Chapter 3: The Deal~~~
It was a cold night, and despite it being the middle of March, the cold winds blowing in from the North carried with them the smell of snow and ice. Yet Snape still lingered at the edge of the Black Lake, staring into its depths without really being aware of them. Instead, he imagined the icy green water of the lake by the Muggle village. Green like her eyes and just as cold.
He should go back and make sure that she was alright, Snape thought a couple of times but each time shook his head at himself almost before he had finished the thought. Edmunds would take care of her, just as he had for the last fourteen years. There was nothing he could contribute, Snape told himself. And besides, Hope losing her composure that evening was most probably his fault anyway. He could not tell when their conversation had turned sour or which of his questions he shouldn’t have asked, but he was quite convinced that the evening would have turned out different if he had held his tongue.
Maybe he shouldn’t have returned to the pub in the first place, he thought now. Certainly, upon their first meeting, Hope had invited him back. But had she anticipated what was going to happen? Had she been prepared for a ghost of her past to come barging into her life once more? Had she been prepared for the memories that would awaken? Or had she been taken by surprise, been caught unawares and been scared by what she’d seen, so much that she once more decided to run?
Snape breathed in the cold night air, exhaled and kicked at a stone with frustration. All of a sudden, he was not sure anymore why he had gone back to the pub and wondered if it were for the best if he stayed away from now on. Hope was not the girl he had once known, and the girl he had known – Nadezhda – was long since gone. There was no room for him in Hope’s life, and she certainly had no need of him. If anything, he was a cold reminder of a past she had no desire to be reminded of. He should let it go. He should leave her alone. But when Snape laid himself down to rest in his quarters that night, he could not help but see her eyes in front of him in the dark: cold and desolate but just as precious as the emeralds that filled the Slytherin hourglass in the Entrance Hall.
It shouldn’t be like this, Snape mused, once more sitting up, acutely aware that he would not receive the gift of sleep that night. After all those years away from the Wizarding world, Hope should have found peace. She should have been able to leave behind everything she had witnessed, everything she had been through. The suffering, the darkness, the deceit. But for some reason, everything was still there, festering in her heart and soul.
‘There is a shadow,’ Edmunds had said. ‘Something from her past that keeps her from smiling.’
Snape sighed. Maybe running away had not been the right decision after all, he mused. Maybe the very magic Nadezhda had run away from was the reason why Hope didn’t know how to smile. Magic was not simply a gift, a tool to employ whenever one had use of it. Magic was part of one’s soul, and denying it could have dire consequences. Maybe Hope was lacking the one thing she tried so hard to forget. Maybe she felt it, too, and had therefore invited him back in, him, her old teacher, the one who had once shown her white magic, good magic. Maybe she wanted him to show her again. Just maybe…
With a groan, Snape climbed out of bed, shaking his head at himself. There were too many maybes and too many questions, questions to which he would not find any answers in the confinement of his quarters. The questions might not be his to answer, but he did not care. He had once promised that girl to look out for her and had failed her, a mistake he intended to rectify now no matter how high the cost. He owed her that much at least, and the next morning, he promised himself, he would return to the Muggle village in order to look straight into Hope’s green eyes and demand to talk to Nadezhda. For Nadezhda McKibben was the only one who could answer the questions neither of them yet knew how to ask.
The look on landlord Edmunds’ face was one of utter surprise when he unlocked the door of his pub the next morning and caught sight of the dark clad man outside, who seemed to have been waiting for the pub to open for quite some time.
‘I do hope you went home to sleep,’ he exclaimed. ‘Judging by the dark circles under your eyes, I’d say you didn’t, though. Where do you live, anyway?’
‘Close enough to have made it there for some hours of sleep,’ Snape replied.
Edmunds was right, however. He had not slept. Instead he had tried to come up with the right things to say to Hope, the same questions he had prepared so carefully over the last weeks but not had the opportunity to ask the night before. Now he would ask them. Now he would demand answers. But when he entered the pub, he found that Hope wasn’t there.
‘How is your daughter?’ he enquired, trying to sound casual but failing miserably. Why he was even trying to hide his concern, he didn’t know. His returning obviously meant that he did care.
‘Didn’t sleep either, the poor thing,’ Edmunds replied. ‘She’s still upstairs in her room. I’m not sure she’ll come at all down today. Coffee?’
‘Milk and sugar?’
‘You’ll regret this,’ Edmunds warned, and sure enough, Snape winced slightly when he swallowed the first mouthful of the black brew.
‘I’m rubbish at making coffee,’ Edmunds apologised and pushed the sugar bowl towards Snape. ‘Hope’s coffee, however, is a gift from heaven. I don’t know how she does it, but she seems to have a knack for it. Whoever taught her how to brew deserves a medal.’
I’m sure her old Potions master would be delighted to hear that, Snape thought, hiding a smirk behind his cup and wondering if Slughorn would even remember Nadezhda McKibben. Certainly, the daughter of a simple Ministry employee had not been material for the Slug Club. Most probably, Slughorn had forgotten all about her.
‘How is Hope?’ he now enquired for the second time that morning, this time intentionally using the name Nadezhda had chosen. He wanted to make sure that Edmunds knew that he was not simply making small talk. He did care about Hope. He cared a lot.
Edmunds put down his cup, leaned back in his chair and gave Snape a scrutinising look.
‘You seem to care quite a bit about her considering that you’ve only met her twice,’ he pointed out. ‘Are you sure you don’t know her?’
‘Would it matter?’ Snape asked, putting down his cup as well, unblinkingly meeting the landlord’s gaze.
‘No. I assume it wouldn’t,’ Edmunds replied and then buried his face in his hands.
‘I would give my very soul to see a smile in her eyes,’ he continued quietly. ‘Just once. God knows she deserves it.’
Then he once more lifted his head, once more looking Snape straight in the eyes.
‘Do you know what it takes?’ he wondered. ‘Do you know how to make her smile?’
‘I am afraid I don’t,’ Snape replied, but to his surprise, the landlord still straightened up.
‘You’ll try your best, though, won’t you?’ he asked and Snape nodded. Try was all he could do. But when he climbed the stairs that led to the flat above the pub about half an hour later, he wondered what he had gotten himself into. He was representing everything Nadezhda had fled, the world she had left behind, dark magic as well as light. How would he of all people ever be able to chase her shadows away? Would she even let him try? But despite his doubts, he walked along the corridor at the top of the stairs and knocked on the second door to the right.
Snape wasn’t even surprised. Edmunds had prepared him, telling him about the days when Hope refused to leave her room, when she turned down both food and drink and would do nothing else than stand by the window for days at a time, blankly staring into nothingness, until lack of sleep and nourishment would make her collapse on the floor.
‘I’m scared for her on those days,’ Edmunds had told Snape. ‘She has never tried to hurt herself, but I can’t stop myself from thinking that one day, she will open that window and jump to her death. She has promised me a hundred times that she won’t, but it’s still my greatest fear.’
Snape swallowed drily. He had no idea what he would find on the other side of the door when he opened it. In the best of cases, Hope was up, getting ready to go downstairs and face the world. In the worst of cases, she had broken the promise she had given to the man who was more of a father to her than Duncan McKibben ever had been. Nobody would ever know her reasons, and Snape would spend the rest of his life wondering whether he and his sudden appearance in her life had been the cause for her breakdown. And once again, a pair of green eyes would come to haunt his darkest dreams.
He pushed open the door ever so carefully, preparing himself for the worst. His heart was pounding in his chest, and he could not stop himself from giving a sigh of relief when he saw Hope standing by the window which was firmly closed. She was wearing a dark green dress, and it was hard to tell where her black hair ended and the black shawl around her shoulders started.
‘What are you doing here?’ she asked as Snape stepped into the room. She had not turned around, and he had to assume that she was seeing his reflection in the window.
‘I wanted to make sure that you are alright,’ he answered. ‘I will leave again if you want me to.’
He’d leave her room, her life, anything she’d ask him to. But to Snape’s surprise, her answer was another.
‘I’d like you to stay.’
She turned around ever so slowly, feet first, then hips and torso. She seemed reluctant to look at him, and when she finally turned her head, she kept her gaze lowered for quite some time. Snape saw her chest and shoulders rise and heard her take a couple of deep breaths, almost as if she were gathering the strength and courage to look at him. When she finally did look up, he almost wished she hadn’t.
She was a pitiful sight. The dark shadows under her eyes clashed violently with her pale cheeks, and together with her red-rimmed eyes, they bore witness of far too many sleepless nights. But there were no traces of dried tears on her cheeks, and Snape wondered if she even knew how to cry.
‘Please,’ she said almost inaudibly. ‘Stay.’
Snape nodded and wordlessly closed the door. Who was he to refuse her? How would he be able to live with himself if he walked away now? Yet so far, he had no idea why Hope wanted him to stay.
He sat down on the chair that she offered him by the vanity table and watched her extinguish a candle on her nightstand, only now realising that the frame behind it contained a painting of a burning candle and not a mirror. He could have sworn that he had seen both candles flicker as he had entered the room, but as one was now extinguished and the other quite still, he figured that he must have been imagining things.
‘I have lit a candle every evening for the last fifteen years. It burns through the night and keeps me company. Silly, isn’t it? A grown woman being afraid of the dark.’
‘Not silly at all,’ Snape pointed out, not daring to even start counting the nights when he heard the shadows of the past moving around his bed and didn’t dare open his eyes to face them. He knew very well what it meant to be afraid of the dark.
‘Some days, I am even afraid of the light,’ Hope continued, her eyes still on the extinguished candle. ‘In the bright light of day, there is nowhere to hide.’
He heard her take a shuddering breath and saw her bring her hand to her face for a moment, but when she turned to look at him once more, Snape was taken by surprise. She was still pale and her eyes still red, but the look in them was one of determination.
‘It’s quite easy to walk through the front door of the Leaking Cauldron and step right into Muggle London, you know,’ she started. ‘After two blocks you’re used to the noise and after a couple of hours you have learnt how to avoid getting hit by cars and busses. Another couple of hours and you realise that Muggles aren’t all that different from Wizarding folks.’
‘If I recall correctly, you did well in Muggle studies,’ Snape commented. ‘Some of your peers were Muggles. Their world could not have been all new to you.’
‘Who knew that I would have use for a school subject that earned me more beatings than praise at home,’ she said with a slightly bitter tone. ‘But I was grateful for my Muggle friends, especially for Charles. I couldn’t have made it without him.’
Snape frowned, and a miniscule smile tugged at the corners of Hope’s mouth as she sat down opposite him on the edge of the bed.
‘You never wondered why Charles changed his mind about spending the Christmas holidays at Hogwarts, did you? We very much hoped you wouldn’t.’
Snape raised an eyebrow in surprise. Charles Herrington? The stuttering boy who had been so afraid of his Head of House that he had spilled the beans on his best friend on Christmas morning, revealing that she had sneaked out of the castle the night before?
‘Mr Herrington never sought my permission to leave the castle that Christmas,’ Snape explained. ‘It was Headmaster Dumbledore who arranged for him to Floo directly to…’
He broke off and his left eyebrow joined his right.
‘…the Leaky Cauldron,’ he finished slowly, trying to wrap his mind around the scheme that was unfolding before him.
‘It wasn’t the best of places to wait for him,’ Hope admitted. ‘But it was Christmas, and the pub was busy, and a couple of extra Galleons can turn people into blind bats. No one saw me. No one knew I was there. And the name Nadezhda McKibben never made it into the ledger. She had already ceased to exist.’
‘So Mr Herrington met you there and…’
‘…and took me to his great-aunt’s cottage, right there, on the other side of the lake.’
She nodded towards the window, and Snape followed her gaze, even though he knew that he wouldn’t be able to see the lake from where he was sitting, never mind the opposite shore.
‘He stayed with me until term recommenced, teaching me how to work the lights, the heating and the stove,’ Hope recounted.
‘What about Mr Herrington’s great-aunt?’ Snape enquired.
‘She had moved to a retirement home half a year earlier,’ Hope explained. ‘The cottage was to rent but in too bad a state for anyone wanting to live there. But Charles had always been one of Professor McGonagall’s best Transfiguration students.’
She didn’t take her eyes off the window while she described in detail how Charles had transformed the rundown cottage into a palace for her or how he had put up Muggle Repelling-Charms around the property to ensure that no one would bother her. It was almost as if she were travelling back in time in her mind, back to the cottage where her Charles had taken such good care of her. Her features softened, and Snape imagined how she had been happy there. Hopefully, Charles had been able to magic the smile into her eyes which she now so sorely lacked.
‘By the time Charles had to return to Hogwarts, he had taken care of everything,’ Hope continued. ‘He even made sure that his great-aunt received a monthly payment, so she would believe that someone was renting her cottage. He had thought of everything and had been kinder to me than anyone ever had. And to this day, I am ashamed of what I did to him.’
She bent her head and took a deep breath, and as she looked up at Snape again, he could see tears glittering in her eyes.
‘I erased his memory,’ she confessed. ‘On the last night we spent together, after he had fallen asleep in my arms, I made sure he would never remember Nadezhda McKibben. It broke my heart, but I could not take the risk of him letting slip one day that he knew where she was. She had to disappear for good.’
‘You didn’t have your wand at the time,’ Snape pointed out, but Hope simply shrugged.
‘Charles had a wand. I had borrowed it a couple of times during the holidays in order to perform some simple spells on the house. It was obedient enough. And since Charles never returned to the cottage or even went looking for me in the morning, I assume the charm worked. It didn’t do any damage, did it?
‘None that I have seen,’ Snape assured her.
‘Good. Good,’ Hope whispered, hastily wiping away the tears of relief that were running down her cheeks, and Snape could only imagine how many sleepless nights she had spent, wondering whether she had unintentionally hurt her best friend.
‘If I remember correctly, Mr Herrington has become a Healer,’ he told her. ‘I could make some enquires, if you’d like me to.’
‘No! No. No, please, don’t. I don’t want to… I can’t…’
She broke off, covering her mouth with her hands. They were once again shaking, and Snape had the good grace to look away, giving Hope time to regain her composure.
‘I do not want to know anything about the Wizarding world,’ she said in the end. ‘I can’t know. I mustn’t. Do you understand?’
‘I do understand, Miss Edmunds,’ he said gravely and rose from his chair. ‘And because I understand, I will now bid you goodbye.’
‘No. Please, don’t go,’ Hope exclaimed and rose as well, and for the tiniest of moments, Snape thought that she was about to grab his arm. But she stopped in mid-movement, drew back her hand and hid it in the folds of her dress.
‘How can you want me to stay?’ Snape asked, truly confused. ‘I am part of what you left behind. The Wizarding world, magic. I will always remind you of it, no matter how carefully we try to avoid the subject.’
‘I never had anything to fear when you were by my side,’ Hope replied quietly. ‘The magic you showed me is not the one I fled from. And besides, you came to this village for a reason, just as I did. I have no right to ask you to leave.’
Snape swallowed. Upon finding his former student here, he had almost forgotten why he had come to the Muggle village in the first place a fortnight ago. It was a place with no magic, neither dark nor light. It was a place where none of his masters existed, neither Dumbledore nor Voldemort. It was a place where Severus Snape did not exist. Here he was neither spy nor Death Eater. Here he was simply the boy he had once been, grown into a man that no one knew.
‘I have no right to ask you to leave,’ Hope repeated. ‘And when I told you that it had been a pleasure seeing you again, I meant it. I really did. So, please, the next time you come here, let us forget who we once were. Let us forget what we know about each other and where we come from. Let’s just be… two acquaintances who share a drink every now and then in a shabby little pub. Do you think we can do this?’
‘I do not know, Miss Edmunds,’ Snape answered truthfully and looked deeply into her green eyes. ‘But I do think we should give it a try.’