Chapter 14: At the Dawn of November~~~
For the second time that evening, Snape strode through the grounds of Hogwarts, his black cloak billowing behind him. Yet while he had been looking forward to getting away from the castle earlier, to meeting Hope and to spending a couple of quiet hours in her company, he did not know now what to feel. At one moment, he was angry, even furious, both with himself and with Nadezhda, with Dumbledore and the whole damn world and wanted nothing more than to confront Hope and demand an explanation for what she had done to his mind. Then one heart beat later, a wave of shame washed over him and he slowed down his steps, blaming himself for everything. What right did he have to be angry? What right did he have to feel hurt? He should have known better that night. He had been the adult. He had been Nadezhda’s teacher, her guardian, yet still he had initiated the physical contact. He had kissed her. He had forced himself upon her. But from what he had seen in the Pensive, she had not fought back. She had embraced him, had wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his hips. She had encouraged him with her moans, had kissed him and caressed him. She had not stopped him.
‘Don’t even try blaming this on anyone other than yourself, Severus!’ Snape chided himself. How Nadezhda had reacted to his advances didn’t matter. She had been vulnerable that night, alone and scared. She had been his student, and he had been her teacher. It shouldn’t have happened. He shouldn’t have allowed it.
Driven by guilt and the need to beg for forgiveness, Snape Disapparated from the edge of the Forbidden Forest and landed in his usual spot where he – for once – didn’t bother checking if he had been followed. It didn’t seem to matter. Nothing mattered except Hope. He needed to see her, needed to hear from her own lips what had happened that night, how she had experienced the whole situation. Yet as he hurried towards the village, Snape found himself trembling with an icy chill. What if he found the door to the pub locked? What if Hope was gone? What if she never wanted to see him again? She would have every right to despise him after what he had done. But then again, she had known what had happened in the Riddle library all this time. Earlier that night, she had said that she was sorry. What was she sorry for?
Snape shook his head. He was growing more confused by the second and unable to think straight, and as he arrived at the pub, out of breath and shivering, he felt his heart stop for a few moments. For there was no light coming from the windows and the door was indeed locked.
Snape’s shaking hand lingered on the door handle. He wasn’t sure what to do. As part of him wanted to turn around and disappear into the night, leave everything behind him and try to forget. Yet he knew that he would never be able to, that he would always wonder what Hope would have said if he had spoken to her that night, that he would always wonder why he had lost control so many years ago. If he left now, he would never find the courage to return. His questions would never be answered, and he would never find peace. And so he produced his key from his pocket, put it in the keyhole, turned it and pushed open the door, almost surprised at how easily it opened. Then he lingered on the threshold, blinking, trying to make out any shapes in the darkness of the empty pub.
She wasn’t much more than a shadow. The tea light that was burning on the counter in front of her was barely emitting enough light to illuminate her hands that were holding on to a glass of gin. Her knuckles were white, so hard was she holding on to the glass. It was still full, however, and the ice in it had long since melted.
She didn’t turn around, neither when Snape closed the door nor when he carefully locked it. She just sat there with her back turned towards him and her eyes fixed on her glass.
‘It is almost midnight,’ Snape pointed out as he sat down on the stool to Hope’s left. ‘How long were you planning to wait for my return?’
‘Until sunrise,’ Hope answered quietly.
‘And if I hadn’t returned by then?’
‘Then I would have continued praying that one day you would.’
She tucked a strand of hair behind her left ear and turned her head to look at Snape, and even though it was too dark for them to really see each other, they gazed into each other’s eyes, Snape with his hands on the counter and Hope with her fingers once more wrapped firmly around her glass.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said softly.
There was a muscle twitching at her jaw, but she held Snape’s gaze steadily.
‘What are you sorry for?’ he asked.
‘I kept secrets from you. From you of all people.’
Snape shook his head.
‘I assume you had your reasons,’ he said, trying to sound calm. If he wanted to receive any answers, if he wanted to understand, he mustn’t flare up. If he hissed and spat, he might just scare Hope into everlasting silence.
She made an odd sound now, something between a snort and a laugh, and lowered her gaze.
‘I guess I did have my reasons,’ she said, her voice not much more than a whisper. ‘Maybe they were even good ones. Back then…’
She inhaled deeply through her nose and exhaled through gritted teeth. She had said that she was ready earlier that night, but she seemed to be losing her courage.
‘Why?’ Snape asked, trying to help her. ‘Why did you take those memories away from me?’
‘I’ve asked myself that question many times over the years and came up with ever so noble reasons. But if I am honest with myself, I’d admit that I panicked. I was scared that night. Scared of the consequences, scared of your reactions, my own… I was scared of losing you.’
Snape frowned. He couldn’t follow at all.
‘If you had remembered,’ Hope started to explain, ‘would you ever have looked me in the eyes again?’
Now it was Snape’s turn to shrug, and Hope answered the question for him.
‘You always made sure to draw a distinct line between the professor, the Death Eater, the protector. But that night all the lines were erased, and it would have been impossible to draw them afresh. And so I… I needed those lines. I needed you. You were the only constant in my world. If you had turned from me, I wouldn’t… I couldn’t have…’
She gave a frustrated sigh and banged her fist on the counter.
‘I have been rehearsing this speech for years, and now I am not making any sense at all.’
As she turned her head away, Snape feared she’d slip of her stool and vanish into the darkness, so he reached out for her, cupped her chin and made her look back at him again.
‘What happened that night?’ he asked.
‘You saw what happened.’
Snape shook his head.
‘I saw… I saw what I did,’ he said. ‘But I want to know what happened inside your head, inside your heart. Why did you allow… Why did you let me…’
He broke off, unable to find the right words. Exactly what had she let him do? Had he made love to her, had he fucked her, raped her? What had he done to her?
They were gazing into each other’s eyes again, green emeralds locking on to black obsidians in the darkness of the night. It would have been easy for Snape to penetrate Hope’s mind, to forcefully take the information she seemed unable to put into words, but he decided not to. He didn’t have the right. He had hurt her enough.
He extended his fingers and brushed her cheek with all the tenderness he could muster. He needed her to trust him, needed her to feel safe in his presence once more.
‘Tell me,’ he prompted her. ‘Tell me everything.’
Hope took a shaky breath.
‘I was convinced that I would not live to see another morning,’ she started timidly. ‘I was cold, so terribly cold. It felt like I was freezing to death from the inside out. And when you kissed me, I… I should have told you no. I should have told you to stop. I am sure you would have backed off and apologised, and we would have agreed to forget all about it. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I needed you. I needed to feel alive. I needed to feel… loved. I knew all along that you weren’t there with me, that you weren’t making love to me. But there was something in your eyes that night, every time you looked at me. I knew it wasn’t mine to see, but still I stole it. I took it, I kept it and I hid it away. It made me survive that night.’
Snape swallowed. Just like during the night they were talking about, he was now gazing into Hope’s green eyes, was mesmerised by them and drowned in them, and even though he knew that Hope was talking about what she had felt all those years ago, the words rang ever so true even for him. He, too, had been close to dying that night. He, too, had needed the closeness of another human soul. And what Nadezhda had seen in his eyes had been his love for Lily, the woman whose death he had been mourning, the woman whose eyes had been just as green as hers. He had been with Lily that night. It had been Lily he had made love to, not Nadezhda. And the girl had known. She always had.
Snape’s breath caught in his chest. No matter from which angle one was examining the events of that night, he had been the one who had made a mistake. He had succumbed to his grief. He had let his emotions overpower him, and eventually he had lost control.
‘I am sorry,’ he said quietly.
‘I know,’ Hope replied. ‘You have been from the very start.’
Snape frowned. How could Hope know?
‘You didn’t see all of it, did you?’ she inquired. ‘You didn’t see the whole memory.’
Snape shook his head.
‘To be honest, I was slightly… shocked by what I saw,’ he admitted. ‘I withdrew.’
‘Can’t blame you for that,’ Hope conceded. ‘But I think you should see everything. You need to.’
‘Do you want me to return to Hogwarts to use the Pensive once more?’ Snape asked incredulously, but Hope shook her head.
‘There’s no need to return to Hogwarts. It’s all here, right inside my mind. All you need to do is take it.’
‘No!’ Snape burst out. ‘I will not use Legilimens on you to satisfy my curiosity.’
‘You will have to,’ Hope insisted. ‘I lack the courage to tell you, but you must know. Please.’
‘No,’ Snape said once more. ‘It is not a pleasant experience to have someone trample around in your mind. I will not…’
‘Please,’ Hope interrupted him. ‘You need to know.’
Her hand was cold and clammy as she reached out for his, but her grip was steady as their fingers entwined. They would help each other through this, just as they had helped each other through a Halloween night half a lifetime ago.
Upon entering her mind as gently as he could, Snape tried to ignore the sight of dishevelled hair and undone robes, tried not to look at Nadezhda who was still lying down. Instead he focused on his younger self, the young man who was sitting at the edge of the chaise with his face buried in his hands. He heard his ragged breaths, his whimpers and dry sobs. The man wouldn’t cry, Snape was quite certain of that. For he knew that he didn’t deserve the soothing salvation that tears had to offer.
Was this what Hope had wanted him to see? His younger self full of remorse, desperately struggling to regain the control he had lost only minutes ago? Did she think this would be enough for him to absolve himself?
His heart sinking, Snape prepared to withdraw, yet Hope tightened her grip around his hand.
‘Stay,’ she whispered. ‘There is more. So much more.’
There was a rustling of robes, and Snape watched his younger self struggle as Nadezhda put a comforting hand on his shoulder. But very much like Hope now kept holding on to his hand, Nadezhda refused to let go of the man on the chaise, no matter how much he hissed and growled. Instead she bravely moved closer, wrapping her arm around him from behind and resting her chin on his shoulder. She was crying silently now, if for herself or the man she was embracing, Snape could not tell. But when he saw his younger self give in, when he saw the tears trickle down his pale cheeks, one after one, he was ready to forgive himself. And he also forgave Nadezhda for raising her wand and obliterating the last hour of his memory.
The sun had not yet risen above the horizon, but the dim light of the street lamps was enough to make out the shapes of the little graveyard; the old stone wall which was crumbling at some places and the ivy that was covering it, sculpted angels and carefully crafted headstones. Yet the dark clad wizard who was standing at the far end of the graveyard, as far away from the chapel one could get without leaving the sacred ground, didn’t see any of it. For his gaze was lingering on a simple wooden cross in front of him. There was no inscription, no flowers, yet still the little grave didn’t seem neglected. There were no weeds growing at the foot of the cross, and the wood wasn’t weathered, even though it had been exposed to the elements for fifteen years.
So here lies my son, Snape thought. He was neither feeling sad nor wistful, neither bitter nor aggrieved. In fact, he had not yet come to terms with what he was supposed to feel. No surprise, really. For merely a few hours ago, he had not even known that he had fathered a child.
In hindsight, it was rather embarrassing that it had taken him so long to figure it out. The possibility of Nadezhda’s child being his should have sprung to his mind the moment he had been presented with her memory of their intimate encounter in the Riddle library. But right then, back in Dumbledore’s old office, Snape had either been too shocked to understand or had simply chosen not to. First some hours later, after he had seen the whole memory and found it in his heart to forgive both himself and the young woman who had erased his memory, he had allowed himself to put two and two together. The truth had hit him like a Stunning Spell, and he had stared at Hope, gasping.
‘The child,’ he had brought forth, even though it had felt as if all the air had been knocked from his chest. ‘Was it mine?’
There had been no need for her to answer. The look in her eyes had said everything, and had she not been holding his hand and squeezing it tightly, Snape would have fallen apart. But she had been giving him strength, much like she had done that night many years ago.
‘Why?’ he had asked in the end, trying to make sense of everything. ‘Why did you not tell me?’
‘How could I have told you that you had fathered a child when I had taken the memory of its making away from you?’ Hope had replied calmly. ‘Besides, by the time I realised that the child had to be yours, I had already made up my mind about leaving the Wizarding world. I couldn’t risk you asking me to stay.’
Would he have tried to persuade her, Snape wondered now as he was standing in the graveyard. He had been thinking about different scenarios for the better part of the night, but one seemed as unlikely as the next. He couldn’t see himself as a father, but at the same time, he doubted that he would have let Nadezhda take care of her – of their – child all by herself. And the third possibility, him asking her to get rid of the child, seemed the most absurd of them all. For how could he have asked her to end an innocent life?
‘What was his name?’ he inquired. His eyes were still on the cross, but he could see Hope from the corner of his eye. She was standing some feet away from the grave, refusing to come closer, and Snape couldn’t help but wonder if she had ever come close enough to touch the wood of the cross.
‘I named him Severus,’ she replied quietly. ‘He looked so much like you, there wasn’t really any other option.’
She drew her coat tighter around herself and buried her hands in her pockets.
‘I had planned to tell him all about his namesake once he was older.’
‘And what exactly would you have told him?’ Snape asked.
‘That you looked out for me when I was in danger,’ Hope replied without having to think twice. ‘That you were kind to me even though you didn’t have to.’
Snape closed his eyes, and for some blissful moments, he relished the thought of there being at least one person in the world who would never have known about the horrible things he had done. A person who would never have known that he had lied and deceived, that he had hurt people and that he had killed. That person, his son, his own flesh and blood, would always have believed that he, Severus Snape, had been a good man.
‘Did Dumbledore ever meet the boy?’ he now wondered.
‘Yes, he did,’ Hope replied. ‘He came to check up on us on the very day the boy was born. In disguise, of course. He told me later that he used a Confundus Charm on the doctor and the nurses at the hospital so they wouldn’t keep any records.’
She broke off and gave a dry laugh.
‘I should have known that magic had followed me here. Everything went far too smoothly. But I desperately wanted to believe that I had succeeded, that I had built a new life in a new world all on my own. How naïve I was!’
Who could blame you? Snape thought silently. She had ben young then. Young, inexperienced, scared, confused. And she shouldn’t have had to take care of everything herself. Of course, Snape was grateful that Dumbledore had stepped up and taken care of her, but he couldn’t help but think that he should have been there for her instead. For her and their child. Maybe this was how things would have been, had he known. Maybe he would have let her go and let her live her life the way she wanted and needed to, and he would have looked out for her from afar, just like Dumbledore had done.
They walked back to the village in silence, much in the same way as they had left it. There wasn’t much to say, really, as there was no point in discussing all the what-ifs and should-haves. Bygones were bygones, and what had happened could neither be altered nor undone. There was no point in dwelling upon the past.
At the edge of the village, Snape politely declined Hope’s half-hearted offer of tea and toast at the pub, claiming that he needed to return to Hogwarts before daybreak. He wasn’t lying, of course. For surely, the Carrows would be up and about soon, most probably in a foul mood, and should the DA have spent the headmaster-free night writing on the walls again, Snape would have to hurry back to the castle if he meant to clean up after them. But most of all, he needed some time on his own in order to think about everything he had heard and seen that night, and he was quite certain that Hope needed to do the same.
‘I do not know when I will be able to come back here,’ he explained, his heart heavy. ‘I do not even know if I will be able to.’
‘But you want to come back?’ Hope asked, a note of tentative optimism in her voice, and Snape nodded.
‘Yes, I very much want to. And should the worst happen, should I never be able to return, please know that it has nothing to do with what I have learned here tonight.’