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A Matter of Life and Death

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The last thing Severus saw as he passed into the realm of death was a pair of emerald green eyes.

*

The next last thing Severus saw was a pair of glowing blue eyes, which belonged, improbably, to a seven-foot-tall skeleton wearing a black robe and carrying a scythe. The robed skeleton's blue eyes were staring intently at an hourglass-shaped shadow held by his long, bony fingers.

"THIS SHOULD NOT BE,", he said, taking a gentle but firm hold of Severus's wrist. "I CAN SEE NO PATH FOR YOU TO TRAVEL UPON, YET YOU DO NOT BELONG IN THIS PLACE."

Severus tried to summon the energy to pull his arm out of the grasp of the skeletal equivalent of Sybill Trelawney, but between exhaustion and blood loss, he found he couldn't muster the strength to keep his eyes from fluttering closed.

The last thing he heard as he drifted into oblivion was the skeleton's somber voice saying, "I SUPPOSE I SHALL HAVE TO TAKE THIS ONE HOME WITH ME."

*

The next last thing Severus heard was somebody decidedly non-skeletal saying grumpily, "Well, sit yourself up then. This fried porridge isn't going to jump out of the bowl and feed you by itself."


There's a corridor connecting the library belonging to the Department of Mysteries with the infinite libraries that make up what Britain's academically-inclined witches and wizards call simply The Annex. Twenty feet along that corridor, Hermione Granger skimmed the nearby book stacks and frowned. Although she'd been given few opportunities over the past nine years to do anything but research for more senior colleagues, Hermione had, somewhere along the line, acquired an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the Department's holdings. However, it had taken no more than a glance to see that the contents of the shelves devoted to the Voldemort Wars - and especially to Voldemort's followers - had been severely depleted. What was worse was that none of the librarians (not even the rather hyperactive apprentice with a fondness for bananas and hair so ginger that everybody thought he might be a long lost Weasley) had, thus far, been able to say where, precisely, the missing works had gone. Hermione continued to look through the stacks, but when the chief Librarian walked past, she abandoned her search.

"Lucien," she asked. "Do you know whether somebody's doing research related to binding rituals or loyalty sigils or anything of that nature?"

The chief Librarian frowned. "I don't believe so, Miss Granger. Why do you ask?"

"There seem to be an inordinate number of books about the Death Eaters missing for some reason, particularly the ones containing information surrounding the wartime activities of Severus Snape."

The librarian's response was slow in coming. He frowned again, glanced back at the shelves, then cast a quizzical gaze at Hermione. "Death Eaters? And...Snape, you say? I don't know that I'm familiar with...."

His voice trailed off as he started to cast a series of locator spells, but Hermione didn't wait until he'd completed the incantation before interrupting. "Snape, Lucien. Severus Snape. There is no way you don't know who he is. Double agent fighting for the Light during the Second Voldemort War? Former Hogwarts professor? Posthumous holder of the Order of Merlin award?"

"Oh...yes, certainly," he said, nodding in a distracted manner. "The name must have slipped my mind for a moment.

As recently as a month ago, Hermione would have thought it laughable that any adult in the wizarding world would claim to be unfamiliar with the name Severus Snape, but she no longer thought it such an impossibility. Even Harry - who had more reason than most to remember his former professor - seemed, at times, to have all but forgotten Snape's existence, despite the fact that one of his own sons was named after the man. It was all very odd...

...as was the Librarian's expression, as he gazed unseeingly into the middle distance.

"Lucien," Hermione said quietly. "Are you all right?"

"What, oh...yes, I am," he answered, blinking three times and straightening his waistcoat. "I'm rather embarrassed to admit that I haven't a clue where to find the materials you're seeking. Very strange. Maybe...Worblehat! Mister Worblehat, come here, would you?"

In an instant, the ginger-haired apprentice librarian appeared from around the corner.

"Thank you for coming so promptly," Lucien said. "Miss Granger is in need of your assistance. She's seeking information about...who was it again, my dear?"

"Severus Snape," Hermione said with a sigh. Unless she was willing to transfigure herself into a Remembrall, it was possible that she was going to have to resign herself to the idea that Severus Snape might not be quite as important to everybody else as she believed him to be.

"Snape. That's right! Worblehat, perhaps you might guide her through the Annex until she finds what she's looking for?" With that, Lucien headed back in the direction of the reference desk, while Mr Worblehat offered up a peculiarly simian smile that showed a great number of teeth before leading Hermione down the corridor toward the Annex.


He blamed the peacocks.

If it hadn't been for the bevy of peafowl roaming the garden just outside his room, Severus wouldn't have been so quick to assume that he'd somehow been plucked just in the nick of time from the Shrieking Shack and taken to Malfoy Manor to recuperate from his encounter with Nagini. He soon realised, however, that instead of the white birds which the Manor was known for, these peacocks were black and had skull-shaped patterns on their tails.

In fact, on closer inspection, Severus could see that there was very little in this...place that wasn't black or white or some combination of black and white, and while he'd long been an adherent of the colour black (or rather, the non-colour, if one wished to be technical), there was, just possibly, such a thing as too much black.

And then there'd been the bowl of fried porridge, served up to him by a man who looked and sounded remarkably like Argus Filch. Not that he'd ever admit it, but the porridge made Severus feel almost nostalgic (a bit of a surprise, as there was very little about his miserable youth to feel nostalgic about), but the man who'd brought the porridge was most definitely not Argus Filch. He was, apparently, named Albert and assuming Severus hadn't lost his talent for Legilimency when he died, the man had been quite a powerful wizard in his day, back before he'd been 34 seconds away from being the late Alberto Malich.

As for the role Severus was expected to play in this charade, well...that was the question, wasn't it? Was it a charade? As much as Severus tried to convince himself that this was all some elaborate prank, created by beings unknown with an equally unknown agenda, that explanation just didn't make any sense. And if there was no hidden agenda - if all of this had been done just 'for a laugh,' as it were (unlikely at best, since neither Albert nor Severus's host seemed to have much of a sense of humour) - where was the audience to share in the joke? Severus had already walked the grounds a number of times, and as far as he could tell, there were no other inhabitants apart from a rather striking white horse (a quite normal horse, Severus was forced to admit, for all that he had expected to find something a bit more Thestral-like in the barn).

It was clearly no use asking Albert (damned closed-mouthed bastard) anything at all about his master, although Severus had tried more than a few times. No, the only way he was likely to receive any answers to his questions would be if he sat down with his host and just asked. He might be a seven-foot-tall skeleton with glowing blue eyes, Severus thought as he paused outside the door to the man's...being's...skeleton's office, but he couldn't possibly be less forthcoming than Dumbledore or Voldemort.

Probably.


"Wizards!" Hermione spat, gripping her wand so tightly that it was in danger of snapping in her white-knuckled hand. "Who do they think they are? Arrogant gits!"

"I Know, Dear," said Gladys, clumsily patting Hermione's shoulder with one stone hand. "I Know. Men Always Think They Are Superior." She turned and glared at Dorfl, the member of the Watch who'd been assigned to escort the strange female wizard safely away from Unseen University.

Some might say that Gladys was no more female than Dorfl was male, Golems having no gender to speak of. Some might say it, but certainly not to Gladys, and for her part, Hermione was more than glad to have found an ally in what was shaping up to be an extremely wretched day.

If there was anybody who deserved the blame for the terrible day, Worblehat seemed the most likely candidate. No, he hadn't been responsible for yet another day in which Hermione had been given nothing but busy-work to do (and why had the Department of Mysteries been so keen to recruit her before the battle dust had even settled if they weren't going to use her for anything productive? That was the first damned mystery she wanted solved.), but Worblehat had most certainly been responsible for leading her on what proved to be a wild goose chase.

She'd followed him down the corridor for close to twenty minutes before the Annex came into view, and the nearer they got, the odder Worblehat became, climbing book stacks and making peculiar noises. And then when they finally arrived in the Annex, he transformed into an orangutan, of all things, before darting away, only to return a few minutes later with an oddly ceramic-looking policeman who escorted her off the premises and directly to the Golem Trust, on a street that was most definitely not Diagon Alley.

Gladys may have been sympathetic to Hermione's plight and appeared to have a great talent for brewing tea, but it wasn't until the arrival of Adora Belle Dearheart - the Trust's Manager and a woman who shared Hermione's fervor for aiding the disenfranchised (although privately, Hermione wasn't absolutely convinced that clay statues could be considered quite so downtrodden as House Elves), that some light was finally shed on her current situation. What the light revealed was...quite complex, starting, as it did, with the fact that Hermione was no longer in her own world, continuing with the fact that there didn't appear to be any way to return the way she'd come as long as the wizards who ran Unseen University refused to allow Hermione back into their library, and ending with the fact that it was getting late and Hermione had nowhere to stay and no money with which she could even take a room at an inn, assuming there were such things in the city of Ankh-Morpork.

There was nothing Adora could do about the first fact ("Is this something your people do often, this traveling to strange worlds without having the means to get back?"), little she could do about the second fact ("I'm afraid my own rather eventful foray into the library recently may have made those wizards even less willing to welcome women into their domain for the time being."), but a great deal she could do about the third fact ("Of course you'll stay with me!").

Hermione - after coming up with a charm that would filter out the cloud of cigarette smoke which followed Adora like a loyal crup - gratefully agreed.


"So what you're telling me," Severus said flatly to the black-robed anthropomorphic personification who sat behind the desk, "is that I'm here as the result of a clerical error?"

"I WOULD NOT CHARACTERISE IT PRECISELY THAT WAY," said Death. "YOU WERE SCHEDULED TO DIE - YOUR LIFE TIMER HAD RUN OUT - HOWEVER...."

Severus raised an eyebrow and waited for Death to continue.

"YOUR BOOK, HOWEVER, WAS ANOTHER MATTER. OR PERHAPS I SHOULD SAY 'YOUR BOOKS' SINCE YOU APPEAR TO HAVE MORE THAN A SINGLE BOOK IN MY LIBRARY."

"And this is...uncommon?"

"EXTRAORDINARILY SO," Death intoned. "I BELIEVE IT IS. I CANNOT BE CERTAIN."

"You are Death, aren't you?" Snape asked waspishly. "And this is your Domain? I just ask because it seems to me that one might expect Death to know how his own Domain works."

"THERE IS NO REASON TO GET TESTY."

"Oh, you think not?" Severus leaned forward, placing his long-fingered hands flat on the desktop in an unconscious imitation of the entity before him. "And here I thought that being stuck in Death's realm for...how long would you say I'm stuck here? Would an eternity just about cover it? So, yes...I think that being trapped in Death's realm for a bloody eternity is a pretty fair excuse for a certain amount of testiness."

"IT COULD BE WORSE."

"It could?"

"I COULD HAVE BROUGHT YOU TO THE DESERT AND LEFT YOU THERE. OR YOU COULD HAVE ENDED UP SOMEWHERE THAT REQUIRES ITS INHABITANTS TO WEAR PINK."

Severus looked down at his new black trousers, black shirt, black jacket, and black boots, all his courtesy of Death, and shrugged. "Perhaps you have a point. The fact remains, however, that I was not meant to be here."

"YOU ARE CORRECT, AND YET IT IS ALSO TRUE THAT YOU WERE QUITE POSSIBLY MEANT TO DIE. HOWEVER, BOTH THE BOOKS AGREE THAT YOU WERE ALSO NOT MEANT TO DIE IN THE MANNER YOU DID."

Severus snorted. "Right. I suppose I was supposed to die peacefully in bed at a ripe old age, surrounded by great-great-grandchildren, each one a bushy-haired, know-it-all like their...." He frowned, then glared at Death. "I don't know what sort of arcane magic you possess, but I'll thank you to refrain from planting ludicrous visions in my mind."

"IF YOU ARE HAVING VISIONS OF THE FUTURE, THEY ARE NOT OF MY MAKING," said Death, sounding about as surprised as a skeleton could do. "I MUST THINK ON THIS FURTHER."


When Hermione awoke the following morning, everything seemed far brighter than it had the night before. [1] She dressed in the robes which she'd been wearing when she first arrived in Ankh-Morpork and which seemed to have been freshly laundered overnight, then went in search of her hostess.

As expected, Adora was already seated at the breakfast table, smoking a cigarette and drinking from an extremely large cup of coffee, but she was not alone. Sitting with her were Gladys (neither drinking nor smoking), and an unfamiliar young woman, whose prematurely white hair was broken by a long streak of black.

"Ah, there she is!" Adora exclaimed. "Susan, this is Hermione Granger, the female wizard I was telling you about. Hermione, I'd like to introduce you to the Duchess of Sto Helit."

"Adora," the Duchess said threateningly.

"Oh fine. Hermione, this is Susan. Susan has come to return a book of yours."

"A book? But...I only just arrived last night," Hermione said, shifting slightly under the intense gazes of Adora and the Duchess of Sto Helit. "I'm fairly certain I haven't lost any books."

Susan traded a knowing glance with Adora, before turning back to Hermione. "Then what do you call this? I think you'll find that...."

"Have Neither Of You Learned Anything About The Proper Way To Treat One's Guests?" Gladys said chastisingly. "Miss Granger, Please Have A Seat And I Shall Pour A Lovely Glass Of Orange Juice For You."

Hermione sat.

"There now," Susan said. "If we're all settled? All right, as I was saying before I was interrupted in the middle of my sentence by one of Gladys's little lessons in conversational etiquette, I have a book which I'm quite certain belongs to you, Miss Granger."

A bit tentatively, Hermione took the book from Susan. It didn't have teeth, it didn't appear to be cursed, and it wasn't coated with any obviously poisonous substances, but she'd long since learned that some of the most dangerous books had the most benign covers. Looking down at the book she currently held in her hand, Hermione could only hope the reverse was equally true, for its cover held an anything-but-benign scowling portrait of Severus Snape. The title beneath the portrait read simply Snape: The Later Years.

But Severus Snape hadn't had any later years.

Hermione opened the cover and there, on the title page, was a very familiar personalised book plate, inscribed with the following:


Ex Libris Hermione Granger

If found, please return to:
H.G., c/o
Adora Belle Dearheart
By the Tobacconists
Dolly Sisters
Ankh-Morpork

Before Hermione could even begin to consider what it meant to be the owner of a book which had almost certainly never been written, Susan pushed a second book across the table. The Big Silver Book of Non-Traditional Apprenticeship Schemes, it read, and just inside the cover were the words "This book is the property of Severus Snape, formerly the Half-Blood Prince."

Below the handwritten inscription was a notation made by a customised black ink stamp: If found, please return to Bill Door.

"In case you were wondering, Bill Door's my grandfather," Susan said helpfully. "Or rather, Bill Door's the name he sometimes chooses to go by. Most people, however, just call him Death."

"Death?" Hermione's eyes widened in shock - and not for a moment did she question whether Susan Sto Helit might not be telling the truth; somehow Hermione knew she was. "Your grandfather is...."

"Death, yes. Ordinarily I don't discuss my family, but Adora explained the circumstances which brought you to the Disc and I thought I might make an exception, just this once."

"You Look As If You Could Use Another Glass Of Orange Juice," Gladys said to Hermione. "Perhaps Mixed With Vodka This Time?"

Hermione's only possible response was to nod weakly in thanks.


If Death had been uncharacteristically surprised by his accidental house guest's vision of the future, he was even more disconcerted by the events of Monday morning, the 32nd of Spune, upon which date a small white rat found its way into Death's Kitchen, fell off Death's Cabinet, and landed on Death's Floor with its poor little rat's neck bent at an extremely unfortunate angle.

The Death of Rats briefly poked his head out from the hole in the floorboard through which he travelled to his Domain, but before he could escort the young rat to wherever it is that rodents go after their time comes to an end, Severus - without even putting down his teacup - waved his wand just once and the rat was, once again, in the world of the living.

"SQUEAK!" said the Death of Rats.

"I ABSOLUTELY AGREE," said Death.

"And I think you're both delusional if you believe that I have any interest in starting a new career at this stage in my life."

"SQUEAK! SQUEAK!"

Severus scowled. "Fine. My existence then. In any case, being able to 'put a stopper in death' as it were couldn't possibly be that rare a talent."

"SQUEAK!"

"Oh...that rare, is it?"

"EEK!"

"YOU MIGHT AS WELL LEARN A NEW TRADE. IT ISN'T AS IF YOU HAVE ANYWHERE ELSE TO GO." said Death. "AND AS FOR YOUR SOULMATE..."

"For the last time," Severus snapped. "I have no soulmate! And even if I did have a soulmate, it's not as if we'd be likely to encounter each other here. Or are you suggesting that Albert is my soulmate? The Death of Rats? Or perhaps Binky? Yes, I'm sure that Binky and I--"

Severus hadn't had the opportunity for a good rant in ages and he had missed it. He suspected that his heart wasn't properly in this particular rant, but he wasn't about to look a gift thestral in the mouth. However, before he'd let fly one fleck of spit or raised his voice a single decibel, a large black raven flew into the kitchen.

"QUOTH," greeted Death. "HAVE YOU A MESSAGE? "

"It's from Susan," quoted Quoth. "She says 'Hello Grandfather. Surprise! I'm coming to visit...and this time, I'm bringing a friend."


If anybody had asked Albert what he thought of the reunion between the female wizard from a different world and the young lady's formerly-dead ex-professor, he would have said he didn't see what all the fuss was about, but then he wasn't really the best judge of that sort of thing. What it looked like to him was two people who were trying their damnedest to forget every nasty thought they'd ever had about each other in light of the quite strong possibility that they were fated to be together for eternity, but the Death of Rats just shook his head and said that Albert had,'No romance in his soul' [2] which even Albert had to admit might very well be true.


"So...um...you like tea then, do you?" Even before she finished asking the question, Hermione began to wince in response to the expression of disgust she knew would soon be on Severus's face, and...yes, there it was.

"Yes, I like tea," he gritted out between clenched teeth. "I'm a bloody Englishman, aren't I? I like tea, chip butties, the odd game of darts, and my favourite colour is black, which I'm certain comes as a great shock to you. Any other questions?"

"Yes," she replied with a distinct chill in her voice. "I do have another question, since you asked. Is there any particular reason you have to act like an arse all the time?"

"It's who I bloody well am," he snapped. "Seriously, Granger...did you actually expect I'd be something other than a complete arse? There's a reason I died alone on the floor of an abandoned house."

Severus turned his face away, but not before Hermione saw that he'd gone a very peculiar shade of red, almost as if he were embarrassed about having finally revealed something honest after a week of defensive sniping.

"Snape?" she said quietly. "Severus?"

"What?" he muttered, not turning around. "What more do you want me to say, Granger?"

Hermione sighed. "I don't...Severus, you aren't a complete arse."

"No?"

"No. An almost complete arse, but you have one or two redeeming features."

He turned back to face her and crossed his arms over his chest. "Perhaps you'd like to enumerate my qualities?"

Hermione leant back against the wall and smiled. "Well, according to chapter seventeen of Snape: The Later Years, you're going to end up madly in love with me, which suggests you have extremely good taste, so that's one."

Severus rolled his eyes. "Anything else?"

"I'll let you know when I think of a second thing."

"I have to say," Snape said. "You seem to be accepting all of this with far more equanimity than I thought any Gryffindor capable of doing. Where's the railing against the unfairness of the universe that your lot is known for? You haven't received a concussion recently, have you? You do understand that you're going to end up married. To me?"

Hermione nodded, then sat down on the kitchen chair she'd already started to think of as 'hers.' "I understand. I'm just not sure that you understand that this marriage isn't going to take place in the sights of a Muggle shotgun or be forced upon us by some semi-legal marriage law. Knowing it's going to happen in the future really isn't much different from being a first year at Hogwarts and knowing that some day you're going to take your N.E.W.T.s."

"Perhaps," Severus said. "Although I don't recall my seventh year exams including sexual congress."

"That's because you weren't a Gryffindor," Hermione said matter-of-factly.

Severus snorted, then sat down beside her at the table. "Well, there's clearly nothing for it but to wait and see what's going to happen. In the meantime, I have a job to learn. From Death Eater to Death's Apprentice...I'm not altogether convinced that this is a step forward."

The two sat quietly for a moment, both lost in their own thoughts, until Hermione said, "You can't leave the grounds here until you finish your apprenticeship, can you?"

Severus shook his head. "Apparently not, not that it matters a great deal since I suspect few living beings, here or in the wizarding world, are still capable of perceiving me. In any case, there seems to be some question as to whether I'd continue to enjoy the pleasures of a beating heart if I were to go past the borders of Death's Domain, at least before my apprenticeship has come to an end, and for the first time in quite some while I find myself wishing not to lose that particular pleasure. I've been given to understand, however, that Death's ridiculous raven will, with the right inducements, attempt to travel between this world and our own, so if you should wish to contact me, you need only...."

"Oh, I don't think that's going to be necessary," Hermione said.

Severus frowned. "I understand that you might need some time to prepare yourself for our inevitable joining, but if we have no contact whatsoever, our eventual...coming together will be far more difficult."

"Oh, no! That's not what I meant. No, actually, you're going to be seeing far more of me than you might have anticipated. I have a new job!"

"You're leaving the Department of Mysteries?" Severus asked.

"Not precisely, but...do you remember I told you about the interconnections between all the libraries in all the worlds? Well, it turns out that extends to libraries that aren't located in any worlds at all, and one of those libraries turns out to be in rather desperate need of a librarian and chief researcher."

"Death's Library."

"Exactly!" Hermione beamed. "Death's grand-daughter, Susan...you remember I told you she's a duchess, yes?"

"Yes."

"Well, she's not exactly in love with being part of the ruling elite, but she has a friend or two among the upper classes who share her complete lack of interest in titles and whatnot, and one of those friends - her name is Sybill, although she's apparently nothing like our Sybill -has been friends with the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork since they were both children (she said you'd probably like him as you share similar tastes in clothing), and he...."

"Take a breath, Granger. You're about to pass out."

"The point," she said, "is that I think we're going to be seeing each other every day starting immediately!"

"On with the dance! Let Joy be unconfined." [3]

Hermione shook her head. "You know how I suggested earlier that maybe you weren't a complete arse? Well, I lied."

For a moment, Severus was silent, then he cleared his throat. "Might it improve your opinion of me if I said that I don't find the prospect of your continued presence...entirely objectionable?"

"It might," Hermione said. "But only because I know how painful an admission like that must have been for you."

"Granger."

"No really, it was lovely. Practically poetry, actually."

"Oh, do be quiet, you insufferable woman."

Hermione smiled.


Secured Inter-office Memo:
All Department Heads,
Department of Mysteries

Case #576-R78, H. Granger: Update.
Nine years, six weeks, and thirteen days of active service with Department.
Promotion to Head Librarian/Chief Researcher at Death's Library (see Case #5894-U39, S. Snape)
Note: five days past estimated arithmantic prediction

Well done, all.


*[1]
-That "everything seemed far brighter" in the morning was not so terribly extraordinary given that the sun had just risen.
-Er, you do realize that the narrator was employing a metaphor, yes?
-Oh, sod off.
(Back)
*[2]What the Death of Rats actually said was, of course, "SQUEAK!" but it amounted to the same thing. (Back)
*[3] From 'Childe Harold's Pilgrimage,' Canto the Third, by George Gordon, Lord Byron, (c) 1812-1818 (Back)