Chapter 4: Revelations
It was one of those grey Sunday afternoons in mid-April. The students of Hogwarts were huddled up inside, doing their homework in their dormitories or the library, the sixth-years concentrating on the theory of Apparation. The staff was busy marking papers and preparing lessons, and Snape was quite certain that no one in the whole castle had noticed that he had not been in the Great Hall for lunch. He rarely ate there on the weekends, preferring the privacy of his own chambers, and as his nose now filled with the scent of roast and potatoes, gravy and Yorkshire pudding, he knew that his decision to have lunch at Edmunds’ pub instead of having sandwiches in his study had been the right one.
‘Would you like to have a glass of wine with your food?’ Hope asked as she wiped the table in the booth Snape usually occupied.
‘I would love to,’ he replied, wondering for a moment if he should offer a compliment about the delicious smell that hung in the air but then deciding against it. Such a comment seemed far too trivial.
‘I’ll be with you in a moment,’ Hope promised and hurried off again, and Snape gazed after her, admiring her soundless steps and her posture as he had done so many times before, not only over the last one and a half months but already when Nadezhda had been his student. She had been taught well once, and no matter how much time that had passed, she would never be able to shake off the teachings that had become part of her very being. She would always keep her back straight and her eyes lowered, make sure no one noticed her and only speak when she was spoken to.
Was he the only one who noticed how out of place she was in this establishment, Snape wondered. Could no one else see that she belonged in more esteemed settings, in a fancy tea room or an elegant dining hall?
He let his gaze wander around the pub. Sundays were the one day of the week when the place as truly busy, and this Sunday it looked as if the whole village had come there for lunch. But Hope didn’t seem stressed. She took time to chat with each of her patrons, refilled their glasses and carried out empty plates. She was the perfect hostess, and had she not chosen a different life, she would certainly be hosting parties at McKibben manor that would make the Malfoys pale with envy. By the table closest to the bar, she lingered for quite some time, talking to the pale, straw blond boy with big brown eyes, who was enjoying apple crumble and custard for dessert. He smiled at her and blushed as she said something which Snape couldn’t hear, and before Hope left the table she affectionately ruffled the boy’s hair. She would have made a good mother as well, Snape was certain of that.
Eventually, he was being served his lunch and while he was eating, the patrons left one by one, returning to their homes. Silence settled over the pub, and Snape allowed himself to sink deeper into his seat, enjoying the quiet and the warm feeling that was spreading through his body. He stretched out his legs under the table when he had emptied his plate, inhaled deeply and closed his eyes for one short yet blissful moment. It was only now that he realised how tired he was, only now that he understood the blessing of having a place to get away from all his obligations and responsibilities. The little Muggle pub had become his haven, a sanctuary to which he could retreat when he was in need of a break. No one would ever look for him here. Most people he knew would never even think he’d sink so low as to socialise with Muggles.
Slowly, Snape lifted his gaze to look up at Hope. As so many times before, he had not heard her approach.
‘Rough year,’ he stated and then pinched the bridge if his nose.
Hope had no idea. She might think that a couple of cauldrons had exploded or that a student had managed to poison a peer. She might think that it was his daily teaching duties that were giving him a headache. She had no clue, of course, that Snape spent his waking hours shadowing the son of Lucius Malfoy, making sure the boy didn’t hurt anyone else in his attempt to murder the headmaster of Hogwarts. Neither did she know that he had been up until the small hours, brewing yet another potion that would keep said headmaster alive for another month or two. The curse from Marvolo Gaunt’s ring was growing stronger and spreading, weakening Dumbledore with every day that passed. But the old wizard was not yet ready to die. All his pieces stood not yet ready in the giant game of Wizarding chess that he was playing. He mustn’t yet die. For even his own death was part of his strategy and Snape yet another of his pawns.
But Hope knew nothing of this, and Snape was not planning to tell her. They had made a deal, after all, and in this deal, the Wizarding world did not exist.
‘There’s still some apple crumble,’ she informed him. ‘Would you like some?’
‘I couldn’t fit anything more in my stomach even if I tried,’ Snape admitted.
‘You are missing out. Edmunds’ custard is legendary.’
Snape sighed as he placed his hand on his stomach, and Hope tilted her head.
‘Maybe we should go for a walk?’ she suggested.
‘In this weather?’ Snape questioned.
‘It’s not that bad.’
‘What about your patrons?’
‘I think Edmunds can handle them,’ Hope pointed out. ‘After all, there aren’t that many left.’
She looked back over her shoulder. Everyone had left apart from the three fishermen at their usual table, and the landlord had just served them a new round of ale. They would be busy for a while, drinking and telling tall tales. There was no reason why Hope couldn’t leave the pub for half an hour or so. She fetched her coat, and within a few minutes, she and Snape had left the pub.
The weather had actually become worse. The mists hung now thick over the lake, and there was a drizzle, but Hope didn’t seem to mind. Her steps were determined, and Snape followed her without asking where she was leading him. It didn’t matter. Not one bit.
At the edge of the lake, she came to a halt, gazing out over the water. At first, Snape thought that she was watching the pair of swans that were courting each other, but eventually the birds disappeared into the mists, and Hope did not avert her gaze. For her eyes were searching for the shore on the other side of the lake, the shore that was as deeply hidden in the mists as the shores of Avalon.
‘I’ve been having strange dreams lately,’ she suddenly said, still gazing into nothingness. ‘About wizards and witches, old castles and manor houses. I haven’t dreamt about those things for years.’
‘I think it is only natural that you should be having such dreams now,’ Snape started carefully. ‘However, I apologise that my appearance here has triggered them.’
Hope swirled around.
‘No, please. Don’t. Don’t apologise,’ she interrupted. ‘I, um, … They are not bad dreams, you know. Not like the ones I used to have. Back then, when I started to light the candle, hoping it would protect me during the night. I would wake up screaming back then, with cold sweat running down my back and my heart pounding like mad in my chest. At some point, I was so afraid of my dreams that I’d do anything to stay awake.’
She broke off, taking a shuddering breath, and Snape in his turn barely dared breathe. He had not dared hope to learn anything more about how Hope had fared when she had first come to the Muggle world. A month ago, up in her room, she had made it quite clear that she did not want to talk about her past. But now she seemed to have changed her mind, and Snape feared that the slightest interruption would make her fall silent once more. So he kept quiet, barely able to hold back the questions he had been dying to ask ever since he had come to the pub the first time and realised who the landlord’s daughter really was.
‘It all started out so well,’ Hope continued after a while, once more turning towards the water. ‘I was surprised at how easy it was to live without magic. Yes, there were things I had to learn, but Charles had taught me what I needed to survive. I knew my way around the house, could work the stove and the heating, and he had shown me how to take the bus to get to the villages around here. I didn’t want to do my shopping at the same place every week, you know. I didn’t want to be noticed, not even by a simple store clerk. And it worked. No one ever asked me any questions, no one ever seemed to recognise me, and eventually I allowed myself to relax. I would go for long walks by the lake, sometimes even stopping at a pub to have lunch. I talked to people, chatted about the weather and other meaningless things. I went to church on Sundays to study the Muggles, and once or twice I even went to the cinema. I was doing well, and my new life was one big adventure. I started to enjoy myself. But then the baby was born.’
‘The baby?’ Snape’s eyes widened, and for the duration of a heartbeat, he thought that he had misheard. But Hope nodded.
‘But… Madam Pomfrey provided you with a potion,’ Snape went on. ‘Did you not…’
‘I did take it,’ Hope claimed. ‘I don’t know, maybe I did something wrong or…’
‘That child was fathered by a powerful wizard,’ she went on. ‘It wasn’t going to let itself be… murdered by a simple potion.’
Snape stood silent, staring at Hope, almost unable to take in her words. How had she coped? Adapting to a whole new world must have been difficult enough for a girl her age. For a girl was what she had been, a mere child. How had she managed to take care not only of herself but a new-born as well?
Then his jaw dropped.
‘That boy…’ he said slowly. ‘The boy you were talking to earlier. Back in the pub…’
He had been the right age. Straw blond hair and pale skin, the spitting image of Barty. And Hope had been ever so affectionate. But she shook her head.
‘No,’ she said quietly. ‘Pete is just a sweet and lonely boy who stole my heart years ago when he came wandering into the pub looking for his father the day his mother was laid to rest. I’ve watched him grow up. Helped him with his homework and made sure his father didn’t drink himself to death. My little boy, however, lies buried in the churchyard on the other side of the lake. He didn’t live to celebrate his first Christmas.’
She nodded towards the opposite shore, and for the first time ever, Snape was glad she wasn’t looking at him anymore. He was unable to hide both his shock and his confusion, and Hope didn’t need to see that. And when she continued her story, her voice was so feeble that Snape doubted that he would be able to bear to see the look in her eyes. What sadness would he see there, what pain?
‘He was a beautiful boy. Hair as black as the wings of a raven, pale skin and his father’s eyes. He was my pride and joy, my everything. But he was also the reason why I stopped leaving the cottage. I knew that even little babes are able to perform magic. What would I have done if he made his teddy bear float among a crowd of Muggles? Or worse, when a wizard or witch was looking on? I couldn’t take that risk. I simply couldn’t. So I locked us in, only leaving the house to pick up food and supplies when he was fast asleep, praying that he wouldn’t wake up, praying that he wouldn’t do any magic. Then one day when I came home, I found him dead.’
She brought her hands to her face, taking a couple of deep breaths, and Snape simply watched her, at a loss for words.
‘Sudden infant death syndrome,’ she continued after what seemed like several hours but could not have been more than a couple of seconds. ‘The doctors said that it just happens and that I was not to blame. He might have died that afternoon even if I had been right by his side. But I never forgave myself for having left him alone.’
Her voice broke, and she gave the tiniest of sobs which she was quick to muffle with her hands. She cleared her throat, and when she looked at Snape again, he could see no tears glittering in her eyes. The look on her face was composed and her eyes once more the cold emeralds which he knew so well.
‘I have no memory of what I did afterwards,’ Hope continued in a matter-of-fact tone. ‘I assume I went back to the cottage. After all, I had nowhere else to go. But I don’t remember sleeping or eating. I don’t even remember coming here, to this side of the lake where I had never been before. I don’t remember being in the hospital nor coming to the pub. All I remember is the candle on my nightstand, how it burned every night and sometimes even during the day. It was the only light in otherwise eternal darkness.’
Snape stood as if petrified. He didn’t know what to say or even what to think. He was simultaneously horrified and in awe, admired the strength of the woman in front of him and pitied her at the same time.
‘Hope, I… I don’t… I am at a loss…’
‘There is no need for you to say anything. I am thankful that you stayed to listen.’
‘Why?’ Snape managed to bring forth. ‘Why did you share this with me?’
‘I don’t know. I thought I’d never tell anyone. But maybe the time was ripe. My apologies if it made you uncomfortable.’
‘No! Merlin, no!’ Snape exclaimed. ‘I am… surprised, to say the least. Claiming anything else would be a lie. But I am also very honoured.’
‘Honoured?’ Hope asked, frowning.
‘That you trust me enough to share this with me,’ Snape explained.
‘She has always trusted you, Severus. I thought you knew that.’
Hope gasped as a voice cut through the silence at the edge of the lake, and Snape spun around, wand at a ready, even though he knew the voice very well.
‘What are you doing here?’ he hissed.
‘There, there, Severus. Put your wand away,’ Dumbledore replied calmly. ‘We both know you won’t use it against me. Just yet.’
‘What are you doing here?’ Snape repeated, obediently stowing away his wand but fixing the headmaster of Hogwarts with a stare so poisonous that a weaker man would have died on the spot.
‘I am merely visiting an old friend,’ Dumbledore explained, striding past his Defence teacher. ‘How have you been, my dear?’
He stretched out his hand, but Hope didn’t take it. Instead, she recoiled, her face pale and her eyes darting between her former headmaster and her Head of House.
‘An old friend?’ Snape inquired. ‘Are you telling me you knew all along that Hope… that Miss McKibben was here?’
‘I most certainly knew, Severus. As headmaster, it is my duty to know where my students reside, even when they choose to terminate their studies somewhat prematurely.’
Snape’s eyes darted towards Hope. How could she have kept this from him? How could she have pretended that she had no contact with the Wizarding world? How could she have him believe that he was the only one?
He felt betrayed, hoodwinked and used, and his first impulse was to run. He was even considering Disapparating, no matter the punishment imposed by the Ministry. But then he saw the look in Hope’s eyes, those eyes which normally didn’t betray any of her emotions. The eyes that had looked at the Dark Lord without blinking once. They were now filled with confusion, and Snape could even detect a hint of fear.
Frowning, he directed his attention once more towards Dumbledore.
‘You better explain yourself, Albus.’
‘I intend to,’ the headmaster agreed. ‘I owe an explanation not only to you, Severus, but also to Miss McKibben. But may I suggest returning to the pub? The weather is rather unfriendly, and I happen to know that the last patron has left. Our conversation will be undisturbed. And I do think that we are all in need of a nice cup of tea and a large brandy.’
He strode off towards the village without waiting for either Snape or Hope to reply, and most probably, he didn’t notice that both of them lingered by the edge of the lake. Either that or he had chosen to give the two some time on their own.
Hope was still pale as a ghost, staring after Dumbledore, and Snape in his turn stared at her, waiting for her to say anything. But she didn’t utter a single word, not even long after Dumbledore’s purple cloak had disappeared in the mist. Her lips were slightly parted and the lower one was trembling.
‘You did not know,’ Snape pointed out eventually. ‘You had no idea Dumbledore knew about your whereabouts.’
Hope gasped for air.
‘How? How… how could he know?’ she asked, her voice unsteady. ‘I was so careful.’
‘Dumbledore always finds a way,’ Snape said calmly, swallowing his anger for the old man.
What had Dumbledore been thinking, showing up like this? He must have foreseen that his sudden appearance would scare her, that she would start wondering about who else knew where she was. She knew nothing about Albus Dumbledore, had no idea how powerful he was or how many secrets he had.
‘There is no reason to be afraid,’ Snape tried to soothe her, carefully laying his hand on Hope’s shoulder. ‘If Dumbledore knew where you were for all those years and chose not to contact you, then I am quite certain that he made sure no one else would find you. Come, let us return to the pub. The old man has quite a bit of explaining to do.’
They didn’t talk on their way back to the village. They walked side by side, both with their hands deeply buried in their pockets. Hope kept her eyes firmly on her shoes, and Snape looked ahead, desperately trying to block out memories from over a decade ago, memories of the night when he had led Nadezhda McKibben to Riddle Manor, where she had been supposed to receive the Dark Lord’s mark. Somehow, this walk felt just about the same. Ridiculous, really, Snape was well aware of that. Albus Dumbledore always looked out for his students and would do anything in his powers to keep them from harm. Most probably, he had set heaven and hell in motion when Nadezhda McKibben had disappeared, had found her and made sure she fared alright. Most probably, he also had very good reasons for showing up here today. But Snape still feared what lay ahead and that he was once more leading Nadezhda to a place where she did not want to go.
May she forgive him for it.