(Highlight to View) Warning(s): Adult language, mentions of domestic violence and genocide.
(Highlight to View) Prompt: Redeemed Tobias. I don't care how you do it, but I'd like to see an apologetic man who's working on healing the past. How Severus and Hermione fit together in all of this is up to you.
Summary: The Bard's old adage, 'Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows', is once again proven true when Petunia Dursley gets the most unexpected visitor following the Final Battle.
3 May 1998
The old man pounded on the front door of Number 4, Privet Drive as if a demon possessed. Curtains twitched and nosy parkers looked on with glee: clearly, trouble had finally come calling for the Dursleys. Just as the man opened his mouth to bellow what surely would have been a vicious oath, the door wrenched open to reveal a bony, blonde woman of middle age. When she saw her visitor, her mouth dropped open quite unbecomingly. Shocked turned her skin pasty.
The man smiled at the reaction. It was a shark's smile, all gnashing of teeth and murderous rage.
"Hullo, Petunia…" he drawled in a deep, velvety voice.
"What… what are you doing here? How did you find me?"
He sneered. "Haven't you ever heard of the glorious internet? Now you can look just about anyone up and be presented with the most… helpful sorts of information."
She sniffed condescendingly and seemed to pull her disapproval around her like a cloak. "That's nothing but a fad. The only thing computers are good for is giving lazy shut-ins a way to access vulgar and immoral material without leaving the house."
"I'll be sure to mention your opinion to the Head Librarian of the Blackrod Library."
"What do you want anyway? The likes of you don't belong here."
"And you do?" He let his sharp gaze slide over her string of pearls and twee apron mockingly.
"State your business immediately or I shall call the police!"
"Very well." He stepped forward until they were nearly nose-to-nose. "Where the bloody hell is my son?"
Petunia went thin lipped, the hand gripping the door gone bloodless. "How should I know? I haven't seen him in years. You know that I don't associate with those freaks."
"But you do know how to get a hold of those freaks, don't you?" His expression was one of cold menace.
"And why should I help you?" she exclaimed.
"Because if you don't, I shall delight in telling everyone I can about the youthful peccadilloes of one Petunia Marie Evans." The old man smirked. "Don't forget, duck, I've known you since you were in nappies, and I was there for your little rebellion after that red-headed sister of yours left. Now be a clever girl and let me in. The quicker I get answers the quicker I leave."
"I only have a phone number," she spat, turning puce at the bald threat.
"Then we have a place to start, don't we?"
Hermione had just exited the staff cantina with a fresh cup of tea when Harry came skidding around the corner.
"We've gotta go," he panted, out of breath from running up to the fourth floor of St. Mungo's.
With a sharp flick of her wand, Hermione transformed the ceramic teacup into a metal travel mug complete with lid. "What's the matter?"
"Dunno exactly. You know how bad the reception is up here," he answered, brandishing a slim mobile that smelt faintly of smoke. "Aunt Petunia just called in an absolute fury and said something about someone from the old neighbourhood wanting to see me right away."
She stared at him in confusion. "What does that even mean?"
"Dunno," Harry repeated, shrugging impatiently. "Someone who knew my parents, I guess. Neville's covering for us."
With an absent-minded pat, Hermione confirmed that her disillusioned beaded bag was still safely attached to her belt. "Are we taking anyone else from the Order?"
He shook his head, grimacing as a lock of hair fell into his bright green eyes. "No one else is free, not unless we take Neville. And anyway, I don't think that it's that kind of trouble. The wards around the house haven't gone off, so whoever is waiting for us isn't magical."
Harry gave her a flat look. "At the Burrow."
"Alright. We need to be back by the shift change though. I want to make sure that horrid Belgian medi-witch isn't assigned to us again."
"She mixed up the order of the evening healing draughts for a second time, and when I had the temerity to correct her, she threatened to throw me off the ward."
He grinned and held the stairwell door open for her. "And what did you do?"
"Told her she was welcome to try, but it would likely result in her getting sacked and thrown out of the country by the acting Minister of Magic." Hermione appeared grimly pleased by the exchange. "Honestly, I just don't have any patience for people who are wilfully obtuse. I mean, how hard is it to follow the dosing instructions? It's not as if they were written in Latin…"
Reaching the apparition point, Harry held out his arm. "Do you remember the garden well enough to Apparate, or shall I take us both?"
"You'd better. I've only been there the once, and I'm tired enough that I might not even make it past Westminster, never mind all the way out to Surrey."
A swift smile surfaced. "Westminster, eh? I wonder what would happen if one of us popped in next to the Crown Jewels for a little look-see?"
"A quick Oblivation and a trip to the Tower, I imagine."
He sighed in mock frustration. "Well, we don't have time for all that…"
Mouth twitching, Hermione pulled her hair into a tighter bun. "No, Mr Potter, we do not. Now come on, I don't want to be gone too long."
The Dursley's back garden was groomed into a ruthless, cold perfection; it was impressive how lifeless the place was despite the abundance of plants. Hermione took a deep breath in to steady herself, noticing that even the earthy scent of growing things was somehow muted. Little wonder Harry accepted the insanity of life at Hogwarts without a quibble, she mused.
Looking through the glass walls of a sunroom, she saw Harry's aunt standing stiffly in one corner, arms crossed tightly against her chest. The mystery visitor- an older man- was sitting in one of the rattan chairs, long legs crossed at the ankles. Other than broad shoulders and a sheaf of bright white hair, she couldn't make out his features, and judging from Harry's curious expression, he didn't recognize the person either.
Harry entered first, eyes sweeping over the room. "Aunt Petunia," he said in cautious greeting.
"Harry," she sniffed, and Hermione had to restrain herself from rolling her eyes at the woman's habitual rudeness.
When it was clear that Petunia was not going to introduce the man, Harry stepped forward with a hand politely outstretched. "My name is Harry Potter. I'm afraid I don't know you."
The man stood slowly, a spark of menace running through his solid frame as he uncoiled. He appeared to be in his mid-seventies, with a large, beaky nose, high cheekbones and piercing, vividly blue eyes. A large purpling bruise mottled the left side of his face. For an instant, his gaze settled on Hermione and she fought back a shiver; despite his age there was nothing weak or feeble about the man.
"No," he intoned, "…you wouldn't know me."
His voice- a smoky, rich baritone- hit them with all the force of an unexpected impact. The sheer, terrifying familiarity of it ripped Hermione back two days in time, and the air suddenly smelt not of geraniums, but of dust and dirt and blood and magic, and there was a wool-clad man dying in front of her.
"Look at me," that same voice rasped in her mind, and her heart was thudding rapidly enough with the recollection of it that she thought she might faint. Vaguely Hermione was aware that Harry had stumbled backwards in shock and was gripping her left arm; the pain of it was enough to drag her back into the present.
With a gasp, Hermione struggled to focus, struggled to puzzle meaning from the old man standing in front of them. Taking in the cheekbones and broad, towering frame again, she factored in the man's Muggle clothes and age and leapt to a startling conclusion.
"You're Professor Snape's father," she whispered, and was rewarded by a faint smirk.
"Yes, I am." He narrowed the distance between them. "And I want to know where the hell my son is."
"When was the last time that you spoke with him?" Hermione asked blankly, hands gone damp.
"Seventeen years ago," Mr Snape growled, rubbing at the bruise marring his face.
He doesn't know, she realized dully, recognizing his anger for a lack of knowledge. Oh, bloody fucking bollocks! I'll bet he doesn't know a damned thing… Gaze darting to Harry, she saw that he was still frozen in place. Swiftly wiping her palm over her jeans, Hermione took his cold fingers in her own and squeezed.
"Sir…" she began haltingly, at a loss of how to begin. How on earth am I going to explain what all happened? How am I going to explain that Professor Snape…
"Get out!" Petunia interrupted shrilly. "I gave you what you wanted, now get out! You won't foul up my house with any more of that nonsense!"
The high note finally jerked Harry back into the conversation, but before he could do more than open his mouth, Professor Snape's father spoke again.
"Afraid that your fat prig of a husband might start asking questions, Petunia?" he insinuated slyly.
At that, the older woman turned a truly alarming shade of red and made a noise rather like a teakettle about to explode. In one vicious movement, she picked up a glass figurine of a clown and hurled it at them. It exploded into hundreds of rainbow-coloured shards as it hit Harry's hastily cast shield charm; with another snarl, Petunia reached two-handed for the remainder of the collection and started chucking them.
Snape's father laughed nastily, not flinching at all. "Still no better than a fishwife, are we, duck?"
Petunia Dursley charged, murder written in her expression.
"My garden!" Hermione snapped at Harry, and grabbed at the older man's arm. Spinning, she pulled them both into nothingness.
It was not the smoothest of Apparitions; she hadn't been joking when she had told Harry that she was exhausted. Since the end of the battle two nights ago, Hermione had slept maybe a total of eight hours, and the added burden of Professor Snape's father only added to the magical strain of the evasive manoeuvre.
Landing roughly on her knees in the middle of the grass, the sweet scent of spring roses rushed up to meet her. Unlike the Dursley's perfectly manicured shrubbery, her parent's garden was unkempt, weeds flourishing at the margins. It was a lonely place, and more than a little wild after almost a year of neglect.
Harry popped in a moment later, the ceramic rear end of a horse following him through the swirl of Apparition and falling to the ground with a hollow thunk. Seeing the broken knickknack, a startled guffaw burst free.
"Oh, god," he snorted, the sound tinged with a hint of the hysterical. "I've always hated those sodding things. She used to make me dust them three times a week…" With that, he dissolved into a gale of laughter, joining the ceramic on the grass with a graceless thud.
Surprisingly, Mr Snape had made it through the unexpected Apparition without too much fuss; other than the fact that he was braced on the ground taking careful breaths, he appeared unruffled. As he watched Harry, his mien turned coolly thoughtful. When he turned that measuring stare on her—an echo of the judgmental expression that she had seen all too often in the dungeons—her temper snapped.
"Was that behaviour really necessary?"
"Yes," he responded, and for the first time she registered the Northern lilt in his speech. "Yes, I do believe that it was."
Pressing her lips together, she bit back a scathing retort. Hands shaking, she detached her beaded bag from her belt and reached in, pulling out the travel mug. Loosening the lid, she took a sip, relaxing as the comforting warmth of tea filled her mouth. I really need to eat something, Hermione decided, or I'm going to be good for absolutely nothing. Wearily, she scrubbed her face. What I wouldn't do for a proper meal, a hot shower, and twelve uninterrupted hours in a bed…
Having finally brought himself back under control, Harry straightened up, green eyes keen.
"Sorry about that," he sighed, waving an apologetic hand towards Snape's father. "The last three days have been… well, intense."
"Just the last three days?" Hermione muttered dryly.
"True…" Harry started, and then had his wand out as a ball of light burst into the yard. In an instant, it resolved into a lynx, and Kingsley Shacklebolt's smooth drawl emerged.
"Mr Potter, I have managed to cobble together enough friendly members of the Wizengamot to form a voting quorum. I need you to come to Courtroom Eleven immediately. This is our best chance. It will likely be our only chance."
As the Patronus faded into a silver mist, she and Harry looked at each other, a feeling of nervous dread arcing between them . Abruptly Harry stood, all mirth gone. "Right… how are we going to do this?"
Closing her eyes briefly, Hermione bullied her thoughts into order. "You go," she eventually told him. "You'll be able to explain things far better than I can. I'll deal with this and meet you back at St. Mungo's."
A flicker of doubt danced through his expression, and she tried to sound reassuring. "Harry, this calls for the Boy-Who-Lived, not the Boy-Who-Lived's-Annoying-Bushy-Haired-Kn
He shook his head. "You're a hell of a lot more than my sidekick, Hermione."
The automatic and unwavering defence was a welcome balm. Standing up, she walked over to him and began to gently brush off the grass and bits of pottery that clung to his clothing. "I am well aware of that. But you also know what I mean. And besides which, you've seen all of the memories, and I haven't."
He gave her an anaemic grin. "Then I bow to your better sense."
"As you should." A sudden thought struck her, and she reached into her bag once more. "You should bring this, just in case…" Pulling out a shrunken portrait frame, she quickly re-sized it. With a wince, Hermione plucked a luridly striped sock that was hanging off one corner. "Sorry about that, Headmaster Black. I haven't had any time to reorganize since the battle…"
The Slytherin Headmaster gave a sour hiss of displeasure, peering about. "Make time before you shove me back in that monstrosity that you call a bag, or I'll set Peeves on you the next time you dare step foot in Hogwarts. Do I make myself clear, young lady?"
Hermione ignored Harry's snort. "Yes, sir."
"Now," the portrait asked crisply, "…what in Salazar's name is going on?"
"Join the queue," an irritated voice interjected. Hermione swivelled, finding that Mr Snape had stood and was glowering at them.
"I hadn't forgotten about you," she said, trying to keep her voice level.
"Could have fooled me."
Ears still ringing from Petunia Dursley's screech of fury, she glared back. "Given that your earlier approach rather lacked any semblance of manners, you have no room to complain."
The man looked down his long nose at her, gaze hard. "Do you want to bet on that?"
"And just who," Phineas Nigellas Black demanded, "…are you?"
The portrait looked momentarily stunned. Absently, he fingered his beard. He turned to Hermione. "Does he know?"
"Which part?" she retorted acerbically, too tired to fish for meanings.
She glared at Black, but Professor Snape's father answered before she could make a reply. "I don't know a goddamn thing!"
Sneering, the Portrait gave a malicious little chuckle. "Well, this certainly will make matters more interesting."
"The only thing that I am interested in is finding my bloody son," the older man growled, voice dipping into darkness. "And that only to wring his scrawny, good-for-nothing neck!"
Black leaned back in his chair, a sneer animating his countenance. "As the prior discussion pertains to your son, it behoves you to cease your bluster. Now would one of you tell me what exactly is going on?"
Harry answered, voice calm. "Kingsley's managed to convene a hearing. Your testimony would be beneficial."
"Indeed it would. Will McGonagall be dragging in the Barmy Bastard as well?"
"Don't know." Harry shrugged. "We just found out about it ourselves."
"And when is this hearing?"
Hermione glanced at her watch. "In about fifteen minutes."
"Then why are we lingering in this garden?" Disdain coloured his words.
"Because," Hermione ground out, "…as you can see, we have acquired an unexpected piece of baggage."
"Is that the best you can do?" Tobias Snape mocked. "Call me baggage? I've been accused of far worse."
"We don't need to make accusations, not when I know what kind of father you were," Harry stated quietly. He still held his wand at the ready, and his regard had gone heavy and fierce with all the weight of his own lost boyhood. "I've seen some of your son's memories, and quite frankly, I'm not sure that we will be giving you any information about Professor Snape."
Tobias Snape blanched, a welter of complex emotions visible for a breath before blankness overtook him. He said nothing further, and Harry looked over to Hermione as the silence stretched out.
"I can handle this," she murmured, handing him the portrait. "Go, and good luck."
"Luck will have nothing to do with this endeavour," Black said acidly. "Proper planning might, but as Gryffindors apparently rule the day, that notion has clearly fallen to the wayside, along with common sense…"
Harry rolled his eyes, the sun glinting off his glasses. "I'll keep you updated, yeah?"
"Do. Now go," she shooed.
Harry took a single step and spun, the crack of Apparition rippling through the desolation of the garden. Carefully she disillusioned her bag again and stuck it to her belt. First things first, Hermione decided. Food.
She gestured tiredly towards the house. "Come inside and we'll talk."
"Is he alive?"
The bald plea in Tobias Snape's voice stopped her and she flicked her gaze to his. His blue eyes were still full of anger, but there was a measure of desperation as well.
"Yes," she answered softly, having to clear her throat as her emotions wobbled. "Barely, but yes."
Turning away, the man sagged slightly, a long-fingered hand coming up to rub his face; not wanting to intrude, Hermione made a show of watching the bees at her Mum's roses until he faced her again.
"Come along, we haven't much time." She started for the house. "By the way, my name is Hermione Granger."
"Where are we?" he asked gruffly, following her up the path.
"Kent. Not far from Maidstone." Reaching for the fake rock by the back door, Hermione withdrew the spare key and unlatched the door. Stepping into the kitchen, she wiped her feet on the mat and made for the pantry. It was empty but for several tins of beans and a lone jar of peaches.
"Have you eaten recently?" she asked, determined to bring some civility back to the conversation.
"I can offer you beans, freezer burned toast, and some peaches. That's all there is, unfortunately."
"That would be a veritable feast, should it come with a side of answers." The edge had returned to his voice.
Bringing the tins over to the drawer where the opener was stored, she began to rummage through the kitchen implements. Stay calm… "Tell me about the last time you spoke with your son."
Leaning against the wall, he watched her until she'd popped the first tin open. "As I said, it was seventeen years ago. He had just gone and turned himself into a fascist thug."
The girl was thin. Too much so, and not the type of thin that passed for fashionable nowadays; it was the kind of slender that spoke of months of unwilling depravation. Given that the boy—Harry Potter—had also possessed a reedy, bony frame, Toby rather thought that the two of them had been involved in something that they ought not have done. Of course, it could have been drugs, but they didn't display any of the shifty-eyed, desperate hunger that an addict would, and Lord knew that he had danced enough with that particular demon to know what that looked like.
She wore a battered pair of denims and an oversized woolly jumper. Although her hair was scraped back into a bun, it looked to be a brambly, lug-filled mass, and he could only imagine that it totally dominated her appearance when unbound. He reckoned that she was in her early twenties, at most, though the dark shadows lurking in her brown eyes aged her greatly. It looks like she's been in a war, he realized uncomfortably, and that's another something that I know a thing or two about…
It was that impression more than anything that made him decide to stop needling her. I've broken enough delicate things, he mused as she puttered around the kitchen, and I don't have any desire to add this one to my long list of sins.
The quiet hiss of the gas burner returned his attention to the waiting conversation.
"His mother, Eileen," he continued, "…was one of your sort. She had just died, and Severus came to the house after the funeral. We fought, and he told me that he had joined up with that ridiculously named group of pure-blood supremacists…"
"The Death Eaters," she murmured, and he nodded in confirmation.
"Aye, the Death Eaters. And so I threw him out of the house. Told him not to return."
Hermione Granger carefully poured the beans into a copper pot, giving it a good stir. "But he did, didn't he?"
"He must have. Never saw him, of course, but several rather fortuitous events have befallen me over the years that I can only conclude are due to his meddling."
"An inheritance from my long-dead parents, for one, the money just enough to by myself a pleasant little cottage outside of Blackrod. Oddly, I never thought to sell the old place in Cokeworth, nor did I go back. Just packed up my stuff and left the old neighbourhood."
"That's certainly strange," she agreed, walking over to the icebox and removing a loaf of wheat bread from the top shelf. She wrinkled her nose as she saw the condition of the slices but put them in a toaster. "You never had any inclination to try and contact your son?"
"No, and that's what makes me think he did something to me. To my mind."
Toby didn't miss the way she stilled, what little colour remaining on her cheeks leeching away into nothingness. Her voice was flat when she asked her next question. "And why is that?"
"For seventeen years, I knew that I had a son. Knew that I was a widower. But anytime I thought of them, anytime someone brought them up, my mind brushed them aside. I changed the topic, or felt the immediate need to do something else. I could never… settle on the recollection of them."
"When did you become aware of the problem?"
"Yesterday." Deliberately, he broadened his accent; he had not missed the flicker of interest that it had inspired earlier. "To be more precise, the neighbour's moggy woke me up with her yowling at the crack of the sparrow's fart. But instead of being snug in my bed, I was laid out on the floor, and my head felt like someone had driven a lorry through it. I had this bruise on my face, and a few more beside. At first, I thought I was hung over. But I don't drink anymore, not like that anyways," Toby corrected with a wave.
He stopped, feeling an echo of the morning's terror wash over him. "I panicked. For the first time, I could properly think of my son… of my wife. I've spent nearly fifteen years rebuilding my life, and yet as I looked around my cottage, there wasn't a trace of them there. There was nothing." He took a deep breath in, feeling every one of his seventy-six years. "Had I been able, I would have tried ages ago to ask Severus for forgiveness. I'm not… I haven't been a good man, Ms Granger. Lord knows I was a terrible father, and an even worse husband. But I dragged myself out of the bottle. Dealt with my ghosts as best as I could..."
A bitter, feral laugh surfaced, and it was all he could do to not lose his composure. "But it was all for naught, wasn't it? I thought that I had made amends, when in truth, I just forgot about the worst of it. My son hated me enough to take even the memories away, and when I had them back, all sudden like… I knew something had happened. To him…"
The beans had started to bubble as the scent of toast filled the kitchen. The girl had turned to the sink to rinse out the empty tin; she kept her back to him for a long moment. "I don't think that it was hate that caused him to act, Mr Snape. What he did was a brilliant piece of magic. I know that comes as little comfort to you, but truly, it was utter genius." She turned back around and her expression was perfectly calm but for the anguish swimming in her eyes.
Taking a set of floral-patterned plates from the cabinet, she split the food into equal portions. "Mind magic works differently on Muggles—that is, non-magical folk—than it does on us. Erase the memories of a witch or wizard, and for the most part, they can be recovered; it's a matter of reconnecting the links. But for everyone else… Obliviation—erasing them—not only destroys the memories themselves, but the emotional components as well. I am told that it cannot be undone. If I'm guessing correctly, Professor Snape somehow used a charm—Notice-Me-Not, it's called—on your memories; he hid your shared past rather than annihilate it. I can't speak to his motives, but the forced separation likely saved your life."
"Why?" Toby exclaimed, anger overtaking him again. "What was so important that he felt no qualm in fiddling about with my mind?"
Tiredly, she gestured towards the table. "Sometime around 1979 or 1980, he became a double-agent. Had the Death Eaters known you were alive, they would have likely hunted you down and slowly tortured you to death."
He gave her a sceptical look. "And you can be so sure of this how?"
With a jerk, she pushed up her sleeve and yanked off a bandage. Carved in the pale flesh of her arm was a word, the edges still seeping.
Even without a lick of magic in his body, Toby could feel the malicious intent of that half-healed injury. The wound recalled old memories, ones that he avoided with care. This was not the first time he had seen forearms branded by hate; at a long ago death camp called Belsen, it had been a terrible string of numbers instead of words and the Nazis as perpetrators rather than Death Eaters. With a vivid, sickening lurch he recalled just how the indigo tattoos had stained the bodies of men and woman who had been left out to rot in giant piles…
And now it's happened again, hasn't it? Children being marked and people dying...
Tobias wasn't sure how much time passed; when he finally surfaced from his recollections, the girl was finishing a last, unenthusiastic bite of her food. She didn't seem mithered at all by his silence. Picking up a fork, he ate mechanically, trying to shift his concentration back to the present.
"Why," he asked as she washed the plates, "…three days ago, did I suddenly remember? What happened?"
"Three days ago there was a battle at Hogwarts. Some people are calling it the final battle, although that remains to be seen." Drying her hands, she leaned a hip against the counter, gaze intently locked onto him. "You'll not know this, but your son was the Potions Master at Hogwarts, and in this last year, the Headmaster. He… he was put into a terrible position by the previous Headmaster, but somehow managed to keep his cover and protect the school. During the battle, Voldemort—that was the leader of the Death Eaters—decided that he wanted something important from the Professor, and decided to kill him for it. We were there, Harry and I, and Ron, when the snake attacked him…"
"A snake?" he asked numbly, trying to picture what the girl was saying and failing miserably.
She nodded. "We thought he was dead after getting bit, and it wasn't until hours later that we found out that he wasn't. I would guess that he came close enough to dying that it broke whatever enchantment he put you under, and that is why you collapsed." Her voice turned almost dreamy with utter exhaustion, and he could see that she was on her last legs. "He really is quite brilliant, you know. I'll never forget his very first Potions lecture. He told us, ' You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion-making. As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don't expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses. I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death…" she recited before adding with relish, "'…if you aren't as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach.' And that's what he did. Somehow, he bottled death and saved himself. After the battle was over, Harry and I went to go fetch his body. But instead, we found that he had dragged himself halfway across the grounds."
"Where is he now?"
"Magical hospital. St. Mungo's in London."
"Will you take me?"
She almost said no, remembering what Harry had said about Professor Snape's memories of his father. But that's not the full story, is it? she reasoned, thinking about the older man's desperation. Professor Snape did protect him all these years… and besides which, at some point the hospital is going to remember that Harry and I have no right to be at his bedside, and then we'll have no way to protect him. They're less likely to kick us out if we are with his father.
"Yes, I will."
Toby didn't enjoy Apparition any better the second time, but he kept his gob shut because it was perfectly clear that the girl was nearing collapse. They landed smartly in a high-walled courtyard, and all he could see of the city was the dreary sky above them. Just before reaching a set of double doors, she reached a hand out and touched his arm.
"You should be prepared for how bad things are. He's in a coma." She took in a measured breath. "Nagini—that was Voldemort's pet snake—ripped half his throat open, and then injected him with a highly toxic venom. And truth be told, he wasn't in the best of shape before…"
"Can you lot fix him?"
"Unknown. The best Healers in Britain are trying, though, and we found quite a few specialized potions on him that have made a difference. Professor Snape wasn't unprepared for what happened."
"No, he wouldn't be," Toby said, a sick sort of pride filling him.
The long hospital corridors were a blur as the girl took them quickly to an unmarked door at the end of a wing. Pulling out her wand, she twirled it in a complicated fashion and then reached for the doorknob.
"Neville?" she called, stepping into the room. "I'm back. Any changes?"
Toby saw a tall, gangly youth unfold himself from a chair by a window before his attention was drawn to the still figure lying in bed at the centre of the room.
At first, the bloated features wouldn't come into focus, and all he saw was a sallow, slack face with grey-tinged skin. Despite the puffiness, he saw there were harsh lines carved around the hooked nose; even deeply unconscious, the man appeared angry. Greasy, closely cropped hair surrounded the face, and a gaunt, pallid hand was resting limply upon a narrow chest.
Quite suddenly, Toby found that his heart was racing in his own chest and an odd metallic taste was filling his mouth. Although he couldn't look away from the fundamental wrongness of the figure in front of him, his mind refused to make sense of it.
That's not Severus. That's not my son…
"Oh, bugger!" he dimly heard, and he felt the girl grab his elbow. "Neville, help me get him into the chair… I warned him!"
Her face, fierce and demanding, filled his immediate vision. "Breathe in," she ordered. "Slowly and steadily. Good… and once more…"
Breaking eye contact as the nausea subsided, Toby stared down at his feet. Instead of his usual leather boots, he still wore his house slippers, and the day's various journeys had soiled them irrevocably. There's an appropriate metaphor somewhere in that, he thought grimly, and gently pushed Hermione Granger out of the way so that he could properly look at his son.
For a lack of a better place to start, Toby focused on the sharp widow's peak that had been a legacy from his own mam; it didn't look any better on Severus than it had on her. Only the black hair saved him from appearing older than himself, but truly, the monochrome hue of the strands made it seem like a poor dye job more than anything.
The last time he'd seen his son, Severus had been tall and gawky—rather unfinished—like the boy hovering in the corner. He'd been full of rage then; sick over the loss of his mother, and the way that the redheaded Evans girl had thrown him over. His boy had seemed so young, so… naïve.
But it wasn't a young man that was lying in front of him. This Severus was well into middle age. Old, even. Toby let his gaze drift lower, taking in the faint scars that littered the delicate skin of Severus' hands. They were a fair copy of his own, all long fingers topped off by blunt nails. Vividly, he remembered holding a naked and squalling Severus with one large palm, and watching with awe as his newborn son had gripped his thumb with a tiny, perfect hand.
One of Severus' thumbnails had been ripped off, and the nail bed was a deep, inflamed red.
"Oh, Severus," he whispered, hardly aware of what he was saying. "What have they done to you? What did I do to you?"
When Tobias Snape started weeping, Hermione knew that it was her cue to depart. Seeing his profound grief pushed at her fragile emotions, and she was afraid that she'd never calm herself down if she let go. Snagging Neville's arm, she dragged him out of the room, leaving the door cracked open.
"Who the hell is that?" he hissed, looking confused.
"Professor Snape's father," she answered, glancing around to make sure that no one could overhear them.
"Professor Snape has a father?"
She shot him an impatient look. "He didn't spring fully formed from an egg, Neville." Hermione sighed. "Listen, that's not the only news. Kingsley got a hearing…"
Twenty minutes later, the lead Healer came by. Upon seeing Hermione and Neville standing at the door, he raised an eyebrow. "Problem, Ms Granger?"
"No, sir. I've just brought Professor Snape's father by and wanted to give him a bit of privacy."
"Good," the man said briskly. "We need to decide on further treatment options, and we can't do that without family or next of kin. His name?"
"Tobias Snape." Hermione bit her lip. "Just so you know, he's a Muggle, sir, and not involved much with the wizarding world."
He shrugged. "Beggars can't be choosers." With that, he knocked on the door and entered, Hermione and Neville trailing behind.
All evidence of Tobias Snape's emotions had been neatly tucked away, and he sat impassively in the chair at the head of the bed. So, she thought, that champion poker face is less of a Slytherin thing, and more of a Snape thing. Good to know…
"Mr Snape, my name is Amnon Ben-David and I am your son's lead Healer." He proffered a hand, which the older man shook briefly before giving the Healer an assessing once-over.
"Israeli, are you?"
Ben-David stiffened ever so slightly. "Yes, as a matter of fact. Is that going to be a problem?"
Tobias Snape snorted. "Hardly. Tell me, do your lot around here observe the Shabbat, or has that fallen to the kerb as well?
The man blinked for a moment, apparently surprised by the odd question. "By 'your lot', I assume you mean wizarding folk, and not Israelis?" At Snape's nod, Ben-David smiled faintly, relaxing. "As a matter of fact, there is a small group of us here at St. Mungo's that celebrate the Shabbat. You are welcome to join us should you so desire."
"I might just do that," he replied, gaze slipping over to his son. "Assuming we are still here by sundown next Friday."
"You're Jewish?" Hermione blurted, finally putting the pieces of the odd conversation together.
Both men turned and gifted her with nearly identical sardonic stares.
"Five points from Gryffindor, Miss Granger," Neville muttered into the silence, sotto voice.
"Oh, shush. I can't be the only one surprised."
Neville patted her arm, amused. "I might be if I had any idea what you are talking about."
Professor Snape's father spoke. "Yes, I am a Jew. With a name like Tobias and a nose like this, it would be quite the waste if I wasn't."
"Is Professor Snape Jewish?" she asked, figuring that she had already been rude enough that she might as well ask the obvious question.
"No," he answered flatly. "His mother was a witch."
"Which doesn't necessarily preclude one being Jewish," Amnon Ben-David interjected smoothly. "…as my own mother is both a witch and Jewish. Alas, however diverting this topic may be, we have far more important matters to discuss. As we are almost out of the healing potions that the Headmaster had on his person, several significant decisions need to be made regarding his care. Ms Granger, Mr Longbottom, as you are not family nor kin, I will have to ask you to leave unless Mr Snape permits it."
Neville stepped back. "No worries, I was just waiting for Hermione and Harry. Let me know if you need anything else, yeah?" Receiving her nod of thanks, Neville started quickly for the hallway.
"Sir," she began, wondering how she was going to plead her case to stay and watch over the Professor.
The older man raised a sardonic brow. "Oh, you'll be staying as my translator, never fear." Turning his attention to the Healer, he waved towards the bed. "Out with it, then."
"Are you aware of what the major injuries are?"
"A snake bite, I was told."
"It's bites, unfortunately. As you can see, we've finally managed to close your son's neck and leg wounds successfully, although there will be considerable scarring. However, we are most concerned with his higher brain function and continued coma state. The prolonged blood loss from the attack and resulting lack of oxygen to the brain may have caused irreparable damage, and there is also extensive muscle damage from the effects of the venom…"
The atmosphere in the room was rather grimmer when the Healer left; Hermione felt unbearably weary, weighed down with grief and guilt. Ostensibly, the death of Voldemort meant that they had won, but as the losses piled up, the victory seemed altogether pyrrhic, and no part of the situation more so than the condition of Professor Snape.
For all that events had seemingly centred on Harry, none of it would have been possible without Professor Snape's years of spying and many sacrifices; she couldn't begin to imagine how horribly alone the man had to have been during the last year when everyone thought him a traitor. And I just left him in the Shack to die…
As if reading the direction of her thoughts, Tobias Snape spoke. "Why are you here, Miss Granger?"
She flinched at the question, the familiar timbre of his voice stirring up all her inadequacies. "I was his student, sir, and he protected me…" She let her words trail off because it wasn't quite the right answer. "There was a prophecy about Harry—he's my best friend, which meant I went along for all the madness—and we were part of the Order of the Phoenix, who was the main group opposing Voldemort…" Stopping again, she rubbed at her face. "I'm not making any sense, am I?"
"No," Toby said bluntly. "Start at the beginning. Your beginning."
Taking a deep breath, she marshalled her thoughts. "I'm a Muggleborn, as I'm sure you gathered from my house. When I turned eleven, a woman named Minerva McGonagall knocked on our front door…"
Hermione rambled on for nearly three hours, and Professor Snape's father interrupted only rarely to ask clarifying questions. It was like opening a festering wound; while it hurt, there was also an element of relief, of healing. She told him everything but what she had done to her parents—how isolating her first months at Hogwarts had been, and how the fight against the troll in the bathroom had been the glue that had brought she, Harry, and Ron together. That their first encounter with Voldemort had scared her badly, and she had spent her summer reckoning what the revelation of the presence of real monsters meant for her as well as her place in the magical world. She spoke about how swiftly the tide of public opinion had turned against Harry when the Chamber of Secrets had been opened, and what it had been like to spend weeks petrified in the Hospital Wing. That, of course, was the first time that Professor Snape had saved her life by brewing the Mandrake Restorative Draught… on and on she went, narrating her six years of trial and tribulations at Hogwarts, and eventually getting to the last dreadful year on the run.
"It was a bitterly cold evening in the Forest of Dean. Harry was on watch, and I was trying to sleep in the tent. A noise startled me, and I went outside to investigate. Harry was gone… and that's when I saw Professor Snape standing in the shadows. He looked utterly ghastly, although that description doesn't even begin to cover it. It was clear that he was waiting for something, and I thought for sure that we had been found out, that the Snatchers were coming to get us. He couldn't see me—I was still hiding behind our wardings—and I watched him for almost five minutes." Hermione shook her head, a hand unconsciously rising to cover her heart as the memory spun onward. "Out of the wood, a Patronus suddenly appeared. It was so incredibly beautiful."
Hermione paused, remembering the awed sense of shock that had filled her as she had taken in the delicate, pure light of the doe on that desperate and dark night. "You have to understand, the Patronus is the ultimate symbol of the light, of goodness. It is created out of love, and this Patronus… I've never seen one so bright and so perfect. It walked up to the Professor and nuzzled him, like it was telling him something important. Then I heard voices, and Professor Snape Apparated away. Out of nowhere, Ron appeared, dragging Harry and the Sword of Gryffindor. I knew then that we had it all wrong. Professor Snape was no traitor… but I didn't say anything. I didn't think that Harry and Ron would believe me, and Ron had just come back, and I just couldn't handle any more fighting…"
Steeling herself, Hermione quickly told him about robbing Gringotts, about getting caught and being taken to Malfoy Manor, and the eventual battle at Hogwarts. By the time she got to Professor Snape's near death in the Shack, she felt rather detached from the whole tale.
"I should have known. I certainly saw enough. But I wasn't brave enough to speak up… Three times, Professor Snape directly intervened to save my life and I still left him to die alone. That's why I'm here. I will do whatever it takes to see his name cleared, and will assist with his recovery in any way I can."
The girl's voice had gone hoarse from talking so much, and Toby belatedly realized that he should have stopped her far earlier. She had sagged back into her chair, appearing totally boneless.
"You've magicked this room, correct?" he asked gruffly, feeling a bit ashamed for the way he'd let her go on.
He ran a hand through his hair, noting with some irritation that it had already gone greasy at the roots. "Don't sir me. I'm not your bloody Professor. Toby is fine."
She blinked, startled out of her somnolence. "As long as you call me Hermione."
"Done. Now, since you've protected us, take a kip. I'll watch over things." He raised a hand to forestall her oncoming argument. "You've been running on fumes for hours, and if something actually happened you'd be ruddy well useless. I may be old and a Muggle, but I'm not entirely helpless." With a slight smirk, he shifted his foot, feeling the comforting sensation of the long blade strapped to his ankle. "Sleep while you can, Hermione. Trouble will come soon enough."
To his surprise, she gave in with no further comment. Pulling a wand from nowhere, she spun it over her chair and relaxed again with a sigh. Before closing her eyes a final time, she pointed the wand at him. Unexpectedly, the chair seemed to soften, conforming to his frame flawlessly.
"Cushioning charm," she muttered, and then seemed to drop into slumber instantly.
In the suffocating stillness of the hospital room, Toby's thoughts were a jumbled mess. His head swam with all the details that Hermione Granger had given him, the sharp edges of his own memories working in concert to rip away at what remained of his calm.
For the first time in many years, he wished to get truly, deeply pissed; yearned for the hazy heat of oblivion brought on by copious amounts of drink. He had no notion how he was going to assimilate all that he had just learned, and indeed, how he was going to climb the massive mountain of his failings yet again.
And then there was his son.
His son. His brilliant, bitter son had walked a far lonelier path than he ever had, and had somehow emerged from the ashes as a far better man. A stronger man… Looking at his bruised face, it was clear that it had come at great cost, and that humbled Toby more than anything else in his life ever had.
The sentiment nearly choked him, and carefully, he reached for Severus' cool, stiff hand.
"I have been the worst sort of man," he whispered roughly. "The vilest excuse for a father and husband. But I swear to you, Severus, that if you let me try again, I will not fail you. Please," he begged, tears rolling off his face and hitting the starched sheets with dull splats "… please wake up and give me a chance to ask you for forgiveness."
Hermione awoke at sunset, disoriented and groggy.
Tobias Snape sat across from her, grief clearly etched across his rough-hewn features. As she straightened, he looked over to her, their eyes meeting.
There was no judgement in his blue-eyed gaze, only an odd sort of sympathy, coupled with a profound regret. His obvious pain stirred her compassion, and she wished that she could somehow comfort him.
"Shall I fetch us tea and something to eat?" she offered softly.
He settled back in his chair tiredly. "That would be appreciated. It's been a donkey's age since I've last properly eaten."
Hermione rose, feeling dreadfully sore and hearing several pops as she stretched. Vaguely recalling that there were dietary restrictions for Jews, she asked, "Any requests? Anything you can't eat?"
"Just don't get me a bacon and cheese sarnie, and I'll be fine. When in doubt, vegetarian always works." Pulling out a thick leather wallet from a back pocket, Toby removed several bills and tried to hand them to her.
She shook her head. "Your money is literally no good here."
"Doesn't mean that you can't keep it for later."
"Pay me in information when I return." Hermione gave him a thin smile. "I want to know what it is you threatened Petunia Dursley with."
That earned her a wry, approving chuckle. "Mercenary woman, aren't you?"
"A bit. If you can tell me something that I can use to protect Harry, it would be more than a fair recompense."
As if on cue, Hermione's stomach rumbled loudly and she blushed. "And on that note, I'll be back."
Dinner was a quiet affair. Pouring two cups of tea and handing over the plate of chocolate biscuits, Hermione wondered if she could push matters into the personal. Why not? He's heard everything about me…
"Would you tell me your story? From the beginning?"
Toby appeared surprised at the request. "Looking for more blackmail, girl?"
"No… nosy curiosity more than anything."
After taking a sip of tea, Toby began his tale. "I was born in 1922 in an industrial village outside of Manchester. Both my parents were Jewish, although not practicing. Rather than finding their salvation in any sort of godly religion, they found it in the writings of Karl Marx. They were quite literally card-carrying communists, having met in Berlin prior to the Great War. My childhood was idyllic enough, if poor." His face hardened slightly when he continued.
"The Second World War changed all that, of course. I enlisted in 1941, and became a lorry driver with the 11th Armoured Division. Eventually, I was assigned to drive a Universal Carrier—that's a type of light armoured tracked vehicle. We fought at the Battle of Normandy, and raced across France, Belgium and the Netherlands as Germany retreated. In April of 1945, we liberated Bergen-Belsen."
He stopped then, and walked over to the window. "Our division had taken quite a few losses—over two thousand of our men were killed in the last year alone—but it wasn't until I got to Belsen that I really saw death. You've heard about Bergen-Belsen and the other concentration camps, haven't you, Miss Granger?"
Hermione nodded, feeling sick. "Yes. My father is a history buff."
"Then you'll know the horrific scale of things. When the Camp was handed over to us, there were over thirteen-thousand dead bodies laying about in massive, rotting piles, and another sixty thousand prisoners had been left alive, most of whom were dying of typhus and starvation. It was utterly devastating. The first day I was assigned to a bulldozer, and ordered to push these mountains upon mountains of bodies into the open pits."
He tapped his forearm and then gestured towards her own. "Like you, they had been marked. Tattooed with numbers, and most still bore the Star of David on what remained of their clothing… As a Jew, albeit a non-practicing one…" Turning back from the dark window to face her, he stared silently for a painful, endless moment. Hermione could see the echoes of that horror in his gaze.
"To see all those men, women, and children, tortured and desecrated in such a way… it could have been me. But for an accident of birth, I could have been one of those nameless wretches." Toby gave her a grim smile, recalling how useless and ashamed he had felt by his own survival. "Needless to say, I returned to England a changed man. The war changed my parents, too. They immigrated to Israel and became members of a kibbutz in the north. After they left, I found work as a lorry driver for the Port of Manchester. I tried to forget what I had seen. Drinking was my refuge."
"As it is for many people," Hermione murmured.
"Aye, but it's an illusionary one at best. In 1957, my parents were killed in an automobile collision, and that only pushed me further in the bottle. I spent all my free time at bars. Became rather good at pool, even when I was absolutely pissed. That," he said, voice heavy with irony, "…was how I met Eileen Prince. I lost twenty quid to her. She was an utter shark at pool and snooker."
"She was?" Hermione exclaimed, shocked. "Was she using magic?"
He snorted. "No. She had a prickly sense of honour about that kind of thing, something that Severus inherited… no, Eileen was just good at it. You'd think we'd be chalk and cheese, but we had a lot in common, her and I. Both without families—she had been thrown out after refusing to marry a bloke her father had wanted—and both of us were angry as hell. Lost, really… Well, one thing led to another as they do, and eventually we got married. Severus was born in 1960."
"Did you know that she was a witch?"
"Not right away. Eileen didn't tell me until Severus was nearly two. He was doing magic, and at first, I thought it was all in my head. I went completely spare when she finally told me. Didn't believe her at first, and then she took out her wand and froze me to my bloody chair to prove her point. She gave as good as she got, my Eileen. At least in the beginning."
"She drank too?"
"We all did. Wasn't much else to do… anyway, at first magic seemed a lark. Cut down on the heating bill, it did. But one night, she was cleaning out a closet and found my old trunk, the one with my uniforms in it. We started talking about the war, and she told me that the magical community had deliberately stayed out of the conflicts. Oh, they went in and took their own people out to safety, but they did nothing for the millions of us folk who didn't have magic. I was incensed. My thought was, if you had all that power and chose not to use it, then you were just as bad as those who do abuse it. She didn't agree… and it turned into a violent row. That night was the first time I ever hit her."
Tobias Snape halted, shame colouring his face. "You have to understand, I was drinking heavily—we both were—and the subject was one that would set me off even when I was stone-cold sober… still that's no excuse for what I did. What I continued to do."
Hermione didn't know what to say, and tried not to squirm.
"I forbade her to do magic in my house. Turned away from Severus because he was one of them… everything fell apart in short order. I lost my job on account of drinking, and as the last of the mills shut down, couldn't get anything more than day work. It was decidedly… ugly. Once Severus went off to your school, things got a little better. But when he was sixteen, Eileen got sick. Her liver was going. It took almost two years for her to die."
"How much did you know about what was going on in the wizarding world at the time?" Hermione asked, thinking of the early years of the Order.
"A bit. I knew things weren't pretty. Severus wrote to his mam every week, and I read the most of the letters. It was clear what a cock and bull the pureblood movement was—just like Nazis—but of course, Severus wouldn't hear anything of it. The day of Eileen's funeral, Severus walked in my door with that mark of hatred freshly branded onto his arm and I lost it. Beat the shit out of him, and he gave me a few good knocks, too. I told him never to darken my door again."
He sighed, watching the shallow rise and fall of Professor Snape's chest. "Truth be told, I don't remember much about the next couple of years. I was just another drunk on a bench when an old army friend found me. Saul Klein was his name… it took three years to get me sober, but he stuck with me. He was a practicing Jew, and an Orthodox one to boot. At first, I found the ritual and the pomp ridiculous. Utter nonsense. But after a while, I found beauty in it. I won't say that I found God. But I found something. Peace, I suppose, and a measure of forgiveness. My life was mostly content until three days ago, when I woke up on my floor and knew that something was very, very wrong."
Toby smiled at the girl, the expression lacking any humour. "So that, Hermione Granger, is the abridged version of my life story. Aren't you glad you asked?"
"Yes," she replied without hesitation. "Your story is part of his, and I meant what I said earlier. I'm going to help him recover, and to do that, I need to know as much about him as I can. He's going to absolutely hate me being here, you know."
"You and I both, duck. You and I both…" He felt a rush of warmth towards her then; there was a fierceness and sharpness to her that reminded him strongly of Eileen. And a certain stubbornness, too...
He watched as she glanced towards his son, remorse darkening her gaze.
"You don't have anything to be ashamed of," he remarked, reflecting that Albus Dumbledore had been a rather callous and calculating leader.
Her expression turned a shade mocking. "What, because I was a child? Because Professor Snape was an exceptional actor? Because everyone else around me thought he was a traitor? I knew the truth and I did not speak. Had I the courage… he very well might not be lying here fighting for his life."
Toby looked down his large nose at her. "And he very well could be dead regardless of any action of yours. I will say it again, you have done nothing to be ashamed of."
She obviously disagreed. "Perhaps."
It hurt him to see the way her guilt was crushing her, and Toby offered the only thing that he had—fellowship.
"Are you familiar with the term 'teshuvah'?"
"No… it's Hebrew, I assume?"
"Correct. Literally, it means 'to return', but it refers to the process of repentance. I mean to ask my son for forgiveness when he wakes, and I will atone for my sins the best I can."
He met her determined brown eyes and felt a flicker of hope. What an ally you will be… "Will you help me, Hermione?"
Her chin firmed, and he saw the spark of purpose fill her battered, thin frame. "I do believe I will." She grinned suddenly. "After all, if there is one thing I've learned, it's that it is harder to hit two targets than one."
"Aye," he affirmed, a matching smirk in place. "And bloody good targets we'll make."