Chapter Twelve – Confessions and Explanations
Four hours later, standing in the corridor that led to his quarters, Hermione was beginning to question the wisdom of her decision. What was she doing here, only two days away from her wedding, just begging to get hurt? Why wasn't she at home taking care of everything? Gods, she hadn't even picked up her wedding dress, everything had been wiped clean from her mind after her little 'chat' with Draco! And for what? She had spent three hours in her flat trying to look her best while trying not to show she had put any effort into it, and for what? Just so that Severus could send her on her way again? Just so that he could yet again tell her the things she had failed to notice? She could almost hear his voice. 'I had stated quite clearly I wanted no part in your future, hadn't I, Miss Granger? I don't event want to know what possessed you to do this even as you are about to get married. Kindly leave me alone.'... Oh, Gods, he would hurt her, and she knew it, and she was still here. Damn him! Damn him and his bloody pensieve! What was he thinking, anyway, leaving a memory that was also hers lying around like that, for others to see? Hadn't he a shred of respect for her? He had cast her aside like a discarded parchment, and now here she was, getting sucked into it all over again because of his bloody pensieve. She could barely contain her fury when she knocked hard on his door.
Severus was on his eleventh glass of Ogden's Old Firewhiskey when the knock came. He wondered who it could be. Probably Draco had come to visit - even Albus wouldn't pay him two pity visits in a single afternoon. He opened the door but had no time to see who was on the other side before getting violently slapped.
"You bastard! You utter bastard, how dare you? How dare you leave memories that are also mine in a pensieve, for anyone to find?"
The Potions Master stared, astonished. One of his ears still buzzed from the strength of the slap he'd received, and all he could think of was how beautiful she looked, glorious in all her righteous anger. Then he realised she had the power to take his pensieve away, even to have it destroyed since the memories it contained also belonged to her. She might argue with the Ministry that those memories were compromising for her, and that would be it. They would put a charm on him to prevent him from ever creating another one, and he would be left with nothing.
Hermione was feeling much better in her fury than she had in her fear. Angry was good, angry meant he had less chance of hurting her again. She raised her hand to slap him again, then stopped mid-motion when she saw his look.
"Hermione, please," he whispered, clearly broken, "I never meant for anyone to see it, please. I'll take better care of it, I promise. Don't take it away from me. You're getting married the day after tomorrow, you have a life of happiness ahead of you, that pensieve is all I have. Did I hurt you so much you would need to get even by taking away all I have? By leaving me with nothing?"
He was pleading. She had never seen him plead before, she never would have thought it possible. She could smell the alcohol on his breath but, for Severus Snape, that was hardly an excuse to lose control. And his eyes... so filled with pain... She couldn't understand it. How could that pensieve be all he had when it had been his choice not to want anything else? Her fury hadn't even been real, it had been an excuse, an outlet, an armour. Something to keep him from hurting her, but she could see that he was the one who was hurting. Suddenly she felt petty in her false anger, she felt small and mean. Then he whispered "Please. I have nothing else, please," and her heart nearly shattered. She allowed her hand to complete its descending arc but, instead of hitting him, she found herself pulling him closer into her kiss. It didn't matter that she couldn't understand what was happening, the only thing that mattered was that he was in pain. Then she felt his lips on hers and reasoning became too great an effort.
Severus could barely believe his senses, could barely believe she was kissing him for the first time in real life. He didn't even mind that it was probably out of pity - he was past the point of caring. He was completely sober by now, the effect of eleven glasses of Ogden's vanished as if he had had a sobering-up potion, and he intended to remember every second of this kiss, one more memory to store, one more treasure to relish. He refrained from holding her for fear that she might snap into her senses and leave him there, alone and empty, but he kissed her back with a vengeance. Then she pulled him even closer and he took the opportunity to finally bring his arms around her, shuddering in the relief it brought him. He was dimly aware of her stepping forward, further into his living room, and closing the door behind her. Her kisses became even more passionate after that and, before he knew it, they had already moved into his bedroom and they were both lying on the bed, Hermione's fingers fiddling with the buttons of his teaching robes. Severus didn't know why she would give him that - whether it was her way of having a bachelorette party, of saying goodbye to the past or if she was simply laying the grounds to be able to ridicule him later, he couldn't tell - but he didn't care; the woman he loved was in his arms, and he would live the moment to its full extent.
Three hours later they were both lying contentedly in each other's arms, none daring to speak. Severus was doing his best to appreciate what he had been given but, now that it was over, he simply could not bring himself to relax. It had far surpassed his wildest dreams, it had been... he had no words to describe him, not even to himself. What would she do now? Would she thank him and leave? Would she say that it had all been a terrible mistake and leave? Or, worst of all, would she laugh at him, would she tell him that, of all the lovers she had had, he was by far the most unskilled, the most unsatisfactory, and then leave? The thought that he might have failed to please her was almost unbearable. Then he felt something wet on his shoulder, where his cheek was resting, and realised she was crying softly.
"Hermione!" He took hold of her face so he could look into her eyes. "Gods, I hurt you! I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I-"
"Why did you do this to me?" she asked, her voice barely above a whisper. "Why, Severus, what did I ever do to you? Why would you do this to me?"
The blood froze in his veins. Was she suggesting he had raped her? Had he raped her, in all his eagerness and desire to believe she would want him one last time? Gods, what had he done?
"Hermione, I... Gods, forgive me! I thought you wanted this, I thought...I didn't know..."
Hermione saw his fear and knew at once he had misunderstood her. She placed her hands on his to calm him down.
"Not that, Severus, never that." She caressed his cheek reassuringly. "Never that. I meant... all those years ago... why did you make me feel like I was nothing? Why did you turn me away like that?"
There was so much urgency in her voice... was it that important for her, with her wedding so close, to know why he had rejected her? If it was then he would tell her, he would hide nothing from her now, after what she had given him. It was the least he could do, even if it killed him. He tried to speak, but it was harder than he had anticipated and, before he knew it, tears were rolling unbidden down his cheeks.
"I... I wanted to give you a future..." He closed his eyes in an attempt to minimise the pain he was feeling. "I knew I would only be stealing from you if we stayed together... a Death Eater, Hermione, that is all anyone ever sees when they look at me... that is all I am, all I will ever be... I would have tainted you by association, you would have lost so many opportunities, I would have been... I would have destroyed your dreams, Hermione. I know I hurt you, but, in the end, it all worked out fine for you... You got the job you wanted, you're getting married... you're happy, love... I wanted to give you that..."
It was hard to take in all that she had heard. He had done it all for her? He had sacrificed everything they had shared... for her? And he had been cruel on purpose, had made her hate him on purpose - and had he just called her 'love'?
"What did you just call me?"
Severus lowered his eyes, ashamed. "Love. I called you love."
And it was then that Hermione finally understood everything. He did love her, Draco had been right. All that pain, all that unnecessary pain and, in the end, he loved her. And now she had no idea how she was going to deal with Jeff but, however it was, she knew she couldn't marry him. She made a futile attempt to punch Severus' chest to release some of her frustration, but it was awkward in her lying position.
"Damn you, Severus! All those men... so many men I had, I was looking for something Severus, in all of them... I needed them to tell me I wasn't that ugly or undesirable, I needed... what I was looking for..." Suddenly a pair of strong arms was enfolding her fiercely and his lips were kissing away her tears.
"You are beautiful, Hermione, far more than that... you are wonderful, and Jeffrey Gainsborough is blessed if you found in him what you were looking for-"
She kissed him hard to silence him. She had wanted retribution all those years, to make him taste what he had made her feel, but she had never truly wanted to see him suffer, not like that, and, now that she knew the truth...
"You fool! I was looking for this... I was looking for you... In all those men, Severus, I was trying to find you. And, when I gave up I settled for Jeff, who was as different from you as he could possibly be. And as safe as he could be. I chose Jeff because there was no danger of him ever hurting me... because, even as nice as he is, I could never fall in love with him. Gods, Severus, do you honestly believe I would go ahead and get married after what just happened? After everything you've told me, after everything we did?"
Severus looked, stunned, at the woman he loved. Had she just told him his best efforts had been for nothing? He should be devastated, he should be thinking of her, and yet he couldn't anymore. He had spent so much time doing what was right, all for nothing, he couldn't bring himself to hurt them both again. He kissed her once more.
"Hermione, I... Gods, I love you so much... I don't know how to fight this, I... are you really telling me... you're not an innocent girl anymore, you've had so many men... how can you have possibly chosen me?"
He felt her stiffen and was suddenly afraid he had misinterpreted her, that she had meant nothing of the kind.
"How could I not? I never wanted any of those 'so many men', Severus -" she sounded bitter "- but the man I wanted had told me very clearly he didn't want me. What did you expect me to do, join a monastery? Wait for you forever? I-"
"Shhh. Of course not, love. I'm not criticising you, I just don't know how you could have chosen me."
"You don't understand, Severus, you just don't understand. It's not a matter of you blaming me, it's..." she swallowed. "It's just that I had something to give, and I wanted to have given it to you. It meant nothing the way it was, I can't even remember his name. You should have known I would be better with the man I loved, damn it! Why did you have to make me wait five years to have something meaningful? Worthwhile?"
He hadn't thought it was possible to love her more than he already did but, at that time, he loved her twice as much. No one else had ever managed to make him feel special, it was her unique gift.
"I'm so sorry, love. So, so sorry. I want you to think first and then, if you truly decide I'm the one you want, I swear I won't push you away again. Ever. But I want you to consider what you might be giving up when people you work with, your next door neighbours, people you call friends know you're involved with me. I want you to really think about it."
"You think I haven't already? My next door neighbours, for your information, are a lovely couple of muggles - I do live in London, you know. My friends, if by that you mean Harry and Ron, have known about my feelings for you for a long time. It might take them some time to readjust but that's their problem, not mine. As for the people I work with, Severus, I couldn't care less. And, if that affects my chances at work, then I'll sue their collective asses! Just don't ever make decisions like that for me again. You have no idea how useless I felt."
Suddenly he was on top of her again, kissing her as if the world would end. There were many other things Hermione wanted to talk to him about, but she felt his urgency, his need, all of his fears and wishes combined, and she didn't want to deny him that when he was so fragile. Everything else could wait. For now.
Severus woke up alone. His first reaction was to think that it had all been a particularly vivid dream, that she had never been there at all, but a quick observation of his body belied his thoughts. No, she had been there, she had simply left. His heart plummeted. Well, what had he expected, anyway? After every- a noise from his living room interrupted him. Not even daring to hope, he went to check it out. Hermione was sitting on the sofa, wrapped in his cloak while she hugged herself, facing the fire. He approached her tentatively.
"I couldn't sleep."
Maybe she was having second thoughts. "Is everything alright?"
She turned to face him. "Hold me Severus. Please."
She was enfolded within his arms even before she had finished speaking. She leaned on him, shivering.
"You know I have to go."
"You... do?" Severus had tried to sound neutral, but he had failed miserably. Hermione saw right through him.
"Not like that, love. But I have many things to sort out... I need to talk to Jeff, to explain to him what little I can... there are too many aspects of my life that need sorting out... I'm going to need a couple of months if I'm to get everything back on track again, but it's as if every time I give you room to manoeuvre you just cast me away again."
He held her closer. "I won't. Not this time."
"I'll have your word on that, Severus. I'll have you promise you will never leave me unless you've stopped loving me."
Severus gulped. Promises were a very serious thing to him, and his word was sacred. The only time he had ever combined both had been when Albus had made him promise he wouldn't take his own life, and he had regretted it so many times... But he had made her suffer for five years. She deserved that from him.
"You have my word. I promise, Hermione, I will not leave you again."
"Unless you stop loving me."
"Unless I stop loving you." But that will never happen, love.
She turned in his embrace and buried her head in his shoulder, breathing deeply. "Thank you, Severus. I couldn't go in peace if you hadn't promised. Thank you, love." Hermione gave him a slow, tender kiss and got up. "I must be going now."
"Now? It's three o'clock, wouldn't you rather wait for the morning?"
"It's best if I go now. I was thinking maybe I could meet you on the summer holidays, I'll probably have everything sorted out by then."
She made it sound so casual... Gods, the summer holidays were almost three months away... but still, everything would be as she wanted it to.
"I have a small house in Hogsmeade... I hardly ever use it, but you're giving me more than enough time to prepare. Maybe you could meet me there, stay there one night on the holidays then. The second day, is it a good day for you?"
"The second day will be fine."
Author's Note: Finally, the chapter when they work things out. Long overdue, I know, but I have a good reason for that, two in fact: toothaches. One of the teeth is already out (after five anaesthesias swiftly followed by two and a half hours of bleeding), the other one needs treatment and is busy aching right now. You could be nice and cheer me up with some reviews... Thank you! :)