Chapter 11: Appeasing the Past~~~
‘You left her alone,’ Edmunds stated as Snape returned to the sitting room. The landlord still looked worried, yet there wasn’t an ounce of blame in his voice. In fact, he sounded rather composed, and as he rose from his chair, his whole body language spoke of relief. It was obvious that he was aware that Snape wouldn’t have left Hope if he didn’t deem her strong enough to be on her own.
‘I sent her to take a hot shower. It will help her sleep,’ Snape explained calmly, even though he felt anything but calm himself. He had not wanted to leave Hope’s side but had deemed it necessary. He could not hover over her like a mother hen. The faster things returned back to normal the better.
Edmunds sighed deeply and poured himself and Snape a healthy measure of Scotch.
‘I’m feeling helpless,’ he admitted. ‘I wish there was something I could do.’
Snape accepted the whisky, sank onto the sofa and drank without any a toast.
‘Hope needs to get through this herself, I’m afraid,’ he pointed out. ‘All we can do is to be there for her when she calls for us.’
‘You sound like Elisabeth,’ Edmunds noted sadly before he, too, raised his glass to his lips. Silence settled over the room, and after Edmunds had returned to his chair, the two men sat without looking at each other, both of them immersed in their own thoughts. Edmunds’ gaze rested on a framed picture of his beloved wife that was hanging on the opposite wall, and Snape stared into his half empty glass, seeing the light of the candles reflect in the amber liquid, deliberating whether he should drink up or not. There was a long night ahead, and he was already tired. The best choice would probably be to settle for a pot of really strong coffee.
He put the glass down as he heard the bathroom door open and close, and as he heard Hope’s footsteps in the corridor, he rose.
‘I promised Hope she wouldn’t have to be alone tonight,’ he informed the landlord.
‘You better get changed then,’ Edmunds said. ‘Your trousers are still wet from the rain. You must be freezing.’
Snape looked down at his attire. He could not even remember when and where he had taken off his jacket and had until now been unaware of his wet trousers, socks and shoes. It hadn’t mattered. But now there was an uncomfortable cold creeping up his legs and into his very bones. A warm shower seemed tempting, Snape couldn’t deny that, but the thought of Hope sitting in her room, waiting for him, made him consider letting his clothes dry on his body. He had promised her that he’d be right there with her.
‘She wouldn’t want you to catch a cold,’ Edmunds pointed out, smiling. It was almost as if he had read Snape’s mind, and as the wizard somewhat uncomfortably cleared his throat, the landlord smiled.
‘She’s such a gentle soul, our Hope,’ he said. ‘Always caring about others, friendly, kind. You’ve seen her with our guests. She always makes time for everyone, listens to their problems and complaints…’
He trailed off, and Snape averted his gaze. Edmunds had no idea about exactly why Hope was so kind, why she needed to be kind in order to survive. He did not know about the dark shadow that inhabited Hope’s heart and threatened to tear apart her very soul.
She was sitting on the edge of the bed as he entered her room half an hour later. She was wearing her nightgown and a white terrycloth bathrobe. Her hair was still wet and hanging down over her shoulders, its blackness clashing violently with the light colour of her robe. Her back was straight, her breathing slow, and her face was once more turned towards the window.
‘What is it you see out there?’ Snape asked for the second time that night, as he was approaching the window in order to pull the curtains shut.
‘Ghosts and shadows. Faceless wraiths with long black cloaks. They rise from the depths of the lake and hover above the surface, reaching out their scabbed, grey hands, beckoning for me to join them.’
Snape did his best not to shudder. He couldn’t see Hope’s face as he was now looking out of the window himself, trying to make out any form in the darkness, but he remembered the look of fear he had seen in her green eyes earlier, a look of sheer terror. He might not see anything out there, but Hope certainly had. Or at least, she thought that she had, and it had frightened her.
‘There is nothing out there,’ Snape said as he resolutely closed the curtains. ‘Nothing at all.’
‘I know,’ Hope replied quietly. ‘I do know. But sometimes, it’s hard to believe it.’
Slowly, Snape turned around, finding Hope looking up at him. Her features had softened, and the look of fear had vanished from her eyes. Instead she now looked endlessly tired and heartbroken.
‘I would like to have another look at your wrist and treat the scar with Essence of Dittany,’ Snape announced, acutely aware that Hope’s physical scars were not the ones that needed the most attention. ‘It might stop the infection and ease the pain.’
He broke off and crouched down, not once breaking eye contact as he took Hope’s hand into his.
‘I know it is a potion from the Wizarding world, but as this scar is the result of Dark Magic, I doubt that Muggle medicine will do any good. Please, let me use the Dittany.’
He didn’t hold on tight, and had Hope withdrawn her hand, Snape would not have tried to persuade her any further. If she did not want the potion, he would not force her. But to his relief, Hope’s hand did not even twitch in his. Instead her slender fingers closed around his, and she spoke.
‘The scar itself is a painful reminder that I will never be able to outrun magic.’
Snape softly caressed the back of Hope’s hand with his thumb.
‘Magic can be a marvellous thing. You know it can. Unfortunately, you have seen the evil it can do. You have seen it and experienced it, both at a far too young an age. You shouldn’t have had to. Someone should have looked out for you. Someone should have protected you.’
He produced a phial of Dittany from his pocket and let some of the brown liquid trickle onto Hope’s scar, lowering his gaze as he did so. He had never told anyone, neither Dumbledore nor Hope, how many nights he had lain awake after the disappearance of Nadezhda McKibben, wondering what more he could have done, what more he should have done. He had promised the girl to protect her and had failed. She had been hurt and slipped away, and he had not been able to do anything for her. Yet Hope seemed to think differently.
‘You looked out for me,’ she whispered. ‘You did more for me than I ever could have asked, more than I had the right to ask. You didn’t have to, and still you cared.’
Snape swallowed. Hope’s voice was so quiet that the slightest rustle of fabric could have drowned it, and for a heartbeat, he wondered if she had really spoken or if he had heard her voice inside his mind.
‘You deserved to be looked after,’ he replied, his voice equally low. ‘You still do.’
He kept his eyes firmly on Hope’s scar, watching the Dittany work its magic. He could see the pus dissolve and the swelling go down, but he knew that the scar would never heal properly, that it would always be there. There would be new tissue, and the pain would go away, but the scar itself would never be gone. For some wounds never heal. Snape knew that all too well himself.
He didn’t look at Hope, neither when he carefully pulled down her sleeve nor when he stood up. If he didn’t look into her eyes now, their whispered words would remain nothing but a memory, a secret that should never be spoken out aloud, unsullied and precious. Yet it would bind them to each other, until the day their shadows and the wraiths disappeared.
‘You should try to get some sleep,’ Snape suggested, turning towards the window. ‘It has been a long day.’
‘Will you stay with me?’
‘You know I will.’
He busied himself with the curtains and anything else he could find while Hope crept into bed, gathering both his thoughts and his courage, and first when he heard her breathing become slow and regular, he turned around, confident that Hope was fast asleep. But when he approached the bed to extinguish the candle on the nightstand, she stirred.
‘Don’t!’ she whispered. ‘Don’t blow it out.’
Snape frowned and looked at the little candle.
‘There is no one to see the flame on the other side,’ he pointed out.
‘It doesn’t matter,’ Hope replied quietly. ‘It never did. That candle burned through many nights before I knew about the magic of the painting behind it. Its light was comforting. It still is.’
Her speech was slurred, and Snape realised that she was half asleep, yet still he promised her to leave the candle burning. If Hope woke in the middle of the night, she would need the little light to understand that the darkness would not last forever.
He pulled up a chair by her bedside and watched her sleep, whispering softly to her when her dreams made her cry and taking her hand when she reached out for him, praying that she would sleep peacefully soon. He watched the candle burn and imagined Dumbledore sitting in his office for countless nights over the years, whispering consolingly just as he himself did now. She might have thought that Dumbledore’s voice had been a part of her dreams and whether or not she had ever remembered his voice when she woke up in the morning, Snape did not know. But he knew that the whispers had given her peace and made her sleep. Who would whisper to her in the nights to come, he wondered quietly. Who would comfort her and chase her demons away?
Snape felt his heart sink. He would do his best, of course. He’d watch her through the candlelight and visit as often as he could. But he was aware that busy times were ahead, dangerous times in which free moments would be scarce. He’d be under constant surveillance. Death Eaters, Order members and Hogwarts staff alike would watch his every movement, count his steps and breathes, wait for him to make mistakes, wait for him to lose his touch. He wouldn’t be able to come to the Muggle village at his leisure, would always have to take a detour in order to assure that he wasn’t followed by anyone. And detours took time, time which he didn’t have.
Snape sighed. He wouldn’t be able to watch over Hope, not to the extent he would like. She would have to learn to stand on her own two feet, to bravely face wraiths of the lake and chase them away on her own. But how? Where would she find the strength?
Once more, Snape looked upon the candle. Dumbledore had meant well. He had helped Nadezhda to leave the Wizarding world behind, had given her a guarding and stepped in himself when said guardian had disappeared. But had it been the right thing to do? Or had Dumbledore – by allowing Nadezhda to flee – bereaved Hope of the tools she needed to survive when the war came knocking at her door?
The candle flickered, and Snape shivered as he thought that the air in the room was growing colder. He was imagining things, of course, yet still he double checked the window, made sure it was closed and cast a glance outside. The storm had subsided, and the lake was like a mirror, reflecting the light of the pale moon that was breaking forth between the clouds. It was a peaceful sight, but instead of enjoying it, Snape started wondering how long it would remain so. For surely, the Wizarding war would sooner or later affect the Muggle world, even this little village that had not yet known any magic. And what about the scar on Hope’s wrist? So far, it seemed to be a one way channel. Hope sensed it when the Dark Lord called upon his followers, but in contrast to a proper Dark Mark, the scar did not seem to give Voldemort any power over Hope. He couldn’t call her personally, had no way of knowing where she was. Or maybe, he was simply unaware of the scar and had therefore not made any move to pull Hope – Nadezhda – back into the fold. Would he even want her? Or would he, should he ever meet her, strike her down for her disloyalty?
Snape sighed. There was no way for him to know the Dark Lord’s mind, and should Voldemort ever set foot into the village, Hope wouldn’t stand a chance no matter what. But should someone else happen to show up, a Death eater or a Snatcher, Hope would need to defend herself or at least be able to call for help, and for that, Snape thought, she would need a wand...
‘Are you tired? Should we go back?’
‘No, I’m alright. Besides, I don’t want to go inside yet. It’s such a beautiful day.’
Hope sat down on one of the benches by the shoreline, closing her eyes and turning her face towards the sun, and Snape couldn’t help but agree. It was indeed a beautiful Saturday afternoon, sunny and warm, and here on the far end of the lake, almost an hour’s walk away from the village and the country road, the only sounds in the air were the splashing of the waves against the shore and the chirping of the birds in the trees. Certainly, the tranquillity and peacefulness was doing Hope good.
She had slept until after lunch on Friday and kept to her room for the rest of the day. Snape had offered to stay with her in the afternoon, but she had sent him downstairs to the pub. Edmunds needed company as well, she had claimed, and Snape had complied. He knew very well that one needed to be alone at times in order to gather strength and to persuade oneself to carry on for yet another day. Thus, he had kept away from her room the rest of Friday, only once knocking at her door to leave a tray with tea and biscuits outside, and when Hope had come downstairs the next morning, she seemed to have succeeded in achieving inner peace. She had appeared calm and relaxed, and as Snape looked at her now, he found it impossible to find any signs of the ordeal she had gone through less than forty-eight hours earlier.
He sat down beside her and stretched out his legs, inhaling the warm summer air. It was one of those days one wished would last forever, but Snape knew that it was all but a dream, a glittering bubble that would burst as soon as he opened his mouth to speak. But speak he must. He had done a great deal of thinking while he had been sitting by Hope’s side, watching over her, and then again when he had been alone in his room. Summer was coming to an end, he was running out of time, and Hope needed to know. Now all he could do was hope that she was indeed strong enough for what he had to tell her.
‘I will not be able to stay for much longer,’ he said quietly.
He had been thinking about how he should express himself for the better part of the day. He had even considered not telling Hope at all but just to disappear into the darkness one night. But he couldn’t do that. He needed her to know. He needed her to understand. But now that he had told her, it seemed to Snape that his heart had stopped beating. His throat was dry, and he hardly dared to breathe. How would she react?
He was looking at Hope now. Her eyes were still closed and her face still turned towards the sun. Her hands lay folded in her lap, and for a moment, Snape wondered if she had not heard him. Yet when he opened his mouth to speak once more, Hope beat him to it.
‘I know,’ she said quietly. ‘Dumbledore said that you would have… things to do, things that would take all your time and attention. He said that there would come a time when you wouldn’t be able to come here anymore.’
She inhaled deeply through her nose and opened her eyes, and during the few moments it took for her to turn her head, Snape tried to prepare himself for the look in her eyes, unable to decide what would be worse: tears or the cold, emotionless gaze he had seen far too often. Yet instead, the look in Hope’s green eyes was as calm as her voice.
‘When?’ she asked. ‘When do you have to leave?’
‘I assume I will be summoned back for good before the end of August,’ Snape answered. ‘But there are a couple of things that need to be put in order before that. There are tasks I have to have to carry out…’
He broke off and looked deep into Hope’s emerald green eyes.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said.
‘Don’t be,’ Hope replied. ‘We both know that a Muggle village is not where you are supposed to be. You don’t belong here. But I’m glad that you came. I’m glad you stayed for a while. And please know that you are welcome here, whenever you decide to come back.’
‘I don’t know if I will ever be able to come back,’ Snape confessed with a heavy heart. ‘The Wizarding world is at war. The Light has lost their leader. Hogwarts stands without a headmaster, its students without a protector…’
‘And who else is there to protect the innocent other than Severus Snape?’
Hope reached out to take his hand, and as her fingers closed around his, Snape closed his eyes to enjoy one last peaceful moment.
‘You will protect them well,’ he heard her whisper. ‘You always have. Dumbledore knew that, too. He trusted you.’
‘If I left you a wand,’ he started, deeming that there was no point in waiting any longer. ‘Would you use it to protect yourself?’
He felt Hope’s hand twitch in his but held on, and as he opened his eyes to look at her, he wasn’t surprised to see that her cheeks had turned pale.
‘I can’t,’ she whispered.
‘Yes, you can!’ Snape asserted her, pulling his wand from his pocket with his free hand. ‘I know you can.’
He held out his wand towards her, but Hope resolutely shook her head.
‘What are you afraid of?’ Snape asked.
‘Everything,’ Hope breathed.
There were now tears glittering in her eyes, and Snape held on tightly to her hand lest she would run away.
‘Tell me,’ he asked.
She lowered her gaze, yet still Snape saw the tears that trickled down her cheeks. He had not meant to make her cry and was endlessly sorry. But what choice had he had?
‘Tell me,’ he asked her for a second time, now almost pleadingly. He wanted to understand. He needed to.
‘I am afraid of the darkness magic holds. The darkness my magic holds.’
Snape swallowed. He had expected an answer of that kind, but the cold tone in Hope’s voice made a shiver go down his spine. He knew that tone. Detached, unemotional. Hope was raising her barriers, making sure no one and nothing would hurt her.
‘Hope, please,’ he tried to appease her, but she would not listen anymore. She jerked her hand free and swiftly rose from the bench. With her back straight and her head held high she looked intensely at him for a couple of moments, and Snape thought that she was going to speak.
He was therefore unprepared when she turned and walked away.
‘Hope!’ he called after her, but she didn’t listen. Instead, her steps quickened and not before long, she had broken into a run.
Should he go after her, Snape asked himself. Certainly, he would easily be able to outrun her. But he did not want to chase after her, did not want to grab her by the arm and force her to listen to him. He didn’t want to hurt her, couldn’t afford to lose her trust.
‘Hope!’ he called once more, again to no avail, and as he stood up to call after her for a third time, his lips formed another name.
She froze in mid-step as if petrified, and Snape knew he wouldn’t have to run to catch up with her now. She wouldn’t go anywhere.
He found her shaking and heard her stifle a whimper as he came to stand behind her, and from far, far away, faint like the wind whispering in the trees, he heard the voice of Albus Dumbledore.
‘Hope is afraid of Nadezhda, Severus. She is afraid of the things Nadezhda has seen, the things she has learned and the things she is capable of doing.’
Snape drew breath, steeling himself.
‘I have seen Nadezhda’s magic,’ he whispered reassuringly, once more using the name Hope had left behind half a lifetime ago. ‘I know that it is good. White and pure. I should know. I taught her. And I also know that she went to great lengths to keep her magic pure.’
He had seen that, too. He had seen Nadezhda use all her Slytherin cunning to deceive both Barty Crouch and Lucius Malfoy, to an extent even Bellatrix Lestrange. Until the moment he had taken her wand from her in order to extort her latest spell, Snape too had believed that she had succumbed to dark magic. The only one who had seen right through her had been the Dark Lord himself.
Snape put his left hand onto Hope’s shoulder, slowly and gently so he wouldn’t startle her, and as she didn’t shrink away, he extended his wand, bringing it up to the height of her right hand.
‘Do not fear Nadezhda, Hope. Call upon her strength instead. Use her courage.’
He prompted her to take hold of his wand, but Hope shook her head.
‘Don’t make me take it. Please, don’t.’
‘I won’t make you do anything,’ Snape promised quietly. He was standing so close to her now that he only needed to whisper, and that tone seemed just right for the situation. For what he was about to tell her was a secret. His secret.
‘We all have dark magic within us right along with the light,’ he went on. ‘Magic that can harm, even magic that can kill. But it’s not the spells we can cast that define us, but the ones we choose to cast.’
Once more, he nudged Hope’s hand with his wand, and this time, she didn’t flinch away.
‘I am right here with you,’ he whispered reassuringly. ‘You have nothing to fear.’
It seemed to take her hours to wrap her trembling fingers around his wand, and as she finally had taken hold of it, Snape moved his hand forward, placing it carefully upon hers.
‘See? Nothing happened. Now, together.’
He guided her in lifting the wand with his right hand while his left hand still lay on her shoulder, comforting and encouraging both her and himself. He felt his breathing quicken and his heart beat faster, and as the first syllable of the incantation left his dry lips, Snape closed his eyes.
The world came to a hold. The birds stopped chirping, and the waves stopped crashing towards the shore. Even the wind ceased its whispering, and for a terrifying moment, Snape thought that he had failed. But then he heard Hope gasp in amazement, and as he opened his eyes, he saw the silvery doe spring from his wand, saw her prance over the meadow and down to the lake to drink.
‘She’s beautiful,’ Hope breathed.
Snape swallowed and nodded, watching the doe for some moments before he lowered his wand. The Patronus dissolved into golden sunlight, and Snape drew breath.
‘A Patronus is the purest magic known to Wizardkind,’ he said softly. ‘Many witches and wizards never succeed in conjuring a full, corporeal Patronus. And here I am, a Death Eater, a follower of the Dark Lord…’
‘You’re not a dark wizard,’ Hope pointed out.
‘I bear the Dark Mark,’ Snape argued. ‘I took it willingly many years ago.’
‘But you realised that it was wrong. You changed your ways.’
‘Do you understand now?’ he asked. ‘I willingly joined the Dark Lord. I willingly took his mark. Your mark was forced upon you, just as dark magic was forced upon you.’
Inhaling deeply, he pulled her by the hand in order to turn her around. She didn’t fight him, yet she seemed reluctant to take her eyes of the spot where the doe had disappeared. Thus Snape cupped her chin with his free hand and lifted her head, gazing deeply into her emerald green eyes.
‘Don’t let what was forced upon you define you,’ he whispered. ‘Remember the girl you once were. The girl who nursed an injured cygnet back to life despite her knowing that her father wouldn’t be pleased.’
‘How can you…?’
‘You told me about the cygnet at your father’s wake.’
‘That was half a lifetime ago,’ Hope exclaimed. ‘How can you remember that?’
‘I remember many things about Nadezhda McKibben,’ Snape replied, pleased to see that Hope didn’t flinch at the mentioning of her old name. ‘I remember that she was clever and cunning, righteous and fair. And I remember that she parted with her dearest friend in a time of great distress in order to keep him from harm. Nadezhda was a strong young girl. Don’t even try to tell me that you are anything but.’