Chapter 20- Beginning the End
Her jaw dropped and she gawked disbelievingly at the two men. Each man gave her small nods as though they couldn't believe that she hadn't known. "He had a copy of his pardon?" she finally and shakily asked. "How did he get it?"
Joyce opened the new folder and said, "According to him, he received it from..." Joyce flipped through some papers from Reed's folder, "... Nicholas Flamel shortly after he arrived at Rábida. Flamel's backed up the story, says Dumbledore asked him to give it to Snape... the man knew he was losing it, didn't want to forget."
"Goddamn shame," Reed conceded, shaking his head as he stared at the floor. "He was a good man."
Ignoring Reed, she was stunned as she literally felt her fantasy world crumble around her. Every ounce of logic that she possessed couldn't explain this. He'd had his pardon... he'd had it before Dumbledore had even died. He could have gone back... he could have gone anywhere.
He'd been free.
As Reed moved to leave, Hermione managed to regain her voice, "Excuse me?" She asked the man and he turned back obligingly. She continued, "Did you ask... why he stayed if he had his pardon?"
Reed stared at her blankly for a moment before replying matter-of-factly in his thick but crisp voice, "Yes... Yes, we did." Before she had the chance to ask anything else the awkward man hurried from the room.
She cocked her head in confusion. "Well, why would he..." she said as she turned back to Agent Joyce.
"I'm sorry, Miss Granger," Joyce speedily replied, effectively ending her question. "But you aren't allowed to hear any portion of Snape's or your cohorts' testimonies."
She sighed disgustedly as she argued, "But you just told me where the pardon came..."
Joyce interrupted her again, "That's evidence, ma'am. Since it's going to be used in your hearing, you have the right to know where it came from... but that's all."
"But why would he stay if he had proof that he was innocent?" she asked, knowing the indifferent man before her wouldn't answer. "He could have left..."
"I'm not at liberty to say," he replied almost compassionately. "Look, it seems you've had a nasty shock... and I need to go over a few things. We're calling this a day," he said as he paged the guards to escort her back to her cell. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Severus had his pardon... not only did he possess his own pardon but he'd had it since Nicholas Flamel had personally given it to him... while he and Flamel were still trying to recreate the Philosopher's Stone.
The man was crazy.
Severus Snape was completely, entirely, absolutely, utterly insane.
It was the only reason. It was the only justification she could come up with for why Severus would stay if he had a copy of his pardon... for risking his life needlessly. Severus Snape did not do anything that he did not want to do on some level; subjecting himself to that room of his own volition surely qualified as lunacy.
He could have gone to America the moment Flamel had given it to him, but she knew, instinctively, that he couldn't leave someone he loved as much as Albus without doing everything in his power...
She froze. She couldn't even breathe as she frantically replayed his words in her mind.
'You're foolish to have given your love away so easily,' he'd said.
If you cannot love all of me, then you're a fool to have loved me.
'We don't make any sort of sense,' he'd said.
But for some reason, we're together.
Severus loved her.
Oh God, she thought as she sunk back onto her bed. He'd been telling her exactly what she'd wanted to hear with his own words. In her quest for absolution, she had overlooked the most obvious fact; He was Severus Snape... he couldn't just tell her anything.
She'd begged for a lie... and he'd refused to give her one.
He was cleared of his crimes but knew that the Ministry would continue to hunt her for tampering in the room-- he probably also knew that she couldn't leave without knowing exactly what had been in that pool. He'd stayed to help her even after what had transpired the night Albus died.
He loved her... that's why he'd stayed. His continued presence said it more loudly than he ever could have... and he knew that, inevitably, she'd distrust anything else.
He's a murderer, the logical side of her mind screamed. He would have killed you! It was undeniable, that much was true. If she could travel back in time and met him during his youth, he probably would have wished her harm... and done something to ensure that his wish came true.
But the Death Eater who had come to live in her home should have hated her... and he didn't. The man who had arrived at Flamel's mansion should have left... but he'd stayed. At some point, he had changed and she hadn't even noticed.
The man he had confessed to being would have never been capable of loving a Muggleborn. He would have been disgusted at the prospect of sharing quarters with her. Hermione had never really believed that a leopard could change his spots. It was common knowledge that people changed very little after adolescence.
But perhaps some people can change...
Maybe Severus was one of them.
She rolled over onto her back and stared blindly at the ceiling again. A piece of the puzzle had fallen into place. Now, she was left with the irrevocable responsibility of deciding what she was going to do with this newfound knowledge.
Am I capable of loving him after all he's done? Can I forgive him? Her heart gave her a simple yet powerful affirmation but she needed to get her mind to agree. She couldn't risk making another mistake-- not after everything she'd been through.
As a professor, she rationalized, Severus had never let the students fall into harm's way. He was a bastard, that much was a given, but he'd never seriously hurt anyone -- contrary to many students' beliefs. As a friend, if he could be called such, he did everything in his limited ability to help her. The night when he'd held her while she cried on the bathroom floor stood out in her memory. As a lover -- she supposed that was the only word she could use -- he'd given up an almost guaranteed freedom so that he could help her fight Cornelius Fudge.
She needed to ask him why he'd stayed. With Severus, she'd learned, assuming would be the death of her. He could have had a very logical reason for staying... and it may have had little or nothing to do with her.
Reflecting back to the time they'd spent together since this whole ordeal began, she realized that Severus had never deliberately gone out of his way to attack her... or Ron... or Harry. That really said something. In many ways, she could only see frayed and tattered remnants of the man he had been when she looked at the man he'd become.
And she still loved him...
He was still a bastard, that much was a given. He possessed all the social graces and manners of a six-year-old child, much to the insult of six-year-old children everywhere. She doubted he'd ever been in a serious relationship before. He wasn't what anyone would consider conventionally attractive... but she'd never cared much for the handsome boys with the onetime exception of Lockhart. Severus had a very odd beauty about him when he wasn't being overly snarky.
Somehow, in spite of it all, it endeared him to her. He was intense, everything about him was passionate and confident -- but at the same time, he was so unsure. He flaunted his intelligence at every opportunity but became so defensive if he was thought wrong. He could sleep next to her and kiss her but, even when she begged him, he couldn't ask her to stay... because he knew that when he told her about his past, she would walk away...
... and she had done just that.
Folding her hands behind her head, she let her eyes slide shut. She couldn't make herself believe that staying away was the right thing to do. With a little more work, she could reconcile his past with his present. As she felt her mind begin to drift off, she told herself that if -- for any number of reasons -- a relationship with Severus failed, she could at least know that she'd tried.She just wanted to see him again.
Five more days passed. Joyce had questioned her twice but it had mostly been repetition. More random questions were asked and answered, more tears were shed and more sympathetic nods were sent her way. With each passing minute, she found herself disliking Austin Joyce more and more -- if that was possible.
If she were denied protection, she was going to pummel the man into a pulp. If they were granted protection... she'd just slap him around for a while.
Today, she sat in her cell. Mildly surprised that Joyce hadn't arrived to interrogate her yet, she settled back and did the one thing she could. She stared at the walls and wished that she were somewhere else.
The metal door appeared again. When it opened, two guards motioned for her to follow them. Instead of heading to the yellow room, she was led into a large bathroom and sealed inside with a kind looking woman.
Not about to complain at the prospect of having a decent bath, she became even more grateful when the stranger humanely averted her eyes as Hermione stripped. She bathed quickly and donned the clean jumpsuit-- as happy as she was at the prospect of taking a leisurely bath, it just didn't feel right when another person was there.
Signaling to the stranger that she was finished, the two guards reentered the bathroom and led her down another set of corridors. Hermione was confused; they weren't leading her to the yellow room nor were they taking her back to her cell.
They finally reached a new door and her escorts motioned her through. After hesitantly pushing the door open and cautiously peeping within, a relief flooded her that she hadn't felt since she'd released Severus so long ago.
Ron and White sat inside, waiting for her. Even dressed in an ugly orange jumpsuit, Ronald remained the most beautiful and welcome sight she'd beheld in a while.
Without saying a word, she raced inside and launched herself at Ron. He swept her into a fierce hug and she clutched him as though she were afraid he'd disappear from her grasp.
"What are you doing here?" she asked, still refusing to let him go.
Ron laughed and replied, "I've been here since I recovered," while he crushed her more tightly against his frame.
She pulled away and looked closely at him. His hair was shorter than she'd remembered it and he too had lost weight. "I'm just so happy that you're okay," she finally said. Ron flashed her a quick grin as White cleared his throat.
"This is it, you two. The panel is meeting with the agents and going over your cases," White said.
"Now?" Ron exclaimed. "But they've only talked to me once!"
"Relax, Ronald," White replied calmly. "This is a good thing. The less they talk to you, the better. It means your case is clear-cut."
For some reason, White's reassurance made little difference to her. She was frightened and Ron was obviously scared as well. "Are Harry and Severus coming?" she asked the older man.
As soon as the words left her mouth, the door opened again. Harry stepped inside, followed by Severus. Orange was not a flattering color on either of them-- not that she cared in the slightest. She hugged Harry tightly before he broke away to greet Ron.
Severus regarded her with interest; he didn't seem to know what to do. Going against every ounce of logic she possessed, she walked over to him. For a long moment, the two watched each other intently, momentarily oblivious to their surroundings. She didn't know what to do, what action she should take. Abandoning her judgment, she opted to yield to her impulse and wrapped her arms around him.
"I understand," she said softly as she felt his arms hesitantly embrace her. As he opened his mouth to speak, she shushed him. "Later..." she said. "We'll talk later."
It was very possible that there wouldn't be a later. But she needed time and privacy to talk to Severus and the current locale was severely lacking in both.
He gave her a short nod before taking a seat alone. She patiently moved to sit next to him and took his hand, silently offering her support. Even though Severus wasn't the type of man to welcome open affection... it could possibly be the last time they ever saw each other. It became evident that he shared the sentiment as his fingers entwined with hers.
Half-listening to Harry and Ron talk about how horrid imprisonment had been for them, she struggled to keep her eyes from rolling. She was unable to force her interest in the subject, she'd already been through it... it was redundant and she didn't want to think about the looming possibility of being jailed again...
... or being handed over to the Ministry.
Despite her fear, she attempted to gauge White's expression. Either he was as skilled as Severus at masking emotions or he had no clue as to their fate as well. Looking to Severus, she noticed that he looked gaunt, pale and tired... but that wasn't really a surprise, she'd seen the same every time he came in to teach potions. It was little wonder White had questioned the ex-professor's remarkable adjustment to incarceration.
There was actually little change in Severus' appearance. He'd lost weight, his lithe body seemingly lost in the expanse of his clothes and the lines on his face appeared more pronounced. Harry looked much worse for wear; his weight loss bordered on drastic and when coupled with his disheveled hair and sallow complexion, he looked every bit a boy who had battled with life and been severely beaten by it.
Harry looked exactly like she felt.
Severus stroked his thumb over her hand and gave it a soft squeeze. A short half-smile was all that she could muster. Somebody needed to be optimistic and she lacked the desire and the willpower to offer that lie to herself or her companions.
Harry prattled on about his loneliness in his prison cell. Ron, who hadn't the extensive experience that she and Harry possessed, talked about his time in the hospital. She, on the other hand, wanted nothing more than to talk about anything other than small spaces and hospital beds... but there was nothing to say. Soon enough, the room fell into a painful silence. The apprehension was a tangible, terrorizing thing that hovered over them all.
This was it.
White attempted conversation with each of them but eventually thought it better to succumb to the brooding quiet. He'd offered to summon a priest but she found the idea far too foreboding. Everyone seemed to agree. White looked as nervous as everyone else. Either he truly cared... or he was up to something.
There was the paranoia again.
An hour passed. Another hour passed. After that, much to everyone's chagrin, another hour passed. White's wife brought supper for the group but it was left untouched by everyone save White, who kept trying to tempt them into eating by exclaiming what an amazing cook his wife, Kate, was.
"I'm going bloody crazy!" Harry finally exclaimed, rising from his chair and beginning to pace again. "How long is this going to take?"
"The panel has to listen to all of the testimonies, read the documentation and listen to the agents' recommendations," White replied as though it should have been common knowledge. "It takes a while."
"So we have no choice but to sit here and wait," Harry spat.
"More or less, kid. Eat something; it'll pass the time."
Nobody made any move to grasp their forks. Harry and Ron stared at the food thoughtfully... she recognized the look from potions class, when Severus asked them to test their antidotes. All the while, she caught herself giving the food long looks and internally debating whether or not she really wanted it. On one hand, it looked good. On the other hand, she wasn't really hungry.
The door slid open again and a guard called for White. He left with a disgustingly hopeful thumbs-up and a reassuring smile. A collective sigh of relief was released into the room.
"Thank Merlin, I thought he'd never shut up," Ron muttered. "How are you all really?"
"I can't go back there," Hermione said quietly, unembarrassed by the admission. Severus clutched her hand again in silent understanding and in his own profession of the same fact.
"Likewise," Harry agreed.
"What choice do we have?" Severus asked. "If we're denied protection, we won't have any say in our fate."
Everyone was quiet again until Harry whispered, "What if they hand us over to Fudge?"
"Shut it, Harry," Ron hissed in a tone Hermione rarely heard from him. "That won't happen. Everything is going to be fine."
"This was a stupid idea," Harry continued as he rose to begin pacing the floor. "America has never helped anyone before. Why the hell do we think they're going to help us now?"
"Harry, now that they know what Fudge is doing..." Hermione began only to be abruptly cut off.
"They knew what Hitler was doing," Harry challenged. "They knew what Voldemort was doing."
Hermione felt Severus' hand tense slightly at the name.
"Harry!" Ron snapped, "That was different. They aren't going to hand us over to the Ministry. Everything is going to be fine."
No one said anything to the obvious lie. For all his good intentions, Ronald Weasley was in no position to promise them safety. The atmosphere in the room dismayed Hermione further. She'd imagined the reunion being more jovial, not this strained tension tainted with spoken and unspoken anxieties.
The door squeaked open again and White stepped inside followed by Reed. All eyes were instantly riveted on them. It was like her heart stopped, her brain suddenly abandoned her. No one moved. No one spoke. No one breathed. The world ceased to turn.
Everything boiled down to this moment.
White cleared his throat and shot the group a lopsided smile. "You won," he said after a grossly unnecessary pause. "Welcome home."
She had to focus her effort to breathe evenly as she attempted to force these words to make sense. Dimly, she heard Harry and Ron cheer and felt Severus' still hand within her own.
"Are you all right?" Severus murmured to her. She nodded dumbly in return. Just as her mind was beginning to function again, she realized that Ron had swung her body into a huge Hagrid-worthy bear hug. Her feet dangled inches above the floor as she was spun in circles.
"There are still some things that need to be worked out," she heard White say, "but the panel has agreed that the Ministry is seeking to wrongfully imprison you and the situation may require some attention..."
White continued to speak -- the necessity for anonymity, what they would be doing -- but was ignored. The freedom had finally sunk in and she returned Ron's hug fiercely before welcoming Harry into the embrace. She was suddenly very happy that Ron hadn't allowed her feet to touch the floor again as she doubted she could stand on her own.
"If you step foot outside this country, we can't protect you -- but it's a pretty big country so you shouldn't have too many problems..."
She glanced over at Severus, who promptly shot her a look informing her that under no circumstances whatsoever would he even consider participating in a group hug, recently acquired freedom or not. Unlike her cohorts, he actually seemed interested in what White was saying.
"... we've got a quad here that you'll share until permanent arrangements can be made. A week, tops, I promise..."
Ron finally released her to the floor and the Golden Trio stared at each other with an elation that -- under normal circumstances -- could only be induced with heavy drugs. "See? I told you everything was going to be fine," Ron said in a tone reminiscent of his infamous mother, "but you just didn't listen, did you?"
White smiled as he inserted himself into the group, "If you could follow me, we can start coordinating the..."
"I want to go outside," Hermione said quickly. She had been trapped in a cell for over a month. Outside had only been a place she could think about... even during her 'playtime' she was still inside a fence.
"Huh?" White asked.
"I want to go outside... right now," she added. Out of her peripheral vision, she could see Ron and Harry nodding emphatically. The desire didn't make sense... or maybe it did, she wasn't sure. She wanted to sit on a patch of grass. She needed to know that she wasn't trapped anymore.
She wanted out of this damn jumpsuit, too.
"Erm... sure, I guess. But you can't run off," White said. She witnessed the exact moment when he realized why this was important to her and she suppressed the laughter as he quickly tried to amend his statement. "Well, you can run off but... umm... don't... because we've got some stuff to do... and we sort of need you here to do it." White opened the door and spoke to one of the guards for a moment.
When he turned back to the group, "This is Joe," he said as he absently introduced the guard, who gallantly tipped his hat to her. "He'll take you outside. I'm going to go get started on the paperwork. Just don't take too long."
Every nerve in her body sang. She was barely able to restrain from hopping about in glee. Harry looked like he was about to burst with excitement and Ron followed suit. Severus, as she had expected, looked almost as disinterested as usual; the giveaway for his enthusiasm being the speed in which he followed the guide.
After passing through a few hallways, the final door was opened, revealing an endless area with no fences or walls to hold her in. The grass was tall from lack of attention and came up to her knees in some areas. Harry and Ron took off in an instant, running through the unkempt grass and bellowing into the sky. She couldn't help but smile as she chose a spot to sit in and stared at the treeless landscape and the orange and red sky.
It was over. It was finally over.
Severus sat next to her. She could hear his knees cracking as he lowered himself to the ground. She dropped her head against his shoulder, feeling it tense for a moment before relaxing again.
"You wanted to speak with me?" he asked, even though it wasn't a question.
"You stayed," she replied while staring at Harry and Ron.
"Obviously," he stated.
She fought the grin that threatened to overpower her mouth. "You deliberately stayed."
He held his breath for a moment before responding again, "Obviously."
"Because you didn't want to leave me?" she finally asked after a long pause, craning her head to gauge his reaction to the bold question.
He stared at the sunset for a long while before twisting his head to look at her. Cupping her cheek in his large hand, he touched a soft kiss to her lips. The action itself told her the truth but she halted him when he attempted to move in again.
"Why?" she asked. She knew the answer but she needed to know if she'd been wrong. Severus was so enigmatic... she needed to know that he'd remained involved in this clandestine mission for her.
He moved closer to her until his cheek was pressed softly against her own. "From the expression on your face, I assume you already know," he murmured into her ear. When he pulled away, she detected the slightest ghost of a smile on his face.
They weren't the exact words she'd wanted to hear but they answered her question in the only way he knew how to tell her. Shifting behind her, he wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her back against him. She relaxed into the embrace and smiled. He hadn't said that he loved her but he'd told her all the same. With Severus, words were weakened nonentities.
There were still dozens of questions she needed to ask and the future was far from certain but she pushed them all to the back of her mind as she felt Severus place several soft kisses onto her neck, creeping slowly up to her cheek. She rested her head on his shoulder, giving him easier access, and absently brought a hand up to stroke his hair.
Taking her chin, he pulled her lips against his. If she'd harbored any doubts as to his feelings for her, they would have been instantly erased as he kissed her with a fervor she never experienced from him before. His tongue played with hers as though they had all the time in the world and nothing else to think about.
When he pulled away, she was nearly gasping for breath. Pressing another brief, silent kiss to her lips, he delicately nudged her face towards the landscape, urging her to stare at the open fields she'd been dreaming of since she'd come to this godforsaken country. She contented herself to bow back against him again and follow his unspoken directions.
In that instant, she knew with a startling clarity that she would probably never understand Fudge's motivations for rebuilding the Dementors. The curse that murdered Albus Dumbledore would remain a mystery as well; and it was better that way.
There were some problems that she would never solve... some questions that could never be answered. The enigma of the man she rested her head against was only one of them. No text or lectures held any hope of unraveling them
Knowledge didn't present any permanent solutions to the dozens of troubles that plagued her mind. She realized now that there were some things that she was never going to know... some things were indeed better left unknown... and for the first time in her short life, that was acceptable.
Staring into the silent sparkling sunset, she took note of her companions as well as the situation and decided that sometimes the conclusion was more important than the reasons.
Ignorance is bliss.
Author's notes- TheGreyLady sat in a hospital bed, maniacally pounding her hand over the button to the morphine-drip.
Weasel, the hated yet beloved character from the story "Disturbances," stepped from the shadows. Using his handy-dandy opposable thumb, which TheGreyLady gave him (but he may have already had and neither of them realized it), he thrust a microphone in TheGreyLady's face.
"So, TheGreyLady, you've finished your first story!" Weasel said semi-kindly. "How do you feel?"
TheGreyLady giggled inanely, "I feel fucked up, man."
"Why's that?" Weasel looked to the left and right before whispering, "Can I have some?"
"Nope, prescription painkillers to help me recover from surgery."
"Damn," Weasel glowered. "Well, once you recover from surgery, what are you gonna do?"
"I'm gonna write an epilogue!" TheGreyLady cheered with much more enthusiasm than was warranted.
"AFTER THAT, YOU DRUNKEN, NARCOTIC WHORE!" Weasel shouted.
"Huh? Oh yeah!" TheGreyLady giggled some more, "I'm gonna go to Disneyland!"
Weasel gasps, "So, does that mean that you're going to FINALLY finish Disturbances?"
"Am I gonna score with that jarvey? Am I going to kill Mrs. Norris?" Weasel asked. TheGreyLady remained silent, staring vacantly into empty space. "Tell me something here, you alcoholic!"
"Sweetheart?" A woman's voice rang through the room, interrupting any response TheGreyLady would have had to Weasel's insubordinance. "How are you feeling?"
"I'm fine, Mom!" TheGreyLady called back.
"What are you up to?" TheGreyLady's Mom asked.
"She's busy writing Harry Potter fanfi..." Weasel began before finding his mouth slammed shut by TheGreyLady's hand.
"I'm... uhhh... sleeping?"
"Oh, all right! Let me know if you need anything!" TheGreyLady's mom called.
"Dude, your mother doesn't know that you write HP fanfic?"
"You haven't even told your own mother?! I'm telling!"
TheGreyLady turned to the furry, four-legged creature and laughed/growled, "You do it... and you just wait until I get my author's omnipotence back, you'll be lacking the proper equipment to nail that jarvey you've had your eye on."
"The readers would have your ass, Lady."
"Hmmm..." TheGreyLady hummed. The tell-tale lightbulb appeared over her head and she snapped her fingers.
Weasel looked around in terror as the opening dialogue for "Baby Got Back," began to play. As the music began to play, Weasel was helpless but to angrily prance to the music.
Weasel scowled and danced as TheGreyLady turned to the readers and began to speak.
So, I'm kinda laid up right now. I'm fine, thanks for asking. This was a planned surgery that's really only a medium scale procedure... or so I keep telling myself. I was REALLY aiming to have the story done before I had surgery done... but, as you can plainly see, I failed to hit that deadline.
Well, I've done it. After all the tears, sweat and obscenely long waits between updates, I've finally finished "Mephistopheles". There will be an epilogue but the story itself is done. HOORAY!
Now, just for the sake of getting MoaningMyrtle to roll her eyes, let's all give her a big old round of applause for beta-ing my fic and making it better!
For anyone wondering, the ending of this fic is inspired by a (now removed) fanfiction by the name of "Echoes" by Teagan )
Next projects coming your way include but are not limited to (1.) Finally finishing Disturbances, (2.) TheGreyLady's Guide to Writing Gooder- More Writing Tips Than You or Your Grandmother Can Handle, and (3.) Some other stuff, including something I'm supposed to write for a ficathon...
Thanks for sticking around! Love you all. The epilogue shouldn't take too long... in theory... and rest assured, there will be smut involved.
Please do not let your grandmother read TheGreyLady's Guide to Writing Gooder.
Blatantly ripped off from . TheGreyLady acknowledges that she's got no talent when it comes to funny stuff. ;)