Thank you very much for your reviews! The following chapter is an attempt to make sense of some of the things that happened in the 'Deathly Hollows' that I never fully understood. Such as why Dumbledore wanted Severus of all people to be the person who told Harry about the necessity of his self-sacrifice...
"Telling Harry the truth was never your mission, was it?" Hermione asked. He said nothing. But he didn't have to; she gave the answer herself: "It was all about the Elder Wand..." Her eyes widened in shock when all the pieces finally fell in place. Yet she shook her head vehemently, denying the conclusion she had come to. "No!" she said tonelessly. "You couldn't... Dumbledore couldn't have planned this!" But his silence was confirmation enough. "That was the plan? That was your mission? To confront Harry and, if worse came to worst, let yourself be killed?" She jumped up from her chair, feeling the urge smash something or to hit someone to vent her rage. Preferably Dumbledore. Or even him.
"Miss Granger..." he said, using his most appeasing tone.
"No!" she cried, outraged. "How could he demand this of you? Why would you even consider to go along with this insanity of a plan?"
"He didn't demand it," he replied calmly. "It wasn't primarily his plan. Albus had the vague hope that my killing him – given that he had begged me to do it – would not technically qualify as murder, but as assisted suicide, and that he would thus die undefeated. He hoped that the mastery of the Elder Wand would remain with him. That would have given neither Potter nor the Dark Lord an advantage, and in all likelihood The-Boy-Who-Lived would have become The-Boy-Who-Died."
Hermione could hear bitterness in his voice, which confused her. "So you decided to sacrifice yourself in Harry's stead and provoke him into attacking you?"
"It was the only way to ensure that the mastery of the Elder Wand would be passed to him," he said with cool detachment. "Without the Deathly Hallows, without becoming the Master of Death, Potter most likely would have died. Surely you wouldn't have wanted that."
"But neither would I have wanted Harry to kill you! That's just as horrible! What if Dumbledore had been right and the mastery of the wand hadn't even passed on to you by killing him? It was a mercy killing, after all. You would have died in vain!"
"There is no such thing as a mercy killing with a death curse, Miss Granger. Why do you think it's called an Unforgivable? To kill with 'Avada Kedavra', one has to summon hatred. It's what fuels the curse. Dumbledore finally conceded to the fact and adjusted his plan accordingly."
Hermione wrung her hands in agitation. "Did you and Dumbledore even pause to consider what it would have done to Harry later, after he had learned the truth about your true allegiance?"
"If Potter had killed me instead of just defeating me, he would never have learned the truth. There was no point. I would have been dead anyway."
"How can you be so calm about it?" she demanded, aghast at his casualness when discussing his own death. "You and Dumbledore all but planned your death! I still can't believe this! There must have been another way!"
"Of course!" he said ironically. "The easiest way would have been for Potter to kill Dumbledore in my stead. But Albus and I somehow doubted that we'd be able to persuade him to go along with that course of action. Nor could we think of a reasonable explanation to give to the Order and to the Dark Lord as to why Harry Potter killed his beloved headmaster."
"But killing the previous owner of the wand wasn't necessary at all – just disarming was sufficient. That's why Draco had gained mastery of the Elder Wand, not you."
"Indeed, Miss Granger. Still, we couldn't simply stage a duel in which Dumbledore would allow Harry to disarm him. We did a lot of research on the wand and the way it worked, and from what we understood, it can't be cheated like that. As Ollivander said: 'The wand chooses the wizard.' The Elder Wand is drawn to strength. It goes where the power is."
"But a provoked confrontation with you would have been just as staged," Hermione argued. "You are so much more skilled than Harry, he couldn't have defeated you unless you allowed it."
"Potter might not be as experienced, but don't underestimate his magical power. But yes, to gain the mastery of the wand, it was essential for him to be the most powerful of us at the crucial moment. And that's exactly why Potter needed to continue hating me with a vengeance. Hatred is a very powerful thing. I, on the other hand, was resigned to die – just like Dumbledore had been on the Astronomy tower. It was the reason why Draco was able to disarm him and gain the mastery of the wand in the first place."
Hermione frowned. "But neither of you took the wand after killing Dumbledore. It was entombed with him."
"Physical possession of the wand isn't necessary to gain its allegiance. Draco didn't take it because he had no clue. And I didn't take it because that would have been serving it to the Dark Lord on a silver platter. Dumbledore long suspected that he was after the wand, and we wanted to keep it from him as long as possible. The Dark Lord still didn't know that the wand's allegiance needed to be won in order to use it efficiently. He thought it would be sufficient to be in its possession, and we didn't want him to find out the truth. He was angry with me for not bringing it, but I could feign ignorance, given that he had never confided to me that he wanted it."
"But in order to stick with your and Dumbldore's original plan you had to defeat Draco at some point and thus make yourself the rightful owner of the wand..."
"Yes." He sighed. "That turned out to be the tiny flaw in the plan. It wasn't as easy as I had thought it would be. After all, I had no valid reason to attack my godson, and was still under oath to protect him from harm. Narcissa had to release me from the Unbreakable Vow first, but she proved unwilling – until I appealed to the Dark Lord. Given that he was extremely annoyed with the Malfoys after Potter's escape from their manor, he ordered her to revoke the vow.
"After the Easter holidays, I organised practise duels for all 7th year students, supposedly to test their skills in the Dark Arts. I defeated Draco and believed myself to be the master of the Elder Wand right until the moment the Dark Lord disarmed me in the Shrieking Shack. I had no idea that the wand's allegiance had been with Potter ever since he had disarmed Draco at Malfoy Manor."
Hermione shook her head in bitterness. "So a confrontation with Harry, even if you had managed to force it before he faced the Dark Lord, would have been completely pointless. You would have died in vain."
He rubbed his forehead as if trying to wipe away the memories. "That's exactly what I thought when Voldemort defeated me... " he murmured. "That I had failed again. Without the mastery of the wand, Harry had a low chance of surviving the confrontation with Voldemort and his self-sacrifice. The only thing left to do was to give him my memories make sure that he knew what he had to do."
"Dear God – to think that so much depended on Harry possessing all Deathly Hallows!" Hermione felt a rush of anger at the deceased headmaster and his secrecy. They had been manipulated and manoeuvred like chess pieces. "All that Dumbledore left us were cryptic hints and a fairytale book! Why not simply tell us what we needed to know instead of leaving us fumbling around in the dark all this time? What if we hadn't figured it out at all?"
He raised his eyebrow at her. "Albus left the book with you, did he not? Of course you'd figure it out."
She was too agitated to take notice of the implied compliment on her intelligence. "We only understood that the Deathly Hallows truly existed. But Harry never actively tried to get into possession of the Elder Wand, least of all gain its allegiance! It was pure coincidence that he ended up with it."
"Albus was convinced that actively seeking to become Master of Death was not a good way to get there. It was my job to make sure that it happened. He wanted you to know just enough to understand the 'why' in the end, and probably to give Harry a bit of hope for his encounter with the Dark Lord. He didn't have to be in physical possession of the wand. Once Harry had defeated me, he would have been the wand's true master. Voldemort wouldn't have been able to wield its power against him. Dumbledore had hoped that it would backfire on him and kill the Horcrux in Potter instead. As it did. It was a great plan."
"Except for the fact that we wouldn't have known that disarming you would be sufficient for Harry to gain the wand's allegiance! It was not in the stupid book! If everything had gone according to your and Dumbledore's plan, Harry might have killed you!" She felt an icy shiver running down her spine even now, thinking how easily everything could have gone down the drain.
He raised a curious brow at her. It was about the third time she mentioned it. Obviously, the thought really upset her. He could understand why his demise in the Shrieking Shack might have given her a hard time – guilt wasn't always rational. But other than that, it could only be Potter's hypothetical guilt that she felt concern about... unless his own survival was really that important to her. The idea seemed so strange that he didn't dwell on it.
He merely shrugged his shoulders. "Possibly. But my survival had never been an important factor to consider. It was a risk I was willing to take. I was basically a dead man the moment Lily died."
Her heart constricted at his words. How much he must have suffered to not even consider his life worth living anymore! "You loved her that much..."
She fell into her chair again, her eyes big and dark and full of emotion. He scowled at her. If he had known that he would survive his degrading experience in the Shrieking Shack and that Potter would use his memories to clear his name in a very public trial, he would have exercised more care when selecting them. He might have preferred to bleed out on the floor rather than live on with the fact that his most private affairs had become public knowlegde after making it headline in the Daily Prophet.
"Don't romanticise me into some kind of tragic hero, Miss Granger!" he admonished sharply. "Even if it fits into this absurd image of me that you seem to have made for yourself. I cared for Lily – greatly. But I surely wouldn't have died out of unrequited love for her."
"Then why were you willing to die for her son? You hated him!"
"I didn't hate him! I hated that he wasn't his mother. I hated that I wasn't his father. I hated being in a position where I could never acknowledge..." He broke off. "Never mind."
"Never acknowledge what?"
"It's not important, Miss Granger." What in Merlin's name was wrong with him that he was starting to mindlessly blurt out all of his secrets to her? It was almost like she had dosed him with Veritaserum.
"Yes it is!" she insisted. "There is more to it, isn't there? A reason why you – despite your strong dislike for Harry – watched over him all these years and would even have sacrificed yourself for him. What drove you to do it, if not deep love for his mother?"
Frustrated, he rubbed his forehead and briefly closed his eyes – as if it was possible to forget about the girl's presence and her frightening effect on him when he didn't have to look at her. The wretched chit had the dubious talent to spot every little chink in his armour and attacked mercilessly, twisting the knife with surgical precision. And worst of all, it didn't even hurt that much, so he wasn't really making an effort to defend himself properly.
"Please, don't lie to me now," she pleaded with wide open eyes that conveyed nothing but sympathy and compassion. And just like that, he felt his resistance melt.
"Fine," he grunted, acknowledging defeat. "If you must know and if it will serve to finally make you stop pestering me: I had sworn to his mother to protect him – with my life, if need be."
Hermione was dumbfounded. "But I thought you and Lily... I thought after what happened... she never spoke to you again."
"Did you believe Lily Potter to be that shallow? No, she was very upset with me for a very long time. Too long, as it turned out. By the time she was willing to forgive me, I had found other people to associate with – people who believed that calling her a Mudblood was nothing but stating the truth. She could eventually have forgiven me for using the word – but she couldn't forgive me for joining those who believed in the ideology behind it. Still, she continued to care about me, and she knew I still cared about her. She and James were already high on the Dark Lord's hitlist, and she was close to giving birth when she came to me..."
He got up and walked over to the fake window, turning his back to her as he stared into the stormy night outside that was mirrored in it.
"I was shocked," he continued with an emotion-laden voice. "I hadn't known she was expecting. A few months before, I had given the prophesy to the Dark Lord – a prophesy which, as I suddenly realised, might refer to her child." He paused briefly, and she could clearly see the guilt that was still tormenting him in the posture of his body. "We talked – for hours, in fact. In the end, she made me promise to look out for her child if anything was ever to happen to her and James. She said it would be my atonement."
And with a soft click, another piece of the puzzle finally fell into place. A seemingly small, unimportant one, on the border of the grand picture of things. But it revealed a crucial detail, something that had always been missing without anybody questioning it.
"Children in the magical and the Muggle world," Hermione reflected, fixing her eyes on his back, "they usually have two godparents... Why is it that no one ever questioned why Harry had only one?"
Again, he didn't answer.
"Are you Harry's godfather?"
He gave her a glance that was halfway between exasperated and defeated, and sighed. "Not officially. The Dark Lord couldn't ever know."
"Sweet Merlin..." she breathed. She didn't even know what to think. All this time... and Harry had never had a clue. What a cruel entanglement of loyalties, love and debt.
"I suppose Dumbledore knew?"
"Of course he knew. I told him when I defected. It was, above everything else, what convinced him that I was trustworthy."
"And Harry's father – James – he had agreed to it? I thought he hated you."
"He did. But Lily put her foot down. She wanted the best possible protection for her child. And what better protection could he have than that of a man in the camp of the enemy? Potter agreed because he knew I couldn't ever go against my promise. I owed him a life-debt."
"For saving you from Remus in the Shrieking Shack in your fifth year... I know. Remus told us." Her face lit up as she solved yet another riddle. "So that's why Harry never owed you a life-debt, isn't it? You can't owe a life-debt to family members, including godparents, as they would always come to your help, no matter what. I had been wondering about that..."
He snorted. "Of course you had! Is there anything at all that ever escaped your notice, Miss Granger?" All the teachers had commented on her quick mind and intelligence. He had thought she was merely book-wise. But there was no denying it. The girl was frighteningly brilliant. At least, as far as her deductive skills went. She was still incredibly naive when it came to people, though.
She shrugged her shoulders. "Well, this just goes to prove that a lot of things escaped my notice for far too long. I'm glad you told me."
In all honestly, he didn't even know why he had. Maybe because she was so persistent in finding all the answers. It was most irritating. For a moment, they both fell silent, each lost in thoughts and memories.
"I can't even begin to imagine how difficult that must have been," Hermione finally said. "What you have been through would have brought a lesser wizard to his knees. You are the strongest person I know, and I equally admire and envy you for that strength, for that capability to endure and carry on and never even lament about it. The sacrifices you made went beyond and above any atonement you might have felt was needed, and well beyond your call of duty. If it wasn't for you and Harry, our world would be different today."
Once more, he found himself speechless. He almost felt the need to look into a mirror – just to make sure it was really him she was talking to. It was almost like she had taken an eye-sweetening potion. The rose-tinted brew made people slightly delusional and immensely optimistic at the same time, and allowed them to see pleasurable things everywhere. It wasn't as harmless as it sounded. When faced with an acromantula, smiling and commenting 'ah, look at the cute spider!' had the potential to get you killed. But she couldn't have taken it. It was impossible to cry or get angry while under its influence, and she had done both.
So how could she view him in such light – an 18-year-old Gryffindor girl, of all people? It made him uncomfortable. It was insane. For some reason he couldn't comprehend, she had painted him a hero in her mind. He wasn't. He could never live up to expectations like that. It made him feel vulnerable and brought all his insecurities back with a vengeance.
She almost sounded – passionate – about him, about the role he was forced to play and how others treated him because of that. He had a hard time getting his mind around the idea. Of course, this was Hermione Granger talking, the girl who had single-handedly started a revolutionary campaign for the liberation of house-elves in her fourth year. She had always been one to stand fiercely at the side of the down-trodden, the mistreated, the misunderstood. That thought was quite a downer. He had no wish to be put in the same category as house-elves, goblins and – Merlin prevent! – Neville Longbottom.
"A most touching evaluation, Miss Granger," he said, making an effort to put on his mask again and hide his inner turbulence behind his sarcasm. "It was missing important bits and facts, but, for what it's worth, you have my thanks. However, it still doesn't explain your desire for the kind of physical intimacy your pledge involved. One usually neither expresses respect or admiration, nor pity by exchanging kisses."
Hermione smiled. What a Snape-like thing to say. So formal, so stiff, so carefully devoid of anything that might reflect positive emotion. It was probably why people thought him to be cold and unfeeling. But it was nothing but an armour. Just like his clothes, which were always too stiff and too formal, with those tightly buttoned sleeves and the tightly bound cravat, and all devoid of colour. But she had learned a long time ago to never take anything at face value, especially not the things that were so blatantly obvious that they screamed 'charade'. She had long found out that a lot of Severus Snape was just an act. And she had grown increasingly curious about the man that was hidden behind the cold and dark facade.
"But one surely does express attraction that way..." she said, blushing again.