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And They Didn't Live Happily Ever After

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Chapter Twenty
“So Weary, Yet Miles to Go"

 

Disclaimer:
Rowling, you’re the goddess of our favorite books, it true
You own each character, concept and idea; we'll profess it till we're blue,
You're patient with our mangling of your characters' motives and drive
Our creativity is spurred by yours, under which we thrive,
Your ownership of these ideas, we do not dispute nor usurp your claim,
We just hope you don't think that our loving of Severus Snape is lame.

 

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Severus wondered what the Twenty-Four Blackbird Bakery had done differently, as his usual brioche seemed extra yeasty and superbly soft and chewy that morning. Silently musing how many more of these parole meetings he would have left until he was free, the ex-Death Eater walked the cobblestone street with the blond wizard keeping pace along side him.

 

"Knut for your thoughts, Severus," Draco drawled, as he began tearing off bits of his croissant before popping them into his mouth.

 

Instead of answering Draco immediately, Severus continued walking towards the Leaky Cauldron trying to think of something to say other than what was really on his mind. The younger wizard had already given him a strange look when the topic of Hermione Weasley had come up in conversation earlier that week with Ginny. It would only fuel the younger man's speculations if Severus told him about Hermione's moment of weakness the night before.

 

Draco needed to be informed of his progress, but details about such things would only find their way back to Ginny's ears, despite Severus' request for Draco not say anything. He knew that the two lovers did not keep secrets from one another, as Ginny was already living a life full of lies and deceit with her husband, friends and family.

 

"Ingredients Miss Brown will have to prepare immediately once we arrive at work this morning," Severus replied testily.

 

"Meeting went that well last night?" Draco needled him.

 

Glancing at Draco from around the corner of his hood, Severus scowled and ignored the younger wizard's vague though accurate perceptions. He instead countered with his own question. "And how did Ginny's counseling session with her husband go last night?"

 

"You're no fun sometimes," Draco growled back.

 

"I cannot afford to be 'fun' right now. Perhaps later when the world is done trying to control my life, I shall become a bit more jovial. Until then, I have no inspiration for such jocular antics, Mr. Malfoy," the Potions master rebuked.

 

"I saw Pansy last night," Draco said solemnly, changing tangents of the conversation.

 

"Is she still working at Padparadsha?"

 

"No, she left after one patron ripped off one of her gloves and exposed the Dark Mark. She's working at The Cerise Cucurbite now. I'd say it's one of the less savory places she could be working, but at least it's not The Wicked Witch," the younger wizard admitted with a half shrug. "I left her a hundred Galleons."

 

"Does she know it's you coming and leaving large anonymous tips each month?"

 

"No. And I'd prefer it to remain that way. The worst part is, besides every wizard walking in and seeing her strip down to nothing but her gloves while wiggling her fanny in their faces, I think she's doing a bit of trade on the side… in the back of the place." They walked a little bit more before Draco added, "I know Lavender has her reasons why she won't take Pansy in, but I wish there was something I could do so she wouldn't have to work as a stripper."

 

"I think if Uther Parkinson was still alive, he'd be thankful you are looking out for his daughter," Severus praised him.

 

"Granted, one of the side benefits of the Dark Lord falling was the opportunity to get out of my marriage contract to her, as self-immolation was preferable to being married to Pansy, but I am still concerned about her well-being," Draco confessed. "Perhaps Lavender will help arrange some monthly stipend to be allotted to her from my funds, dropped off in the usual manner once our plans are complete."

 

The "usual manner" consisted of Draco anonymously leaving a small purse of Galleons for Pansy at the strip club she was working at.

 

"Perhaps," Severus said.

 

As they entered the Leaky Cauldron, they noticed the usual two or three patrons that frequented the place that early on a Friday morning were absent as an eerie calm hung in the air.

 

Tom was behind the bar sipping his tea while engrossed in that morning's copy of the Daily Prophet. Normally, he quietly watched the two dark-cloaked wizards enter his place of business like clockwork every Friday morning. Without fail, the men threw a few Sickles into the tin before grabbing a handful of Floo powder and calling out their destination. But this morning's headlines had gripped the barman's attention such that he did not notice their arrival and subsequent departure.

 

"Ministry of Magic," they both called out.

 

Severus and Draco both stepped out of the fireplaces in the main atrium of the Ministry of Magic and stood dumbstruck amidst the mayhem of Aurors working over every inch of the place.

 

As the two cloaked figures emerged, a cadet Auror-in-training with a case of late-adolescent acne stepped up to them and said, "State your business!"

 

"What is going on here?" Severus asked, using his usual tone of authority.

 

"You must not have gotten your morning copy of the Daily Prophet yet. There was an attack here last night," the young wizard volunteered. "Now, state your business. Only essential Ministry personnel are required to report to work today and everyone else is asked to stay home until Monday. So unless you have business with someone who is indeed coming to work today, I must ask that you leave and come back on Monday."

 

Speaking for the both of them, Severus answered, "We have a seven o'clock appointment with Kingsley Shacklebolt, Auror First Class." He emphasized Shacklebolt's title to let the whelp assume it was extremely important business.

 

"Oh! Well, just a moment. Please wait here, and I'll see if he's around," the spotty youth politely remarked. "He's been rather busy this morning. May I have your names please?"

 

"He will know who we are. Just tell him his seven o'clock Friday morning appointment is here to see him." Severus did his best not to snap at the boy, as it seemed several pairs of eyes were watching him and Draco with suspicion while the Aurors continued swarming around, flitting from one spot then another.

 

Draco raised his hand and adjusted the hood of his cloak, making sure his features were still concealed in shadow.

 

Severus glanced around, peering out from the sheltered hood of his cloak, and saw that scorch marks left by some very powerful curses were marring the gleaming marble. One blast had taken a chunk out of the statue of Dumbledore, who was at the pinnacle of the fountain sculpture. All remains of Potter had been removed from the statue a few weeks prior.

 

A few moments later, Shacklebolt arrived looking like he hadn't slept at all. "Gentlemen." He greeted the pair.

 

"Kingsley," Severus returned the salutation then glared at the young Auror-in-training who stood beside his superior.

 

Kingsley dismissed him. "That will be all, Williams."

 

The Auror led the two wizards aside before speaking. "You shouldn't have come in this morning," Kingsley said in hushed tones.

 

"We did not know about what happened here, though we probably would have come anyway just so we would not be in violation of our parole for not showing up, regardless of the circumstances," Severus hissed back.

 

"Dolohov lost it last night." Kingsley looked Severus in the eye to gauge his reaction.

 

Severus kept an impassive face while replying, "I'm not surprised. What I am surprised about is that he lasted this long."

 

"It wasn't pretty," Shacklebolt recounted. "Two were killed last night and four are at St. Mungo's recovering from some rather unpleasant curses. From what we can tell from those we interviewed after the attacks, at about 5:30 last night Dolohov started attacking everyone in the atrium just when people were heading home. Nobody knows if it was planned or if it was spontaneous. We haven't had a chance to interrogate him yet, but Moody is getting some Veritaserum for questioning him this afternoon."

 

Severus shuddered at the memory of Moody's use of Veritaserum on him after the first time the Dark Lord fell.

 

"Speaking of which," the hulking Auror added, "be prepared for a visit today at your place of business, which I can only assume is also your residence." Shacklebolt took their silence for confirmation of his assumption. "Moody intends on personally accompanying Braggins and me while we visit every Death Eater. So keep your noses and wands clean and make sure there is nothing incriminating around or would give Alastor cause to investigate you further.

 

"There was a special emergency session of the Wizengamot last night, so Moody was given access to all the Death Eater files. Whatever Alastor says, don't let him taunt either of you into doing something for which he can haul you off to Azkaban," Kingsley warned them both.

 

"Lovely," Draco grumbled.

 

"Just go home and wait. I wish Alastor wasn't going to be there, but count on it. And be prepared for him to insist on using Veritaserum."

 

There was the muted sound of Severus grinding his teeth as his demeanor turned blacker.

 

"I'm sorry, but after last night people want some sort of action, even though it would be pointless," the Auror said. "If I can try and reduce the dosage without Alastor being the wiser, I'll try, but he is already suspicious of my treatment of you two as being preferential, so I'll do what I can to help you without hanging myself in the process."

 

"Thank you for your… warning," Severus replied. Draco nodded in concurrence of the older man’s sentiments.

 

"Go home for now. I'll see you both later."

 

Severus and Draco lightly bowed their heads in farewell before going back to the fireplace to return to the Leaky Cauldron.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Hermione stared at the bottom of her cup wishing there were more coffee in it with which to revive herself. Pulling her wand from the sloppily knotted bun atop of her head, she summoned the coffeepot and refilled her mug. After a splash of cream, she began working on her third cup of the morning. The haggard and exhausted witch heard the familiar whoosh of the fireplace coming to life once more.

 

Ron was in the other room. He’d been answering Floo calls from family members all night long as the news of last night's events trickled from one Weasley household to the next, each one Flooing to check up on Hermione.

 

After the third Floo call, Hermione had asked Ron to field the repetition of questions posed from all her brother-in-laws and their wives. Penelope was one of the first to Floo with news that Percy was all right and to check to see if Hermione was as well.

 

Hermione eventually retired to the bedroom with the door shut in order to get some sleep, but was kept awake from the constant chatter that seeped in from the parlor. Sometime around quarter to five, shortly before sunrise, Hermione gave up on the hope of some sleep and stumbled off to the kitchen in order to brew something strong enough to kick-start her heart and brain.

 

'At least no one has bothered to ask why I didn't come home until late last night,' she thought, wondering how many times the other Weasleys tried Flooing her earlier that evening only to find no one home to answer the call. She hoped Ron wouldn’t ask her where she was either.

 

Around seven o'clock, instead of hearing the familiar sound of her in-laws with the latest Floo call, Hermione was startled when she heard her mother's voice.

 

"Hang on a second, I'll see–” Ron stopped talking when he turned around and saw his wife emerge from the kitchen, looking anxiously at the green flames that surrounded her mother's head like a halo.

 

"Mum?" Hermione croaked, rubbing her right eye with the tips of her fingers. By the fifth sweep of her hand over her eye, she had sat down next to the fireplace to talk.

 

"Hermione, you look awful," Wendy Granger declared. "Did you get any sleep last night?"

 

"Not really," Hermione confessed while stifling a huge yawn. "Everyone has been Flooing in at all hours of the night to make sure I'm alright."

 

"We saw this morning's copy of the Daily Prophet and were worried you might have been caught in the fight," Mrs. Granger said.

 

Hermione let a huge yawn overtake her, distending her features, before replying, "I didn't know you still got the paper."

 

"How else are we going to keep up with your world, sweetheart," her mother gently chided her.

 

"I'm sorry, Mum. It's been a bit busy as of late and all."

 

"I understand," Wendy said knowingly. "You're all grown up, married with a life of your own. You have things to do, with your job and all. Your father and I were the same way, so no need to apologize."

 

The young witch felt rather guilty that she had not been to see her parents since Christmas, as most of her free time was absorbed with familial obligations to Ron's rather large side of the family.

 

"Ron and I should swing by some Sunday," Hermione suggested.

 

"Yes, that would be lovely," her mother said. Hermione yawned once more and her mother smiled wearily at her. "You look absolutely knackered. Owl us when you'd like to come over. Maybe you could even stay for dinner. I'll let you go now. Ta, dear."

 

"Bye, Mum."

 

Wendy Granger's head disappeared from the flames as the fire died out.

 

Hermione glanced around to see if the paper arrived and found it still neatly folded up on the floor by the open window. Crawling over the few feet on hands and knees, she flopped back down before reading the Daily Prophet.

 

"DEATH EATER GOES OUT IN A GORY BLAZE OF CARNAGE," screamed the headline next to a picture of several Aurors running in and out of the picture. Hermione caught a glimpse of Harry, Moody, Shacklebolt and a few other Aurors she recognized in the picture among the several dozen Aurors and Ministry officials that came and left the photograph.

 

"Last night at 5:30 p.m., Antonin Dolohov, a Death Eater parolee, attacked several people in the atrium of the Ministry of Magic with a slew of curses and hexes, killing one witch and one wizard, and injuring four others before being subdued by three Aurors: Nymphadora Tonks, Malphie Waterman, and the famous Harry Potter.

 

The wizard killed was Mr. Sergei Ipton, an investigator in the Department of Magical Catastrophes. The witch killed during the attack was Madam Marge Mallowton, a Potions ingredients tester in the Department of Standards and Regulation."

 

Hermione dropped the paper as if it burnt her fingers. A long, slow mournful wail pierced the air before she began sobbing hysterically.

 

Ron, who had been in the kitchen to give Hermione some privacy to speak with her mother, came bounding into the room and saw his wife crumpled on the floor, her face twisted and grimaced in agonizing sorrow.

 

"Wha–? What is it?" he asked, folding her up into his arms, consoling her.

 

"Ma–, Ma–, Marge is d–, de–, dead," Hermione screamed, her breath hiccuping and hitching.

 

She collapsed against Ron, wailing once more, her puffy eyes hurting from crying too much during the night already. Her head began to pound from a splitting headache, but she didn't care. Hermione let her spirits sink into a quagmire of self-pity and depression from grief, regrets and bitterness that overwhelmed her life at that moment. She wasn't sure how much the human spirit could take, but it seemed she was at the breaking point and her life was being spun and shredded like a leaf in a hurricane.

 

"Marge?" Ron asked gently.

 

"M–, m–, m–, my co-, co-worker," she sputtered in between her hitching breaths.

 

"Oh," Ron said in a small voice, feeling a fool for not remembering Hermione's co-worker's name. "Oh, Hermione, I'm so sorry." He began rocking her back and forth as she lay crumpled against him, curled up in a ball within his long arms and he shushed he with a calming, "Shhhhhhh."

 

A strong sense of déjà vu washed over Hermione, remembering how Calleo had comforted her the night before. The situation was too surreal and she felt like laughing at the irony of her life at the moment, but she refused. The night before, she was crying over her husband being gone and here he was comforting her in the same manner, soothing shushes and rocking motion as her gigolo. If she allowed herself to laugh, it would come out sounding hysterical and make Ron think she had really gone nutters. Overwhelmed, exhausted and distraught, Hermione did the only thing she could do to cope.

 

Forcing part of her mind to shut down, Hermione felt a cold, numb sensation sweep through her body. It was hard to feel hurt when one decided to no longer feel emotions.

 

'I'm so tired,' she thought. 'I'm tired of knowing the things I know, I'm tired of crying, as I've cried myself to sleep far too many nights now. I don't want to feel. If I don't feel, then I can't sense the pain. I've got to survive and I'm just too tired to fight this now,' she silently rationalized.

 

Her body suddenly felt lighter, though the heaviness in her chest kept pressing in on her as her body continued to expunge the grief within itself.

 

In time, Hermione's sobs subsided and Ron guided her to the couch to rest. The redhead picked up the paper and glanced through the article detailing the attack his wife nearly missed.

 

"I suppose I should get ready to go into work," Hermione muttered mechanically.

 

"Wait," Ron said before scanning the paper once more. "It says," he said, running a finger down the length of paper, "that only essential Ministry personnel and Aurors are to report into work today."

 

"Well, I'm essential," she asserted with no conviction.

 

"'Mione, don't. Stay home," Ron urged her. "It's been a long night and most everyone else is not going in today."

 

"No, I really should go in," she reiterated listlessly, her eyes glassy and vacant.

 

"Why don't you owl your boss. If she still wants you to go in, fine. But why bother if you're just going to wind up coming back home?"

 

Hermione sat there contemplating her next course of action. She was too tired to make any defining decision of whether to go to bed and sleep for a week or keep her mind preoccupied from the nightmares she were sure to come with news of Marge's death and just go into work anyway. The decision was wrest from her when the Floo flared to life once more.

 

"Who the bloody fuck is it this time?" Ron cursed at the ceiling.

 

"Hey, Ron," Harry said through the green flames, looking very somber.

 

"Sorry mate," Ron apologized. "It's been a long night and neither 'Mione or I got any sleep. She just found out about Marge," he said quietly with a nod of his head towards Hermione, who still sat on the couch, looking semi-catatonic.

 

"I'm the one who should be apologizing," Harry replied. "I need to ask Hermione to come in this morning."

 

"What?" Hermione said, roused from her stupor.

 

"I'm sorry, Hermione, but since you were Marge's co-worker, and witnesses report seeing you come out of the elevator shortly before the attack, we need you to come in and answer a few questions," Harry explained.

 

Hermione's stomach plummeted through the floor. Now everyone, including her husband and Harry, would know she was suspicious about Dolohov and she did nothing. She vaguely wondered if they sent people off to Azkaban for being inadvertent murder accomplices.

 

"All right," she replied reluctantly. "Let me shower and I'll be right in."

 

"You take as long as you need," Harry said before the flames died out.

 

Thankful that she had not gotten around to eating anything that morning yet, as she probably would be running to the bathroom to retch up her breakfast if she had, Hermione stumbled off to the bathroom to shower. She would need the time to gather her courage before having to face her fellow Order members with the knowledge that she could have saved Marge and poor Mr. Ipton from death.

 

Standing under the scalding spray of water, Hermione felt hollow inside. She wished she could continue to feel this dead inside for as long as she needed until life returned to normal, but what was normal before her life started collapsing in upon itself was not exactly a bed of roses either. Maybe if she couldn't feel and kept her emotions suffocated and repressed, resentment, pain and anger would not have such control over her life. Since she seemed to have no control over her life anyway, maybe shutting off her emotions was the one thing she could have some sort of control over.

 

It was ironic. During the war, she had never felt more alive, being aware of her own mortality as friends, teachers, classmates and fellow Order members were dying all around her, but at the time, she had felt a purpose for surviving all of the tribulations they had all suffered. Now that such trivial personal tragedies were being thrust upon her, compared to the grave danger and horrors of war, Hermione didn't think she had the strength to go on. That something as simple as a collapsing marriage was testing her mettle, she found herself breaking like a dead, dried twig instead of bending like the supple willow.

 

As she headed out the door to go to the Ministry, Ron gave her a brief kiss upon her cheek as a show of support and comfort. Hermione could feel no joy over this simple act of affection or guilt from the fact she had almost thrown herself at another man the night before. The single emotion she could feel at the moment was apathy. It was this indifference that kept her feet moving, her heart beating and her eyes dry.

 

Hermione had frequently wondered how Harry mastered and controlled his emotions after the death of Sirius in order to master Occlumency. Perhaps he had done what she was doing at the moment, denying herself the ability to feel. It would be a simple solution in order to achieve the clearing of the mind to prevent Voldemort from entering it. She knew her problems were small in comparison to what Harry went through during his teenage years with a madman trying to kill him during a time of war, but still, Hermione felt as though she could not bear one more thing upon her narrow shoulders.

 

A sudden empathy and understanding for Harry's restrained emotions when dealing with Ginny and the world emerged. Now she could understand why Harry avoided conflict and kept his emotions in check. Hermione hoped she would not become permanently cold and distant, but at some point could let herself feel once more.

 

Though Harry was not cold, he was a changed man after the war. He did not have the same unrestrained spark of life he once had as a boy. She wondered when she had lost her own exuberant flame of youth. Was it slowly extinguished over the years by being married to Ron? Or had the events of the past few weeks suddenly snuffed out the last glimmer of that ephemeral essence that could let her remember what it was like to be a child?

 

She didn't know.

 

As a child, Hermione had wondered why some adults looked tired and older beyond their years. She wondered if she looked that way now.