"Severus"

The name came at him like a whisper. Like a sob. "Severus." His given name reached his ears again, this time breaking slightly. He hadn't expected her to find him so soon. After all the work he had done, preparing to hide, all the spells and false clues, and yet, there she stood. She had been the brightest he'd ever taught.

"How... How could you?" Her voice was tremulous and gravelly. She had been doing too much crying and too little sleeping.

Refusing to answer, Severus stared ahead at the fireplace. He could see her sillouete. There was no need to wonder what she wanted an explanation for.

"How can you sit there, silent, when his blood is on your hands?" Shaking no longer, her voice was rich and resounding through the hovel he called a hideout. She was raging-- he could almost feel it course off her, feel it as tongues of fire that lapped at his black cloak.

"Silent treatment? Really Severus, how juvenile." Her voice had dropped. It was amazing, the change in modulation. She was either trying to throw him off, or truly was out of control. He saw her sillouete begin to move. It would appear that he would have to face her afterall.

Their eyes met.
Memories came, untamed, through Severus' mind. Brown eyes defying him silently while he purposely picked on her.
Eyes trained on her task, hand brushing back a tendril of hair.
Eyes narrowed with anger on that first detention.
Eyes softening by the second.
Eyes gazing up at him.
Eyes closed as he kissed her. Eyes full of trust, love, lust, hate, passion, fury, all blinked their way through Severus' mind, reliving their passionate, albeit short-lived affair, until he truly looked at the woman before him. Her eyes now held nothing within them but tears.

"Why?" She asked pitifully, truly not expecting an answer.

"Why?" he responded, his deep, silky voice a surprise to her. "What does it matter now"

"What does it matter!" She exploded. The fiery rage that had been somewhat controlled now roiled within her, making her emotion almost palpable. "You killed him! You killed Albus Dumbledore! The man you trusted you, who took you in, who refused to hear one bad word against you. Any complaint or suspicion would be quelled with an "I trust Severus." He loved you, Severus! Do you always kill the one's who care for you most?" There was a hint of fear in her voice.

"I have no inclination to kill you, if that is what you fear." He steepled his fingers. Many times he had been told that it was his calm in the face of a fight that his opponent would find most infuriating.

"I don't fear you, Severus. I never have." He stood up, moved quickly towards her.

"Never, Hermione?" He took notice of her intake of breath, the slight widening of her eyes. "Why did you come here"

Though her breathing came faster, she did not back down. "To find out why. To see if it was true. I've spent every waking hour since Harry told me what he saw, wanting an explanation, and excuse, anything. I don't like knowing that the man I spent the last year loving murdered one of the greatest wizards that ever lived."

Severus turned away. "You didn't love me, Hermione. You clearly didn't even know me." That word, love, had passed her lips more often then he cared to remember. He thought he remembered saying it back, once. Those nights with her wrapped in his arms, writhing beneath him, those breathless murmerings of love, and pleasure seemed a thousand years ago. He didn't want to think about it.

Her small hand reached out and rested gently on his arm. "I guess I didn't." Her voice was soft.

"Leave, now. Or go fetch Potter so he can finish me off. Just don't stand there, simpering"

"I am not simpering." If he ever brought up her weakness, she always got defensive. "I want to know why you betrayed me, betrayed everyone! You even swore to me, the night we... you promised me you would never betray me"

Severus whipped around, fire blazing in his eyes. "I promised my life to Narcissa Malfoy before I even thought I'd end up promising anything to you"

"Then why bother?" She raged. "Why go through the motions, why say anything to me, when you knew that in the end, you would end up betraying me, betraying everyone?"

He grabbed her face in his hands, forcing her to look at him. "I knew that this war would be the end of me. Is it too much to ask that I would have a little happiness before I was resigned to exile."

She struggled against his grip. "It is too much to ask if your happiness comes at the price of someone elses."

He held her firmly. "I didn't ask for you. I didn't ask for anything that happened between us. You gave yourself to me. You called it love." His voice dropped to an icy whisper. "So don't blame whatever juvenile emotional upheaval you're expieriencing on me"

"This is hardly a simple juvenile upheaval, Severus. You committed the utmost betryal, and you won't even tell me why. I came here, hoping that there was some way that I could save you. That you could tell me it was Dumbledore's plan all along, and that I could go in his office, retrieve his memories, and clear you of any wrong doing." Tears began to fall again. "Tell me that it was his plan all along. Tell me you didn't do this. Tell me," she said, her voice rising in hysteria, "that I didn't fall in love with a man capable of this!" Her sobs overtook her, the tears streaming over Severus' hands.

"I can't tell you want you want to hear"

Her eyes flicked towards him again. "No," she whispered, half to herself. "No"

He dropped his hands from her face, and turned away again. He felt defeated. "I will tell you this, Hermione. I am sorry, for what I have done to you. You were the last thing I expected, and nothing I have ever done has pained me more than the hurt I have caused you." He turned toward her again. Her wand was raised, the righteous fury he had grown to love blazing in her eyes. "Do it, if you must," he said.

The words raced through her mind. She knew she had to, this man had killed Albus Dumbledore. Killed Albus Dumbledore. But this man had also held her close when she was scared. Kissed her tenderly. Stroked her reverently. How could the man she loved have killed someone?

How could she kill the man she loved?

She dropped her arm, defeated. He may have committed the most heinous crime, he may have betrayed her and hurt her, but for all that, she still loved him.

For all that, she would let him live.

Severus watched Hermione leave the cabin, her steps slow and heavy. He wondered if she would tell Potter where he was, or if her misguided notion of love would save him. If she allowed him to get away, then she wasn't the witch he thought she was.

Two hours later, staring down Harry Potter in a duel that would last hours, he thought of her. He thought of the first night he kissed her, the first night they made love. It was her, telling him that she loved him, that was on his mind when the killing curse finally flew from Potter's wand, felling Severus in one quick, decisive stroke.