Chapter 25 : Chapter 24-Confession
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Hermione smiled at Severus. “That was nice,”
Her companion frowned. “What, busting troublemakers makes you all tingly inside?” he asked sardonically.
Hermione rolled her eyes at him. “No. I mean meeting Jake. He seems like a good kid.” She gave him a significant look. “He’s the one you’ve told me about, right?”
Severus nodded. “Yes,” he replied through terse lips. Something was off.
“Are you angry with him?” she asked, confused.
Severus shook his head and shot her a small smile. “No,” A distant look came to his eyes. “He didn’t do anything.” His eyes drifted to Hermione. “You said you hadn’t eaten, correct?”
She sighed at the change in subject, but knew better than to press. “Yes.”
“Come with me to my quarters and I’ll have Snarky fetch you something from the kitchens. It will give us a chance to talk.”
Hermione wanted to quip that they were already talking, but merely gave her assent. Something was wrong. They were silent all the way down to Severus’s rooms. “I don’t think I’ve ever been down here before,” she mentioned as he gave the painting of a rusty doe the password. The painting swung open and the pair entered. Hermione looked around at the furnishings and was surprised that they were decidedly…normal. True she had been to his home, but that had belonged to his Muggle father originally. It made sense that there was nothing crazier than book covered walls with a sliding ladder. But for some reason, she almost expected his Hogwarts lair to be creepy. I guess old prejudices die hard.
Severus chuckled. “I guess that means you haven’t been visiting me nearly enough.”
A small figure darted from around the corner. Hermione instinctively went for her wand but paused when she realized it was Severus’s house elf. “Is Master Severus needing anything?” the creature gasped out of breath. His eyes rested on Hermione. “Snarky was not knowing that Sir was having a visitor.” She detected a hint of suspicion in the elf’s voice, as if he thought she was a threat.
“It was a last minute decision.” Severus replied, his voice impatient. “Please go to the kitchens and get Hermione some dinner.”
“Yes, sir,” Snarky replied before apparating away.
An awkward silence fell over them. “Can I ask you something?”
“You already did,” he replied, smirking while dodging Hermione’s playful slap. He turned serious. “What is it?”
“Back there, when you brought those boys back to their house. You called me Ms. Granger.”
Severus frowned. “And? What was I supposed to call you?”
Hermione shrugged. “It was just strange. I’m so used to you calling me ‘Miss Granger’ in this place.”
“Hmm,” Severus thought aloud. “Well, I couldn’t very well call you that. You are no longer a student here. You are an adult now.”
“Right,” she replied, smiling. “I forget that sometimes.”
Severus smiled tersely. “I don’t,” Before Hermione could respond or even figure out what her friend meant by the comment, Snarky returned with her food. She hadn’t realized just how starved she was until her stomach growled at the tempting aroma. She sat down and started shoveling down her meal.
“Relax,” Severus told her softly. “Slow down or you’ll get sick.” He patted her on the back gently. “I’ll be in the other room when you’ve finished. I-” he hesitated. “I’d like to discuss something with you.”
Hermione swallowed, choking a little as the food refused to go down fast enough. She gulped down some pumpkin juice. “You can stay here, you know. I wouldn’t mind the company.”
Severus shook his head. “I need a few minutes.”
There was something in his eyes. She had been noticing it all evening, but it became more pronounced as he looked at her almost wistfully. Her appetite seemed to disappear as quickly as it had appeared, but she forced herself to eat. She had a feeling that she was going to discover just what was bothering Severus, and whatever it was, it wasn’t good. She was going to need her strength.
Severus groaned softly as he entered his living room, collapsing into a modest armchair. He buried his face in his shaking palms. He was doing it. He had to do it. All of this secrecy was finally catching up to him. It was worse than all his years as a spy. At least then his secrets had been kept for a noble cause. But this was different. He knew that this day was coming the second he set eyes on Jacob Baxter.
Hermione’s smiling face flashed before his closed eyelids. How was she going to react? He wasn’t entirely sure. She had been able to deal with, even accept, his actions in Dumbledore’s death, and even he could justify his actions that night. But this was different. Jared Baxter did not ask to die. He would have died regardless of your part in his death, a voice in his head reminded him, but that point seemed inconsequential at the present.
Severus stood and walked slowly over to a mahogany cabinet. He reached inside and selected a glass goblet from the top shelf which he filled with blood-red wine. The sweet liquid swirled around in the glass as he gently rotated it, inhaling the intoxicating aroma. Severus took a sip. A gentle warmth spread though his body, but his nerves were still frozen solid. He moved closer to the fireplace which was roaring from Snarky’s preparations. Hand on the mantle, Severus gazed into the flames, loosing himself in his thoughts.
“Severus?” Her voice startled him, but he did not let it show. Not one muscle moved.
“That was quicker than I expected.” He didn’t look at her; he couldn’t.
“Severus, what is going on?”
He held his breath. “I have no idea what you are talking about.”
He could almost feel her eyes boring into his back. “Don’t you try to pull that shit with me, Severus Snape. Something’s wrong, and you are going to tell me.”
Severus took another sip of wine, smiling sardonically. “Did anyone ever tell you that you are an insufferable know-it-all?”
A soft “Hmph,” came from her direction. “Yes, you have. Plenty of times. Don’t think that your snarky wit will get you out of this. Whatever the hell this is.”
“What?” He could hear the confusion in her voice.
“I think you should be sitting down for this.”
He half expected to get more of an argument, but Hermione’s soft footsteps told her she was listening to him. There was a slight creak as she sat in the aging chair. “Alright. I’m sitting. Now can you please explain to me why you are being so melodramatic?”
Severus finally turned around. He wracked his brain for some possible plausibly excuse, anything to save him from this. But he knew it was futile. Nothing could save him. Hermione’s face was a mixture of worry, confusion, and impatience. She looked beautiful. Severus shook himself internally. He needed to keep his focus.
“I-” his voice cracked. “I don’t know how to say this.” Their eyes met, and he knew he could do it.
Severus was scaring her. She had never seen him this shaken before. Even at his worst, he had always held back. He never had let her see him this vulnerable. Her mind flashed back to her conversation with Harry and Ginny. They had gotten to him to, he had said so himself. Perhaps this was him reacting. Perhaps he was making the first move. Hermione wasn’t entirely sure how she felt about it if it made him this…off.
Their eyes met. There was almost a pleading quality to them, only a hint. It was as if a part of him was a small child needing to be comforted by its mother. But there was also a steely determination there that reassured her. That was more like the Severus she knew.
“Hermione, I…I’m a murderer.”
Why is he rehashing this? I thought he had come to terms with Dumbledore’s death years ago…
“I know, you killed Dumbledore. But he was dying anyways, it was essentially assisted suicide.”
Severus closed his eyes as shook his head, pain crossing his features. “I’m not talking about Dumbledore.” he replied quietly.
This was insanity. “What do you mean you aren’t talking about Dumbledore? You haven’t killed anyone else! I know it.”
He chuckled darkly, and for that split second, she could see him being capable of real, cold-blooded murder. “You know many things Hermione; however, my innocence is not one of them. I’m guilty.”
A sudden thought for her safety crossed her mind, but she quickly brushed it aside. Severus was a good man. She knew that, he had proven it time and time again. And he was her friend. She trusted him. The least he deserved was a hearing.
“When did this happen?” she asked, trying to keep a tremble from her voice and not altogether succeeding.
A great look of sadness washed over Severus’s features. “Hermione…don’t be frightened, please…” It wasn’t like him to plead. “You have nothing to worry about, I’m not going to hurt you if that is what you are afraid of.”
“Well, what do you expect? You tell me that you killed someone and you don’t say anything else and you don’t think I’d be concerned?” she retorted, hating the hysteria in her tone. “And why are you telling me all of this?”
Severus raised a hand to silence her. “I will tell you everything if you would just give me a chance to explain.” He ignored her last question and took a sip of wine. “It happened years ago. The summer before Dumbledore…before I killed him. I was on a raid with Voldemort while I was undercover. I had to prove to him that I was a loyal little Death Eater.” His voice dripped with venom at the words, a look of disgust upon his face. Hermione relaxed. The Severus she knew wasn’t just some sham. Everything was beginning to make sense.
“It was a young Muggleborn family. I had taught the woman...I don’t know what I would have done if I had to face her…I don’t know if I could have done it. Voldemort gave me the husband to take care of.”
Hermione hesitated before speaking, but she had to know. She had to understand. “How was he different? Why could you kill him easier than his wife?”
Severus started pacing, making her nervous once more but for completely different reasons. “It was a test. Voldemort was testing my loyalty. I had no choice but to comply. I would have been killed on the spot and the Order would have lost a valuable asset and he may have never been stopped.” A look of self loathing seeped onto his face. “But those were just miserable, worthless excuses.” He rubbed his temple with his free hand. “It was no coincidence that we went to that house that night. The couple, they had a young son. Like Lily and Potter had. He was a bit older than Harry at the time, but there were enough parallels. Voldemort knew of my hatred for Potter, everyone did. It was how he got me on his side in the first place. He gave me the chance to get revenge on the man who stole so much from me, and if I tried to back out, he’d have his answer about my true character.”
His tale made so much sense, but he did not. His words seemed like those of a madman, not her rational friend. “But he wasn’t James. He didn’t do anything to you.”
Severus sighed. “I know. But that was the only way I could do the unthinkable. I was a wreck after it happened. I had taken a life. I had orphaned a child. I know that he would have been killed that night even if I had not been there, but I was there, and I said the words that ended it all.”
Guilt was clearly eating Severus alive. It was as if every repressed emotion was bubbling to the surface uncontrollably. “If you feel so awful about it, why have you never said anything before now?” she asked quietly.
“I couldn’t. Not at first anyways. I came to Dumbledore right after it happened. I had to tell someone. And he needed to know what Voldemort had over me in case in influenced the mission.” He smiled grimly. “It was just what that bastard wanted. He had already gotten cursed, I had contained it to his arm, but he was dying. As soon as he had gotten his strength up he was after me to kill him when the time was right. I told him I couldn’t, that I didn’t have it in me. But after that night, after I killed that man, I lost that argument and he knew it. He knew that I could help him die and look evil doing it. How could I say no to him after what I had done? My soul wasn’t whole anymore-what was one more death on my conscience going to do?” He spat the words out bitterly.
“I buried it. I couldn’t forget what I had done, but I couldn’t let it interfere with the mission.”
Confusion filled Hermione’s head. Part of her was shocked and appalled, but another part wanted to help her friend. She knew that that side would win out, but she had to know.
“But the war ended five years ago,” she reminded him. “Why didn’t you come forward then? I’m sure you would have been acquitted along with everything else you had to do.”
Severus set his glass down and sighed hopelessly. “I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking. I guess I thought that if Harry or anyone found out they wouldn’t help me. I was desperate Hermione. I couldn’t be trapped in Azkaban the rest of my life. They hadn’t gotten rid of the Dementors yet, remember? Those few weeks were hell…I couldn’t survive much more. I’m strong but even I can only take so much. The only people who knew the truth were dead. I chose to live with this hanging over me rather than condemn myself.” The dark laughter returned. “Harry once called me a coward, and I told him he was wrong. But he was right. I am a coward.”
That was the tipping point. She couldn’t bear to see Severus like this anymore. Hermione stood up and rushed towards her friend, flinging her arms around him, holding him close. “You’re wrong.” She whispered in his ear. “You are not a coward. You are a good man. A good man who has had to do some awful things, but a good man nonetheless.”
He tried to pull away, but Hermione kept her grip. “Your faith in me is touching, but misguided,” he muttered.
Hermione tilted her head back and looked Severus straight in the face. “Look, if you weren’t a good man, this wouldn’t be so hard for you.” She paused. “I have another question.”
“What triggered this? Something had to set you off.”
Severus took a deep breath. “I told you that the family had a son.”
Hermione frowned. “Yes…”
“He’s a student here now. He’s a good kid. An amazing student.”
Realization crashed over Hermione like a tidal wave. “Oh my gosh…” she whispered. “It’s Jacob Baxter, isn’t it?”
Severus nodded. “Yes. It’s him.”
“Don’t pity me, pity the boy I ripped everything away from!” he retorted sharply.
“Okay, okay,” she backed down. “I’m not pitying you. I just know that this whole thing-”
“Its murder Hermione,” he interrupted. “Call it what it is.”
She sighed. “Fine. I just know that this is hard enough on you as it is, and I know you like the boy as well.” A smile crossed her lips. “I can see why. But as your friend, I want to be here for you, regardless of what you have done.” She poked him in the chest. “How can I help you?”
Severus frowned at her. “Really? You know you should be turning me in right now, not trying to be an accessory.”
She pulled back slightly at his words. “Really, Severus, I thought you were better than this. You wanted me to turn you in. Right?” Hermione took his non-reply as a yes. “But I am not going to turn you in. You are.”
He snorted. “So much for being my friend.”
“Oh, quiet you,” Hermione muttered in response. “Look, you’re obviously ready to face the consequences of your actions, or at least you can’t live in silence any more. But I can’t do it for you. You have to face this. You have to turn yourself in.” Her hand grasped his shoulder. “Besides, don’t you think Jake deserves to hear this from you?” She held him close again. “It’s the right thing to do, Severus. The brave thing.”
Suddenly it felt like a vice had closed around her chest. Severus was gripping her so hard she could barely breathe, but she didn’t say anything. He was holding on to her as if for dear life. He had never hugged her like this before. Hermione held him even tighter, wishing more than anything to try and alleviate some of his pain. He buried his face into her neck, and she could swear that she felt a tear slide down his nose and onto her skin. But with a rather loud sniff, Severus pulled away and nodded. “I still have a few things to get in order. Lesson plans and the like for my successor.” He gave a watery chuckle. “This was sort of a last minute decision.”
Before Hermione could respond, the clock on the mantle began to chime. Her eyes darted to the piece before the ringing finished. It was midnight. “How is it that late?” she muttered half to herself.
“You have to go?” Severus asked, emotion carefully repressed from his voice.
“I’m sorry,” Hermione apologized profusely. “I have to be at work early tomorrow, I have an experiment I’m working on and it’s time sensitive and if I don’t get there in time…”
Severus smiled. Not the strained look he had been sporting most of the night, but a legitimate smile generated by a sense of happiness. “I understand, believe me. Go.” The clock finished chiming. Severus smirked. “Midnight, hmm? You had better go, Cinderella, before your coach turns back into a pumpkin.”
Hermione couldn’t help but laugh. “I’m surprised you know that story.”
His face darkened and she immediately regretted her words. “I had a Muggle for a father, remember? He thought that being exposed to ‘normal’ things would make me less like my mum. Though he always changed the ending so she was killed by her fairy godmother.”
Hermione placed a hand on his chest. “Okay, okay, sorry I said anything. Look, if you need anything, just ask, alright?”
Severus nodded. “I need something now.”
“Yes? What do you need?”
He looked her squarely in the eyes like he meant business, and gripped her shoulders tightly. “This conversation never happened. When I confess, you need to act as if you know nothing about it.”
“Alright,” Hermione conceded, slightly confused. Her puzzlement must have shown in her voice because he clarified.
“If people find out that you knew, you could be implicated as an accessory for not turning me in to the authorities.” He brushed a lock of hair behind her ear, making her skin tingle on contact. “No one else is getting hurt because of me. I won’t allow it.”
Hermione nodded. “I understand. But maybe Harry could help-”
“No,” Severus told her sternly. “Don’t get Harry involved in this. He could lose his job if he does anything to help me.”
Hermione pursed her lips before speaking. “You have to let someone help you! Please, we care about you.”
Irritation crossed Severus’s face. “That’s touching and all, but I can’t be saved. I’m going to Azkaban, Hermione. There’s no getting around it.”
Hermione arched her eyebrows at him stubbornly. “Well, I for one am not giving up on you.” She gave him one last hug before starting to pull away. Right at the last minute, Hermione kissed Severus lightly on the cheek and caressed his face. “Let me know if you need anything. Hang in there.” She walked to the other side of the fireplace, picked up the box of Floo powder and opened it. Just before she threw the emerald powder into the flames, she smiled at Severus. “Thanks for dinner.”
With that, she tossed the dust into the fire and stepped into the jade portal.
It took several seconds after Hermione had left for it to register with him. His cheek burned where her lips had touched. Slowly, he raised his hand to the spot and looked at it unbelievingly. She had kissed him.
It doesn’t mean anything. A voice criticized in his head. It was a friendly peck on the cheek, nothing more. A pity kiss. She would have done the same with Harry. He ran his hands roughly along his scalp.
It didn’t matter. None of that mattered. He was going to prison, probably for the rest of his life. Hermione deserved someone who could be there for her. Severus shook his head. He needed to focus.
He needed to prepare for the end.