Chapter 19 : Epilogue
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A tiny ray of moonlight pranced joyously over the folds of Hermione’s blanket. The curtains that shaded the window against the curious moon rustled softly in the spring wind, which found its way though the gaps of the old window frame.
Tranquillity ruled the room, where Hermione lay unconscious for over a week. Nothing stirred, not even the dark heap of blankets that curled in a nearby cushioned armchair and emitted soft puffing sounds.
Hermione lay on her bed, oblivious of the sweet aromatic smell of the flowers that were sleeplessly guarding her room.
She was brought to Saint Mungo’s thirteen weeks ago.
Regardless of all the care and attention of the healers and the long time she had spent in the form of a raven, as soon as the feather of Rowena Ravenclaw, which protected her against the mortal loss of Slytherin’s power, was extracted from her wing, she fell senseless. The healers were at a loss as for the suiting therapy. They had tried to delay the removal of the feather as long as it was possible, but with every new day the risk of Hermione becoming unable to regain her real form was getting bigger. After three months the healers could wait no longer – the feather was removed.
Hermione’s friends took it in turns and stayed by her side all the time, not giving up hope that soon she will wake.
This night it was Ronald Weasley’s turn, who for some peculiar reason, happened to be on that duty considerably longer than the others. He just sat there by the bed, staring out of the window into the blue sky and waiting. He grew tired of blaming Hermione, blaming Harry, blaming the world and most of all blaming his own injured self; he simply sat there sunk in his own world. Now he was wrapped in dark dreams under the moth eaten blankets.
It was full moon that night and barely a cloud appeared on the velvety sky, so if someone had taken interest in the view behind the curtains, he would have seen a tiny black dot soaring above the streets. As it neared, its long unmoving wings could be distinguished from the small body.
The bird made a few circles over the building and then graciously landed on the window-sill. At first glace it looked as an ordinary kestrel; it nervously made a few steps, tilting slightly its nice head. The window was closed. The winged creature then gave a soft, musical cry, quite extraordinary to an average kestrel, or any other usual bird, and the window soundlessly pulled open.
The late night visitor easily leaped over the frame, but as it reached Hermione’s bed the kestrel was gone and a glowing phoenix appeared in its place. It was Fawkes. He gave a tender squawk and hopped onto the bedstead, apparently to get a better view of the patient.
Ron ferociously snorted, probably fighting back some enemy in his dream, which dream tended to rule his nights just as a considerable part of his days.
Nevertheless, Hermione showed no reaction to the noise. No one knew how deep under she was, buried by the horrific memories of her short life.
Those red eyes never ceased to stare, burning her soul alive, that mirthless laughter never died in her ears, deafening her to the voices of the world, but now… some distant voice called her… a shed of light in the fathomless depth… no… it must have been an illusion. The walls around her were just as black as before; her palms touched their sticky, clammy surface – it was blood. She could smell it; a heavy nauseating odour contaminating the air around her… then she saw him, the worst fear she had ever had… his glassy eyes pierced her, his skin like old parchment, his colourless lips parted in agony… she could not help making a step closer… yes, sprawled lifelessly on the ground was Severus Snape… she wanted to scream, but no sound left her throat. Those red eyes that always followed her moves narrowed with amusement – it would never end!
Fawkes ruffled his feathers and repeated his squawk.
A slight shadow ran across Hermione’s wax-like face.
There was he again, Lord Voldemort, standing above the crippled body of her parents, aiming his never ending curses at her mother and father… he looked up at her, licking his lips through his malicious sneer… just as he always did… No matter how hard she fought him, how hard she tried to kill him or kill herself, the scene repeated itself again and again, only the faces of the victims changed… but now… something happened… the image of the Lord hardly noticeably faded; the walls of her prison gently shook. What was going on? She leaned to the cold wall, shaking from head to toe. What was going on?
Fawkes squawked once more. Ron mumbled something in his sleep and sighed. Hermione on the other hand stayed motionless, only her eyelashes trembled. Heavy teardrops appeared beneath them and ran down her face.
A tiny ray of light slit the darkness. That was the way out. Hermione looked around; her mother raised her blood smeared face from the dirty ground and made an effort to get up… No, Hermione thought, she couldn’t leave her here! She just couldn’t! She wanted to go back to her mother, above whose maimed body towered the black silhouette of Voldemort, but the woman shook her head. “Go!” she mouthed. Then everything went black.
Fawkes gurgled with pleasure.
A sigh erupted from Hermione’s chest.
The phoenix allowed himself a luxurious stretch and then, with an agile move, he jumped into the air – a moment later a pretty little kestrel soared out of the window, gurgling merrily along the way.
When Hermione opened her eyes the darkness was somewhat denser as the moon was nearing the end of its tour on the night sky, and the sun was fast asleep, yet.
She breathed the cool pre-dawn air deeply in. It felt like the first gulp of air for ages. Perhaps it really was.
Was she alive? Or was that death? The unreality of the moment gripped her.
Trying to figure out where she was, she looked around. It was clearly a hospital, and it didn’t take long for her to tell that she was in Saint Mungo’s. The past three months were nothing but a hazy blur in her mind.
The rhythmically breathing heap in the armchair raised her interest. Steeling herself she knelt up, and when she didn’t feel the dizziness, she anticipated, she got up at once.
Her body weakly protested against the sudden movement; a week’s motionless rest was hard to overcome.
She slowly reached the armchair. There was a red tuft of hair sticking out from beneath the blankets – it was Ronald Weasley, no doubt. Hermione’s heart gave a painful jolt. Sweet Ron! It was a shame that she could not give him what he so badly wanted. Life was so unfair! Why did it have to make people desire things they would never get?! Why did she have to snatch poor Ron from Lavender? She hated the memory of her shameful victory. If it wasn’t for her, Won-won would be happy with that girl and he would have no idea of the pain, which had threatened him. But life tricked them both; what she thought would bring them happiness brought nothing but pain.
A thrush started to sing somewhere.
Hermione winced. Snape! She had to know the truth! Was he alive? Where was he? She had to know! It would be rude to wake up Ron, just to ask him about Snape, but she just had to know! The last thing she remembered about that dreadful day was the way Snape had lain on the marble stairs of Hogwarts unmoving and she was dying next to him. What was after, she had no idea.
It was not an easy task to wake Ron from the depths of his dreams. It took several shakes and calls till his dream-sodden face emerged from beneath his warm snug.
“Hermione!” he croaked, “is it really you or am I still dreaming? You’re awake at last!”
With surprising swiftness he got up and caught Hermione in an overwhelming embrace.
“You’re alright?” he asked, shaking her slightly, clearly not believing his eyes.
“I knew you will make it, I always told so!” He was getting slightly hysterical under the weight of his own merriment. “Oh, Hermione, you can’t imagine how much I’ve been waiting for this!”
As all air was pressed out of her, it took Hermione some time till she was able to respond.
“Thank you, Ron! You don’t know how much this means to me…” She couldn’t finish because the next hug made it impossible.
There was no other way than to wait till the waves of Ron’s uncontrollable feelings calmed down and he would be able to say complete, reasonable sentences.
It’s not that she wasn’t happy to see her friend, but she had obviously lost her touch with the world and needed some time to get accustomed. The heavy weights haven’t lifted from her heart, the end of the war haven’t lightened her losses, yet.
The bellies of the clouds turned already rosy, when Hermione managed to put the questions, which she feared most.
“Listen Ron, I need to know what happened to Snape,” she started.
Ron looked aghast as if he was slapped hard on the face.
“Snape,” he growled and his face darkened, “yeah, Snape. Well, if that’s what bothers you most: Snape’s gone.”
Though Hermione did her best to prepare herself for that possible answer, she swayed dangerously. Ron’s features regained their caring, worried expression in an instant and he gently sat her down on the bed.
“Sorry, I meant that he’s left. Disappeared. No one knows where he is. It’s been a month now.”
“You mean he is alive?” she asked, trying to steady her voice.
“Well, at least he was before he left Saint Mungo’s.” Ron clearly hesitated between trying to comfort or to retort.
“But, but how’s that possible?”
“Well, perhaps he didn’t like it here.”
“No! I mean, he was bitten by Nagini! How was it possible that he survived?”
“Oh, that’s simple. Perhaps you don’t remember. Harry saved his miserable life by dripping his own blood onto the bite. I can’t say I agreed with him at that point. Harry said that Fawkes’ tears might have given his blood resistance to snake venom, so he cut his hand and inactivated Nagini’s venom with it. Everyone thought Snape was a goner, but he survived.” Ron could not help closing his story with a nasty curse concerning Snape’s longevity and luck.
Absent-mindedly playing with the folds of the sheet, Hermione bit her lips in despair.
“I have to find him,” she said.
Ron’s brows almost collided with the hair on his forehead.
“Listen, Hermione, leave him, please leave him. It’s quite obvious that he doesn’t want to be found, the Order has been looking for him everywhere for nearly a month, from Hogwarts to the Lestrange Mansion. He’s nowhere to be found. Let’s leave it that way. That’s just what he wants.”
Hermione gaped at him dumbstruck.
“No, Ron! I’ve got to see him; I’ve got to speak to him…”
“Why, on Earth, tell me why? What is the point in it?” Ron was on the verge of tears.
“Look, Hermione, I know how you feel about him… and though I hate even the idea of it I accept your choice. And mind it; I don’t think I’ve hated anything this much in my entire life. But! I’m your friend and I’m talking to you like that; I know you for years. Snape, he’s not the kind of guy who would want to settle down, even with a wonderful girl like you. Don’t be a fool, don’t lie to yourself; you must know just as well as I do that he won’t stay. He’s a lonely guy and he wants to stay that way. He just wants to be left alone; he made it quite clear to all of us, while he was kept in Saint Mungo’s. Don’t torture yourself! There are nice things in this world around you, you’ve got your friends, your parents – don’t throw all this away for a mirage!”
Tears filled Hermione’s eyes. She knew that everything Ron said was true, yet…
“Ron, you don’t understand…”
“No, it’s you who don’t understand!”
That moment the door opened with a loud creek and people flooded the room. Molly Weasley led the way, behind her crowded Ginny, Harry, Mr Weasley, Tonks, Remus, Fred and George, Bill and Fleur.
“Hermione, my dear!” Molly engulfed Hermione in a motherly embrace and the girl found herself in the same helpless position, she had to endure under Ron’s outbursts of emotion.
Over Molly’s shoulder she could see Harry, who was grinning franticly at her, Ginny, who was laughing through her tears and Fred and George, who had scars across their faces, which did not stop them mimicking their mother’s smacking kisses.
Remus stood slightly aside and let the Weasley family rule the place, and Hermione could tell he gained a little weight and some healthy colour on his face.
“We came as soon as we saw Ron’s sign on the ‘Patient Alert’ card. We were so worried about you!” Molly exclaimed, and Hermione could see Ron turn brick-red.
“My goodness! You are skin and bones; no wonder, potions won’t keep you well-fed! But don’t worry, I’ll see to that! You’ll look as new! Don’t worry dear, don’t worry!”
“Molly, let her breathe, dear!” Arthur Weasley interrupted Molly’s torrent of words.
“Oh, yes, yes, I’ll let you to your friends”, she said mopping her tears and passing Fred she absent-mindedly straightened his collar.
Harry made a few awkward steps ahead; regardless of his joy, he did not forget he tension that had built up between him and Hermione before her departure.
“Oh, Harry!” Hermione pulled him into a warm embrace before he could have said a word. “Thank you Harry,” she whispered in his ear through her tears, “thank you!”
“For what?” he asked uncomprehendingly.
“Just, just for everything,” she said, but the way she looked told Harry that there must have been some particular reason. A second later his face lit with understanding, but he stayed silent, letting Ginny in his place.
“All right, everyone!” Molly shouted ten emotional minutes later, trying to overrule the chaos. “Hermione should get some rest; let her go back to bed!”
It had to be repeated many times, before the first waves of ebullient feelings calmed down and people slowly started filing out of the room. Ron refused to leave holding Harry back with him.
“Hermione, darling, I’ll be back soon to bring you something home-made for breakfast. You deserve it! Take some rest till then, you must not strain yourself, remember, now that you’re getting better! The boys will stay here in case you needed something,” Molly called back, ushering her family out to the corridor.
“Thank you, Molly!” said Hermione, but her mind was already racing around other things than breakfast. She cast a sideway glance at Harry and Ron and sighed. She was looking forward to an unpleasant talk.
The trio was sitting on the bed, finishing off the rich breakfast brought by Molly Weasley. Molly seemed to be desperate to make the menu worthy of a wedding feast; there was everything from Muscat wine marmalade to orange and cream soup, from Hungarian partridge stuffed with raisins to fresh goat cheese.
“You know, Hermione, there are stories spreading about the siege of Hogwarts already,” Ron squeezed through his full mouth, “lot’s of them, you wouldn’t believe how much! And you know what? They are all insane. All, without exception.”
“Yeah,” Harry continued, letting Ron cope with his mouthful of roasted partridge, “The fantasies of people are limitless, when it comes to the death of Voldemort.”
Ron coughed, but didn’t say a word.
“But what is most extraordinary – no one knows the whole truth,” Harry continued. “No one, but you.”
Two pairs of eyes glued to Hermione’s face. She shifted a little uncomfortably.
“What do you mean? You were there with me,” she said. Why she tried to evade these questions stayed a mystery to Hermione.
“Oh, Hermione, don’t be such a …” Ron started.
“A what?” she snapped, playing for some time, embarrassed of her own behaviour. These were her friends!
“A kill-joy, as you usually are,” Rom mumbled.
“Me?” Hermione flared up. “Perhaps you should….”
“Hey, you two, stop bickering, you don’t know how tiring it is to listen to you,” Harry tried to intervene, “we just wanted to let you know that there is a flock of hungry vultures out there, who will go crazy as soon they will learn that you are awake. If it wasn’t for McGonagall’s murderous protectiveness towards us, the press and the public would have besieged Saint Mungos’s. Snape was their number one target before you woke, but they couldn’t get near him. But now he’s gone and you are awake; this piece of information will spread faster than plague.”
Hermione cast Harry a sympathetic look.
“Did they hunt for you, too?”
“Of course they did. The ministry seems to have moved into the New Shack, we can hardly keep them out. Audiences were held every few days, and the press, it’s insane! The Daily Prophet had issued a total of six versions of the events.”
Hermione couldn’t suppress a giggle.
“That’s exactly the thing they would do.”
“Yeah, but it’s a little worse than that. Some believe that you were on Voldemort’s side, more exactly on Snape’s, and that you killed Voldemort on Snape’s orders, because Snape wanted to become his successor.” Harry said gravely.
“But that’s absolutely ridiculous!” Hermione gasped. “You know that I didn’t!”
“We know, Hermione,” Ron butted in, “all the same, people seem to like this version, and to tell the truth, Luna’s father didn’t help much, when he published that interview with Narcissa Malfoy.”
“Narcissa? What does she have to do with it?” Hermione exclaimed.
“Well, she tried to help Lucius, who is in Azkaban again by placing the blame on Snape and with him you. She wanted to bring her husband’s case to a new, independent court, she demanded a retrial. She invented an intricate story about how you Imperiused his husband and used him for your purposes. She also claimed that Snape had prepared a booby-trap for Voldemort; he lured him and his snake to Hogwarts and the Lord had walked straight into it. She fanned furthermore the rumours about you and Snape. According to her, Lucius witnessed your peculiar relationship.”
“But… well, about the trap, it was quite the truth, but Snape acted only on Dumbledore’s orders!”
Ron looked aghast.
“Are you sure, Hermione? After all, it was he who killed the Headmaster. He used you like a puppet. Who knows? Maybe that plan of Dumbledore’s did never exist,” he acidly remarked.
“It did!” she cried out.
“How do you know?”
“Because, because…” Hermione was looking desperately for the right words.
“We don’t know,” Harry interrupted, “there is only Snape’s word, and we all know what Snape’s words mean. Nothing. Hermione, this does not mean we don’t believe you; who we don’t believe is Snape. But it’s over now, Snape is gone and he can do no more harm…”
“No, you don’t understand! Snape’s task was to lead me along the path, which was set out by Dumbledore, and in the end he was supposed to sacrifice himself. He had to detract Voldemort’s attention, turning openly against his master. Dumbedore thought that only Snape was powerful enough to a block Voldemort until I was in a favourable position to attack.”
Harry shook his head in denial. Hermione felt tear fill her eyes. She grabbed Harry’s hand.
“Listen, if you refuse to believe me, who will?” she asked in a trembling voice. Harry sighed. “It was I who had almost blown everything! I was supposed to curse Voldemort when he attacked Snape, but I hesitated! I cared more about Snape’s survival than the plan! This was the point that Dumbledore did not foresee! I cast a Patronus instead of a killing curse, just to attempt to save Snape.”
“A Patronus cannot block the Avada Kedavra!” Ron interrupted.
“No, it cannot! I don’t know how it happened, yet. Perhaps it was Slytherin’s magic that mistook my worry for him for self-defence,” she said lost in thought, “It sometimes ignited without my direct command, when I was in mortal danger or when I was extremely angry. I don’t know, it could have acted on its own, as it sensed my dread when Snape was cursed. As I come to think of it, I cannot remember actually seeing my otter! There was a whitely glowing thing that shot straight into Voldemort’s curse. My spell might have given way to a much stronger magic, the one that guarded my own life.”
Harry narrowed his eyes in concentration.
“I dunno, it sounds weird,” Ron mumbled.
“On the other hand, that is the only reasonable explanation we have so far,” Harry replied, “Who knows, Slytherin’s magic is still a mystery.”
“Thanks,” Hermione sighed gratefully.
“And what about Harry?” Ron asked, “He was shot as well, and he survived.”
“I have survived that curse once before, so maybe I’m just resistant.”
Hermione softly laughed.
“Perhaps you are, but I decided not to give it a try!”
“What?” exclaimed both Harry and Ron.
“I had two wands, remember? I used a shield charm for pretence, but actually I Stunned Harry with my other wand. Harry never received that blow.”
Harry’s face was visibly in pain what expression to use: anger, laughter or indignation. Perhaps Hermione really saved his life, but she had also greatly hurt his pride.
“I’m truly sorry, Harry. I had to correct my terrible mistake; I couldn’t risk your life as well. I knew that the death of Voldemort would drain me of all power and I would have to die, so what was the point in risking your life as well?”
Harry stayed silent.
“And I was right in the end. I killed him! I stabbed him with the remains of Slytherin’s wand. You know, I thought I have fouled up completely, throwing those wands that Snape gave me into the abyss. But finally they came in handy.” There was a slight triumphant smile on her lips.
“Slytherin’s wands? Wow!” Ron cried out, “Everyone wondered what the hell of a wand those cracks belonged to. It comes out Luna’s father was closest to the truth with his theory about Merlin’s ghost army and its sacral war-wand.”
“Erm… well, yeah,” Harry reluctantly agreed.
“And what happened to Bellatrix? I cannot remember,” Hermione asked.
Harry looked up at Ron with a tinge of pride.
“Ron turned her into ashes,” he said, and seeing the utter disbelief on Hermione’s face he added, “Well, he kind of went berserk; at least McGonagall says she had never thought Ron could be like that – so… well, scary. When Bellatrix started running towards you and Voldemort, Ron shot her with a curse. He incidentally mixed two curses. Anyway, Bellatrix suddenly burst into flames and turned into ashes. People say they have never seen anything like that.”
Hermione turned to Ron, her eyes wide with astonishment. Ron suddenly turned red, again.
“What curses did you mix?”
“Dunno, they’ve been asking it all the time. They say I’ve invented the fourth Unforgivable and call it the Unrepeatable spell. They think I just want to keep it a secret.”
Harry’s grin widened.
“Let them think so. No one ever will want to pick on you.”
“Yeah, I s’pose so.” Ron returned the grin.
Some time passed with retelling the details of the battle, when Hermione finally resigned herself to come up with the most unpleasant matter, Snape.
“Boys, I’ve got to tell you something.”
Ron sighed and lowered his head. Harry looked at his friends in turn with some apprehension.
“I want to find Snape. And I will, whether you help me or not!”
“Hermione, it’s not a good idea,” Harry started with a ‘not-that-again’ look on his face. He hated Hermione’s infatuation for Snape.
“I don’t care. I will do it even if it takes the rest of my life.”
Ron made a ‘what-have-I-told-you’ gesture to Harry.
“You should go on with your life, Hermione, and forget him. Listen,” Harry continued reaching for his pocket, “there is something for you here,” he said reaching out a small piece of parchment. “Listen, we only want to spare you the pain Snape would cause. Believe me, he’d ruin you.”
Hermione turned snow-white and with trembling hands reached for the message.
The folded parchment held a familiar handwriting, it was from him. She tore it open and read.
Hermione gaped at the parchment. She reread it several times before she could take in the meaning of Snape’s words. It was so much like him!
“He can’t do this to me,” she whispered, “He… he can’t be such a… a prat!”
“Well, he had always been, that’s no news for us,” Harry quietly remarked, looking over Hermione’s shoulder.
Tears run in thick streams down her face.
“He’s badly mistaken if he thinks I’ll leave it this way!” she said in a hoarse voice, “Very badly mistaken!”
Hermione hated unfinished things and whether Snape liked it or not she would tie up the loose ends.
The boys exchanged looks, but stayed silent. Although they knew how headstrong Hermione could be, they had no idea of the future these words foretold.
Three years passed since the siege of Hogwarts. After the first waves of euphoria that gripped the wizarding community, sobering reality dawned on the people. The war’s legacy left its mark on most of the families; mistrust and suspicion rooted too deeply in the hearts. Reckonings became frequent and the Ministry was unable to restore the order and peace of the old days, so it consented with maintaining an acceptable façade of stability.
Many Death Eaters and their supporters fled, many were killed and many were arrested and sent to the Azkaban, while those who remained fought for survival, joining their forces. They did not dare to go into the open, but they took harsher and harsher retaliatory measures, spreading fear and anger.
Since there was no news about Severeus Snape, his figure became part of the legend and as his role in the war was most ambiguous and obscure, common people believed him the be the secret successor of the Dark Lord, the leader of the underground Pure Blood movement. Fear exaggerated his deeds and importance and raised him almost to the level of his Master. Rumours held that he had a mysterious agreement with the ministry, which made him untouchable in exchange for what he agreed to stay in the background, and the Quibbler, the greatest supporter of the theory, made it sure that the idea stayed afloat.
Hermione Granger, an investigation Auror of the Ministry, was highly aware of the importance of such gossip, for she knew that important pieces of information rarely came from official channels. She had been working on locating the participants of underground movements since she finished her Auror training, and she was highly valued for her deep knowledge of the issue.
She was one of the best in her team; nevertheless she could not avoid the shadow of mistrust lingering over her. Not even Harry Potter’s support and close friendship could ease her slow isolation from the world. Harry, who was expected to take the position of chief Auror in short due, stood by her, ready to go at anyone who expressed even the slightest doubts about her, yet that didn’t seem enough. They were in the hands of the actual political winds and they found it harder to fight than the actual foe.
As for the foe, Hermione was assigned to track down a person by the nickname of Lullaby, who was believed to have taken the place of Fenrir Greyback, who died during the siege, nevertheless she hade never given up on her secret and most important mission: to find Snape, before his pursuers or fellow Death Eaters did.
The bar she was sitting in belonged to a hotel, near which she lived over the past two months in the outskirts of London. The place didn’t raise much attention, it was quite ordinary by wizarding standards, several tables with shabby tablecloth and several lamps filled with Fire-Flies, which didn’t give too much light to the greatest content of the visitors of the place.
Hermione spread a fresh issue of the Prophet before her, gazing at it absent-mindedly. She had a difficult day, where there was no time for reading; Lullaby bit another kid, clearly mocking the Aurors on his tale. To top it all, she heard disturbing news about a stranger, who was pretty much wanted by the above mentioned werewolf and his gang.
She received a generous amount of fire-whisky in her glass, which she mixed with soda.
Returning to her Prophet she soon registered that none of the words sank in. Her fingers played with a piece of nicely rolled white parchment. Sighing she opened it again. It was an invitation to Ron’s wedding. She bit her lips. Mary Wiggins was a nice girl, he deserved her. She reminded her of Ron’s mother very much; slightly plump, friendly and always smiling.
After the war Ron moved to Fred and George and worked for them in the shop. In a few months they opened a restaurant and soon, to everyone’s surprise, Ron showed a great deal of talent at cooking. He must have inherited it from his mother, though it was her, who was surprised most. Now Ron was leading two popular restaurants and a joke-bar, and he was about to marry. That was nice, Hermione thought with a tinge of bitterness.
She rolled up the invitation letter, which bound itself with a small rose tinted ribbon.
She took a deep sip from her glass and reached for her investigation reports; administrative work usually had to wait till the end of the day.
A shadow appeared soundlessly before her, and just as she drew her wand under the table a familiar voice spoke.
“It is no getting rid of you, is it?”
She stared at the hooded figure that sat in front of her. Wearing hoods was quite common in that district; she had one over her head, too, but she could recognise that voice in the deepest darkness – it was Severus Snape.
She did not speak, merely looked at him. Reaching for her glass, she took a gulp. He was clearly amused by her shock.
“So you just appear out of thin air just to ask me this?”
“You’ve been tailing me for years. I’ve come to put and end to that.”
“Would you like a drink?” she asked and already signed the bartender for another fire-whiskey.
“As far as I know,” he said without responding to the question, “it’s not you who is in charge for finding me.” His voice dripped with venom. “So I give you a little piece of advice: whoever will get too close, will die. I’d prefer it wouldn’t be you.”
Silence followed. Hermione bit her lip.
“How could you do that to me?” she asked in a toneless voice.
Snape irritably shifted.
“What did you expect me to do?”
“To say goodbye, at least.” She knew that was stupid to say the moment she uttered the words. Snape was unfamiliar with the idea of a goodbye.
“I did what I considered the best. Goodbyes are pointless.”
“You considered the best? No, I’ll tell you what you did,” she whispered leaning forward, challenging him, “You ran! You were more afraid of facing me than you were afraid of Voldemort. And I also know why.” He stood her gaze. It drew a cruel curve on Hermione’s lips.
“I know about Lily Evans.”
Snape didn’t speak, nor did he move.
“You tell yourself that you are true to her memory, that you don’t deserve redemption for what you did, don’t you? That’s why you avoid me. But that’s just a lie. I know what you are! You’re afraid; you’re terrified; terrified of your own emotions, terrified of creating a bound with someone. You’re repeating the same mistake you did with Lily. You were a mere shadow behind her, untouchable and delusive; she’d never actually received your love, and did you expect to gain and to preserve her?”
“You know nothing about that!” he squeezed through his teeth, his eyes flashed furiously. “My past does not concern you!”
“Tell me, don’t you see it? I faced your past instead of you, to be able to love the man, who you really are! With your sins and with your pains. I love you, Severus, but I ask nothing in return. You are free to go and hide for the rest of your life. If I ever catch you that will be for your own sake, to save you from a public lynch or the blood-thirsty werewolves. But if I were you, I would ‘be wise to appreciate this opportunity and wouldn’t waste my time on living in the past.’
There was silence again.
“You can’t love the man I am. You love the person who shared your misery and who is just as tainted as you think you are. You are chasing a mirage. I cannot give you anything, because I have nothing. My soul is scorched beyond repair. I have no future, Hermione. You have.” Suddenly he seemed so worn and tired that Hermione’s heart was pierced with pain.
“What is future, Severus? Only people who have not awaken to the fragility of our existence and the depths beyond it have the illusion, called future. What we have is just the present. A tiny, inconceivable fraction of the moment, that is all. And that is enough for me. I’ve learned to appreciate every breath I take, because that can be the last. But that’s okay, I’m not afraid of death; I already know that the demons we fail to face in life will be waiting there. Whether here or there - it has no difference. We can’t avoid them. So what do you chose: running or facing your present?”
Snape leaned back, scrutinizing her face shaded by the hood, as if that was the first time he saw her. Long time passed in total silence. The bartender brought them their drinks and left. Snape drank his in one go.
“What should I do with you?” he said at last.
“Come with me! They will hold a trial and you’ll be cleared of all charges. Then we’ll leave this country forever. “
“You are naive. They would never let us live. They would never let me live. You’d better forgot me.”
Hermione sadly smiled.
“You know that it’s impossible.”
She quickly packed her things and stood up. Snape followed her without a further word.
Hermione led the way out. The narrow alleyway that led to her apartment was just as dark as always, that was exactly what they both counted on. Hermione found herself in a strong embrace that hardly let her breathe, but she didn’t mind. Her thirsty lips closed on Snape’s, who responded with surprising passion. The feverish kisses didn’t want to end till they both stood there trembling and desperately gripping the other. When they parted, Hermione could feel her knees weaken, she could hardly stand straight; her ragged breathing seemed too loud for the quiet place.
Hermione suddenly pulled Snape with her.
They burst into her apartment like drunken teenagers, throwing away pieces of garment. Snape hastily locked the door with several charms and placed some curses in case someone managed to inactivate the protection.
Hermione closed all the curtains, so it became pitch dark in the room.
There they stood finally before each other in the silence of the night. Then Snape grabbed her and pulled her close catching her lips. He tore off what she didn’t manage to get off in time, while Hermione used her wand to do the same to him.
They did not reach the bed, falling on the carpet instead. Hermione used to think that with time her passion would wear off, but to her astonishment it happened on the contrary; she had never felt such great need for anyone before. With a last effort she put the Mufliatus charm on the room to make sure nobody heard them, and then she let Snape take total control over her.
That night they slipped out of reality and found themselves consumed by their insane passion.
Not having slept a moment, Hermione pulled herself up on her elbow. Her body tingled and ached with pleasure, while she was filled with a floating sensation. She looked at the men lying next to her. His black eyes rested on her face; the intensity of his gaze made her shiver.
“Do you know what I saw, when I was in coma?” she asked.
He shook his head.
Hermione averted her eyes.
“I saw you, dead. He killed you. That scene kept revolving in my mind like an endless movie.”
He pulled her back in a strong embrace.
“One day,” she whispered into his chest, “I saw a shed of light. There was some strange music. It repeated several times before I came to my senses.”
“Fawkes,” Snape said simply.
“Fawkes?” Hermione repeated pushing herself up, “But that’s impossible!”
“Why would it be?” Snape asked in response, “Fawkes is a phoenix, he is indestructible and his healing powers are incredibly strong.”
“But Fawkes belonged to Dumbledore! He left!”
“He is a free bird, he is free to go and he is free to come back.”
“How do you know that?” she inquired in disbelief.
“It’s simple, Fawkes came back. He came to me. I bet that old villain, Dumbledore told him to.”
“Why should I know? Dumbledore had always had his tricky little ways. To tell you the truth, I can’t get rid of the bird,” he said irritably.
“Merlin! What if it wasn’t Dumbledore at all? What if Fawkes acts on his own accord? What if he wants to tell us something?”
“I can’t say I care much about what he wants to say.”
“So you sent Fawkes to me?”
“You did not seem to be able to come out of the coma on your own.”
“Oh, thanks,” she replied, ready to lie back down, but suddenly an idea occurred to her, “Wait! If Fawkes feels attached to you, it gives us an unquestionable proof that you were on Dumbedore’s side! That changes everything!” She began gesturing wildly.
“Fawkes has come for you, not me!”
Snape furrowed his brows.
“I have told you already, I’ll repeat it once more: I’m not interested in that bird, whether he was sent or not.”
“Listen Severus! Please, let me see him! Can’t you call him?”
The man stared at Hermione for a while, and then sighed.
“As a matter of fact, I can.”
“Then do it!” she shook his shoulder. Shrugging slightly he gave in. He whistled softly and suddenly from a huge fireball Fawkes appeared.
He made a tender chirruping noise and turned his head. Warmth filled Hermione; it was as if going back in time, in her schooldays.
“Merlin! How beautiful he is!”
Snape only cast a nasty look towards the bird and turned away.
“He reminds me of Dumbledore, and I can’t say that those memories are pleasant.”
Hermione wrinkled her nose at Snape and then turned to the bird.
“Fawkes, I want to take him on a trial to clear him of the accusations and charges. Would you come and support me?”
The phoenix pranced on the bedstead and began to sing. What he meant by that, Hermione had no idea, but it didn’t look as a refusal.
Snape on the other hand was protesting openly.
“I think we have talked that through, I’m going on no trial.”
“Oh yes, you are!” Hermione snapped back. She quickly got up, picking up her clothes.
Snape reached for his wand, which was supposed to be under the pillow – but it was gone. He got up at once rounding on Hermione. Fawkes gave a sharp squawk.
“Are you looking for this;” Hermione asked with his wand in her left hand and her own wand in her right. Snape stopped dead in his tracks.
“Take on your clothes, Severus, they’ll be here any minute,” Hermione added coldly.
The phoenix followed the events with great interest.
“Hermione,” said Snape menacingly, while getting clothed in a minute, “give me my wand back.”
But Hermione was steely.
“No. And not a step closer, Severus. Not.A.Step.”
She quickly rearranged the room with a flick of her wand to be in perfect order and by the time someone banged on the door it looked as neat as a hotel suite.
Harry burst in, with Tonks and Kingsley; behind them a whole crowd of Aurors.
Snape cast Hermione a very dirty look as the others tied him and lead out of the place. Harry gaped at Fawkes nonplussed.
“Yes, it’s Fawkes. He’s with Snape.”
“Do you mean… it’s impossible.”
As he said that Snape was pushed out of the apartment. Fawkes chirruped with anxiety at the prospect of letting him out of sight, and jumping off the bedstead he flied after the Aurors. Harry and Hermione sped after him and saw the bird land softly on Snape’s shoulder.
“Blimey!” Harry exclaimed, “Fawkes has gone mad.”
“No, Harry. He simply tries to protect Snape, because that phoenix knows the truth,” Hermione said looking back at her friend.
The trial took place pretty soon, because the Ministry was keen to get over that pressing issue.
The news about Fawkes spread just as fast as the news about capturing Snape. The emotions of the public flamed dangerously, people were divided; some supported Snape, even worshipped, calling him Dumbledore’s heir, some demanded his conviction and imprisonment with the rest of the Death Eaters. Everybody talked about the trial and the buzz gave wings to new theories, which turned out to be just as wild as the previous ones.
Fawkes did not leave Snape for a moment, and though ministry officials feared that he will help to escape Snape just like he had done on several occasions with Albus Dumbledore, the bird showed no such intentions.
The trial was a long and tedious process, just as usually. The murder of Albus Dumbledore was among the charges, which were the hardest to clear. It would have been impossible though, had it not been for the late headmaster’s portrait brought to the court by Minerva McGonagall. The revelations about the Horcruxes and Snape’s obligation to kill Dumbledore stirred emotions both in the public and the court.
Hermione Granger, who was sitting on a back seat chewing her own tong, during the whole session, was asked to give testimony about Snape’s role in the events of the war. She adeptly avoided the delicate details, trying to sound as objective as she could. Snape did not grant her a single glance, and Hermione went back to her seat with growing anxiety within her.
She betrayed him, she betrayed his trust, and he would never again talk to her. Though this prospect was incredibly painful, she comforted herself thinking that at least his name would be cleared once and for all.
Remus asserted her testimony, but what won them the case was Fawkes’ undeniable loyalty towards the former Potions Professor.
Snape was cleared of the charges; moreover, he was provided ministry protection for he was likely to become the number one target of the underground groups.
Hermione knew Snape only too well, to let him walk out of the courtroom unguarded. He would vanish once more, but it was unlikely that she would be able to find him again.
Before the court room, she waited for him, noticing that Harry stayed behind, keeping an eye on them.
“May I have a word with you?” she asked.
“I suppose you know my answer,” he retorted.
“I do,” she said.
“What do you want?”
“I brought you your wand.”
Snape stared at her for a second and then swiftly snatched the wand from her.
“I thought you’d curse me,” she said quietly.
“I thought the same,” he replied, throwing her a challenging look.
“Listen, Severus, it was the only way to bring you back to normal life.”
“My life does not concern you, Miss Granger, and now if you’ll excuse me.”
“Severus, Severus! Excuse me! Severus!” It was McGonagall calling out over the crowd of people. “Severus! Can I talk to you in private? Aaah, Hermione! It’s so nice to see you.”
McGonagall finally managed to push her way through to Severus Snape. She cast an admiring glance at the phoenix sitting on his shoulder.
“Oh, Fawkes! I thought I will never see you again!”
The phoenix softly squawked, with an expression of utter satisfaction on his feathery head.
“Severus, I’ve got a proposal to you.” She suddenly threw Hermione an inquiring look.
“Oh, yes, sorry Minerva. I… I have to go now,” Hermione mumbled and forced a smile on her face.
“No, stay!” Snape’s voice held a commanding tone. Hermione flushed. Minerva quickly regained her focus.
“Khm, yes, so, the Ministry asked me, if I can provide you an apartment in Hogwarts. They believe it would be the safest place for you, regarding the current situation. I also believe that their real reason is that a great part of the public supports you, moreover, Fawkes support made you legendary. Soon a majority of people will believe that the Order of the Phoenix, which has become the symbol of Dumbledore’s legacy of reason and wisdom, has revived. All this because of you. So, the Ministry wishes to get you on its side. But that’s not what counts, Severus. What counts is that I and the staff would like to see you back.”
“Minerva, I’m the main target of the remained Death Eaters and other maniac ‘pure-bloodists’. I’d put your school in danger.”
Minerva looked struck.
“No, Severus. The school had always been in danger, for we have always been openly against the Dark Lord and the Ministry, as well. It was always Dumbledore, who provided secure protection. But now, you could become a strong force on our side. Someone, who had guarded the school during the war, even after Albus’ death, besides, good staff is hard to find nowadays,” she said smiling.
“How’s that?” Hermione blurted out.
“Oh, you must have heard that parents don’t dare to send their kids to the school, because they are afraid of retaliation between the students, and because the ministry is too weak to protect the establishment. It is true, we have don’t have much staff. Little funds, you know. Nevertheless I think that it is still safer there than anywhere outside the school. So, I’m willing to offer not only an apartment but also a position at Hogwarts, Severus.”
“I can’t answer you now,” Snape replied.
“You don’t have to; you know where to find me.”
Minerva smiled reassuringly.
“Well, goodbye, Severus. Goodbye, Hermione dear.” She curtly nodded, turned on her heels and speed away.
Hermione looked up at Snape. His eyes rested on her.
“Please, don’t look at me like that.”
“You turned my life into a nightmare.”
“I didn’t mean to,” she said with a pleading look.
“One moment I’m public enemy number one, next time I’m a hero, the successor of the ‘Great Dumbledore’. The wretched dead man had never been so popular like now.”
“People need hope; they need charismatic heroes, like Dumbledore.”
“And what is Potter for? He could play that part; he had been practicing all his childhood.”
“Harry doesn’t have Dumbledore’s phoenix sticking to him day and night.”
“Damn chicken,” Snape spat at the bird, which merely ruffled his feathers, “hardly anyone took notice of it while Dumbledore lived.”
“You’re kidding! The Order of the Phoenix is a legend! Phoenix! This is the magical word! People no longer trust politicians or anyone. But they do trust a symbol like that. It reminds them of the victory!”
“Isn’t it ironic that not even you reminded them of that? They suspected you behind your back. But they trust a big, fat bird.”
Fawkes indignantly gurgled, clicking his beak.
“They are badly mistaken if they believe I will be their hero.”
“Oh, you don’t have to be. Just help Minerva restore Hogwarts to its old fame. She doesn’t show, but she’s exhausted and old. She really needs your help. I believe this is why Fawkes pursues you. He wants you back in Hogwarts.”
Snape angrily shook his head. There was a long pause.
“I hope he’ll get off me once and forever once I’m there,” he growled unkindly.
“Severus, may I go and help you to pack your things and then take you to Hogsmeade?”
“Agreed then, I’m coming,” she smiled at the man, “let’s go!”
Snape stood rooted to the spot.
“Tell me, you will never give up, will you?” he asked.
“No,” she whispered leaning close to him, almost touching his face, “because you don’t want me to.” She cast a soft smile, while her eyes bore deeply in his. There was something maddening about that gaze, Snape thought, perhaps the desperate need for love. Beneath the cool surface there was that mysterious bond between them, which could not be loosened or torn, he could see that clearly now. No matter what happened that bond would remain.
He curled his lips in his favourite smile.
“You’re a pain in the arse,” he replied.
Quickly hiding their smile they stepped out the courtroom.
A/N: Hi there everyone! I know I made you wait too long, I'm truly sorry! I had to make my degree, but here comes the epilogue of the story, I strongly hope you will like it! Let me know what you think! I'll soon post some one-shots as well, before starting a new novel and I also have to rewrite the beginning of this story. So have fun and please, R&R!