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Chapter 1: Hermione's Holiday
Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction written with love and no possibility of profit. Thanks as always to JK Rowling who lets us all play in her universe. Any recognizable Muggle places / institutions / organizations are used very fictitiously.
Author’s Note: I’ve had a rather bad case of the writer’s doldrums lately, and figured a date with my favorite guilty pleasure would do the trick. I do read widely in this category, but haven’t tried my hand at it before now.
I have visited the real Salem, and I’ve always wanted to set a story there. I’ve had fun working in magical explanations for things I’ve found peculiar in real life. This is an AU (and shouldn’t be considered part of the same continuity as my other post-Hogwarts stories) but I’ve done my best to keep the characters consistent. Ron/Hermione shippers may go a little ballistic, but work with me on this one.
This story is inspired by rindingo’s Photograph Challenge on TGS, using photo #3 in a rather roundabout fashion. Thanks to Rin for helping me break out of my writer's rut!
I must also credit Mottsnave’s wonderful series beginning with The Clear Cut, which is the best “what if Snape survived the war” story I have yet to run across in my travels!
Heavy fog oscillated between the choppy slate-gray waves and the equally gray asphalt. My summer holiday, thought Hermione Granger-Weasley with a resentful flex of her fingers on the steering wheel. She pulled into a diagonal parking space, startling a trio of bedraggled seagulls from worrying at a discarded tuna salad sandwich.
“Come to Salem, Mum. It’s always sunny here in July. It’ll be good for you to take your mind off things.” In lieu of the long lunches Rose had promised in sidewalk cafés and leisurely prowls through historical graveyards, Hermione was alone in her daughter’s messy car while Rose taught a hastily scheduled summer session of Remedial Potions.
Take my mind off things, indeed, thought Hermione: barristers and petitions, selling the flat in London, dividing their property. Her ex-husband had the advantage of being able to hide in the back office of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes whenever the gossip reporters were too much for him, but Hermione’s position in the Ministry meant she was always in the public eye.
She sipped at a lukewarm, overly sweetened paper cup of cappuccino as frustrated Muggle parents pursued their charges into a half-lit video arcade, accompanied by the blips and beeps of American pocket change being flushed down the drain. The smells of cooking grease and cold ocean breeze mingled with humid sewer and salty soft pretzels. Behind the arcade, a carousel wheezed to the shrieks of happy children.
All around were hidden signposts to the real Salem, the bustling magical center upon which the small Muggle city lay superimposed. Just above the dilapidated public toilets floated a shimmer of green light marking a public Floo entrance. Rose had related the story of how the Muggle authorities had tried to renovate or redevelop the crumbling loo, but obstacles rose swiftly in the path of each plan; the Witches’ Council faced severe opposition in relocating the convenient gateway to the Institute.
Despite the unfriendly weather, a number of visitors milled on the scrubby lawns. American wizards and witches didn’t typically wear robes except on formal occasions, but it was simple enough for the trained eye to pick them out. Something was subtly off about their ensembles: perhaps a woman wore knee-high socks and sandals with a calf-length floral skirt, or perhaps a man sported a formal suit and tails at ten-thirty in the morning. The Muggle locals and tourists were eccentric enough in themselves to let such things go by unremarked, or perhaps only eyed with a sidelong snicker.
“It’s even easier in October,” Rose had giggled at the breakfast table as she poured tea for her mother. “The locals are dressed up twenty-four-seven getting ready for Halloween. I saw a Hag last year, an actual real live Hag, walking down Washington Street in broad daylight eating an ice cream cone. A Muggle asked me to take his kids’ picture with it. I haven’t laughed so much in ages!”
The seaweed-scented breeze blew fresher, peeling the fog away like a sheet of lint curling from the filter in the clothes dryer. Weak sunshine beckoned from the pebbled shore. Hermione left the car, locking it carefully with the key fob and bringing her coffee cup.
Hermione’s wellies crunched loudly in the gravel. Violet mussels and chalky white clamshells crumbled to pieces beneath her feet. Cigarette butts and candy wrappers curled tightly into the dry black seaweed. Still, the water shone deep green close to shore, and bare-masted sailboats pierced the gloom. Out in the harbor, an unseen bell clanged with impatience.
Hermione made her way to a footbridge reaching out to a small fishing pier. On the end of the ramp stood a stooped figure with a fishing rod; shoulder-length black hair flew up and around his face, clouding his features. Something in the man’s bearing, in the silhouette of his black-jacketed shoulders against the white wooden rails, made Hermione’s guts twist in upon themselves in shock. She dropped the paper coffee cup and light brown liquid spilled all over her boots.
Even as she stared at the unbelievable sight, her ever-ready mind leapt upon the most logical explanation. Hermione was hallucinating. Visions of her own grief and guilt crashed in upon themselves and made a perfectly ordinary Muggle fisherman resemble the professor she had once admired and longed to please, then feared, and then come to… come to what?
At the end of the fishing pier, the man swung his head around at her little squeak of nervousness. The tense angle of his arm as his hand moved subtly to his hip pocket spoke of his readiness to defend himself, removing her doubts as cleanly as a cold bucket of seawater splashed in her face. If this wasn’t Severus Snape, it was at least a wizard, and it paid to be cautious. Hermione crouched down behind the railing, casting a rapid Disillusionment Charm on herself and praying she blended into her surroundings.
The stooped figure stalked closer, ascending the wooden ramp with hollow footsteps. He kept his right hand tucked inside his pocket. As he approached her, his steps slowed. He stopped directly in front of her with a cutting smile on his lightly lined face.
“Ten points from Gryffindor, Miss Granger. That’s the worst Disillusionment Charm I’ve ever seen.”
Thirty years dropped away in an instant. Once more, Hermione was the panicked schoolgirl running to the dungeons with Luna Lovegood, warning her teacher that the Death Eaters had come and pleading for his help. Such a short time later, she reeled at his seeming betrayal as Professor Dumbledore fell to earth from the tallest tower, his beard blowing like tufts of dandelion seed.
Hermione’s leg muscles pulsed and wobbled with the effort to stand; her vision clouded and her throat constricted. Professor Snape tucked his hand firmly beneath her elbow as she faltered. Flushed, she clung to his forearm.
“To avoid causing a scene, perhaps we should continue our conversation in a more private location.”
Hermione swallowed. “I’ve got my daughter’s car.”
None of the beachgoers turned their heads as they left the ramp and walked up toward the car park; Hermione suspected Snape of drawing the natural mist closer to obscure their passing.
“Ronald’s and mine. She’s apprenticing at the Institute.”
“What subject?” he asked keenly.
Severus Snape chuckled. “You must be proud. I thought the Weasley blood would have subdued yours in the academic department.”
Hermione ignored the ribbing. “Why are you here?”
Professor Snape’s wide mouth twisted upward at one corner. “I would think that ‘Why aren’t you dead?’ would be a more logical starting point, Miss Granger.”
His familiar sarcasm brought Hermione fully back to herself. “I’d appreciate some answers. You nearly made me violate the Statute of Secrecy back there, and you must know how touchy American Magical Security is about these things.”
Snape smoothed his silvered hair away from his face with one negligent hand. “Far be it for me to drive the famous Hermione Granger to commit a felony.”
Hermione reached into her pocket for Rose’s car keys and brushed against her wand, battling with an unbecoming urge to hex Snape just once for old times’ sake; the desired image in her head bore a strong resemblance to Neville’s boggart from third year, vulture hat and all.
Once inside Rose’s miniscule electric car, Snape folded his long legs to fit in the inadequate front seat. Hermione cast a few quick charms for privacy and gathered up her strength. She stood by this man’s grave with neither Ron nor Harry able to comfort her, mourning the life single-mindedly spent on one goal.
She worked to make sure Severus Snape would be remembered correctly, not as a Death Eater but as one of the saviors of the Wizarding World: for protecting the children of Hogwarts in that terrible year as Headmaster, for ensuring Harry’s survival until the very end. And now here he was, the bastard, smug and relaxed in the front seat of Rose’s car: the cat that ate the canary.
She lifted her face and looked directly at Severus Snape for the first time, into the pitch-black eyes revealing nothing but a faint sparkle of amusement: no trace of guilt at the deception he had foisted on the Wizarding world, no misgivings at allowing himself to be portrayed as a martyr.
“I need to know everything, sir.”
“Starting with the Shrieking Shack.”