the house though, she used to hide from him if she thought she could get away with it safely. I'd catch her doing it when I was just a little kid."
"Do you ever drink like him?" whispered Miss Granger, her words tumbling out before she could stop herself.
"No. And when I do drink, only wine ... call it a little gesture of defiance," smirked Severus, not mentioning his fear of drinking anything else.
Miss Granger nodded, then took a sip from her glass. They continued, and Miss Granger asked a few questions here and there.
"Harry's mother," said Granger suddenly, seeing a picture of Severus and a young Lily, sitting on the front step. Lily was talking animatedly, frozen in time.
"We were eleven," Severus said, suddenly smiling. "My mother took that shot. Lily had come over to borrow a book when my father was at work. Oh, she was a real live wire. I think you two would have liked each other. She was as smart as a whip, and had a temper to match. She had a righteous way about her, and was always up to defending people. Of course, just because she set store in the rules did not mean she was beneath decking someone who really deserved it. One time she even broke Sirius Black's nose. He was always a little sore on that point with her. We were fourteen when that happened."
"What did he do?" Miss Granger said, laughing.
"I haven't the slightest idea," said Severus fondly. "But it was something I will never forget. From what I have heard, though, Lily is not that unique in the ability to throw a good punch," Severus added slyly, sipping his wine with mirth.
"Draco Malfoy deserved that," said Miss Granger sharply.
"I have no doubt he did."
He flipped the page, ignoring her surprised look. Many pages passed. The last page came quicker than Severus thought it would, and he paused, staring down at a picture of him sitting in the old living room at Spinner's End. He was sitting next to his mother, and they were both reading from the same article.
"I remember that evening," muttered Severus, watching the memories flash before his eyes. "It was the summer before my fifth year. We were reading the newest issue of Potions Monthly. We lived for that magazine. I remember writing back and forth to her throughout the year, discussing articles and discoveries. I was always able to get it in the Library at school when the new issue came. Madam Pince knew it was my favourite, and I was always top of the list to get it."
Severus sighed and put his glass to his lips, mind swirling, for it was what had happened after that picture that he would always remember.
"What are you thinking about?" asked Miss Granger after a minute or so, noting that the book remained open despite this being the last picture.
"Well, a couple of weeks before I went back to school that year, they died," said Severus, trying to keep his voice from shaking. "My father and I had fought that evening. My mother ... she came up to my room to talk to me. I listened, but I didn't really pay attention. I wish I could remember what she had said. Maybe ... things would have turned out differently, then."
"What, you think they might have lived?"
"No ... I mean I might not have been such an idiot the rest of that year. Had it not been for that argument ... that night, perhaps I might have had a chance at a bright future."
"What did you argue about?" asked Miss Granger, surprised and shocked.
Severus frowned, staring into the dark red wine in his glass, and then he answered.
"We were discussing careers," he said finally, for time had made that night harder to keep within him. As more and more years passed, the weight of what once was had grown heavy, and it was a burden that he was growing tired of bearing. "I was going into my fifth year, and, as you know, that year is when you branch out a lot, and pick your classes to suit a career."
"What did you want to do?"
"Well, I wanted to be healer," said Severus, waiting for her to scoff at him.
There was no doubt or harshness in her voice. She sounded surprised, but not in a bad way.
"Believe it or not," said Severus heavily, "I did. It fascinated me, especially the potions aspect. It still does, I suppose. It was all I really wanted to do ... but, well, my father thought otherwise."
"He didn't like the idea?"
"He ... well, my mother and I tried to explain exactly what a healer was to him," began Severus. "He was a muggle, and ... he seemed to be under the impression a healer was like a nurse. He went berserk ... and started bellowing at me how no son of his was going to do a woman's job. He brought up a whole bunch of stuff from when I was kid, like how my favourite stuffed toy as a kid had been a horse, which he thought was ‘girly'. Stuff like that, and he used it like it was evidence that I had never been a proper man or something, and as he kept shouting he said that he wasn't going to let me disgrace the family name by doing a woman's job.
"That's hardly fair," said Miss Granger, horrified.
"Ah, well, he was an ass," Severus said casually as if it was of no concern, "A chauvinistic ass, at that. It was the seventies too. Times were different. Anyway, I was furious, and after about an hour of him tossing stuff at me and bellowing about how I would never amount to anything ... I believed it. And that was when it occurred to me that I could just become a Death Eater. It was easier, and I would never have to listen to anyone like him again. I was sick of him. I was sick of everything. Then, that night after they drove to the wedding he drank himself silly, and he tried to drive them home. So I was all alone, and desperate. After that, all of that propaganda dung that the pure bloods spouted started to sound pretty good, and I truly decided that I wanted to join up. So, I lost my best friend because of that. Lily didn't like the idea of me being a Death Eater, but it wasn't even just that. I was an absolute arse to her that year too. I was so bitter over my father taking my mother to the grave with him, and while she knew what had happened, I never said that it was that I was angry over, and she kept thinking I was mad at her. After that, there was no turning back.
"And that is how I ended up like this," Severus finished bitterly, looking down at his right hand and trying to flex it. "It only took me one year to completely and utterly mess my life up. Since then, just about every bad thing that's happened to me and others around me has been because of that one, horrible decision."
"But you became a spy," said Miss Granger.
"Only after Lily became a target," said Severus, feeling his heart sink. "I was no saint. I was a wretched excuse for a human being, and I am not much better now."
"That's stupid," said Miss Granger plainly.
"Saying that you aren't much better than you were," she explained, eyes blazing. "That is the dumbest thing that I've ever heard you say. You've protected Harry from the first day he stepped into Hogwarts - oh yes, I noticed - and over the years you have risked your life countless times, trying to ensure the downfall of that horrible excuse for a man. You may not be a knight in shining armour, but you have still sacrificed as much, if not more, than those who have always been on our side. While that does not excuse some of the things you have done, you still have fought far more for good than many people ever will."
Severus stared, not sure what to say. The words echoed through his head. Why was she defending him from himself? He had not expected that in the least, and could not help but feel amazed. It was in that one moment that he realized exactly why Potter and Weasley were such good friends with Hermione Granger. She sold things to people straight, but in a way that made them see the good, not the bad. Just like Lily had. He was speechless, and when she kept talking Severus made no move to interrupt.
"I know I've said it before, but you and Harry are so much alike," she said, looking as though she had never seen him before. "He really looks up to you now. And you know what? I think that it has taken you this long to start to warm up to him because you are afraid of disappointing him."
He opened his mouth to defend himself, but he hadn't any idea what to say, because she had hit the nail on the head. For was that not always the reason? Wasn't that why he had always remained distant from his Slytherins unless he had no choice, because he was scared to let them down? Why he had settled for being a Death Eater, for fear that his father was right, and that he was not good enough to be anything else? Why he had always been so cruel to others, because he knew he could not fall from grace he had never been given? Was he not afraid to disappoint everyone, even himself?
"Merlin," he muttered under his breath, not knowing what else to say. And then Miss Granger added one last thing.
"You are not going to disappoint him if you let him get to know you," she said quietly. "I have not been disappointed."
"Alright," he said quietly after a long time. "I will let Potter get to know me better. Really."
They both looked thoughtfully into their wine glasses for what felt like forever.
At last, Severus smirked half-heartedly and said, "Now if you do not mind, let's look at that photo album of yours. I am sick of hearing about me."
"I don't mind," she said quietly.
"And, Miss Granger?"
"Thank you," he said quietly, looking into his glass of wine.
She just nodded, and then opened the book.
"Page one," she said in a whisper, "where Hermione Jean Granger is introduced to her three adoring grandparents with their enormous bifocals."
"My lord, they look like bugs," Severus said before he could stop himself. He wanted to hit his head on the table for shame, thinking that this was the last time he wanted his mouth to run away on him.
To his amazement, Miss Granger let out a peal of laughter.
"Especially my Granddad," she said. "Grandma Jenny not so much here, but she used to wear these awful sequined shawls, kind of like Professor Trelawney. She was the life of her nursing home, in the later years."
"Do you have any grandparents left?" Severus asked hesitantly.
Miss Granger shook her head. "No. Grandma Jenny passed away two years ago. She was my favourite."
"I'm sorry to hear," Severus muttered.
"Oh well, I'm sure she's teaching everyone all her bowling tricks wherever she is. You should have seen her trophies. She joined a team a few years before I was born to keep herself occupied after her husband died."
"She sounds highly entertaining," said Severus as Miss Granger flipped the page.
"She was. My mother ... she was a lot like her," muttered Granger. Severus did not reply, and slowly she continued. "You know, I think that's the hardest thing to get used to. Speaking about them in past tense. I guess it just makes me feel even more far away."
"They are never far away, Miss Granger," Severus said quietly, remembering Dumbledore saying something similar to him once.
"Would you mind ... well, calling me Hermione instead of Miss Granger, just for the summer?" she asked hesitantly. "Maybe then ... this place might feel a little ... a little like home."
"I can do that," said Severus, surprised. "Funny you should ask. Potter, or should I say Harry, asked me to use his first name earlier today as well."
"He did?" she asked, surprised.
"He said it was the name his parents wanted for him, and that's why I should call him by it," Severus said.
"Good logic," Miss Granger said thoughtfully. "Which reminds me. How did your visit with his relatives go? I've been wanting to ask you all day, really."
"It went well, but only in the sense that I got a lot of information out of Petunia," said Severus distastefully. "I'm going to use the memory as evidence to build a case for Harry, so Dumbledore will finally do something about his situation. Although, he probably doesn't know as much as he thinks he does, on the matter. Some of the things Petunia said ... but ... we can discuss this another night. I'll need time to think all of it over anyway.
"Besides right now is all about you and your family, and I will listen as long as you want to speak." He paused for a moment, thoughts swirling. He looked to Miss Granger, and then added, "You know, I have come to see that you tend to think so much about others, you sometimes forget to think of yourself."
Miss Granger's eyes filled with tears, and she nodded, looking as though she did not know what to say. Severus knew he had been right to say what he had. He watched her carefully as she flipped to a new page in the photo album.
"This is my second birthday," she said with a shaky laugh. "Dad had to bake the cake because Mum was working the night before. That was the last time he tried a layer cake."
Severus chuckled as he looked down at the cake, which a young Hermione was blowing the candles out on. The cake was leaning at an impressive angle.
"Are you sure your father was not magical?" he said jokingly. "There had to be a few charms in place to keep that thing standing."
Miss Granger giggled slightly and wiped her eyes before continuing to flip pages.
"Ooh, look at this one!" she said a little while later. "I remember that Halloween costume!"
"You went as a witch?" said Severus with a laugh. "Now that is funny."
"My father sewed the sparkly cape himself," she said, erupting in laughter.
"My mother hates sewing," she said automatically. "I mean ... she hated sewing."
Hermione sighed, her eyes tightly shut. She remained silent for a moment or two.
"I miss them so much," she whispered at last, tears leaking from her closed eyes. "And all I can think about is that I didn't tell them I loved them before I left."
"I have no doubt they knew you did," Severus said, "not that that makes it any easier to accept."
"I wish I had my time turner again," Miss Granger croaked, putting her head down in the crook of her right arm, her left hand on the photo album, clutching tightly to the edge of it as though she was afraid it too would disappear. "It's all our fault the Ministry's time turners were destroyed!"
"It doesn't work like that," muttered Severus. "Even if you had a time turner, they might not have lived anyway."
"But it would work, it would work, I know it!" she sobbed into her arm.
Severus gently extracted her hand from the photo album and held it tightly. She did not say anything, but she gave his hand a squeeze.
"I used to think that too," he said quietly. "I guess every witch or wizard thinks of it eventually. I thought for a while that I could change my parents' deaths, or Lily's death. You may not believe me ... but I tried very hard to get my hands on a time turner for some time. Really. But then it occurred to me that even if I had gone back, how was I to know something bad wouldn't happen a few days later, or a year later? I don't really believe in fate ... but sometimes ... sometimes things seem to be meant to happen a certain way.
"I know it isn't easy to hear this ... but Voldemort was going to come after you no matter what, and were you to get a hold of a time turner how do you know that you would not be the one to die, or that the Dark Lord would not have simply found your family a month or two down the road, this time with you there? Perhaps not even Voldemort would have caused their end. Accidents happen all the time, and who are you to say that it was not their time to go? It may not feel like it was their time, I know, but how can either of us have the right to make that decision?"
"But we could hide them -" she began, taking her tear streaked face from her arm.
"Hermione ... even the Fidelus charm is not foolproof, and Harry's parents proved that. I know it is so much easier to think that you could have done something, or could do something, than accept what happened. There are many roads we end up having to travel in life, roads we do not choose, but we can determine whether or not we want to keep going forward, or continue to look back forever. And believe me, if you fix your eyes on the past too long you miss what's happening in the present. I know ... I've been there. You cannot keep telling yourself there is something you could have, or can do to reverse it. For me, every day I wish I still had a family ... and my best friend back ... but the fact is no kind of magic can bring back the dead. It is a fact everyone has to face, in their own time."
Hermione fell silent, tears dripping off her nose as she looked down at the photo album. She gently closed it.
"But Sirius ... we saved Sirius in third year," she whispered, looking up at Severus. He felt his heart clench, for she looked like a child, begging for him to tell her there was still hope.
"You what?" Severus said, confused.
"Dumbledore t-told me to use the time turner the Ministry had let me have to do more classes," Hermione said in a hushed voice. "He found out Sirius was going to be kissed by dementors, and when everyone left the hospital wing he told us where Sirius was and that we should go back and save Buckbeak and fly up to get Sirius before it was too late."
Severus felt the shock settle in. So that was how Black had escaped. He had thought Dumbledore had something to do with it, and he had been sure that Potter ... Harry ... had too.
"Dumbledore told you to go back in time before the dementors came for Black?"
"Yes," Hermione muttered.
"Maybe that's the difference," muttered Severus. "Maybe that's why it worked. He hadn't had his soul taken yet. It was before it happened."
"But ... I no, it didn't ... he still d-died, didn't he?" Hermione said slowly in a moment of clarity, her eyes seeming to look further than just the kitchen walls. "He was always a condemned man, even after that. Buy him time ... was that all we did? Was he meant to have been kissed that day?"
Severus frowned, feeling muddled inside. "I ... I do not know. We can never know. Nobody can, and I suppose that is what I am trying to say. And .... magic is not meant to take back death. It can prevent it, it can delay it, but it can never take it back. "
"I wish it could," Hermione whispered, putting her face into her arms, shoulders shaking.
"Me too," Severus whispered back.
He took her hand again and squeezed it tightly. Her trembling fingers wrapped themselves tightly around his. They remained this way for a long time. At last, she took her tear-stained face from the table and wiped her eyes. She looked at Severus, and he knew that she was thanking him, even though no words came from her lips.
"I think I'll go to bed now," she said softly, at last speaking.
Severus nodded, gathering the two wine glasses and putting them in the sink to wash later.
"Thank you for listening, Professor," Miss Granger said as she stood in the doorway, the photo album clutched to her chest.
"Severus," he replied on a whim. "I am not really a professor anymore, am I?"
She smiled softly, her sad smile mirroring his own.
"Goodnight, Severus," she said. She shook her head. "I'm not sure I'll get used to that, you know."
"Not sure I will get used to Hermione either, or Harry, for that matter."
"Well, we have all summer," she replied tiredly. "It is not as though any of have anywhere else to go right now."
"True," he replied, glancing out of the kitchen window and into the starry night.
He turned to see that she had left the kitchen. Severus heard the quiet sound of Hermione's footsteps ascending the stairs. He looked back out of the window, thinking, her words having set his mind in motion.