1 Tribunal

By Joan Milligan

Based upon the fictional universe of J.K. Rowling

Historian's note: takes place minutes after the trial scene in "Goblet of Fire".

She walked out of the tribunal hall with her head raised, her eyes clear and looking toward the faraway horizon. The angry shouts and mocking whistles, the muttered insults and the whispers of hatred on the wind didn't seem to touch her. She walked with her back straight and stiff, like a statue given life through some will only formidable enough to make it move but not truly live, not looking back, not one time. Her face, once so breathtakingly beautiful, was now ashen, her cheeks hollow and her eyes reddened and hidden in heavy shadow. Her once firm body sagged, but she carried her withering with a sort of pride saved for wounds earned in battle. Glances like venom arrows hit her from every side but she paid them no attention. Every finger was raised in accusation, every hand ready to claw out her eyes, crush her skull, break her neck. She walked through the sea of menace like a tall ship braving the storm. What for them was a humiliation, a fate worse than any other imaginable, was a seal of honor for her, a testimony of loyalty everlasting through the hardest of times.

Her end was near, now she knew. Minutes ago she said her last words, and they were of her master. The Lord of Darkness remembers those who die for him.

A young wizard was standing in the exit from the building, looking on solemnly as she allowed herself to be led outside into the merciless sunlight. Long ago, he must have been very handsome with his long black hair, slender frame and eyes of shining opal. But many a sleepless night, many a terrible battle, many a horrible visage left him old and broken, skin yellowed, once slim body now sickly thin, once rich hair matted and greasy, once burning gaze now empty, with only a mad flame in its depth. He looked at her wordlessly for a few agonizing, eternal moments, then stepped forward and waved away the guards at both her sides. They gave him strange, shocked looks, but left her there with him and turned to reenter the tribunal. Their job was far from done.

The two of them stayed there in the doorframe for a few minutes in silence, measuring each other with tired eyes, no anger, no hate, no emotion at all, merely acknowledgement, true and final.

"Hello, Janice," at last he said.

"Hello, Severus," she replied evenly.

Those awkward greetings, so perfectly devoid of meaning, were all they could manage for a while.

"Have you come to save me?" she asked, deadpanned, as if she never truly thought he'd say yes. The slight motion in her neck, her head going a bit higher, could indicate either hope or the clear message that she would not have herself saved by him.

"You know I haven't," he snapped shortly, unnerved by her reaction, moved back against the wall in a way that could be easily missed, but not by her.

She knew. She also knew what would be his answer. She knew everything about him. Have they not shared a bed and a dream merely a month ago? Not so long, not that long, not long enough. She knew everything, from the quiet, special way he laughed when she asked for just a few more moments in the morning, to just what it took to make him cry out her name in long, sweaty nights. She thought she knew his innermost being, and learning herself to be wrong was a burning strike, worse than any injury, worse than any failure, worse than any punishment.

The worse punishment they could have dealt her.

"Then are you here to say goodbye?" She asked mockingly.

The well-aimed sting hit its target. He staggered, perhaps would have fallen if not supported by a wall. Momentarily she wanted him to fall, wanted him to stumble and collapse and lie at her feet and beg for her forgiveness, as he ought to, as she thought he would. How many times must she be proven wrong? Yet he managed to stay on his feet and she, hating herself, felt relieved.

He seemed considering one moment; glanced down at the floor, then looked up back at her, and utterly surprised her when his strong arms caught her body and pressed her to him with all the warmth she remembered. She gasped and the breath caught in her throat.

"It doesn't have to be goodbye," he choked out. "Janice, leave this life, come with me, leave the darkness. The darkness won't hold you at night, the darkness won't care for you for the rest of its life. You can renounce the Dark Lord, you can give them names like Karkaroff did, they'd let you out if I asked them. The darkness didn't dream of you every night for weeks now, Janice."

She wanted so much to give in. so much she knew, that she almost couldn't stop herself from kissing him and saying yes, she'll come with him whenever he will take her, leave everything but him behind. In the last few weeks, in the last desperate weeks, he's become her whole life, he was the only thing that made her wake up and face the world. He made life in the coming dawn worth living. Perhaps he can make her tolerate the daylight.

Then the cold sunk in again and she was revolted at his touch, the touch of a traitor.

She pushed him away, and this time he did fall, sat there crumbled on the marble floor and looked up at her with shining opals filled with pain.

"You filth." she spat through clenched teeth. "How dare you offer me this? You think I can jump between the sides as easily as you do? Live under the wings of that Muggle-lover Dumbledore who opens his house to the worst of traitors? Leave everything I am and everything I ever wanted to be? Just because I loved you?"

"Janice.!" no, she wasn't dreaming, wasn't hoping, there was real pain in the cry. He struggled to his feet and tried to grab her arm, but she slapped his outreached hand away, hissing like a she-snake.

"It's over, Severus. It's never really begun. It was faked, it was all faked. You've never really been a Death-Eater, just a power-hungry tagalong. and you've never loved me. You took the magic and the power from him, and from me you've taken great sex and a few good times, and now you're back in the garbage heap, and so help me if I'm going to help you out."

She thought he may answer that, so she spun quickly to face the wall lest he see the tears streaming down her face and breathed deeply so she wouldn't sob. She heard his breath come out ragged and heavy, in anger, maybe in pain. She didn't want to see him, not ever again. Let this be the end, let her be taken away, let it be Azkaban if it meant never seeing his face.

Just when she couldn't believe it, he tried again.

"Janice, you're wrong, they're. good people."

"Bullshit!" God knows where she found the power to scream. "There is no good and evil, there's only."

"Power and those too weak to seek it," he completed her words quietly.

She gasped, trying to breathe through the tears. Not turning around, not turning around. if he would just stop talking, in the low, velvety voice, that beautiful voice that whispered such sweet hopes, such grand ideas, such loving promises.

"I know it just as you do," he continued as she buried her face in her hands, straining not to hear. "That is what we've been taught. but I've learned a few things, also. Some things about true power, like the power needed to move against those you care for, or shoulder a terrible responsibility. or make your own choices in this life."

She choked. She didn't want to hear. She didn't want to listen.

"I've already spoken to Dumbledore and the Ministry. They were willing to let you out if I vouched for you. I had to give you this choice, because of what we had, but I. see. I. was wrong. You said I've taken what I wanted from you, but you. you took some good nights, and a few years of real love and real feelings, but that's all. and that's just not enough."

He turned her around, gently, despite all her expectations. Nothing in their wild, violent lives had ever been gentle, not the days, not the nights, not the passion or even the love, true as only love can be. There was no room for gentleness, no place for a tender touch, nowhere to hide from the storm. She couldn't breath out of the rushing wind, couldn't look at the clear sky.

"I loved you." she breathed, her tears spent.

He shook his head, not even giving her the briefest eye contact. "You loved the beast in me. It's time to have it slain."

He pulled out his wand, and she knew what was about to happen, but stood her ground nonetheless, not taking her eyes away from his face. She took deep, calm breathes, looked up as he would want her to, not even flicking her gaze to the point of the wand, looked at him all the while.

"Avada Kedavra," he whispered.

No prison would hold her, no chains would weight down her body and heart, no demons of despair would send her tumbling down into the abyss. Hers was the better fate, hers was choice, last boon of a forsaken lover.

Looking up from her body, which was slumped on the floor wearing the expression of one that is having a pleasant dream, he took a deep breath and stepped out into the sunlight.