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Bearing Your Burden

Chapter Text

 

There is a countless amount of universes, all spiralling somewhere out there. Destinies filled or unfulfilled, heroes standing over fallen foes in triumph; and sometimes falling themselves, and all they hold precious falling with them, after one rash and hasty decision.

This was one of those destinies. Once upon a time — not in the beginning of a story nor in the end of one, but in the middle — were two young adults, dying. One from a poison consuming him, the other by proxy, being the fallen hero's best friend.

They knew they had failed and that everything they held dear was now falling around them. They had been starving, running and hiding. They had seem so many loved ones die in the past year, and had lost everything.

But this was in the middle of a story, and as stories go, the middle of the story is an interesting place. There's room there, room for a new decision, a new chance. When the boy you have learned to love as your brother lays dying by your feet, rotting alive from the bite of a cursed serpent, there is need for an act of courage and love. Perhaps, when the young hero blames himself for the mistakes that occurred and wishes it had never been him in that place, there is a book with a spell. The spell that would, if cast by two who loved each other as siblings, not as lovers, change fates and destinies.

Perhaps, when all is lost, there is that one precious piece of love and magic, chanted by a young woman over her dying brother-in-all-but-blood, willing to carry his burden, to fill his sad fate.

Then there was a long, dark tunnel of swirling images changing as they were dragged in, the feeling of falling, the sense of memories fading... and a blinding white light that drowned everything.

 

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Albus Dumbledore, April 4th 1980

At the Hog's Head Inn, Albus Dumbledore, the Headmaster of Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry, was conducting an interview on Sybill Trelawney, who had applied for the position of the new Professor of Divinations. The room was comfortable, the seats soft and the fire in the hearth combined with Heating Charms made the room very comfortable, but Albus was already missing his chambers in the castle. He had also drank all too many cups of tea, and the lemon drops were out. Trelawney's resume had seemed promising: she had relations to true and known Seers, and had studied Divinations extensively. Her gaudy robes were accentuated with dozens of charms, her neck weighted with a dozen or more pendants and baubles. She seemed nervous and talked a bit dramatically, clearly trying to impress. Suddenly the woman seemed to seize. Her breath hitched, her eyes glazed over, and she spoke with a loud, strong voice that did not resemble her normal voice at all.

"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches... born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies! And the Dark Lord..." Trelawney wailed, her voice echoing far and wide. But then suddenly there were two voices, not one, both citing almost simultaneously:

"...will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not!" But the other voice, stronger and louder, boomed:
"...will mark HER as his equal, but SHE will have power the Dark Lord knows not!"

Trelawney slumped to the floor from her seat, gasping for breath. There was a commotion just outside the room, and Dumbledore faintly heard a patron being dragged away to be tossed out by his brother Aberforth, but Trelawney's Prophecy was clearly not complete. She stood up once more, and continued:

"And either must die at the hand of the other, for neither can live while the other survives! The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies..." Trelawney fainted on the floor, slumping on the rug. Dumbledore was too stunned to cast a Cushioning Charm, but she slumped down rather than fell, and didn't seem injured.

As Dumbledore roused the woman with a quick spell, helped her up and signed her paperwork for the new position, his mind was racing faster than the Hogwarts Express on a downhill slope. The woman was clearly a true Seer: he would need to protect her, so hiring her was a logical choice. There would be a child who could defeat the dark lord, but it would take years before the child would be old enough to defeat Tom Riddle, the self-appointed magical tyrant. People were dying: the war was raging on, people targeted and murdered every day. If the child would be born this year, Voldemort's reign would last years, and protecting the promised child would be extremely difficult, if not impossible.

The case of the two simultaneous voices was almost as bad. Prophecies were sometimes very vague, but this was, as far as Dumbledore knew, unheard of. He would have to research into the matter. There were two young couples waiting for their firstborn children, Dumbledore remembered: Frank and Alice Longbottom and James and Lily Potter. Both couples had defied Voldemort several times. Both babies were due at the end of July that year. But what about the gender of the child? It couldn't mean that both children were chosen, could it? Or two Chosen Ones, one of both genders? Both children couldn't be Chosen Ones, could they?

Dumbledore shook his head, confused beyond measure and irritated as hell, and departed back to the school. He would have to protect both of those couples and make plans.

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July 31, 1980

Hermione Lily Potter was born to James and Lily Potter. She was their firstborn, so loved by her parents. She did not resemble her father much at all: she had her mother's green eyes but with tiny specks of honey brown and bronze, the colour of whisky, those probably inherited from her hazel-eyed father, although the colour was different. Her eyes were very gentle: not filled with mischief like her father's or joy and laughter, like her mother's. They had expected her to sport the Potter lineage's black hair or perhaps the lovely auburn locks of her mother, but her hair was brown, though neither of their families had ever, as far as they knew, sported that kind of shade of hair, and it soon became apparent the hair would be very, very curly. When she was born, there was something strange about her: some great feeling of sadness. She cried a lot, big tears that wouldn't stop with feeding or even basic nursery spells, but in two weeks it died down a little. She never laughed a lot, even as a toddler. There was a feeling of something deeply thoughtful in her soul, some deep contemplation, but she did occasionally smile just a bit and when she did, she brought great joy to the hidden house in Godrick's Hollow.

In another part of the country two Muggles, Mr and Mrs Granger, had already settled to a new routine with their son, Harry John Granger. He had very large and bucked front teeth and his eyes were a lovely shade of brown, much like his mother's, but when he was feeling happy and mischievous, there was a green tinge to them. He was a happy child, doted and loved. His mother read him a bedtime story every evening. His parents would be very stunned when he would display his first feats of accidental magic: but that would be years from now. For now, Harry Granger slept soundly in his crib in a clean room, filled with toys for him to play with when he'd be big enough to appreciate them.

 

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Minerva McGonagall, November 1st, 1981

 

As the wizarding world celebrated the defeat of the Dark Lord Voldemort, Professor Albus Dumbledore and Professor Minerva McGonagall walked down the dark Privet Drive with a small bundle that had just been dropped by the half-giant Hagrid. Professor McGonagall was especially worried: a child with such magical capacity should not be growing up in a muggle neighbourhood, left in a basket for her aunt and uncle to raise, but once Albus Dumbledore had set his mind on something there was nothing to it.

The Halloween-decorated neighbourhood seemed nice enough, for a Muggle neighbourhood anyway: the houses were tidy and orderly, gardens well-kept and the streets tidy, although both the Albus and Minerva much more preferred the colourful and jolly wizarding areas and the impressive Hogwarts castle they both had called their home for decades.

With a heavy heart they left the tiny baby girl on the stairs of a Muggle house, kept warm by a Warming Charm. Orphaned just a few hours ago, the child had cried itself to sleep on Hagrid's flying bike. Minerva McGonagall, a strict teacher, held back her tears as she looked at the sleeping toddler with a lighting bolt-shaped scar marring her forehead, partially obscured by her short, brown hair. For just a brief moment the baby opened her green, brown-speckled eyes and gazed deeply at them, before the little orphan drifted back to sleep.

"This child has a great promise," Professor Dumbledore muttered, partially for himself, "and I can sense so much love in her. Not just the love of her mother and father, but the love of another person as well. Strange..." he trailed off, deep in thought, as they walked away, leaving the slumbering child behind.

"Good luck, Hermione Potter".

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Severus Snape, August 1st 1991

Professor Severus Snape was sitting in a dark corner of the Headmaster's office, his expression sour and unfriendly, and scowled angrily when Albus once again tried to offer him a Sherbert Lemon. He did not want to be here: the name of Potter brought back too many bad memories, and the child of Lily Evans and James Potter was a continual reminder of his guilt: the death of his childhood friend over a decade ago. For all these years Dumbledore had kept reminding him of his mistake: when he had unwittingly caused the death of James and Lily by turning the information of the Prophecy over to the Dark Lord. The now 11-year-old brat would be arriving to the school in just a few short weeks. Snape took a sip of his Ogden's Old Firewhisky.

"Hagrid delivered the girl her letter and took her shopping on Diagon Alley for her school supplies," Albus stated. "He had some problems with her foster parents, the Dursleys: apparently they did not want her to attend Hogwarts. It seems they are very thoroughly Muggle, and they absolutely detest the idea of magic. They seem to have treated her as a sort of a servant."

"I cannot imagine the child of James Bloody Potter acting as a servant!" Severus hissed, setting down his glass on the aged mahogany desk in front of him. "Her father was an arrogant, egotistical lazy bully and a swine, and his brat would..."

"The girl is nothing like her father, Severus!" Albus interrupted. "From what Arabella Figg, Daedalus Diggle and the other observers have told me, the child is very much like her mother in behaviour, though not so much in appearance. She is a very intelligent and talented child, Arabella says she is constantly reading whenever she can, and not just fiction either. Hagrid told me she took quite a while at Flourish and Blotts. A very kind and obedient child as well," Albus chuckled, "Hagrid told me he didn't have to drag her out of the book shop or give a strict order to leave, but it was obvious that she liked nothing quite as much. Her grades at Muggle school have been stellar."

"Lily was never one to adore books", Severus muttered, picking up his glass again for a short sip of Firewhisky. His hands were shaking slightly, even though he was Occluding heavily. Lily had been a very smart and a talented student, especially at Charms and Potions, but when she did read, her reading material was usually Muggle novels, and she had much more preferred chatting about anything and everything. But it still hurt knowing the child had so much of Lily inside of her. How much of James would he see in the brat? She would attend his classes for the next few years if they both survived that long, and he'd be forced to face his loss daily.

"I think you will like her, Severus," Dumbledore said softly, "She seems to be not only academically driven but also friendly and kind. Hagrid told me he found her chatting with young Draco Malfoy — Lucius's son — at Madam Malkin's robes, and that she was curious but also very obedient and did whatever Hagrid told her to. I know I am asking much of you, but the child is very important in our upcoming battle. The Dark Lord... Tom... WILL rise again, and we need to take care of her, train her and protect her. Severus... she has her mother's eyes..."

Severus absolutely refused to cry. The guilt has palpable.

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Severus Snape, August 15th 1991

Albus had called a small meeting, including only some of the staff. The old fool had brought the Philosopher's Stone to Hogwarts. Just in the nick of time, of course: the Gringott's vault it had been stored in had been breached just after Hagrid had picked up the Stone. The old poofter was still ahead of the game, Severus thought.

"I have called you here because I intend to protect the Stone inside the school," Dumbledore said. "There is no doubt that someone is trying to steal it. Breaching a Gringott's vault takes immense skill and power, so we are dealing with someone with power and possibly a great deal of influence. I have cleared a hallway and some quarters, and I wish to protect the Stone with obstacles set by each and one of you," Albus said, nodding to Hagrid, Quirinus Quirrell, Minerva McGonagall, Pomona Sprout, Filius Flitwick, Rolanda Hooch and Severus Snape. "I will speak to each one of you in turn, but I want you to think of an obstacle or a puzzle you could set up to protect the Stone. We will set up a labyrinth of sorts to protect it. Do not make them impossible, mind you: make them difficult but not impossible. If something were to happen to any one of us, the rest must still be able to reach the Stone if need be."

"Just us," Filius Flitwick asked, "and not all the members of the staff? Surely Septima and Aurora, for example..."

"No, Filius, for the time being I wish to keep this matter in a very small circle. It's not that I wouldn't trust the others, of course, but a secret remains a secret longer if the amount of keepers is smaller."

The others nodded thoughtfully. Snape was already imagining a logical Potion puzzle. That one would stop almost anyone. Wizards and Witches were prone to use magic instead of logic.

The other professors left, but Severus remained seated lazily on his chair. When the footsteps and chatter of the others had died down, he looked at the Headmaster. "Really, Albus? What's your game? I am not an idiot. A labyrinth? Sounds quite a bit like an bloody obstacle course, for Merlin's sakes!"

"I will need to test the girl, Severus. We do not know her yet: her strengths, her weaknesses, her skills. Setting it up will take some time, but I already know how to truly protect the Stone."

Severus sneered cynically. "She will fail, of that I am sure. She's a bloody Potter, after all. That's all we need to know."

"I am not sure about that, Severus, but even a failure is a result. We need to find out what she's capable of before we begin her training. We need to find out about her character and skills."

Severus snorted cynically, tossing back his drink with a grimace.

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Severus Snape, September 1st 1991

 

Just another Start-of-Term Feast, Snape told himself again and again, just another year like all the others. If Albus was right, the Potter girl might be the future saviour of the wizarding world, but at this time she was just another dunderhead to teach. Another thorn on his side. Nothing special at all. A menace.

He watched through the curtain of his shoulder-length lank hair as the first years were ushered in, trying to look as he usually did, not to betray any emotion. One by one the new students were sorted into their houses: Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin. For a while he wondered if the child would be sorted into Gryffindor, as both of her parents were... perhaps in Ravenclaw, if the information was correct about her interest in books? That was probably too optimistic.

As the amount of students to be sorted grew smaller, he saw her. He stared at her: yes, those green eyes. He remembered her mother, Lily, when she was her age, and could remember the Sorting Ceremony. He could remember the constricting pain when she was declared Gryffindor. Hermione Potter did not look like her mother or father at all: he probably would not have recognized her, if it wasn't for the lightening-shaped scar on her forehead and the green in her eyes. But nothing in her behaviour suggested to James or Lily Potter. She seemed... shy? A bit withdrawn? Severus frowned.

Her name was called in turn. "Hermione Potter!", Minerva announced, and the voices in the hall rose for a while, to die down to a complete hush. Speculation was wild and everyone waited, probably holding their breath. The hat was silent for a long time, and then called "GRYFFINDOR!". The Gryffindor table roared with applauds, and most of the teachers clapped as well. Minerva looked smug. Of course she would. Bloody Gryffindors.

When the last student was Sorted, the Feast began and the food appeared. He helped himself to a light meal, but mostly ended up pushing it around his plate as the annoying Defence-instructor Quirrell stuttered and blabbered inanely about vampires next to him, reeking of garlic. He had to keep an eye on the Slytherin table, although the Prefects usually did their work properly — he saw to that himself, personally — but felt his eyes wander to the Gryffindor table again. He saw nothing of James Potter's looks in her. Her hair was especially different. It was a bit strange: Potter had sported black hair, Lily's was auburn, and neither of them had curly hair. And definitely not wildly curly like that! He almost found the hair funny, such an unruly frizz. But by Merlin how thin she was! The school robes probably covered the worst of it, but Snape was an experienced spy and had seen her move when she was sorted: the girl was malnourished and too small by far, with hollowed-out cheeks and absolutely no baby fat, unlike her classmates. What on earth was Petunia Dursley thinking?

The girl was sitting next to a black-haired boy with round glasses and bucked teeth and a red-haired boy, who was most definitely another Weasley. He had missed their names, but there would be time to learn those later. The boy looked a bit like James Potter, with the dark hair and the glasses, and with a bang of irritation and jealousy he wondered if the boy would become Hermione Potter's "James" in the future. Were the people around her the new Marauders? Probably. Another thorn on his backside.

He had promised to protect Lily's daughter with his life, if necessary: he had a debt to pay. Because of him Lily and James were dead and the child orphaned: but seeing how little she resembled her father made it easier, although he suspected she probably would have inherited Potter's manners and behaviour. She was surrounded by Weasleys, which did not bode well: George and Fred Weasley's pranks were never as hurtful and mean as the Marauders' pranks were, but would she encourage them? She was talking with the sycophantic Percy Weasley, apparently quite excited about something. Trust Percy Weasley to suck up to the Chosen One.

Then he saw that the girl was looking straight at him. Had she sensed his staring? For just a moment their eyes locked, and Snape narrowed his eyes. Suddenly the girl flinched and her hand shot to her forehead, as if in pain. The scar? She must have felt something in that cursed scar. But she had been looking right at him. It couldn't react to him, could it? Or was it reacting to something else? Some danger? The girl was in danger, he knew it, but was it this close?

He averted his eyes and made sure he wouldn't be caught staring, but kept an eye on her, and decided to do the same in the future. Severus hoped he'd be able to slip away right after Dumbledore's welcoming speech, just to avoid the annoying school song. It made his ears ache.

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Severus Snape, September 2nd 1991

 

Severus swept into his Potions classroom, his robes billowing dramatically behind him and began his routine introduction to Gryffindor and Slytherin First Year students. He loved the dramatic effects of his voice — and, of course, the threats — on the students. He'd memorized the whole speech years ago, so it was easy to speak while sizing up the classroom full of dunderheads he'd be forced to teach.

He had already gotten to know the basics about the Slytherin half of the class. His experience as Slytherin Head of House made it easier to identify potential troublemakers immediately: when the trouble started it was just so much easier to know who needed his stern, penetrating gaze and a prompt punishment. Draco Malfoy was most definitely one. He sat in the front row, close to Hermione Potter, although on the Slytherin side of the class. Next to Miss Potter sat Neville Longbottom, another Gryffindor, and behind them Ronald Weasley, who was turning out to be a ginger menace in the true and tried Weasley way, and the buck-toothed and messy-haired Harry Granger, who was a Muggle-born. The four Gryffindors and the Slytherin boy had become thick as thieves in the first week, and Snape had suspected the school would be cursed with a next set of Marauders, although with five members instead of the original four.

Snape snapped out of his thoughts as his gaze drew to the five. The students were listening in rapt attention. Miss Potter was staring right at him, her green eyes — strange, those light brown speckles in them were definitely not from Lily — in rapt attention. "Miss Potter, what would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?", he quizzed. To his amazement, her answer was immediate... and long! By Merlin, she was practically regurgitating her textbook back at him, word for word! He had to struggle to keep his jaw from falling, and he abruptly cut her answer short, rudely and without any encouragement.

The next question was aimed at the class in general, but the girl sat on the edge of her seat, hand held as high as she could, almost straining to give an answer. "Sit down, you insufferable little know-it-all", he snapped, and regretted it immediately when her green eyes glazed in tears. She did not cry or whimper and her cheeks remained dry, but she pressed down her head and her wild hair covered her face from both sides. Draco Malfoy answered the question correctly and earned five points to Slytherin, but it was obvious that the entire Gryffindor half of the class was furious: Granger and Weasley almost growled in outrage. The little chit was not, and it hurt more than he thought it should have. The students would have to get used to his style of teaching: obedience meant a lot in a subject as dangerous as his, and he hated Gryffindors.

Chapter Text

Severus Snape, October 31st 1991

Severus ground his teeth in pain as he dragged Quirrell down the flight of stairs by the scruff of the man's neck. The man stuttered and attempted to explain himself, but Snape was in no mood to listen to his excuses. The man had let loose a mountain troll into the castle, for Merlin's sake, though he of course denied everything. Severus had escorted his Slytherins to their common room immediately when he heard a troll was about, and then dashed toward the labyrinth entrance to make sure anyone wouldn't get to the Stone. He had managed to pull Quirrell out from the room of the three-headed dog just in time. The blasted dog had gotten a good bite out of his leg while Quirrrell had escaped unscathed, but the troll was still at large, and Severus roared at Quirrell to shut up. He dragged the man by the collar as he limped through the corridors. He would need some essence of Dittany and bandages soon, and it would still leave another scar. As if he needed more!

The troll's roars and terrible crashes could be heard at quite a distance. Still dragging Quirrell behind him he encountered Minerva on the way and ran toward the lavatories. The noise had stopped, but voices of students could be heard from the girls' lavatory. A decent-sized mountain troll was lying prone on the floor, apparently knocked out, with Harry Granger's wand up its nose, apparently knocked out by a spell. Draco Malfoy, Harry Granger, Ronald Weasley, Neville Longbottom and Hermione Potter were standing there, all obviously rattled, dirty and in slight shock, but apparently victorious.

Hermione Potter stood up in front of everyone and took the blame for coming to face the troll of her own accord while stating that the others had come to her rescue, but she was a lousy liar. Snape narrowed his eyes at her, definitely not impressed. The girl had obviously been crying for quite a while: her cheeks were flushed, her hair even wilder than usual, eyes bloodshot and puffed, and she wouldn't have come to a room with one single exit with a troll unless she was a complete and utter idiot. Of course, considering that she was a Potter, that would always be an option.

"How did you manage to knock out a mountain troll?" Minerva quipped at the students. She was obviously furious. "Quirrell, secure it and take it away. Dark beasts are your area anyway." Quirrell slunk down and stuttered nervously, though Severus was convinced he was acting more nervous than he really was. Minerva glared at Ronald Weasley, obviously waiting for an explanation from someone.

"Um. Neville threw toilet brushes and paper rolls at it, Harry jumped on its back and shoved his wand up its nose, I levitated the club with "Wingardium Leviosa" and then Hermione and Draco blasted it with some hex. Stupi- something, Professor", Ronald Weasley muttered.

"Stupefy?" Snape clipped, his eyes narrowing. "Stunners are not in the first year curriculum, let alone so early in the year. It is advanced magic." He aimed a piercing gaze at Draco, furious that one of his Slytherins had gotten involved in something like this. "Where did you learn that spell, Mr Malfoy?"

"Sir, I learned it from my father", the boy replied smugly, although Snape saw he was partially bluffing: the boy wasn't as confident as he seemed to be. Snape directed his gaze at Hermione. "And Miss Potter?" he said with a very cold tone.

"Sir, I must have read it in a book", the girl mumbled, although very uncertainly. The tone and phrasing were odd, to say the least: there were no signs of lying, but she would remember if she really read it, wouldn't she?

Minerva did not question the matter any further, of course, favouring her Gryffindor cubs like the protective lioness she was. She took off points from the students for ignoring the orders to move to the dormitories, and then ruined it all by awarding points for knocking out the troll. Snape seethed in fury: as if the brats needed encouragement in breaking the rules!

"Sir?" The girl's voice sounded after him as he limped away along the corridor, and he stopped and turned, raising his eyebrow. "Sir, your leg is bleeding, you're hurt. Do you need help?" Hermione Potter asked. There was no malevolence or suspicion in her voice: oddly, she sounded concerned. It was strange: no student had ever worried about his well-being.

"Thank you for your concern: just a minor accident. I am fine. Return to your dormitory, Miss Potter", he managed to reply as politely as the pain, concern and weird feeling in his gut allowed him. The girl still looked worried but obeyed his order, bidding him good night.

Strange. Snape shook his head, trying to clear his mind. Bandages and Dittany. And he would need to keep a better eye on Quirrell, shake the man up a bit as well.

 

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Severus Snape

In the following weeks the bond between the group of five "Second Marauders" was growing solid. To his surprise Miss Potter, the centre of the new gang of five, held authority over the boys: so far there had been no bullying or pranks, unlike the original Marauders had done. She had, in fact, made attempts to stop the first signs of bullying.

"Draco Malfoy, you will stop that at once!" Hermione Potter's voice had rang from the Great Hall's rafters and walls. "You have NO RIGHT to call Harry a... a Mudblood! That is a nasty, mean and hurtful name, and you will not use it!" The conversation had died down quite a bit: even the staff was straining their ears to hear her berate the Malfoy heir. After the incident with the troll. Draco Malfoy had indeed solidified his friendship with Miss Potter's gang of Gryffindors. His friendship with the Muggle-born Harry Granger was strained, and he did not seem to get along with Ron Weasley at all, but got along better with Neville Longbottom and Miss Potter and thus Granger, Weasley and Malfoy tolerated each other. There were others too, flitting occasionally around the group of five: she did not seem to exclude anyone, although the four boys seemed to be closest to her, most likely drawn by her fame, but it was not unusual for others to join in their group and converse freely.

Malfoy had looked abashed. Snape guessed Draco's father had ordered Draco to befriend the young Potter heir, possibly hoping to gain influence. It was possible that Draco was just acting, but outside curfew, when Draco was forced to return to his dormitory, the group of five was rarely apart. It would be interesting to see how long that friendship would last. Draco had been raised to idolise his breeding and wealth, but his friendship with the mixed group around Hermione Potter was apparently for his own benefit, though his parents probably were not quite expecting these results.

 

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Inside the mind of Hermione Potter was Hermione Granger: quietly guiding, guarding, dissolving into her new existence. This new body was almost identical to her old one except for the eyes and her new purpose, her new destiny. She was not afraid, the brave young Gryffindor. Hermione Potter was not a scared little 11-year-old girl: she had lived for eighteen years and then another eleven. The consciousness was mutual, although no conscious memories of Hermione Granger came to the surface yet — there would be time for that later, but as for now, the young girl's body would not yet be able to handle the consciousness of a young adult. Like an echo of a memory something would surface from time to time, usually unbidden. Hermione had a purpose and a goal, and she was driven toward it like a hex seeking a target.

Inside Harry Granger's mind the 17-year old Harry James Potter healed and slept. He had lived his previous life in pain, humiliation, trials and grief. The new destiny gave him respite, and his life was finally good. He had allowed his previous consciousness and memories to dissolve almost completely to enjoy this new childhood. He was grateful and happy, and he let his old, wounded and battered memories fade happily. Inside Harry Granger's mind Harry Potter sighed contently, closed his eyes and... relaxed. This time it wasn't all up to him. Profound love and gratitude reigned.

 

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Albus Dumbledore

According to the staff room gossip young Miss Potter was extremely talented: the Professors who had taught her sang her praise. The entire staff seemed enamoured with her: she was quite shy, but also kind, immensely intelligent and studious. She had displayed no traces of arrogance: she was, in fact, extremely modest. She excelled in her school work, studying hard enough to rival the best of Ravenclaws. Sprout was thrilled, Filus Flitwick was bursting with excitement, Minerva was unbelievably smug, and Aurora Sinistra was beyond elated. Quirrell stated — well, stammered — that the girl really did pay attention in every class, and even Severus had to admit the chit was a promising student, making progress way ahead of schedule, though it had taken Albus several hours and four glasses of Ogden's finest as well as some patient Legilimency to squirrel that piece of information out of him. Rolanda Hooch was the only one who was not impressed: the girl was afraid of heights and was terrible with a broomstick, which had surprised everyone, considering her late father's proclivity to Quidditch.

Albus Dumbledore smiled and nodded in his thoughts: he had spent the last decade worrying about the child and how she would turn up. Her living arrangements had turned up to be less than ideal, but her character had turned out to be more than perfect. Albus had already drawn several plans, some based on the child turning out to be as reckless and impulsive as her father, others on her being as popular but shallow like her mother, but the girl was actually better than he had ever dared to hope. Albus now felt more than a little optimistic about the future.

He had delivered Hermione the Cloak of Invisibility left by her father, and while the girl had used it once to sneak into the library, she was not prone to mischief and rule-breaking, unlike many of her friends, and she seemed to keep the worst of their antics in check. Severus had been concerned about the possibility of students sneaking into the Forbidden Forest, especially since something or someone was also killing unicorns in the forest and drinking their blood, but they had been obedient, although Miss Potter had, apparently, used all of her powers of persuasion, influence and downright nagging to make her band of mischief-makers behave, at least after the troll incident. Miss Potter was setting a good example: her name held prestige, and many seemed to copy her: the First Year students actually seemed to break less rules than any year before them.

The labyrinth to protect the Stone was finally complete. He and Fawkes had barely slept while the construction was incomplete, and he had charmed the Mirror of Erised to be the final protection, depositing the Stone inside it. Making sure Miss Potter knew where the labyrinth was had been very easy: after the first announcement about the forbidden third floor corridor at the Sorting Feast the staircases and the semi-sentient doors and hallways had quite soon deposited the girl and her friends to the correct door just as he had instructed them to do, so they now knew where the labyrinth — or what he privately called "the test" and Severus "the bloody silly obstacle course" — was. The hints that Hagrid had dropped for her about the three-headed dog had also caught Hermione Potter's keen attention, and she had relatively quickly pieced together the name of Nicolas Flamel — although he had to admit that discovery could be credited to one of her friends and his chocolate frog cards — and the Philosopher's Stone. She would have found the name anyway, eventually, of that Albus was certain. This did speed up the discovery, though. The children actually never knew how few secrets they actually had, with ghosts and portraits keeping a keen eye on everything when the Professors could not.

They were now certain that Quirinus Quirrell was trying to get the stone, but Severus was keeping an eye on him. Quirrell, a Ravenclaw, had always been one to grasp for knowledge, which was probably why he sought out the Stone: he would most likely wish to find out the secrets of the Stone's making, Albus had mused. As far as either of them knew, Quirrell had no connections to Death Eaters, and with Voldemort gone — at least for the time being — there wouldn't be any new Death Eaters. Those who were left from the first war were in hiding. Even if Quirrell did manage to get to the Mirror, he would not be able to reach the Stone, and he was could always be stopped anyway. He'd never get out of the castle with the Stone.

Then there was poor Severus. His sour demeanour and outward appearance had managed to convince many in the group of five that Severus was a villain after the Stone. The dog bite on his leg when he had stopped Quirrell from attempting to get the Stone had inflamed their suspicions. Mr Granger and Mr Weasley were convinced of his villainy, as was Mr Longbottom, who had learned to fear Severus: the man was prone to berating his students in terrible ways, Albus had to admit, although it also resulted in a minimal amount of nasty Potion-induced accidents in the difficult field of study. With Snape's strict teaching method the school hadn't had one single Potions lab death while he was teaching the subject. It would be a pity if the girl would let three of her friends sway her opinion so strongly, although Mr Malfoy had defended Severus. Albus sighed. Still, the situation could have been worse: Miss Potter had not, as far as he knew, vilified to surly and ugly Potions Master: she was always polite and respectful to every single one of her teachers.

Although in the future, when Voldemort would inevitably return, Severus might be able to maintain his cover of master spy better, if there was an open hostility between him and Miss Potter. Albus sighed. Both options had merit.

*************************************

Albus Dumbledore, May 1st 1992

 

Albus was walking with Severus from the Forbidden Forest toward the castle when loud screams caught their attention. The First Year students were having a flying lesson with Madam Hooch, but it was obvious somebody was in trouble. Hermione Potter's broom was getting out of hand and was dashing toward the castle's battlements. It was obvious the broom was being cursed: Albus immediately began muttering a counter-curse, trying to hold the broom steady, while Severus ran toward the students. The girl was high in the air and screamed astride her bucking broom: Madam Hooch had already told them she was obviously afraid of heights, and this was certainly not helping her. She was hanging on for dear life.

Albus had soon managed to steady the broomstick somewhat with his powerful counter-curse, but the girl was swaying and the broom was still bouncing and bucking: her eyes closed and she toppled off her broom, falling limply toward the ground. Severus managed to catch her before she hit the ground: she was luckily not high enough to warrant the use of Cushioning Charm, but she could have still gotten some broken bones had she dropped all the way.

"Severus, take her to the infirmary and have Poppy to make sure she is fine." Albus ordered. The younger man nodded, holding Miss Potter on his arms. "Madam Hooch, you might want to check the broomsticks to make sure they are not cursed." He followed Severus to the infirmary. The girl regained her consciousness on the way, but she seemed quite content to stay in Severus's arms. She was shivering in horror.

As Poppy ran her diagnostic charms, Albus pulled Severus aside. "Someone was definitely cursing that broomstick. It was lucky we got there: the broom would have hit the wall at high speed, and she could have been injured severely. I did not want to say this in front of Rolanda, but someone was casting a curse, it wasn't on the broomstick. This was a deliberate attempt on her health."

"It must have been Quirrell. I did not see him, but I know the little bastard is..."

"We have no proof, Severus. Until I have it, I cannot fire him, not without alerting the board of governors, and if he is innocent and our suspicions unfounded, our careers would be in jeopardy. It might just have been an older and jealous student, someone from the later years, because the hex was advanced. For now, we only know he was trying to see the Stone, and he is a Ravenclaw: studying it would be natural for him, to satisfy his curiosity. Keep an eye on him, Severus, and bring me any evidence when you have it: then I will go to the board of governors..."

*************************************

 

Severus Snape, June 4th 1992

 

Dumbledore and Snape were observing the labyrinth through a spelled mirror in the Headmaster's office. The portraits of the previous Headmasters were all crowding into three frames directly behind the mirror to observe: they were bickering, complaining about lack of space and view, shoving and pushing, and occasionally one of them would fall or be shoved off into the next frame, complaining bitterly before pushing back in by force. Dilys Derwent had already made an unsuccessful albeit heartfelt attempt to give Phineas Nigellus Black a black eye, and Armando Dippet had been publicly condemned as "too fat to fit into this frame" and was grumbling and sulking.

The "test" for Hermione Potter had begun. Albus had announced he would be going to London, which had provoked Quirrell to make his move into the labyrinth. Miss Potter had gotten her group of friends to keep an eye on the entrance: the clever girl had set spells that would alarm her if someone were to enter the forbidden corridor, and usually one of her friends was keeping an eye discreetly through their own Charmed pocket-sized mirror: an amazing feat for a First Year student, although the image the mirror gave wasn't clear and only showed a dark figure creeping in. Longbottom, who had been watching the mirror at that time, had alerted the others: Miss Potter had given Granger the task of finding either Professor Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall or some other teacher, and she, Malfoy, Longbottom and Weasley had entered the labyrinth out of sheer desperation when no help had arrived. Minerva had escorted the protesting Granger back to his dormitory, refusing to listen to his tirade: she had her orders directly from the Headmaster, after all.

Albus was not worried: he had deemed Quirrell as a relatively harmless bloke, although greedy, and the Mirror of Erised would not allow him the access to the Stone, since the Stone could only be acquired if the one who wanted to handle it would not wish to use it for his own gain. Snape was far more concerned: he had confronted Quirrell several times, and something in the stuttering fool wracked his nerves. He was certain Quirrell was guilty of both releasing the Troll on Halloween and cursing Miss Potter's broom later.

The children managed to pass Fluffy, Hagrid's three-headed dog: since Hagrid had slipped in the clue about Fluffy falling asleep with music, Miss Potter had taken along her little fiddle, which she was able to play until they all had managed to jump down into the labyrinth. Their fall was broken by Devil's Snare: Longbottom, who had displayed some skill with plants for a First Year student, had identified it immediately and although he was in panic, he'd managed to gasp "Devil's Snare hates heat and light", causing both Malfoy and Miss Potter to draw their wands and cast fire spells: Miss Potter used Bluebell Flames while Malfoy cast a more basic "Incendio", and the plant had recoiled immediately, dropping the children. Severus smirked: Pomona Sprout would not be pleased with the treatment her precious plant had already received. It had been an impressive specimen, after all.

The children now sped forward and reached the key-obstacle set by Filius and Hooch: it didn't take them long to discover the appropriate key, and Malfoy hopped on the broom and caught it with great skill: he definitely had it in him to become the Seeker for Slytherin Quidditch team next year, Snape thought, filing the bit of information in his mind for later. As they moved, the children kept bickering: Weasley and Longbottom both claimed that Snape was the one after the Stone, while Malfoy claimed it wouldn't be Snape. This surprised Snape: he had presumed that Lucius Malfoy would have told his son about Snape's connection to the Death Eaters, but apparently Draco's judge of character was based on his performance as Head of Slytherin House. Miss Potter refused to believe it was Snape without further evidence, obviously due to the fact that Professor Snape had saved her life when she fell off her broom, but also stated that whoever had entered the labyrinth was not Headmaster Dumbledore and thus was up to no good.

Minerva's chess board-obstacle was the next obstacle, and Weasley demonstrated great strategic skills by sacrificing himself to allow the others to go forward. Albus was concerned, but the boy seemed to be knocked out, not permanently injured. Miss Potter left Longbottom to take care of him and dashed forward with Malfoy, already concerned about the delay. The magical chess board behind them repaired itself swiftly.

Luckily for them the Troll guard was still unconscious, knocked out by the same man who who had delivered it there, though the children did not know that. The DADA-instructor had known exactly how to bash the creature unconscious, so the children passed uneventfully, although very carefully. They now faced Severus's obstacle: the Potion puzzle. Quirrell had, surprisingly, passed this test: this made Severus extremely concerned. The man was a Ravenclaw, true, but the man had seemed like a bumbling idiot prone to use magic instead of his brains. And these were children. Malfoy and Miss Potter both had an aptitude in Potions, but this was a test on logic beyond First Year skills.

And then he could do nothing but watch as Hermione Potter solved his puzzle in mere minutes. His jaw dropped slack while the Headmaster snickered next to him. Snape glared at him. Malfoy confirmed her findings by sniffing a couple of the bottles she deemed safest. There was only enough forward-potion for one person: Miss Potter took it and told Malfoy to take the backward-potion and go help the others and find more teachers: it was obvious the person they were pursuing was already here. She drank the Potion, Malfoy drowned the other, and they were both whisked off.

As Miss Potter faced Quirrell, the two men watched, but when Quirrell revealed his connection the Voldemort, they very shocked. "A Death Eater? Impossible..." Albus gasped. Severus tensed, ready to sprint. The silly chit could be in grave danger, and although there was a shortcut to the heart of the labyrinth and past the obstacles, it would take a few minutes. But when Voldemort's voice hissed in the chamber, Snape was running before the first whispering syllables died away: he recognized the voice immediately, although it was distorted. Blood and fear pounded in his veins: the saviour of the wizarding world, Lily's daughter, was a mere 12-year-old chit and currently standing against a horrifying monster. He heard Albus running behind him as he cleared staircases several steps at a time, running as fast as he could, his robes flaring behind him.

As he arrived to the hidden doorway known to only him and Dumbledore he quickly cast the spells that would allow him to pass, and rushed through before the door had even opened fully. If the girl was still alive, he would cast himself between her and The Dark Lord, if necessary: his duty had been to protect the girl and he was failing.

He found the girl on the floor, unconscious but alive, Quirrell's badly burnt corpse still grasped by Miss Potter: his face and hands had horrible blisters and burns, many on his face and arm in the shape of her hands and fingers. Whatever had transpired, it was clear that Voldemort had abandoned Quirrell's vessel as Miss Potter's touch had burned him.

He quickly pulled Quirrell off from her, made sure the man was indeed dead, and collected the child to his arms. She needed the infirmary and Poppy's care. Albus arrived behind him, a little short of breath: the old wizard was not in his prime or in top shape.

"This was too close, Albus, too damn close!", Severus snapped, as they made their way to the infirmary. "We need to find out what happened in there. What did she do? And where's the Stone?"

"I will probably use Legilimency when she wakes up to see the rest. Quirrell did not have it, but she might: we need to check her pockets. It is also possible she didn't take it, but I will make sure as soon as she's under Poppy's care. As for the burns on poor Quirinus... I believe she was protected by her mother's love, her final sacrifice. For now, Tom cannot physically touch her."

Silence descended as the two men made their way, one carrying his burden, both carrying the quilt of taking a risk that had been almost too big.

 

*************************************

Albus Dumbledore, June 7th, 1992

 

Albus was standing by Hermione's bedside when she woke up the second time: Poppy Pomfrey had alerted him that Miss Potter was waking up. Albus explained to the girl how the love of her late mother had protected her and why the late professor Quirrell could not touch her skin because of it, and of how professor Snape had found her and taken her to the infirmary.

"Your friends will soon be here to see you, but before I go, there's something I would like to ask of you. I would like to use Legilimency on you, if you would allow it. It involves me taking a peek into your mind, to see what you remember about Voldemort. I won't do so without your permission but it would be ever so helpful. It might be a little bit uncomfortable, and I do not wish to do so without your consent, Miss Potter."

"Of course, sir. What do I need to do? Is there some spell I need to say? Do I need my wand?" The girl was full of questions, as per usual. Her wild hair was mussed from sleep and formed a large halo around her head.

"No, dear child," Albus chuckled. "Just lay back, relax and look into my eyes. I will try to be careful."

The girl relaxed. Albus was taking a risk: the girl was still recovering, but he needed to see those last moments with Voldemort, and the inaccuracy of the Prophecy still bothered him. He walked closer, stared into her eyes and cast the spell wandlessly and non-verbally.

He followed the memories about Voldemort and looked through her eyes into the chamber. He saw her horror when Quirrell unwrapped the face of Voldemort from within his turban, and then watched in wonder as the brave young girl ran toward the Mirror of Erised and blocked Quirrell's path with her body, instead of attempting to get the Stone.

"The Stone doesn't belong to you and I will not help you get it!", the girl yelled, defying the Dark Lord even when she was filled with dread. "I have already sent the others to get the Professors and they will be here any second, and you will not get the Stone!", she shouted in defiance, and Quirrell, controlled by Voldemort, lunged at her roaring with murderous rage, only to be burned by her touch. Albus watched as they struggled in front of the Mirror, and then saw her memory fade. He had deduced Quirrell's death correctly, but never realised how bravely the girl had defied Voldemort and defend the Stone, instead of trying to get it.

Then he followed the path of memories downward. He saw a brief flash of Lily Potter's death, how she had jumped between her daughter and Voldemort and the searing pain on Hermione's forehead as Voldemort screamed and toppled to ashes, though these layers of memories were too deep for the girl to actually remember. Dumbledore was a highly skilled Legilimens, but he realised it was nothing short of a miracle that the girl had this layer of memories buried deep inside her.

But then he realised there was more. A strong cord of memory attached to this one, something extremely important. He took a mere moment to hesitate, and then he followed it, and he looked...

There were three haggard, hungry and dirty young adults in a tent, hunting for pieces of Voldemort's soul. He recognized Ronald Weasley, Harry Granger and Hermione Potter. He saw Ronald Weasley die at the Ministry of Magic while snatching a locket from a pink-clad woman, and he saw Harry Granger dying of a serpent's bite in Godrick's Hollow. He felt Hermione's despair, and heard them:

"I'm so sorry. 'Mione." Harry muttered, gasping in pain. "It's my fault. I should have listened to you. All those mistakes I made, and I've failed you and everyone. And Dumbledore's plans have failed. We had too little, too late!"

Hermione looked down on the dying and suffering boy. Harry's skin was now almost grey, not just an unhealthy pallor, and the horrid black curse highlighted his veins. They had very little time.

"Oh Harry, don't speak like that. I wish I could take it all away. I wish... I wish I could take all of your pain, all that you suffered through and..." Hermione's voice trailed off.

"'Mione, I know you have an idea, you always have. Please..."

"I... I think... It's in one of the books I took from the Order's headquarters. It's just a theory, but it was supposed to let two people switch fates. I think... Harry, I think I can fix things. I will take your place."

Switching Fates-Spell, known in legends as "Bearing Your Brother's Burden". Dumbledore was shocked. The girl — 'Hermione Granger!' his mind screamed through the connection of Legilimency — had willingly taken another's place, when all seemed lost. She had willingly given herself to being an orphan and surrendered her family to her friend. The spell could not be cast without the two being like siblings, either by blood or by affection, and could not be cast for selfish reasons. It was a spell of legends.

"No! You can't do that! Not for me. You're like a sister, I can't do anything without you. You've always made the right decisions. You could still make it."

"No, Harry James Potter, you listen to me," the girl hissed, "I need to do this. WE need to do this. This is war, and it needs to be won. There's no other way. We have to win."

He watched as Hermione Granger rummaged in a Charmed beaded bag and finally cast an Accio for an ancient tome. She leafed through it as fast as she could. Harry Potter was in so much pain he no longer had the willpower to fight her: she went through the complicated spell and ritual fast, told him what to say for his parts, and began casting. Her wand movements were precise, and she did not stutter or hesitate: she was Gryffindor to the bone, brave Hermione about to sacrifice her life for the good of the world. Harry was grinding his teeth as he recited his parts, which were few: he held his wand as they let their wands touch at the tip.

"...I will bear your burden, my brother..." Hermione chanted.

As Hermione did the final wand movements, both their wands shattered into splinters, and a large vortex appeared by their side. It looked like a tunnel, and images were flashing on its sides: past events, past memories, but they were changing. She clung to her friend desperately, unable to cast a Finite Incantatem. Harry had fallen unconscious, and Hermione screamed when the currents pulled them both to the long, winding tunnel, images of past fluttering by them both as they fell.

Dumbledore staggered back as he was pulled back from her mind. The girl had fallen unconscious, but she was breathing normally and seemed to be in no pain. Dumbledore sat down heavily, his mind reeling.

This explained everything. The Chosen One had been a boy, and he had made mistakes which would contribute to their failure: it was easy to see from Harry Granger's attitude that he would have reacted to everything very differently than Hermione did. And Albus realised that his own plans had equally failed: he either had kept the information from them too long or discovered it too late. And pieces of Voldemort's soul? That would explain how Voldemort survived, and they would need to be destroyed before they had any hope of defeating him. Voldemort had obviously managed to return, though it was equally obvious to Albus that he would never get the memory of how he did from the girl's mind without killing her, at least not yet.

He needed help now. He would have to form the Order of the Phoenix again, sooner than he had expected. But first he would wait until Miss Potter would wake up and warn her of Voldemort and the danger her life would be in.

 

*************************************

Severus Snape, June 19th 1992

 

There was a knock on the door, and Snape pinched the bridge of his nose. There was just the Leaving Feast and the awarding of the House Cup left of this term, and then he'd be rid of the depressing dunderheads for the summer. Slytherin would win the house cup this year, which had cheered him up him somewhat: the amount he'd win from the staff's annual wager would definitely help. He would use the House Cup winnings to buy himself something nice. The year had been depressing: knowing he had again been classified as the nasty villain hurt every year, no matter how much he tried to ignore it. Knowing that some of the brats in Miss Potter's little merry troupe of mischief-makers had also called him a thief was insult upon injury. It was not like he needed the insults to add to his depressingly lonely life, with a poor, half dilapidated home at Spinner's End, and poor wages.

Another knock, and Severus huffed in exasperation. A student then: another teacher would have already entered without his permission: Minerva and Albus wouldn't have even knocked. "Enter", he clipped loudly. The door creaked ajar, and Hermione Potter tiptoed in. She was obviously nervous. "Yes, Miss Potter. Get on with it!" he snapped, annoyed and impatient.

"Professor," she said in a very small voice. She kept her gaze on the stone floor of the dungeon. "I wanted to apologise. I let Harry and Ron and Neville say those nasty things about you and listened without defending you even though you saved my life and did nothing to earn those things. I will not let them say those things again. And I never really thanked you properly for saving my life. That's all. I'm sorry, Professor, and thank you."

If Severus hadn't been so strong in Occlumency, his jaw would have gaped open in astonishment. In all his years of teaching not one student had apologised, let alone thanked him. He knew he had promised to protect this child out of obligation for her mother and for the future of the wizarding world, but he had never expected to get any gratitude for it. The chit's voice was sincere. Gratitude from a student was a whole new experience: it was astounding.

"You are welcome, Miss Potter. I was merely doing my duty. But I thank you for your words", he managed to get out, struggling to keep his voice from crackling. The little girl smiled: she positively beamed at him. "Have a good summer, Professor! I look forward to next lessons in the autumn!", she chirped and bounced away, closing the door behind her.

Severus kept staring at the door for a very long time. Sincere gratitude. It felt amazingly good. And then he knew he would keep the child safe. He would train her, educate her and protect her. She had lost her parents, but he would definitely try to rectify what he could. Not just because of obligation or duty or for the "Greater Good", but because he wanted to.

 

*************************************

 

Severus Snape, June 20th 1992

The Great Hall was decorated in Slytherin colours, and Snape smirked smugly. Slytherin was leading by 200 points for the House Cup. Even counting the bonus wages from being the Slytherin Head of House and the minimal living expenses, the betting pool money was definitely nice. He could afford a few new tomes for his collection, and probably some new equipment for his private lab as well.

His smirk froze and then faded when Dumbledore began awarding extra points to Gryffindor for their effort in solving the labyrith. Ten points to Harry Granger for his speed in getting a teacher to help his classmates, 50 points to Ronald Weasley for the game of Wizard's Chess, another 50 points to Longbottom for rescuing everyone from the Devil's Snare, and finally 100 points to Hermione Potter for use of logic and courage. The Gryffindors cheered.

Slytherin had lost by mere ten points. Minerva and Albus were smirking. Bloody fucking Gryffindor bias...

"Excuse me, Headmaster Dumbledore!" someone was shouting. Suddenly everyone fell silent. Hermione Potter was standing up and waving her hand like she did in classes. "Sir, you forgot to give Draco Malfoy points as well." The girl was blushing furiously. "We all got points for what we did, except Draco. He got the flying key for us and without him, I mean, umm..." The girl's voice trailed off, the whole school's attention on her. "It isn't fair if Draco doesn't get points as well", she concluded in a very small voice that could only be heard because of the absolute and utter silence in the hall. A pin dropping would probably have sounded like a clatter in that room. Every eye turned from Miss Potter to Dumbledore as Miss Potter slipped back to her seat. Her House Mates looked at her, some just stunned, the others glaring at her furiously.

"Right, quite right," Dumbledore stuttered, clearly at a loss, but he could do nothing to make Gryffindor win now. He'd have to give Malfoy the points, and that he did: 50 points to Slytherin for Draco's skill with a broom, and the House Cup awarded to Slytherin. But the expression on Dumbledore's face was the ultimate victory for Snape. Hermione Potter had defeated the Headmaster in his own game without even knowing it. Nothing was quite as sweet at that particular moment. He would savor this moment for the rest of his existence with the greatest joy. Perhaps he'd put the memory in a Pensieve to enjoy again at a later date. Repeatedly.

He watched as his Slytherins cheered Draco, and then as Draco crossed the room and shook hands with Hermione Potter, both children smiling. Hermione hugged Draco, and everyone cheered, even some of the Gryffindors: a great gesture of friendship across houses if there had ever been one.

Chapter Text

Albus Dumbledore, July 10th 1992

 

Albus had a very busy summer. He chose members for the new Order of the Phoenix, first the people who still survived from the first order: Severus, Emmeline Vance, Rubeus Hagrid, Daedalus Diggle, Sturgis Podmore, Mundungus Fletcher, Arabella Figg and Elphias Doge, as well as some new ones, like Kingsley Shacklebolt, Hestia Jones, Molly and Arthur Weasley. Remus Lupin, Minerva and Aberforth, of course. It took a while to find Remus: the poor werewolf had had a hard time of both unemployment and doing menial jobs for petty cash to scrape something to eat, all the while haunted by the loss of his best friends and being ostracised by the wizarding world whenever someone found out about his lycanthropy. Albus claimed the Order would pay him for his work and fished out the money from his own vault: the man deserved better, but he would be too proud to accept charity, and Albus was not above small lies. For the first time in years Remus would be able to afford unused robes and proper food daily.

Albus would also have called in Alastor Moody, but the man had been called overseas to deal with some dark Wizards in New York: the Auror was improving the training of American Aurors by huge strides, although without a doubt many of them would be quite traumatized by the experience. Alastor would be back in a few years with his new apprentice Nymphadora Tonks, who also might be a decent recruit, if she was well and truly trained by Alastor. Albus had owled the man beforehand and got an affirmative reply, but unfortunately Alastor's contract didn't allow him to return to Britain immediately. Alastor's letter contained so many swear words that it was surprising it hadn't spontaneously combusted.

Albus had purchased a magical property for the Order in Remus' name and hidden it under the Fidelius charm, placing himself as the Secret Keeper. It had plenty of rooms, enough for some Order members to live and work in. Remus Lupin became the only steady inhabitant, while the others would probably drift in and out as work progressed. Remus was very happy with the arrangement: the house was in good order, although it might become a bit cramped at some point, but it was clean and free of curses and pests, and he would keep the house clean and in order: the safe house had no house-elf.

A few weeks after the start of summer holiday Albus went to visit Severus at Spinner's End, Severus' home. The house was bleary, dusty, dark and filled with books and brewing equipment. Severus Snape was a recluse: he hated socialising and opted to brooding alone, brewing and reading when he wasn't at the school. It was obvious he wasn't eating properly: the man was always thin but he tended to loose even more weight during summers. Knowing Severus and his habits, Dumbledore flicked his wand at the brown paper bag he had fished out of his pocket: the house-elves had prepared a nice meal, which grew in size and spread itself on the table at Albus' non-verbal spell. The kitchen was small and the table and the chairs in poor condition, the chairs creaked and the table wobbled a bit: Albus silently cast a quick Reparo on the table: he didn't fancy getting their lunch on the floor. He hid the gesture from Severus, knowing that the proud man would be embarrassed by it if he noticed. As they sat down to dine, Dumbledore told Severus about the new Order of the Phoenix and invited him as a member.

"Why, Albus? Why now? The Dark Lord was in Quirrell but the girl banished him. Why do you need the Order now?" Snape asked.

"I have some information we need to keep between the two of us, at least for the time being, but yes, we do need the Order now, though this is sooner than I had anticipated as well. I will first need to ask you this: when you heard the prophecy and relayed it to Tom, did either of you pay attention to the two voices in one part of the prophecy?"

"One voice calling the child 'she' and the other as 'he'?” Secverus replied, picking at his food. “I did. He thought it was because the child hadn't been born yet so it was unclear if his enemy would be a boy or a girl. I thought it was strange: the prophecy should have known."

"I have wondered about that for years, Severus, until the end of spring term, when Hermione Potter was in the infirmary recovering. I used Legilimency on her to see her memories of the fight she had with Tom, and I was surprised to find she had other memories as well. Older memories. It was Lily's death, though she doesn't consciously remember it."

Severus closed his eyes in obvious pain. Dumbledore felt a bang of sympathy. While Severus was still a young man by Wizarding standards, he had lived his life in pain, guilt and regret. Albus had to admit he had used it: he felt he needed Severus as a spy and to protect the child, although he also trusted his loyalty. "As I said, she doesn't consciously remember it but it's there, under a deep layer of her mind. But there was more, Severus. Another layer of memory... from before her birth."

Albus watched as Severus sat up straight and his eyes grew wider, then narrowed suspiciously. "Have you finally lost your mind, Albus? The earliest memory might have been traumatic enough to imprint, but what you are suggesting is... do you need a Healer?"

"I'm not old enough to be senile, Severus. No. There was a clear link. I followed it deeper into her mind: I took quite a risk, although I admit I really shouldn't have, but I had no idea before I began. The girl we call Hermione Potter was once called Hermione Granger, and her classmate Harry Granger was born Harry Potter: the male Chosen One. But he had made mistakes and he was dying, and we had lost the war. There is a spell that allows two siblings to change destinies. It can be cast by either siblings or two people who are like siblings to one another: apparently Hermione and Harry loved each other like siblings and thus the spell worked for them, allowing Harry to be born as Harry Granger, while we now have Hermione Potter."

"So Miss Potter is not actually the Chosen One? Mr Granger does look a lot like James Potter. Or are they siblings?" Severus asked after a moment of silence.

"No, she definitely is the Chosen One, and I just said they were not siblings in blood, just spirit, which seems to have been enough for the spell to work. She took up Harry Potter's destiny from the birth. Hence the second voice in the prophecy; the louder one. They are biologically their parents' offspring, so Hermione is by blood the daughter of James and Lily Potter, though at least Hermione doesn't much resemble her parents, and I would say that Harry Granger indeed is almost the spitting image of James Potter, like you said, except for the teeth, while Hermione has green eyes like Lily did. But there was something extremely important inside her mind, Severus: a way we can help her destroy Tom, possibly before he can come back. I found the reason why he has been able to linger, why he did not die. And that is the reason I'm bringing back the Order."

Snape said nothing, clearly waiting. Albus leaned back on his creaking, rickety chair and steepled his fingers.

"It seems that before he was defeated by Hermione Tom had split his soul into pieces and hidden the pieces into objects, which he then hid to various places. I know there are several of them, though I did not catch how many or where they were. I only caught information on one. They called them 'Horcrux'. They had already destroyed two, but I didn't catch which ones they were and how they did it and had a third one in their possession, though I don't know why they had not destroyed it."

Snape tensed in his chair, his thin lips almost disappearing and his eyes narrowed. "Horcrux. I know of them. Shite, Albus, that's extremely dark. Creating one requires a cold-blooded murder, and to split your soul in several pieces? Merlin..."

"The advantage is that I now know at least something about what we need to search for. With any luck we might be able to destroy the Horcruxes before he actually manages to return in full power. He has no body yet: he is dangerous but not as powerful as he would be if he had a body. This is the main reason I am re-establishing the Order of the Phoenix. I am going to set up groups to hunt for the Horcruxes, to study how to handle them safely and to destroy them. I saw from Miss Potters's memory that the... last time, in the future that she wiped away by changing fates... I either did not discover the information soon enough or did not disclose it soon enough, which left three young people alone searching for the items. I want them found and destroyed before Tom manages to return, if at all possible."

"If we manage that, the Dark Lord will be destroyed. He won't be able to linger after we destroy them, I believe.” Severus replied. “You're right, the Order can hunt them, if you trust all the members. I'll remind you of Sirius Black though: you thought you could trust him as well and he sold the Potters to the Dark Lord. If the Dark Lord's followers find out we're looking for them, they'll hide them even more carefully, and I doubt they'll be easy to find even without them knowing, so the members will have to be carefully selected.”

There was a pregnant pause as Albus considered Sirius Black: the Headmaster was clearly feeling guilty about trusting Black, though nobody — not even Severus — could have anticipated Black turning against his best friend James. Severus felt his mind wander a while. “Wait, why did you say three teenagers hunting for them, not five? What about the rest of her little merry little band of miscreants?"

"Just three. Ronald Weasley, Hermione Granger and Harry Potter. Mr Weasley had gotten killed quite recently, and the two others were mourning him: I do not know where the rest were. They might have gotten killed earlier or maybe their friendship had fallen out, though the latter sounds more unlikely, considering how strong the bond between the five seems to be right now. Another advantage is that Hermione Potter is a whole different character than Harry Granger... or Harry Potter would have been. From what I observed, he was — and still is — prone to hasty conclusions and reckless actions, while Hermione actually considers her actions and seems much more logically driven. She is also highly talented and intelligent. The spell she cast to change fates was extremely complex, especially since she learned it from a book, not from a Master."

Severus shook his head. "I'm not sure I believe all this, Albus. This sounds completely absurd."

"Why don't you come with me back to the Castle. I'll show you the memory in the Pensieve. You might spot something I have missed. I'm finished with the food anyway." Albus flicked his wand, Vanishing the leftovers of their meal.

"Usually I'd tell you to sod off, since I'm on holiday, but I want to see this", Snape said bluntly, getting up. "I'll Summon my travelling cloak."

*************************************

Snape straightened his back from the Pensieve with a haunted expression on his face. "I still have hard time believing this, Albus."

"I have watched this memory several times now. It's amazing but I have no doubt it's also true. Would you like a spot of tea to calm the nerves? I myself needed several cups and a sip of Calming Draught the first time."

Severus nodded absentmindedly. "How is the whole thing even possible? I've never heard of a spell like that."

Albus called his house-elf for tea: the elf disappeared with a curt nod and a crack. "Yes, the spell exists: I've never read the actual spell myself, but it's referenced in two of the more obscure books of familial magic. It's not something to be taken lightly: the intent must be pure and without a selfish strain, determination without a doubt, and the wand movements and incantations flawless: and as you saw, it's a complex spell to cast, accompanied by the ritual. I sincerely doubt that any other Witch or a Wizard with less than 50 years of experience could have cast a spell that complex as flawlessly as she did. She also must have known that she would be condemning herself to loose her parents and some of her essence, and quite possibly her life."

Severus sat down heavily. His head was buzzing. The situation was unnerving and precarious as it was, but this was a complication, and Severus Snape hated complications.

"They looked to be in their late teens, wouldn't you say?" Albus asked.

"I concur. Between sixteen and eighteen, I should say. So we have a few years until the situation escalates to a full-out war. It's not ideal, but at least it gives us time to prepare."

"Normally I would agree, but that future may never come to pass now. We will not know how much she will change the future as Hermione Potter: her reactions are, after all, very different than Harry Granger's reactions would have been. We don't even know how much she has already changed the future, the moment we now live in. I believe it's an advantage for us though, Severus, more than just giving us the information about the Horcruxes. And as I said: if we manage to destroy the Horcruxes before Tom returns, there will be no war. Perhaps the Prophecy merely meant that she'll destroy the last Horcrux."

Albus sipped his tea in silence and popped a Sherbert Lemon into his mouth. Snape did not bother to urge the Headmaster to go on, and the two men sat in contemplative silence for a while. They'd known each other for years, and the silences were not uncomfortable between them. An owl delivered some mail to his office, but Albus gave it a mere cursory glance to see that it was a missive from the Board of Governors, and filed it for later.

"Severus, how good is she in brewing?" he finally asked.

For a brief moment Severus looked confused. "Well, she is surprisingly talented. She's annoying and desperate to prove herself, but she follows the instructions perfectly. She regurgitates textbook answers back and her essays are ridiculously long, but in practical brewing she did not make a single mistake last year. Why?" Severus would never admit such a thing to a student of his if the said student wasn't a Slytherin, but he was honest with the Headmaster.

"Because Minerva and Filius told me she learns every single Charm and Transfiguration from just one example. They only need to show her the spell or give written advice. She did not need practice, not once, she did not make a single botched attempt at any Charm or Transfiguration during the year. Not one. Sometimes she began the movements or recited the incantation before they had the chance to tell her. It seems to me like her education — from her earlier life, you see — is somewhere inside her mind. It's not conscious, I think, but the information comes up from her memory. Minerva and Filius had already given her several Second Year assignments just to make sure she isn't too bored. She enjoys research and works admirably hard, and that combined with the skills she has inside her deepest layers just waiting to pop up... Severus, when Hermione Granger chose to switch her destiny to that of Hermione Potter, she was somewhere between the ages of 16 to 18. While she is now physically 11 years old, in the deepest level of her mind she has the capabilities and understanding of a young adult. We are not dealing with a regular child here, Severus. And that is a huge advantage and a great risk."

"I fail to see a risk. Educating her will be easy, and we might be able to push her forward, ahead of everyone else, with very little effort. Unless she exhausts her magical capabilities with spells and hexes she's not mature enough to handle yet, of course?"

Albus nodded. "That, and it's also a matter of human mind and her capability to stand the strain. If she were to remember her previous life, I believe she would experience all that trauma in a very short time. She would also have double memories from much of her two lives, and the trauma that girl would have suffered through her life would without a doubt overwhelm her mind, possibly destroying it for good. We cannot afford to loose her, Severus. We know of her sacrifice and we know her secret: it must be buried within us, at least for now. If you guard anything with Occlumency, guard this secret: she is the single most valuable person on this country, and we cannot risk loosing her mind." Albus sighed.

"Are you going to try Legilimency again? And the Order needs to know, I think."

"I'm afraid of using Legilimency on her again, so the answer would be no. I would not have done so had I known of her... previous life. This will be difficult, Severus. We have a young adult in the body of a child. She may not be conscious yet, but what if she becomes aware? The shock itself might kill her. And the changes between her mental and physical capabilities? No, I'd prefer she's older before I try Legilimency again. We already know a lot. And while I'm going to tell the Order about the Horcruxes, we are going to keep the information about Hermione Granger and Harry Potter to ourselves, at least for now. One of them might let something slip, and the results could be catastrophic."

"True, I concur. While I would trust some of them, it doesn't take a strong Legilimens to barrel past their defences, and the Dark Lord has faithful followers, even now. And some of the Order members can't really help control their tongues: one of them might let something slip in front of Miss Potter. Perhaps later, but right now, I agree: she's at risk."

Albus nodded. "I'm going to schedule a meeting for the Order soon: I'll Floo you with the date. Here's the paper with the location of the new safe house: I'm the Secret Keeper, and you know what to do. The others know where it is, I'll have to Side-along you there the first time. Now, would you care for a Sherbert Lemon? We might as well go through your syllabus and budget, if you're done with those..."

*************************************

Arabella Figg, August 3rd 1992

Severus Snape and Albus Dumbledore Apparated to Privet Drive and Disillusioned. They walked to Arabella Figg's house and knocked. When she opened, they greeted her, walked in and shed the Disillusionment Charms in her foyer. Several of Mrs. Figg's half-Kneazles lay in various poses of relaxation all around the house, and one wove itself through their feet, attempting to trip Snape. The house was carefully constructed to look like the home of a typical elderly spinster: lace and floral patterns, lots of pictures of people who were supposed to be her relatives but really were not. Nothing magical visible, every piece of magic hidden carefully under layers of Wards, all done by Professor Dumbledore and adjusted to work and show only for Arabella Figg herself.

Arabella Figg was one of the people tasked with keeping an eye on Hermione Potter: her closest guard during her holiday time, as it were. She was a Squib and a very talented spy despite her advanced age, taking the advantage of her half-Kneazles and her status as an apparently innocent, halfway barmy widower with a fetish for cats. She was very clever and hid it extremely well. Right now Mrs. Figg was nervous. For 11 years she had sent her reports on the Potter girl but had never called for a meeting with Professor Dumbledore, not once: Dumbledore called for you, not the other way around. The little old woman was actually twirling her fingers and hands: she was too agitated to contain these reaction, and right now she had no reason to.

"Professor Dumbledore, the girl is in obvious trouble at her home", she finally started, after serving the men tea (which Snape tasted and then refused to touch again), and cookies (Albus munched on them happily, while Severus declined to even touch them). "She has always been thin, but she came back this spring looking much better and healthier. Not fat, mind you, but not as starved as she had been. When I saw her a couple of weeks later, she had lost it all and then some. Headmaster, that girl is starving! Her cousin is like a little whale, but that girl is drowning in her clothes. She's hitting her puberty, and she will be in trouble soon: I think she will always be a small and tiny little thing, but such starvation on a growing girl might have disastrous consequences in later life. And I don't know what happened there, but right now there are iron bars in her windows. One of my pets climbed up and said the girl is incarcerated in her room: the door is bolted, and she's allowed outside once a day to bathe. Professor, that poor girl is in serious trouble!"

"Dear Mrs. Figg, she might have broken a few house rules..." Dumbledore tried, although without much determination. Neither of them had prepared for something like this.

"The bars were installed just a few days ago, but Professor, she's just turned 12! Bars on her windows are ridiculous, no matter what she might have done. And there's more. That disgusting cousin of hers, Dudley, has some nasty friends. I overheard them just last week: one of them was suggesting they'd strip Hermione, that they'd take off her pants. They were suggesting humiliating her: it's only going to get worse. Keeping her here will risk her getting assaulted, Headmaster. This is going too far!" Arabella Figg, usually a quiet woman, was radiating indignation. "She has to be removed from that house! It is too dangerous."

Dumbledore sighed. "I was hoping it would not come to this, but perhaps it is for the best we remove her from the Dursley home. Her blood relatives would have protected her, but I was hoping they would grow to love her and care for her. It seems I was wrong: Petunia Dursley is so different from her sister. And I must admit this gives us the advantage of furthering her training during the summers and keeping a better eye on her, though we will have to protect her at all times. Very well. I will take her as my personal ward and move her, at least for now, to the Order safe house. Come, Severus. I think it's best we take her now, before anything worse happens."

Arabella sighed in relief. She had grown to adore the girl, but her living conditions were becoming intolerable, and the thought of the girl getting assaulted, perhaps even raped by her cousin's insipid friends was frightening. The Dursley house was no place for a young girl. Arabella knew she'd see the girl in the Order's safe house. She'd be safer there.

*************************************

Severus Snape, August 3rd 1992

The sight of the poor little chit had Severus almost in tears. Petunia Dursley had opened the door and gasped out of sheer shock and outrage at the sight of the two robed Wizards — and at the sight of Severus, especially. "YOU!" she had cried. "You are that horrible little boy! Get out of my house, you freak!" she had gasped and attempted to slam the door at their faces. But nobody slammed the door in the face of Albus Dumbledore, least of all a Muggle mistreating one of his prized pupils. Certain words had been exchanged, and Mrs. Dursley, now relieved she'd be soon rid of her young and unwanted relative, led the men to the bolted and barred bedroom door on the second floor. The sight of that poor child was shocking.

The room was well organized and very tidy, although nothing there was new and unused. The furniture was worn and scarce: a partially broken bed with threadbare sheets and blankets, a desk and a rickety single chair with no padding. In a house that was furnished with good and proper middle-class furniture the differences between her bedroom and the other rooms was glaringly obvious. Her snowy owl was perched on the back of the chair, the little carrying cage in the corner of the room, and it looked bored: it probably hadn't had the chance to fly for weeks. The room had only two books aside the school books, although at school she was a voracious reader: the books had been torn on purpose, and then carefully repaired using tape. She had an old plush cat with one eye, but no other toys. The girl was from one of the wealthiest Wizarding families in Britain and Severus knew that the Dursley family was paid monthly for her upbringing: yet she seemed to live in poverty inside a middle-class house.

The child was wearing a worn jumper and a pair of hugely oversized trousers that looked faded and had a hole somewhere in the middle of her leg. They were obviously meant for a child several sizes larger. The trousers were secured with a very worn belt, and she looked like a mouse in the skin of an elephant. Her cheeks were drawn in, and her whole body thin: it was obvious the child had not been properly fed. Severus felt horrible. He remembered his own childhood all too clearly, even though this house was in a nice neighbourhood, it was clean and the foster parents clearly would have had enough money to care for her properly, unlike his own parents. Somehow that made things even worse.

The look on Albus' face was thunderous. He turned to Petunia Dursley and cast Legilimency without a wand. After a short silence he pulled back. "Feeding the child table scraps? Making her live in a closet for eleven years? Beatings and punishments? ENOUGH!" Albus bellowed, and Petunia cowered before him. "I am taking this child from you right now. It is obvious you care not a Knut for her. You will sign the documents that I will send by owl today. I am adopting her and taking her as my personal ward, and if she chooses to ever see you again, it will be her own choice." Albus turned to the girl. The child was looking directly at him, disbelief clear in her eyes, and Albus spoke softly at her. "We will pack all of your things, Miss Potter, and you will come live with us. We will take you to a better home, dear child."

The girl's eyes were brimming with tears. Dumbledore looked quite touched as he petted her wild hair and comforted her, though he girl had initially flinched from touch, obviously unaccustomed to anyone touching her without meaning to harm or discipline her. "There there, dear girl. No need for tears. We will help you pack all of your belongings. Then we'll take you to your new home for the rest of the summer, and see what a fun holiday we can make for you, shall we?" The girl nodded, her eyes still swimming with tears, and Albus offered her a handkerchief. "Thank you, Sir! Thank you!" The girl also turned to Severus and thanked him, much to his own astonishment.

The girl was soon done packing. She had her school trunk and her owl, but outside her school supplies and her uniform her personal belongings consisted of one pair of jeans (still sopping wet from laundry, but Albus dried them with a quick Charm), two jumpers, one coat, three pieces of beige panties, one pair of trainers, the plush cat and the two books. All the rest of her clothes belonged to her cousin: they were too big, frayed and worn. They knew that there was more than enough of money in the Potter vault at Gringott's to buy a manor, but the girl was obviously not used to having anything and she quite probably didn't know how to use money on herself, not had she had the chance to do so.

After the girl had packed everything into her school trunk, Albus shrunk it and placed it into his coat pocket. Severus picked up the owl cage with the owl now securely inside it, and the three of them left without so much as a word to Mrs. Dursley. Albus was obviously furious. "We will take Miss Potter to the Order safe house first. I think Emmeline or Minerva should take her shopping for some new clothes first, she needs more than she has. I will pay for her shopping until she has time to get some money from Gringott's, but we'll leave that for later. I will send the adoption documents to be signed, although perhaps it will be more prudent to send a Wizarding lawyer to deliver them and to make sure everything goes smoothly. Hmm, the Dursleys have received a generous monthly allowance for her care. I wonder when they'll realise they loose the monthly cheque." Albus gave a small chuckle, though he was obviously still quite furious.

*************************************

Minerva McGonagall, August 7th 1992

Minerva sat around the table at the meeting of the newly established Order of the Phoenix. All the members were present except for Alastor Moody, who was currently somewhere in New York, and Hestia Jones, who had taken the shift to watch over Miss Potter. Hestia would take her for a walk: she had express instructions to not let go of Hermione's hand and to Disapparate to a safe location at the smallest sign of trouble. Hermione also had a Port Key with her for emergencies. They'd be keeping to a populated Muggle area anyway, but Albus was being careful with his young charge.

Minerva greeted her fellow Order members. She knew them all beforehand, of course: she hadn't met many of them in several years, while others were colleagues. She had been surprised by Albus' decision to bring back the Order: Voldemort had been gone for over a decade.

Minerva was pleased that young Hermione had been taken away from her relatives. Albus had summarised quickly the conditions she had been living in: even Severus had disapproved of them, and the girl was terribly thin. Her wardrobe had consisted of the few Muggle clothes and her school uniform and robes: Minerva had transfigured her some new clothes for now, starting with comfortable home attires, pyjamas and bathrobes as well as new slippers and shoes: it was faster and easier than taking her shopping. The girl would also need fattening up.

Albus had called the meeting to order. Albus summarised the events of Voldemort's attempt at the Sorcerer's Stone from the spring to those who had only heard rumours, and how he had thwarted by Hermione and banished from Quirrell's body.

"The reason I have called to Order back," Albus continued, "is that we have received new information from a very reliable source. We now know why Tom did not die when the first war ended. While we know Quirrell was killing unicorns and drinking their blood, Tom only used that trick when he was inside Quirrel's body. But before he was defeated by Hermione Potter over a decade ago, he had managed to create several dark objects called 'Horcrux'."

The Order members looked at each other uncertainly: Only Severus seemed to know what Albus was talking about and did not seem surprised. Severus never really showed any emotions, but Minerva thought it was quite likely that he was the source of this new information: as a spy he had his contacts among the Death Eaters, after all.

"Horcruxes are terrible objects that are created by... well, I won't go there. Tom Riddle split his soul into several pieces and hid the pieces inside these objects, which he has apparently hidden. We do not know how many there are: we know very few things, I'll give the details later. As long as one single of these items remains, Tom cannot truly be killed. We need to figure out how many of them there are, where they are and how to destroy them. To achieve this I'm going to split the Order into several smaller groups according to your personal talents and positions, and the groups will work on tasks that I assign. I normally would not give out this information, but I believe time is of the essence: if we destroy these objects before Tom manages to return in full force he'll never be able to come back. If we do not... I fear we will be facing another war, possibly worse than the previous one.”

“I will do my part, Albus, as much as I can, though my duties as Deputy will take quite a lot of energy.” Minerva said. “Might I suggest I research the subject in the Restricted Section at Hogwarts? I have full access and if I do the research, it'll be a lot less conspicuous than someone outside the school spending time in the library? You-know-who may not have a body now, but I suspect he has the eyes and ears of his followers everywhere.” Minerva could not make herself say Voldemort's name out loud, though Albus often said that the fear of a name only increased the fear of the thing itself.

“Yes, Minerva, I would have suggested that myself.” Albus smiled. “I suggest you and Severus research the library, and I will search the Headmaster's private library in my office. I, however, suggest you deliver all promising books to a group lead by Remus: his group's main focus would be on how to destroy these objects: they are most likely protected by various strong Curses and will not be easy to destroy safely. The second group, lead by Molly, will talk to the people who knew Tom Riddle before the war. Molly, you have a great skill in making people talk. Use it: I will give you some pointers to people you can start with, but you know your business. Through those people you might gain insight on what these objects might be and where they might be hidden. Arthur and Kingsley, you have access to the Ministry of Magic: I want you to be very careful, but see if there's anything in the Ministry archives. Severus, you have your old contacts among the Death Eaters: do not compromise your position but keep an eye out.”

“Later, when we begin to find the objects, I will reorganize the groups to find and destroy the objects, but for now, we'll go with these.”

“What about the Horcrux you know, Albus?” Sturgis Podmore asked.

“It's a locket. I believe I recognized the design: it would have belonged to Salazar Slytherin,” Albus replied, forming the picture of a locket into the air above the table with a flick of his wand. “Its current whereabouts are unknown. I want everyone to keep an eye out on this item: Mundungus, I know you're involved in handling various items of value,” Albus smirked and his eyes twinkled, while Mundungus squirmed a bit on his chair, “and I want you to make inquiries on it. On second thought, the other objects, or at least some of them, might be Slytherin relics as well: Remus, I want someone in your group to research on them.”

“And remember: these are very Dark objects, so be extremely careful if and when handling them. Best not to touch them by hand. We might also research on how to handle and transport them safely to be destroyed.”

Minerva looked around at her fellow Order members and felt a sense of belonging. Their jaws were set in determination: Albus had them all swear a Wand Oath to protect what they had learned today from anyone outside the Order of the Phoenix: not one of them refused.

Minerva felt dread and anxiety mixed with optimism. She remembered the last war all too well: now the next war was hanging over their heads like an axe, and young and innocent Hermione Potter was standing smack in the middle of it. She was too young, too sweet: she'd become her favourite student, with her thirst for knowledge and the almost inhumane speed of learning. Minerva had brought new assignments of Hermione: if she kept up this speed, she might have completed assignments for the Third Year and perhaps some of her Fourth by the end of the Second Year at Hogwarts.

Yes, the war was looming ahead, but they had Albus Dumbledore and they had Hermione Potter: with two such wonderful talents they were unlikely to loose the war. But Minerva looked at her fellow Order members, and she felt a twinge of sadness, fear for their lives: how many would they loose this time? Would she, herself, die?

Minerva McGonagall sighed as she picked up her wand, stood up and recited her Wand Oath: “I, Minerva McGonagall, swear my allegiance...”

*************************************

Life in the Order safe house had soon settled to a new routine. Miss Potter became a great favourite in the house. She was given a nice room of her own, and Minerva Transfigured her some nice furniture. Emmeline Vance took her shopping, and the two returned with a load of bags and packages, which contained plenty of new clothes, linen for her room, a lot of new books and quite a load of sweets, chocolates and cakes, which Miss Potter shared generously with everyone. She was far from greedy and selfish and clearly wanted to please everyone. Gratitude was obvious in her every gesture.

The Dursleys had indeed been been punishing her: for some reason a house-elf had tried to prevent her from going to school. It had wrought quite a havoc in her home, slamming a plate of dessert into the head to a party guest, though nobody knew why an elf — he had called himself 'Dobby' — would do such a thing. It was extremely peculiar and unnerving. The Dursleys had refused to believe she did not do the magic herself, and she did have a few bruises from being shaken about. The incarceration was part of her punishment.

In the first week she was a bit guarded, obviously afraid that she might be sent back to the Dursley family, but as time went by, she became happier. She already knew how to cook, and she enjoyed making food for the Order members: the Dursleys had had her cooking since she was very young, and had always berated her for every small mistake, so she was actually quite skilled. She kept her room spotless without prompting and went for long walks with Remus Lupin on his 'safe days', though never close to full moon. Diggle would show her his miniature fireworks, and Vance took her to the beach for a swim several times when the weather permitted. They made sure she had plenty of books to read, and they celebrated her 12th birthday belatedly, after it turned out she had gotten nothing for her birthday: there was a veritable feast and a large cake made by Molly Weasley to top it all, and members were all invited. Vance and Minerva took her to the British Museum as a present: some amused expressions were seen when she turned out to prefer a museum tour to a day in an amusement park, which had also been presented as an option.

The two women also took her to shop for school supplies at Diagon Alley, setting the day with other families to that she could spend the shopping day with her friends Harry Granger, Ron Weasley, Neville Longbottom and Draco Malfoy. Ron's younger sister Ginevra Weasley would also be attending the school this year, and Hermione seemed to instantly like her. Draco's father had been quite obnoxious toward the Weasley family, though he had made attempts to flatter Hermione, much to his son's obvious embarrassment. Hermione had been polite, although obviously not very impressed, and then less than amused when Lucius Malfoy had insulted the poverty of the Weasley family and looked at the Muggle-born Harry Granger with obvious disdain. Ronald Weasley and Draco Malfoy were definitely not the best of friends, but they had gotten along decently enough during the first year: their experiences with the Troll and the labyrinth had created a tentative bond, though the two still quarrelled from time to time. The Weasleys and the Malfoys had a family feud decades back, so a tentative truce of 'getting along' was better than a full-out brawl.

At Diagon Alley they had also met the future Defence-instructor Gilderoy Lockhart, who had tried to flatter Hermione: unlike most other females she hadn't been impressed. She had read some of his books, but as she later remarked — very maturely in Severus' opinion — the man acted like a pompous prat and boasted too much. Albus had defended the man in a good-natured way, remarking that Lockhart's experience would make him a good instructor and bring prestige to the school, but though she did not comment further, Hermione had seemed sceptical.

Molly and Arthur Weasley had adored her and invited her to stay at the Burrows for a couple of days, but the girl was obviously delighted to return to the Order's house: the bustle of the Burrows was obviously too much for her, and she gladly returned to her studies and the quiet evenings of tea and reading. She seemed to prefer the company of her elders, shyly commenting on the childish antics of her peers when asked. Minerva was giving her reading assignments and private tutorials at Transfigurations, Filius did the same at Charms, and she was progressing well. Remus taught her about all manner of dark and dangerous creatures and how to encounter them, and the three were obviously very impressed with her capacity for learning and her willingness to spend hour upon hour engrossed in books and testing spells. Severus had taken upon himself to teach her spells and protections from Defence Against the Dark Arts and was enjoying it: he had applied to the Defence position for years, and now he was able to teach the subject and brew Potions as well. The girl was a quick study.

The girl would share tea, scones and cakes with any one of them, with Severus Snape as well, which surprised most of the Order members. She soon learned to tolerate his occasionally moody behaviour, and for the first time in his life he actually enjoyed teaching a student. The other members of the Order were astonished when they first found the sour Potions Master sharing tea, chocolate cake and scones with a pupil, or both of them contently reading books in the little library in companionable silence.

As the summer progressed and the next term came closer, it became apparent that while she might be a bit bossy, she also had an almost insatiable thirst for learning; she was generous, kind, gentle and loyal. If Severus hadn't known about Hermione's past life as Hermione Granger, he would have wondered where the personality traits came from: while she was emotional, she was not reckless like James Potter, and while Lily had been kind, she was never as loyal and forgiving as Hermione was. Whatever the biological traits and bonds from the Potters were, they apparently did not affect her personality. Harry Granger, meanwhile, seemed to contain James Potter's arrogance, rashness and ability to get himself into trouble. Severus shuddered at the thought of having a child like Harry Granger as "The Chosen One".

*************************************

Severus Snape, August 25th 1992

Severus had been dropping some new books to the Order's safe house for Remus' group. The next term would soon commence: he'd been quite busy between ordering new supplies for Potions classes, brewing a stock of Pepper-up, Skele-Gro, Blood-Replenishing Potion and Bruise Salve for the school's infirmary and researching for books for the Order. The shipment of Potion supplies would arrive tomorrow: then there would be three, perhaps four days worth arranging the supplies and shelving them.

Severus had just passed the library door on his way to the kitchens when he heard Lupin mention the names of Lily and James Potter. He froze to listen: the library door was ajar but the people inside made no indication they'd heard him: Severus always walked quietly, a skill honed to near perfection after years of dodging bullies at school and, in the following years, spying on dangerous people in dangerous places.

Lupin was regaling some of his school memories, but his descriptions of Lily Evans and James Potter seemed quite far-fetched: he made them sound like saints. His description of their appearance was spot-on: Potter with his black hair that stuck to every direction and his hazel eyes and constant grin, and Lily's stunning beauty, but Lupin made James sound like a loveable little prankster without a mean bone on his body and all noble and good intent: Lily sounded like a perfect angel, but Severus also clearly remembered her jealous streak, her vanity and her ability to bear a grudge, not to mention her ambition. Her name still made Severus sad, much sadder than James Potter's: she might have one day become a great Potioneer or a specialist in Charms perhaps, but her life had been cut short by Voldemort, and, to some extent by Severus, although unwittingly.

Remus was currently talking about some of James Potter's pranks. Severus heard Hermione Potter's voice and clinks of dishes: they were apparently taking tea. Severus recognized the prank: he'd been the victim that day. Potter, Black, Lupin and Pettigrew had stolen some Swelling Solution and poured it on his feet, making his feet swell so much they had ripped his shoes. Severus felt an angry blush creep over his cheeks: they had been his only shoes, and no charm had been able to repair them properly. He had had to walk with wet feet for weeks. Lupin was careful not to mention the victim's name, he noticed.

“But that's terrible!” Miss Potter shrieked. “That was cruel and ugly and horrible.” Severus heard Lupin cough up some crumbs: Miss Potter's reaction had apparently shocked him.

“Well, he... he wasn't an innocent victim, Hermione. He was quite nasty and gave as good as he got,” Lupin attempted to defend himself and his old friends.

“No, that's just... you can't do that, not to anyone. I'm sorry you did that. I wish my father hadn't done that to someone. Please... don't tell me more. I'd rather not know.” Hermione sounded distressed and sad. Lupin had the decency to shut his mouth for a while.

“So... I heard you went after a troll in your First Year? That sounds quite like something we might have done,” Lupin finally said.

“I really didn't,” Miss Potter confessed, “I was in the lavatory when the troll came in. I'd been crying, you see, and then the boys came looking for me and we knocked it out together. I took the blame so they wouldn't get in trouble, you see?”

“That's very noble, and worthy of Gryffindor indeed. Why were you crying?”

“Ronald Weasley called me a nightmare. He said the only reason I have any friends is because I'm famous, because of this,” Miss Potter said, probably indicating to her scar, though Severus couldn't see it, “so I wanted to be alone and cry. Only then the troll came...”

“That was a nasty thing to say, and that is definitely not true, Hermione. You are not a nightmare, and you do have friends, don't you? From what I heard you're friends with even that Weasley boy, and some others as well? Did he apologise?”

“No. But I forgave him anyway. And they all came for me and we worked together.”

“That's right. And that's what real friends do: they might fight but they also can forgive. My frfiends and I would quite often fight and quarrel, but we always forgave each other, in the end. That's true friendship for you. And you're a good friend to forgive without an apology, Hermione: nothing close to a nightmare. Now let's finish up our tea and then we'll talk more about some Dark creatures and spells.”

Severus crept away silently, deep in thought. Lily had never forgiven him for calling her a Mudblood: yet Miss Potter had been called a nightmare and had forgiven without an apology. Would Hermione Potter have forgiven him for the same slur, had she been in the same place as Lily Potter had? Or had Lily simply used the fight as an excuse to rid herself of a poor, ugly Manc-boy in favour of her wealthier, more popular friends?

*************************************

There was a day when Hermione saw Severus Snape as a man, not as a teacher. They had spent the day in discussion about different spells and potions. The discussion had taken several hours, and they took their evening tea together. Then professor Snape had gotten up, taken off his teaching robes, and stretched his arms and back, before prowling to the other side of the room. He had spoken about Potions and told her about an amusing encounter at a conference in Prague some years ago: he smirked a bit, a small, lopsided grin.

His body was lithe, his movements fluid and graceful. He moved with the grace of a panther and the sight hit Hermione like a Bludger to the gut. She felt dazed.

She looked at him again. His nose might have been too big and crooked for common tastes, his skin sallow, his hair greasy and lanky, his teeth were crooked and yellow and his lips thin, but she just saw... him. He was a man. He might have been almost 20 years her senior, but none of that mattered.

And then she had fallen for him, just like that.

He had said something while she was just staring at his face like a complete berk. Oh Merlin...

"I'm sorry Sir, could you repeat that? I was miles off..."

Inside Hermione Potter's mind the part that was Hermione Granger smirked. This was a wiser and smarter crush than the one she had had on Gilderoy Lockhart, the blasted fraud. in her first life. Granger remembered how Snape had presumably murdered Albus Dumbledore with an Avada Kedavra, but she was intelligent enough to know that something wasn't right about that: her logic and instinct both told her there was something off in that scenario, and Granger's assessment of the Potions Master through the innocent eyes on Hermione Potter was quickly proving her point: Severus Snape was no evil traitor. Her money would be on either the Imperius curse or some plot by Dumbledore: the old man hadn't even attempted to defend himself, by Merlin's blood! Harry had always drawn hasty conclusions and refused to listen to reasoning.

The school would begin soon. Hermione knew that her body was growing older, but it was still too young for her to remember Granger. The time would come soon, though, she could feel it.

*************************************

Severus Snape, August 28th 1992

Severus had spent an evening in the safe house's library, babysitting Hermione while the rest of the Order was too busy. He learned he didn't really mind that much. Miss Potter had helped him restock the shelves in the school Potions lab for the last two days: the work was much faster with a helper, and he now had an extra day and a half of spare time, and a new book to read. Miss Potter was an easy child to care for: one only needed to give her a book and she'd be quiet for hours in the end, and the questions she asked — and by Merlin she was sometimes full of questions! — were quite intelligent.

The girl had been reading an advanced book about Charms: she could not test them outside the school, but it didn't seem to bother her too much. She had nodded off an hour and a half ago, and was sleeping on a sofa with her hand on the book she'd been reading.

Suddenly she moved in her sleep, and Severus turned to look at her. Her eyes opened in her sleep, and for just a short while the eyes were brown: a lovely shade of whisky Severus had seen in the Pensieve memory. The eyes seemed unfocused, and then they closed again, the girl mumbled something and continued to sleep.

Severus sat and pondered. He was sure that the brown eyes indicated Hermione Granger's presence.
Perhaps the Granger-part had surfaced in her sleep. He'd have to talk to Albus about this.

When Severus woke her up fifteen minutes later and sent her to bed, her eyes with bleary but back to the familiar shade of green with brown speckles. She yawned and bade him good night, but gave no indication that anything would be out of the ordinary.

Chapter Text

Hestia Jones, September 1st, 1992

 

Hestia smiled as she lead Hermione Potter through London. They were running a bit late: so many members of the new Order of the Phoenix had arrived to wish her a happy school year. Hermione would be missed, Hestia mused: she was such a lovely, considerate and mature child for her age.

Hestia smiled as they walked and chatted amicably. Hermione was extremely excited about her studies, and the members of the Order often joked that it was harder to make Hermione relax and have fun like the other children did than to make her study. Hestia herself had spent as much of her time with Hermione as possible, and had grown very attached to the girl. During her school years Hestia had gotten injured in an accident in Defence against the Dark Arts-class: a stray Hex had caused internal damage, and she'd never been able to have a child of her own: in a way Hermione was now filling that place inside her, a daughter she could love and pamper.

“I heard you singing in the bath this morning,” Hestia said, smiling. Hermione blushed. “Remus and Daedalus were there as well, and we all thought you have such a lovely voice. Have you thought of singing as a hobby?”

“No,” the girl replied. “There's the Hogwart's school song but that's just...” Hermione grimaced and Hestia laughed. “The Sorting Hat sings, of course, but all the hobbies at school seem to involve studies or Quidditch. I do like to sing.”

“I take it you have never had any lessons?” Hestia asked.

For some reason an odd image rose before Hermione's mind: a small woman with short brown hair and a green dress was seated in front of a piano. The woman was singing softly and playing a tune: her voice was soft and melodious, and for a while Hermione felt inexplicably sad. Then the image was just... gone, and Hermione Potter shook her head. “No, never.”

“Would you like to? I used to sing a bit when I was younger. I could ask Professor Dumbledore if he would allow me to give you singing lessons during weekends. I know how you tend to get drawn into your studies: it's good to have hobbies as well.”

Hermione nodded enthusiastically and beamed at her. Hestia's heart fluttered: the poor orphan needed all the joy she could get.

They were now approaching the Platform 9¾. Everyone had already gone through and the train's departure was only about five minutes away. Hestia helped Hermione push her trolley as they approached the entrance at a brisk pace... only to be thrown back by the wall, as if the entrance wasn't there. Hermione's cart made a terrible sound as it fell, the girl shouted in fright, and Hermione's owl Hedwig fluttered in panic as her cage tipped over. Hermione immediately scooted over to secure the cage, soothing Hedwig and making sure the bird wasn't injured.

Hestia immediately caught a hold of Hermione's hand with one hand, told her to keep a hold on Hedwig, and Apparated them to the safe house. She pushed the girl inside, immediately Disapparated back to the platform, took a hold on Hermione's luggage and returned to the safe house, panting in exhaustion, just as Remus appeared with his eyes wide in shock.

“Aren't you supposed to be in the train? It's almost eleven,” Remus asked.

“Something went wrong, and I took the security measures,” Hestia replied, shoving the heavy luggage to Remus. “I don't know if someone intended to attack us, but the Platform entry closed and didn't allow us entrance. I instantly brought her here, then went back for the luggage. We're unharmed and I saw no attacker, but I didn't dare take a chance.”

“Well done,” Remus said, lowering Hermione's trunk on the floor. “We'll have to Apparate her to the school. The train has already left. I think we should take a couple of others along, just as far as the school gates: Diggle and Vance are still here, and I can send a Patronus for more. Shacklebolt perhaps.”

They finally decided that four escorts were enough. While Hestia called for Emmeline and Daedalus to accompany them, Remus sent his Patronus to the school to alert Dumbledore of what happened and ask for a house-elf to accompany a Professor to the gates for Hermione's trunk. Hermione looked a little pale at the prospect of yet another side-along Apparition for the day, but did not protest: Remus passed her a piece of chocolate before picking up her heavy trunk and spinning, then disappearing with a loud crack. Emmeline went next with Hermione's owl, then Hestia with Hermione and Daedaus came last, all landing at the gates of Hogwarts.

Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape approached them at a brisk pace: Hermione squealed with delight and ran to hug her Potions Professor, then spinning to embrace the Headmaster in turn. Albus chuckled and Severus looked quite flabbergasted for a while before schooling his expression to the usual blank, cold stare, which did not seem to phase Hermione one bit.

“What exactly happened?” Dumbledore queried, as two elves took Hermione's trunk and Hedwig's cage and disappeared with them. “Why isn't she in the train?”

“The entrance to the platform didn't open, Albus”, Hestia explained, “and I didn't stick around to find out why. I took Hermione back to the safe house, then went back for her luggage. The train had already departed either way, and we decided it was safest to bring her here immediately, with an escort.”

“Well done, all of you,” Albus beamed with his eyes twinkling, though his expression was serious. “I will launch a subtle investigation on the platform. Whoever or whatever it was, the magic would have been strong to counter the gate's enchantment. You were not attacked, I take it?”

“No, I noticed no attackers. The gateway just wouldn't open. It might have been some innocent fault in magic, perhaps an accident, but I took no chances with her: I decided to take her immediately away from all the risks.”

“Indeed, well done,” Albus affirmed. “Severus, will you please escort Miss Potter to her dormitory, so she can settle down?” Hermione turned to hug all of her escorts, quickly saying her farewells while Snape waited impatiently. It was obvious they'd all miss her: Daedalus and Remus had tears in their eyes.

“Professor Dumbledore, before I go, might I ask if I would be allowed to give Hermione singing lessons on weekends?” Hestia asked.

“Singing lessons?” Dumbledore asked, wrinkling his forehead.

“Yes. She has a lovely voice, and she doesn't appreciate Quidditch, but a young girl needs a hobby in addition to academic endeavours. Perhaps two hours every Saturday or Sunday, as long as she wishes to continue? I myself used to sing, and I could use the Room of Requirement to train her.”

“Would you like to learn to sing, Hermione?” the Headmaster asked the girl. Hermione practically beamed at him.

“Yes, Sir! It'd be lovely!”

“Well then,” Albus smiled at them all, “if Miss Jones can spare the time, I have no problems with this at all. What do you say, between one and three on Sunday afternoons?”

“That sounds excellent, Professor”, Hestia replied, and Hermione nodded enthusiastically. Hestia drew her into a hug and bade her farewell until next week, before the girl followed the Potions Master toward the school, and Hestia Disapparated to the Order's safe house again.

 

*************************************

Severus Snape, September 10th 1992

Severus noticed that over the summer Draco Malfoy had changed quite a bit. He had been a smug and spoiled little brat with a bit of a mean streak, especially when someone outside Hermione's closest circle was concerned. He still was one, but there was a new joy to him now. He had happily greeted his Gryffindor friends, even the Muggle-born Harry Granger and Ron Weasley, though the animosity between the Weasleys and the Malfoys traditionally stretched decades back. He had joined the Slytherin Quidditch team as their seeker, but could also almost daily be found racing against Granger, the Gryffindor team's new Seeker: the boys would zip and zoom in the air above the castle grounds, their happy laughter echoing off the trees and battlements. They would play friendly matches: Ron, Fred and George Weasley would constantly join the game up in the air, while Neville Longbottom and Hermione Potter remained on the ground, either studying or conversing while watching their friends let out steam.

New people had gravitated to the group: the First Years Ginevra Weasley from Gryffindor and Luna Lovegood from Ravenclaw were quite often present. Hermione would coach them all in their studies in her bossy manner: she could sometimes even be caught haranguing the older Weasley brothers, Fred and George. Hermione's grades were stellar, though she progressed much faster than anyone in her year.

But when Hermione Potter and Draco Malfoy appeared side by side on the door of his office, Snape realised just how big the change in Draco was.

“Professor Snape, Hermione told me about the house-elf that caused problems at her home during the summer,” Mr Malfoy explained, “and I recognized the name. If she remembers it correctly and the elf was called Dobby, then it's one of my father's house-elves.”

Severus sat up even straighter than usual. “Do you know what a Malfoy house-elf would warn Miss Potter about, Mr Malfoy?” he asked.

“I don't know, Sir. It doesn't sound like something my father would have ordered, and Hermione told me that the elf said it was working on its own,” replied Draco, frowning. “My father knows I'm Hermione's friend. He told me to be her friend but he speaks about her in.. I don't like it, Sir, and I once told him so. He... got pretty angry at me, Sir, and hasn't spoken to me much at all since then.”

“I suggest you do not mention this to your father, Mr Malfoy,” Severus slowly said. “or he will punish the elf and probably distance you further from himself. You need to get along with your parents.”

“Would you like me to ask Dobby myself when I get home the next time, Sir?”

Severus nodded slowly. “Perhaps, if you can get the the elf to trust you, though there is a risk your father may react badly to your friendship with Miss Potter. I will consider this and return to the matter. Was there something else?”

“Yes, Sir”, Miss Potter replied. “The first was, well, it's Professor Lockhart. Did you know he's a terrible teacher?”

“Miss Potter, it is inappropriate for a student to make remarks on their Professors' skills. Be that as it may... has there been some incident?”

Miss Potter blushed. “Not as such, Sir, but he gave us a pop quiz about his personal preferences and likes, with questions such as 'What is Gilderoy Lockhart's favourite colour?' that had nothing to do with Defence Against the Dark Arts. And he released a flock of Cornish Pixies and when he couldn't contain them, he ran away.”

“Hermione used the Freezing Charm on them so we could collect them. They lifted Neville by his ears,” Draco said, smirking, and Hermione elbowed him fiercely with a scowl that made Draco's amused expression disappear as he continued, “Hermione needs to fight the Dark Lord at some point, doesn't she? And it would be important for her to learn to defend herself, so Defence should be her main focus, shouldn't it? But we've been thinking she doesn't learn much at all from Lockhart.”

“Professor Lockhart, Draco,” Miss Potter corrected her friend.

“Yes, yes, Professor Lockhart” Draco drawled with a bored expression worthy of the Malfoy legacy, rolling his eyes.

“Well, I will take the matter up with the Headmaster, but you must remember that the Headmaster selects the teachers and it is not up to the students to question their Professors,” Severus stated, fixing a firm gaze on his students, though on the inside he felt like grinning widely. Of course the students would notice what an ass Lockhart really was; especially these two, cleverest in their houses.

“Now you two best be off to dinner,” he said in a strict voice that usually made his students scramble away immediately, but only made these two grin happily at him as they walked away.

Severus leaned back in his chair. He had to admit to himself that he was glad Miss Potter was such an intelligent child: he still had to treat all his Gryffindor students harshly, dole out punishments and take away House Points, but knowing that in private the girl did not bear a grudge was calming.

 

*************************************

Severus Snape, October 9th 1992

Severus was delivering Lupin his dosage of Wolfsbane Potion. The Headmaster paid for the Potion ingredients. Severus detested the extra duty of brewing for the old member of the Marauders, but as Dumbledore said, the risks of not brewing the Wolfsbane were far too great, and the Order of the Phoenix needed Remus Lupin. Severus hated the duty, especially when he had to deliver the goblet in person and listen to his former nemesis try and engage in mindless small-talk.

“I told Hermione about Lily and James. My memories of them, you know, back from school. How they were and such. Have you...?”

“No.”

“She needs to know them better, Severus. You were Lily's best friend for years before that... that day.”

“That's not going to happen. I heard you talk about them once, Lupin. You made them sound like blasted saints of the highest order.”

“They're dead, Severus, and Hermione is their daughter. It's not good to talk ill of the dead. I know the things that they... that we... did to you were disgusting, but it's in the past. And you don't need to talk about James, really. You could talk about just Lily. There's nothing really bad to say about her.”

“Really, Lupin?” Severus asked. “Is your memory really that selective? Don't you really remember...” he stopped.

“Well, I know you were in love with her once. We all were at one point or another, I think,” Lupin said quietly, looking down into his goblet.

“I do remember. I also remember she used it to her advantage and she was never nice about it, either. Don't you remember the incident with Pettigrew?”

Lupin drained his goblet and grimaced horribly at the foul taste of the Potion before handing it back to Severus. “I think it's best we leave the subject to rest,” he quickly said, “Thank you for the Potion. And the books. The bag over there is done, we don't need those any more.”

“Yes. I'll send tomorrow's dosage with a house-elf,” Severus said, taking his leave.

Unpleasant memories rolled in his mind as he picked up the book bag and made it to the Floo. The Pettigrew incident hadn't crossed his mind in years until he'd overheard Lupin describe Lily to Hermione in such an unrealistic way.

Lily Evans had been beautiful, true, and at least half the boys in the school had been infatuated with her. Severus' obsession had been a hard one, but it never profited him in any way: he was too ugly for Lily, too homely with his yellow crooked teeth, sallow skin, his spider-like gait (before he'd grown up and learned to control his long limbs), his beak-like nose, greasy hair and black eyes.

Lily Evans had been very affectionate. She'd slept around quite a bit: Severus had been bitter when she slept with the Marauders, each and every one of them: the handsome and rich Sirius Black and James Potter were no big surprises and Remus Lupin was intelligent enough to merit Lily's advances, but she'd even slept with Peter Pettigrew, though she'd later spread nasty gossip about the boy: it had been Pettigrew's first time, apparently, and the gossip about him had spread around all the Houses, including Slytherin, within two days: Lily had spared no scorn for his apparently deplorable performance. At that point Severus hadn't been surprised: it was more surprising that Pettigrew hadn't anticipated it.

Evans had been quite attached to Sirius Black as well: after Lily and James Potter had died, sold out by their Secret Keeper by Sirius Black, the rumours suggested that Sirius felt betrayed and slighted: that Sirius had considered proposing to Lily — or had proposed, only to be turned down — in favour of his best friend James, and that although he'd been Potter's Best Man and Godfather to their child, he'd harboured a grudge for Lily's choice.

Evans had used her charms for her profit like the toughest Slytherin: she'd even slept with Avery, Mulciber and Rabastan LeStrange, for Merlin's sakes. Never with Severus though: he'd tried to kiss her, once, and Lily had backed away with such an expression of disgust that it had broken his heart. She'd told about it, and later that week the Marauders had cornered him, used a spell of his own creation — the Levicorpus — to hang him upside down, and had taken off his pants. When Lily had stepped in and told Potter off, Severus had seen the scorn and pity in the eyes on his fellow students: the gangly and odious Severus Snape hanging upside down in his dirty and threadbare underpants, knowing that not even Lily Evans wanted to kiss him... Severus had called her a Mudblood, thus severing their friendship forever.

He'd tried to apologise, of course: profusely, repeatedly, and to no avail. Lily Evans had joined the Marauders in bullying, pushing Severus to join the Dark Lord's forces. She'd dated James Potter more seriously in their final year, and Severus and she never had reconciled.

He'd paid for the one word for decades: oh how much he had paid. A career in teaching that he detested just so he could serve the Dark Lord and perhaps one day protect the child of his former nemesis and his first crush: a life without any affections or love.

No woman had ever wanted Severus Snape; no woman had even touched him willingly. He'd never kissed a woman: he'd never had sex, not even with a prostitute though they were readily available at Knockturn Alley. He'd considered it part of his punishment. He feigned impotence when the Dark Lord commanded rape of Muggles and Muggle-Borns at his Dark Revels: the Dark Lord had tested him, of course, but Severus had guessed it and brewed a Potion that induced complete impotence for a day. He'd been left alone, and the Dark Lord had appreciated him for his cunning and cold calculations, his skills with brewing rather than the frenzied bouts of rape and bloodied gore that most other Death Eaters preferred.

And the guilt was ever present. He had lost his friend, his best friend for several years, because of one stupid mistake. He'd loved her for a very long time: though these days, when he felt his heart, he felt a lingering affection for a good childhood friend, the loss of a promising life and the guilt for it pressed him harshly.

Chapter Text

September 5th 1992

Hermione Potter was on her way to the Gryffindor Tower when she heard the voice for the fist time. It chilled her to the bone: a voice so cold it seemed to make her blood freeze in her veins, so filled with venom and hatred and murder...

'Come... come to me... let me rip you... let me tear you... let me kill you...'*

Hermione squealed and flattened herself against the wall of the corridor. She heard other students around her, and none of them seemed disturbed: Lisa Turpin, Terry Boot and Michael Corner from Ravenclaw passed her by, nodding briefly in greeting and immersed in discussion about Transfigurations. They didn't seem at all alarmed, and Hermione was certain that if the voice she'd heard was real, then they would have heard it too. In a way it was almost as alarming: hearing voices in the head was a bad sign. Something seemed to be niggling in her mind: it was alarmed, disturbed, but she couldn't put a finger on what it exactly was.

Perhaps she'd just gotten too little sleep lately? She'd been studying hard, advancing at a rapid pace in Transfigurations, Charms, Potions and Herbology, receiving extra tuition and special assignments in each. She'd tried to get extra work in Defence Against the Dark Arts, but Lockhart had gotten into his thick head that Hermione had a crush on him, and given her a signed photograph of himself. Hermione donated it to a swooning classmate and decided she'd ask Professor Dumbledore that someone else would instruct her. Though Draco had mentioned Lockhart's... deficiencies... to Professor Snape, that had been of absolutely no use.

Deep in thought, Hermione put the voice off her mind and continued toward the Gryffidor Tower. It was almost curfew. She could feel another headache forming.

Hermione Granger was shaking uncontrollably. She'd tried to reach the conscious thoughts of Hermione Potter: she wanted to scream the word 'Basilisk' over and over and over again, and the inability to alert her conscious mind was terrifying. She wanted to stop this, to stop it all: to tell someone to slay the Basilisk, because if there was something that Hermione Granger knew, it was that she'd never be able to do it herself. Harry had described the voice of the Basilisk, and it was as horrible as she'd imagined it to be, if not worse. This was not the first time Hermione Granger realised that she'd become a Parselmouth: she'd conversed with a serpent in a zoo once, though the conversation hadn't taken that long. It had been a nasty shock: apparently her mind would be connected to Voldemort’s mind just as Harry's had been.

She'd almost forgotten about the Basilisk during the summer: the miracle of being moved to the Order's safe house while Harry had been forced to endure life with the Dursley family for years... the peace she'd formed with Professor Snape, her friendship with Draco Malfoy out of all people... it had kept the Basilisk out of her mind until the school year began. Then there was Dobby. She had expected that, but seeing Dobby so sad and repressed and horrified felt terrible, even if she did get punished for Dobby's misguided trick.

She'd hoped that her friendship with Draco would stop Lucius Malfoy from slipping the Diary into Ginny's cauldron at Flourish and Blotts, but the voice was proof of the contrary. Draco seemed reformed by their friendship — Hermione Granger had known Draco Malfoy for years, after all, and that was no act — but Lucius Malfoy was a bastard of the highest order. Draco had been a surprise, Hermione mused: she'd wondered often if life had been different for Harry Potter had he not rejected Draco's friendship from the start. Sure he'd been a right little bastard at Madam Malkin's, but Hermione had prodded him back, with good results. She was certain that Draco had never, ever in his life been treated as an equal: with his bossy but mollycoddling parents, a childhood spent in luxury and never learning to share and how to be a part of a group... logical, come to think of it: Crabbe and Goyle were little more than brainless oafs who'd worship and follow Draco around, and the same could be said for Pansy Parkinson and Millicent Bullstrode, who both had an obvious crush on him. The rest of the Slytherin looked at Draco as a natural leader due to his family status and wealth as well as his bossy character: Hermione's natural bossy nature gave him a natural obstacle, and their true friendship did not take long to form. In a way Draco was more of a peer than Harry or Ron ever were: Draco tended to be a bit lazy, but he was also smart and strived for good grades, and she didn't have to boss him around, unlike Ron and Harry, who both tended to slouch at every possible and impossible opportunity. She now used Draco as a driving force to drive Harry and Ron in their school work: two naggers worked better than one.

Ginny... Ginny was a bit of a problem. Now that she knew how to look, Ginny's plight was apparent. It was frustrating to see how Hermione Potter did not see it: how Ginny was withdrawing from their group, distancing herself from her brothers and all their classmates. She had an obvious crush on Harry, of course: even Hermione Potter noticed that, and Hermione Granger grinned happily when she got the confirmation that what attracted Ginny to Harry was not his fame or fortune. Harry, of course, was oblivious, in the typical boyish way.

Hermione Granger felt terribly old compared to her classmates. She'd been eighteen, then lived twelve years in a younger body, though the first years were spent mostly unconscious, buried so deep inside she'd sometimes caught herself wondering if she really was... real. It was a bit of a blur, really. And what did it make her? Was she still 18 years old, or twelve? Or perhaps thirty, if you added the years together? She certainly sometimes felt like it. Her friends were so immature: Granger had always considered Harry and Ron a bit childish... a bit more than childish if she was being absolutely honest with herself, but Granger looked at everything with the eyes of an adult. In addition to that she had her destiny to face Voldemort, so the childish antics displayed by her peers were sometimes more than annoying.

The destiny... Granger groaned. She'd probably have to face the Basilisk. Harry had killed it the first time, while Hermione herself had spent her time Petrified in the infirmary. Would Harry get Petrified this time? Perhaps even killed, because the only thing that had saved Hermione Granger — along with Penelope Clearwater — had been the mirror she'd held. And how would she ever be able to kill a Basilisk? Harry had been... well, Harry. Harry was, as he'd been the first time, a lot more impulsive, but he also was stronger and bigger than Hermione was. She would never be able to even lift the Sword of Gryffindor, let alone kill the Basilisk with it. Harry was a born Seeker: he was fast and swift, while Hermione, both as Granger and Potter, was a bookworm. She knew she'd fail at this.

The headache was pounding again. At least she'd get her first singing lesson tomorrow. Hestia Jones was really lovely, Hermione mused: she'd always loved singing as well as playing the piano. Her mother had taught her in both playing and singing: it was a thrill to have a hobby at school and the chance to sing even though she no longer technically had parents.

Hermione had to violently squash down the impulsive anger and rage that seemed so foreign and alien to her. Hermione Granger was not an angry person, but sometimes she could feel an impulsive rage just boiling in her blood. She'd quickly repress it: Hermione Potter did not need impulsive bouts of anger. She would have to stop this, one way or another: to change what had happened. If she could only get Hermione Granger's mind connected properly with Hermione Potter's, preferably before Voldemort would return in the flesh, or before she went and got herself and everyone else killed...

**************************

Albus Dumbledore, September 24th, 1992

 

Albus Dumbledore asked Hermione Potter to sit while he asked for tea to be delivered. After he had become the legal guardian of the young Miss Potter, he'd taken time each week to have a tea with her and converse a bit. It wasn't only for relaxation or guardianship: he was mostly curious about Hermione Granger and if the older mind would make an appearance in the surface. Severus had informed him of seeing her eyes change colour from green to brown once during the summer, though the incident had never reoccurred, but it was a clear indicator that Hermione Granger was in there somewhere.

He'd attempted Legilimency the last time they had tea together, with her permission of course: Hermione had first seemed confused as to why the Headmaster would need to probe her mind again, but he'd explained it off by 'seeing the memories of her encounter with Voldemort again, as well as trying to learn what made her the Chosen One', and Hermione had not protested: she was an obedient child, after all. It was not a pleasant experience for her, and she'd blushed furiously when Dumbledore accidentally stumbled upon her memory of mooning over Severus Snape, out of all people, and drawing little hearts around his initials in her diary.

Albus had chuckled and patted the poor girl, telling her it was all very natural, that a crush on a teacher was commonplace: she'd only have to look at the girls swooning at Lockhart. Honestly Albus had been very surprised: Severus was definitely not the type to draw the hearts of schoolgirls or women. He had a wonderful voice, of course, but his caustic manner, his irritable and unsocial behaviour, his scathing tongue and his rather unfortunate looks were certainly not in his favour. But under the childish scribbled hearts Albus sensed a more serious undertone, a trace of the older, more mature and serious Hermione Granger.

Though he had not found any clear memories of Hermione Granger, Albus sensed something of her: a sort of maturity that was not normally present in young children. Traces of urgent fear and agitation, the drive to learn to protect and defend others. Very good qualities for the destined Chosen One, Albus thought.

Hermione Potter was very kind. During the summer and at the beginning of the term she had made sure she knew when each and every teacher, friend and Order member had their birthday, found out what they liked, and it soon turned out that she intended to throw a birthday party to each and every one of them, much to their amusement. She was also highly considerate, and each party she threw was in at least some way unique, ranging from the jolly party with fireworks and sparkling candy for Daedalus Diggle, a sophisticated and stylish wine and cheese-evening for Hestia Jones, and a merry, twinkly candy-crusted and masquerade-costumed evening arranged for Dumbledore himself in August. She had already stated she'd continue the tradition, and some teachers at Hogwarts had started a betting pool on what kind of a party people would get. She now had an abundance of voluntary helpers.

Harry Granger had gotten a Quidditch-themed birthday party less than a week ago. She had invited some teachers, like Minerva, Hagrid, Filius and Albus himself. Almost the entire lunch had been charmed to fly: Filius had helped with that. Apparently chasing after tortes and muffins in the air helped to blow off steam. Severus had not been invited: Albus admitted that the Gryffindor students would not have enjoyed themselves if their most unpopular teacher had been present, but Albus also knew that Severus would not have enjoyed himself, and he did notice that a number of treats and delicacies disappeared from the table, that Hermione herself went missing for a little while — undoubtedly to make a little delivery to the dungeons — and that Severus did not turn up at the Great Hall that evening. A fair amount of treats had been delivered by the house-elves to the staff room for the other teachers as well, although Albus quessed that Hermione's favourite teacher had received a big share.

The conversations with Hermione were relaxing, Albus realised: though she was very young, she was very kind and intelligent. She must have eidetic memory, but she was also extremely intelligent and capable of using what she had learned in creative and new ways when needed. She was also magically powerful: Albus could feel the raw magical power thrumming through her and guessed that she would one day be one of the most powerful Witches in the world, if she lived through the difficult years ahead.

Albus was optimistic: although the Order had not yet found any clues on the Horcruxes, they still had time, and Hermione's wisdom and intelligence were a clear advantage, especially compared to the impulsive Harry Granger who reminded him so very much of James Potter. He was fairly certain that one day Hermione Granger would break through with her memories — her eyes that had changed colour were an indication to that — but Dumbledore feared that the day would most likely be the same day that Hermione Granger changed her fate and became Hermione Potter, which might mean they would be in the middle of a war or the war would already be over, so that advantage would probably not be useful, Albus thought. He would continue to probe Hermione's mind on occasion, though, in the hopes of catching something useful.

“How are your singing lessons progressing, Miss Potter?” Dumbledore inquired, and offered Hermione some cookies as she sipped her tea. They were seated by a small table on the side of the Head's office: the comfortable chairs and the small round tea table were a more relaxed setting than sitting by the Headmaster's large desk, and it helped the students to relax in such occasions, he'd noticed.

“Very well, Sir,” Hermione replied, smiling. “Mrs Jones is a wonderful teacher. Thank you for allowing us to use the Room of Requirement for practice, Sir. The Room supplied us with a wonderful piano.”

“That is good news, Hermione. Hestia has told me you have a wonderful voice and that you have a natural talent in many singing techniques and voice control. Do you think you might sing at a school event? Perhaps at Christmas Feast, or the Leaving Feast next spring?”

“Oh!” Hermione exclaimed, blushing profusely, “I'm not sure I'm yet quite that good!”

“Hestia assures me you already are,” Dumbledore smiled, “but I won't pressure you, of course. I'm sure your singing would delight us all, though. Not many students stay in the castle during Christmas holidays, and such entertainments are rare gifts.”

“Thank you, Sir. I will... think about it?”

“Yes, Hermione, do. It'd be lovely, and there's still plenty of time for you to practice and decide. How do you like your studies? I have heard many good things about you from the staff.”

“Thank you”, Hermione said, blushing again from the compliments. “I'm progressing quite fast, really. I'm almost done with the Second Year textbooks in both Charms and Transfigurations. Professor McGonagall and Professor Flitwick let me do assignments ahead and progress faster in class. I've also read ahead on History of Magic as well, although Professor Binns... well, he calls me Miss Prewett, but his lectures are very interesting, and I've read ahead. I was able to find several advanced textbooks on History of Magic from the library, Madam Pince helped me with that. I helped her catalogue some books. Potions and Herbology are, well, they're more hand-on subjects, but both Professor Snape and Professor Sprout have been very helpful and allowed me to do extra work on the side.”

Albus almost smiled at the thought of Severus being kind, but did not comment.

“I've gone with the class schedule in Astronomy. The flying lessons were terrible, but luckily they're over now. I think Defence would be important, but when I asked Professor Lockhart some extra tutoring, he thought I have a crush on him and gave me a signed photo and said it's great that a famous girl like me can still be his fan.”

Albus chuckled. “Severus told me that you and Mr Malfoy have not been too impressed with his lessons?”

“I mean no disrespect, Professor, but the first lesson began with a pop quiz about what is his favourite colour and what treats he likes. Last week's lesson he spent half the time talking about his tailor and the importance of a well-fitting robe. I'm sure he has accomplished many great deeds, but, well...”

“I understand, Miss Potter, and perhaps, on hindsight, Professor Lockhart is better suited as an author and fighting magical beasts and dark wizards than teaching Defence. But he is hired for the year, so we will have to make due. I'm sure you will learn something in his class. I take it you learned quite a bit from Remus and Severus during last summer?”

“Yes, Sir! They were both wonderful instructors!” Hermione beamed at him. “I wish they could teach it, except, well, I wouldn't if the post really is cursed, as they say. I wouldn't want either of them hurt. Professor Snape especially would be great teacher in it but...” Hermione looked down, frowning thoughtfully and looking quite crestfallen. Was there something...? Suddenly Hermione stood up and placed her tea cup on the table, wandering to the side of the room, going to a mirror, looking at it.

“Miss Potter? Are you alright?” The girl did not respond. She kept looking in the mirror, which was not magical, as far as Albus knew: he used it to adjust his hat. Albus stood up and went closer.

“Hermione? What is it...?”

Suddenly he saw Hermione Potter's eyes turn brown. The colour was the shade of whiskey or dark tea, and the eyes were horrified. She was looking into Dumbledore's eyes through the reflection with horrified brown eyes, but as she opened her mouth, her eyes fluttered shut, and when they opened up again, they were bright green again. She shook her head as if she was waking up from some kind of trance.

“Sir?” she queried.

“Come finish your tea, Hermione,” Dumbledore said softly. It was no use pressing her: Miss Granger had been there but she was gone again. But whatever she'd thought, she had been horrified. Albus let her finish her tea and offered the girl cookies and a Sherbet Lemon, chatting lightly about her studies, before he bid her good night and sent her to bed.

Whatever Hermione Granger had seen, whatever she had been thinking about, had horrified her, and Dumbledore suddenly felt very old and very, very frightened.





*Quote: Rowling, J. K., Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Bloomsbury Publishing: London, 1998, pg. 92

Chapter Text

September 24th

Hermione Granger would have moaned when she gained consciousness inside the dark recesses of Hermione Potter's mind, but the moan came out as a mere whimper. Gods, that had bloody well hurt! Hermione did not tend to curse, but during the last year on the run, listening to Ron's constant whining and Harry's random outbursts had taught her to repeat certain dirty words... repeatedly.

She'd surfaced: she'd been conscious for a while, Hermione Potter had become one with Hermione Granger for just a while. Holy... well, holy fuck, really. She'd been caught in her memories: memories of Professor Lupin teaching them Defence Against the Dark Arts and then transforming into a werewolf, then memories of that horrible sixth year, when Professor Snape had killed Professor Dumbledore. Hermione Granger's mind had been assaulted with memories of blind suffering in Professor Snape's eyes and his occasionally haggard appearance. She had spent a week trying to attract Hermione Potter to mirrors and shapes of serpents to get through with a clue of the Basilisk ahead of time, before anyone got petrified, and so her distracted attention had been drawn to the mirror, and then she could see her own eyes again. She was feeling complete, in control for just a while, a mere split second as the horrible memories assaulted her mind. And then the throbbing pain and agony hit her and Granger slipped and lost consciousness, leaving Hermione Potter in charge.

The body was obviously much too young, and now it was paying the price: Hermione could feel the rising fever. Hermione Potter was feeling bleary and tired as she straggled through the Fat Lady's portrait to the Common Room. Harry was there, sitting by Ron, Seamus, Neville, Dean, Fred and George. The Weasley twins had procured some candy and were sharing it.

“'Mione. Are you alright?” Harry asked, looking at her.

“Yeah, nothing... maybe just a little hot,” Hermione replied, slumping down on a chair.

“You look really red in the face. Are you running a fever?”

“I dunno...” Hermione mumbled as her eyes closed on their own. The voices of her fellow students seemed to grow distant, and someone's hand — a really cold hand — touched her forehead.

“She's really, really hot,” someone said. “We need to take her to see Pomfrey,” another voice suggested, and Hermione had no idea why the voices were so garbled and why she didn't recognise them. She just needed a little bit of sleep. Just a little...

Hermione was levitated to the infirmary, completely unconscious.

**********************************

Severus Snape, September 25th, 1992

Severus stalked from the infirmary to his private laboratory, his robes billowing and the menacing scowl on his face making students scatter to every direction. Poppy had requested his help in the infirmary. Granger, Longbottom and Weasley had been around Miss Potter's bedside, and all three had moved to a defensive position around her bed when they saw their hated Potions Master approach her bed.

“Oh there you are, Severus,” Poppy Pomfrey had bustled in and shooed the three scowling boys out of her way. Severus had deducted Gryffindor twenty points during the last Potions lesson: Weasley and Granger had been nattering like a pair of monkeys when they should have been brewing, while Longbottom had diced his arrowroot unevenly and had caused his Potion to foam furiously and cover his desk in green greasy coating that required more than a simple Evanesco to clean up. “You boys go and have your lunch. Miss Potter needs her rest,” Poppy had said, ushering the grumbling boys toward the exit and returning to Severus, lowering her voice.

“Miss Potter was brought in last night from Gryffindor Tower running a fever. I presumed it was a regular cold starting to go around again, but a dose of Pepperup Potion didn't work. I've ran some Diagnostic Charms: she's magically depleted, though I have no idea why. I gave her some Strengthening Solution, but she needs more over the next few days: I have some doses left, probably enough for her, but could you brew more, though it's not on your brewing schedule? I can call some in from St. Mungo's if you're too busy right now, but their stock is probably rather low as well.”

“I'll get right to it, Poppy. I may have to postpone the Blood-Replenishing Potion a bit,” he replied.

“That's fine, we're still well stocked on it,” Poppy had replied, casting another look at the sleeping girl. “I have no idea why she'd be so magically depleted, Severus. The boys said she'd been at a meeting with Albus. But I cannot see Albus sending her through the castle in such a sorry state,” said Poppy, shaking her head. “Albus said she seemed fine when she left his office, but I can't help feeling he's hiding something. You know Albus: you'll let me know if there's something I need to know, won't you? A fever combined with depletion isn't exactly normal.”

“She's not in danger, though?” Severus had asked.

Poppy grinned toothily. “Severus, I do believe this is the first time I have seen you so very concerned over the health of a Gryffindor student!” Severus scowled angrily, and Poppy poked his arm playfully. “I know, she's the Chosen One, but knowing you, Severus... you do care for all your students. Don't dare pretend you don't, young man! I've known you since you were eleven: you may manage to fool the others, but you won't fool me!” Poking him again, she walked to Miss Potter's bedside, waving her wand above the girl slowly. “She'll be fine, but the Strengthening Solution will speed up her recovery by days. I know it'll take a few days to mature, and she'll need at least a couple of doses: if another student needs it too, I won't have any to give.”

Now, safely inside his private laboratory, Severus sighed in relief and set to work. Strengthening Solution was relatively easy for him to brew, and something he could do in his sleep: his hands ground the Griffin claw in a mortar while he used the other to measure ingredients. Behind him the Floo flared green and Albus stepped through.

“Severus,” the old man greeted him calmly, “I take it you're brewing medicine for Miss Potter?”

“No,” he replied, “Poppy is running low on Strengthening Solution. Miss Potter needs the supply she has, and she will probably need more soon.” He lowered the pestle and turned. “Damn it, Albus! Don't tell me you depleted the damn chit by prying into her mind again?”

“Now now, Severus,” Albus chided, “I did no such thing. We were having tea and a conversation: it seems to me Miss Granger surfaced by herself this time. Something she said, or perhaps something I said, triggered a memory, I believe, unless it was just a fluke. I'll show you the memory in a Pensieve, if you wish: I'd appreciate your opinion on it.”

“Just a moment, I'll need to set this to simmer,” Severus replied, measuring the Griffin claw powder the the brew and lowering the flame, gesturing towards his office. “You know where my Pensieve is. It's empty, feel free to prepare the memory. I shan't be long.”

“It's always an honour to watch a true Potions Master at work,” Albus remarked as he went to find the Pensieve. Severus snorted but felt some pride as he gazed into his cauldron: the base was perfect. It wasn't the standard recipe for Strengthening Solution: he'd modified it heavily years ago, and although the school syllabus demanded he teach the standard Solution to his students, his way was superior: it was not only faster to brew and required a lot less time stirring, but it was much more cost-effective where ingredients were concerned. After cleaning his hands with a quick Scourgify he briskly walked into his office, where Albus was already dropping the memory strand to the Pensieve, then stepping aside and sitting on a nearby chair so that Severus could take a look at the memory.


He was suddenly standing inside Dumbledore's office. Miss Potter and Albus were seated by the little tea table, sipping tea and talking about Lockhart.

“I understand, Miss Potter, and perhaps, on hindsight, Professor Lockhart is better suited as an author and fighting magical beasts and dark wizards than teaching Defence. But he is hired for the year, so we will have to make due. I'm sure you will learn something in his class. I take it you learned quite a bit from Remus and Severus during last summer?” said Albus.

“Yes, Sir! They were both wonderful instructors!” Miss Potter beamed at Dumbledore. “I wish they could teach it, except, well, I wouldn't if the post really is cursed, as they say. I wouldn't want either of them hurt. Professor Snape especially would be great teacher in it but...” Hermione looked down, frowning thoughtfully and looking very sad. Suddenly she stood up and placed her tea cup on the table, wandering to the side of the room, going to a mirror, looking into it.

“Miss Potter? Are you alright?” The girl did not respond. She kept looking in the mirror. Albus stood up and went closer. “Hermione? What is it...?”

Suddenly he saw Hermione's eyes turn to the shade whiskey brown and widen with horror. She stared into the mirror with an expression of shock and terror. As she opened her mouth, her eyes fluttered shut, and when they opened up again, they were bright green. She shook her head as if she was waking up.

“Sir?” she queried, sounding a bit confused.


The memory ended. Severus had to employ all of his restraint not to stagger back, and he took a seat behind his desk rather heavily. Both men sat quietly for a moment.

“Something about Defence?” Severus finally asked. “She said I would be a great teacher in Defence, and then stopped. Could it have been a bad memory from Miss Granger? I might have taught Defence in her timeline, and someone got injured in class?”

“Her reaction was horrified, Severus, you must have seen that. A simple injury would not cause such an effect. There was something more there, something that terrified her.”

“She could have referred to Lupin,” Severus scoffed.

“I don't think so. She spoke of you. She cares about your well-being, Severus, and we know the position is jinxed: apart from Quirrell last year there have been no deaths among those who held the position for the year, but there have been too many accidents. I need you in this school, Severus, near her, and prepared to take your role as a spy once Tom returns. You cannot do that if you're injured, you know that. I know you don't believe in the jinx, but you surely cannot overlook the statistics.”

“But they need to be trained, you know that! The war is coming and idiots like Lockhart teach them nothing! I told you hiring that buffoon was the worst possible idea.”

“I'm sorry, Severus, it seems you were right. His resume was good, and his adventures well known: the board of governors also lobbied in his favour, and there were very few teachers available. But if the jinx holds, we'll be rid of him come spring. And he has taught them... a bit. Some spells in any case.”

“Pathetic, mere scraps of what they ought to have learned and you know it. With Quirrell in reins last year and Lockhart this year, the girl and her classmates are thoroughly behind. She out of all people should learn Defence. She'll need it.”

“I'm aware, Severus, which is why I have a suggestion. Would you tutor her privately? I know you taught her during the summer, you and Remus. I could ask Remus to tutor her, but you're better than he is. I know you're very busy, but we could drop her extra tutoring at Potions and start giving her extra lessons in Defence. You know she's a fast learner: she's also a very powerful witch, and she'll need the tutoring.”

“Are you sure she wasn't referring to me teaching her privately, Albus, with that expression?” Severus countered. “And what of her classmates, her friends? Surely they will fight along, by her side?”

“I don't think she spoke of private tutoring, and in any case, it's a risk we might wish to take. There's no jinx in private tutoring, and with only one student you'll be able to be very careful, unlike in a class full of students. As for the others... I would have said they would fight by her side, and I still don't doubt it: most of them are Gryffindors, after all. Even Mr Malfoy seems to be a good friend to her, though I admit I am surprised.”

Severus scoffed: Albus had always been biased where Slytherins had been involved. Draco Malfoy had surprised Severus as well, though, as the spoiled brat had grown close to the gang of Gryffindors. Friendship might have transformed him, Severus thought bitterly: he'd never had the profit of good friendship after the first years with Lily, before their friendship had turned sour and Lily abandoned him to his own devices and his miserable destiny.

“In any case,” Albus continued, “I'm not sure Hermione would allow her friends to risk their lives in battle. You have noticed how she takes her role?”

Severus shook his head slowly and stood up. “I need to continue my work with the Strengthening Solution now: if you wish to continue, we need to do so while I work.” The men made their way back to the laboratory, where Severus began adding more ingredients as he counted the stirs.

“The birthday parties.” Albus continued as he sat down close by. “I do believe she does it from her good heart, to bring joy. She is a genuinely kind soul who wants to give joy to people she cares about, but do you realise she also treats her friends like a mother would, or a much older sibling? She is their friend, but the way she pushes them in their studies? She bosses them around, doesn't allow them to skive classes, she harangues them to do their school work, tells them it's time for bed — Minerva has told me this — forces them to obey rules and curfews... we know Hermione was at least seventeen when the timeline was changed: I believe the traces of the older Hermione are bleeding into Hermione Potter, and that she will most likely act like an older sibling to her classmates.”

“Shouldn't Harry Granger be doing the same, then? The brat is childish and insolent, prone to breaking the rules. Miss Potter constantly works to keep him in line.”

“Mr Granger's older personality might be somewhere deeper than Hermione's. We know he was injured badly, perhaps even dying: there's no doubt he had also suffered greatly in the war, with the responsibilities. And we know he had failed: he might not be able to remember, or might now wish to remember. Or he might remember and start surfacing later like Hermione is doing now: we simply do not know. I'll keep an eye on him: if he has memories of the future timeline, it'll be helpful, but Hermione's reaction shows us clearly that trying to get her to surface now would be a risk.”

Albus stood up, brushing the hems of his twinkling sky-blue robes. “In any case, I want you to think about it. We won't make the decision about extra Defence-lessons yet. Give it time.”

“Why didn't she ask Lockhart for extra tutoring? The man is the Defence instructor, and I know she respects all her teachers, even though the man might be a self-sufficient buffoon.”

“She did. Mr Lockhart presumed she had a crush on him and gave her an autographed photo instead,” Albus replied.

Severus chuckled. “A crush on a teacher! How unlike the little insufferable know-it-all!”, he said.

“Oh no, no crush on Mr Lockhart,” Albus replied, his eyes twinkling in a most irritating way. “No, Mr Lockhart is definitely not the type of a man Miss Potter would have a crush on. Good day, Severus!” he quickly said, taking his leave, chuckling and waving his hand at his now quite confused and exasperated Potions Master.

***********************************'

Severus Snape, October 31st, 1992

 

Severus hated Hallowe'en. No, he absolutely despised Hallowe'en. The Great Hall was decorated in floating candles and the ghosts were pulling pranks and singing: it was his duty to be at the feast to keep an eye on his House, but he could scarcely wait until he'd be allowed back in his quarters and get drunk. Hallowe'en always did this to him: the old guilt threatened to chew him up.

This year was marginally better: knowing that the Chosen One was not exactly, or only, the daughter of Lily and James Potter, except in a purely biological sense, somehow lessened the blow. Her green eyes sometimes caused a painful sting to his heart, but he'd seen her brown eyes three times now: once on his own, twice in the Pensieve from Albus' memory. There was no way to explain it: somehow the guilt was still there, and the girl made it feel better. Harry Granger's face, so much like James Potter's, made him angry all the time, something he couldn't help, but he was able to separate his duty of protecting the Chosen One from the past, from the Potters.

Who was he supposed to defend? The girl-who-lived, biological daughter of Lily from this particular timeline of changed fates, or the boy who might have been their son, who bore an uncanny resemblance to James Potter, but who was now the biological son of the Grangers? In this timeline, Lily and James Potter had never met him, never touched him and never loved him, and Lily had sacrificed herself for the girl, not the boy. It was still confusing, but he felt he had the duty for the girl, and he truly wanted to help her: not only for her destiny, but for her kind heart, her brilliant intelligence and the respect she showed him. He sometimes wondered if he'd appreciated her as much if she had been born Hermione Granger. He was quite sure he would have.

The feast was almost over, but several students were missing. The familiar gang of Miss Potter, the youngest Mr Weasley, Harry Granger and Neville Longbottom were all missing from the Gryffindor table, and a quick glance towards the Slytherin table told him that Draco Malfoy was also gone. Albus did not seem worried or confused, so Severus tried to relax.

Suddenly Miss Potter appeared from the door on the side, running toward the High Table at speed. It was highly unlike her: the rules prohibited running, but the girl was obviously afraid. She ran directly to Dumbledore, gasping for breath.

“Professor, I think there's something in the castle. Something really, really bad!” she wheezed.

Albus straightened, a serious expression on his face, and stood up abruptly. “Miss Potter, follow me. Minerva, Severus, Filius. Can you three please come with us?” he said, his command disguised as a request, and lead them all through the side door. Filius was the last through the door: he closed it, leaving the students and the rest of the staff to cast curious and worried glances towards them.

“Miss Potter, what did you see?” Albus asked the girl, sounding calm, though Severus knew him well enough to know he was anything but.

“I didn't see anything, but I heard it. We were invited to Sir Nick's Deathday Party in the dungeons. Me, Harry, Ronald, Draco and Neville.” The girl shivered slightly. “We were on out way back, close to the Entrance Hall, when I heard something... something terrible. I heard it once before in the corridor close to the library, though I didn't see it then either. Really, really cold voice. It said it was hungry and wanted to kill, and it smelled blood,” the girl whimpered. “It was going upstairs, but I came here to find you.”

“Could it have been Peeves?” Filius asked. “You know how he is.”

“No, Sir! Peeves was at the party, as were all the ghosts, and we left before anyone else did. None of the others heard it though they were right beside me. I'm not going mad, am I, Professor?” she begged, clearly agitated.

The Professors shot quick glances towards each other. A voice that nobody else could hear did not sound good, imagined or not. Severus and Albus looked at each other, both knowing what the other thought, but unable to say it out loud: perhaps Hermione Granger was speaking inside Hermione Potter's mind? Was she surfacing again, or were these some lingering effects from the fever caused by her last surfacing? But Granger would not speak of hunger and blood, would she?

“Come, Miss Potter, we'll take you to the infirmary now. Perhaps you heard something, a ghost perhaps, or another student pulling a prank, but it might be also something magical or some effects from your recent fever. Come, child,” Albus said, leading Hermione back into the Great Hall. “I take it you were unable to dine at the Deathday Party?”

Hermione grimaced and her stomach rumbled. “No, Sir, we couldn't eat.”

Albus chuckled. “No, I imagine not. I've attended one or two of those myself, but never without a good dinner beforehand and some tea after it. Come, you and your friends can have food after Poppy checks you're in good health.” He lead the teachers through the Great Hall and to the Entrance Hall, where the boys stood together, waiting. “I take it that none of you heard the voice that Miss Potter described?” Albus asked them. The boys seemed agitated by their friends' behaviour and the withering glances shot by Professor Snape.

“No, Sir,” Draco Malfoy replied smoothly. “But she seemed frightened. She said it was going upstairs and Harry and Ron wanted to go after it, but she forbade us from going there until she got help.”

“Good thinking, Miss Potter”, Albus smiled. “If you really heard something that was dangerous, then it was the best course of action to get help from a teacher.” He turned back to the Great Hall and cast a Sonorous on himself. “Will everyone remain in your seats from the time being!” he announced. “Professors Babbling, Burbage, Sprout and Kettleburn, would you please remain to watch after the students. The rest, will you join us here, please!” He cast a Quietus and then turned to the boys. “Would you join your fellow students in the Hall? I will ask the house-elves to bring you some supper, the pudding is still in the table but I believe you could all use a good meal”, he beamed at the boys, ushering them inside, and summoned an elf, giving it quick advice.

“Miss Potter, Professor Snape and I will escort you to the infirmary. The elves will bring you some food from the Feast there.” He turned to the staff and began giving them advice on searching the castle when an outraged cry from higher up the castle alerted them.

“I think that was Mr Filch”, Dumbledore said, running up the stairways, the rest of the staff behind him. They followed Filch's dismayed cries to the second floor, where they all stopped in shock. Foot-high letters were scrabbled on the wall of the corridor: “THE CHAMBER OF SECRERS HAS BEEN OPENED. ENEMIES OF THE HEIR, BEWARE.”

Mr Filch was staring at his cat, hanging by her tail from a torch bracket above a pool of water on the floor. The old squib was crying desperately. Hermione, who had apparently followed them, ran toward the old caretaker and jumped to hug the old squib: the old man cried and wailed into her hair. “Mrs Norris, my poor Mrs Norris!” he cried to Hermione. “She so loved the birthday gift you gave her!” Severus arched his eyebrow and took a glance at the Headmaster, but Albus was concentrating on the cat and taking it down while Lockhart babbled incessantly about various spells that could have been used to kill the creature. So, apparently Miss Potter's care extended to even the unpopular and nasty old caretaker and his equally malicious cat? The girl certainly was full of surprises.

A small group of teachers, along with Miss Potter still comforting the crying Filch, made it to Lockhart's office. The moron had portraits of himself all over the place: they scampered away, their hair covered in hair netting and in curlers: he was certain he even saw one with slices of cucumber over his eyes though he had no idea where the fuck those had come from.

Albus soon declared the cat Petrified, not dead: that managed to shut Lockhart's jaws for a moment until the twit declared he'd known it all along. Filch was comforted slightly when Albus told him the cat would be restored to health with Mandrake Restorative Draught: Lockhart, the utter moron, declared that he would brew the Potion once Pomona Sprout's Mandrakes would be big enough. As if the idiot had the skill for such a complex brew, Severus thought as he rebuked his colleague.

Filch had stopped sobbing into Hermione's hair, and Albus cast a quick and tidy spell to clean up her soaked hair: Hermione beamed at him gratefully. “Miss Potter, would you please come with me to my office? Severus, you too. I will ask the elves to deliver food there: I need to ask you about this voice. Filius, could you arrange the rest of the staff to search the corridors and then lead the students back to their dormitories, and Minerva, if you could take Mr Filch to his quarters and then join the others”, he ordered. “I will first discuss this matter with Severus and Miss Potter and then join you. I want the students watched tonight. Whoever Petrified Mrs Norris is strong in Dark Magic.”

Soon the two men sat in Dumbledore's office while Hermione dug in on her late supper. The elves had brought some for the wizards as well, but Dumbledore nibbled on his portion while Severus didn't even bother pushing the food around on his plate.

“Miss Potter, would you tell us about this voice?” Albus asked the girl kindly. “I should like to hear what it said, when you heard it and where. Any details might help us.”

“Yes Sir. The first time... I think it was the 5th of September, or perhaps the sixth? No, fifth. I was on my way back from the library close to curfew. It was in the corridor just outside the library. The voice was cold, very cold. Not human, I think? It said it wanted to kill and rip and tear me. There were some other students close by, although not just next to me, but none of them reacted. I saw nothing. Tonight I heard the same voice, but it was more violent. It said it had been hungry for so long, that it was time to kill, and that it could smell blood. Draco and Neville were both right next to me, but neither of them heard anything. It was strange... I couldn't see anything but I just heard it, and then I heard the voice go upwards. Like it had been invisible, on the wall? Is there some dark beast that can climb invisibly on the walls? And what is the Chamber of Secrets, and who is this 'heir'?”

The Professors looked at each other, confused. Albus turned back to Hermione. “For the voice... Professor Snape and I will conduct some research. You don't need to worry about that for now, but it would be good if you could listen and come tell us immediately if you hear the voice again. The things it says sound very worrying indeed. As for the Chamber of Secrets...” Albus steepled his fingers and leaned back on his chair. “It is an old legend, one that has never been confirmed. According to this legend, one of the founders of this school, Salazar Slytherin, who also founded the Slytherin House, also built a secret chamber into the school, and set a monster inside it. The Chamber of Secrets could only be opened by his heir, and the monster would purge the school of people with non-magical parentage.”

“Muggle-borns. He wanted to get rid of the Muggle-borns. Like Harry and Colin and Justin...” Hermione said, eyes wide.

“Yes. The Chamber has never been found and opened, and most believe it is a legend. It may well be that someone is just trying to scare the students, perhaps target Muggle-born students. Not all Slytherins think that way, of course, and that was a long time ago, but the pure-blood supremacy is still a popular movement,” Albus replied. “Have you eaten enough, Miss Potter, or would you like more pudding?”

“Thank you, Sir, I'm fine,” answered Hermione politely, with a smile.

“Then we will escort you to your Tower. If there is something out there in the castle, we want the teachers to go through the school before anyone wanders around alone,” he said, gesturing the girl to follow. “I understood you had given Mrs Norris a birthday present?”

“Yes, Sir! Draco helped me with that. His mother picked a cat toy with catnip from Diagon Alley for her. I heard Mr Filch talk about her birthday, though it was in the summer. Mr Filch seems very sad and lonely sometimes, and I started talking about Mrs Norris with him. I've always wanted a cat.”

“That is very kind of you, Hermione. Very few people are kind enough to understand loneliness or the importance of kind gestures. Mr Filch certainly appreciated it. He has not had an easy life, being a squib in the magical community.”

“Yes, he told me he has no magic. He's very sad about it. Isn't there anything that can be done to help him, Sir?”

“I'm afraid not,” Albus replied sadly. “It doesn't happen so often, but when it does... it's almost the same as when Muggle parents have a Magical child, except in reverse and luckily also rarer... and sad, while every new Magical child from Muggle parents is a gift. But Mr Filch has a home here, and an income with his job. It is very kind of you to be kind to him. Not many students can appreciate him, because he makes sure that school rules are obeyed — even though it is his job.”

“I can understand that. Harry and Ron sometimes say some nasty things about him... like last week, when Harry got told off. But I've told them they need to follow the rules too!”

“Very smart of you, Hermione. You have a good attitude.”

They walked a while in silence, approaching the Gryffindor Tower. The men left Hermione by the Fat Lady's portrait and watched her enter, then slowly made their way back. They'd passed several pairs of teachers, but none of them reported anything out of the ordinary.

“Might this be a surfacing memory from Miss Granger?” Severus asked.

“It might. But I think not. Mrs Norris and the warning about the Chamber of Secrets is proof to the contrary. I think she truly heard the voice. But I have no idea what it could be, and why she alone would hear the voice.”

“Hermione Granger must have gone through this,” Severus said quietly, “I wish we could take it out of her mind. But we'd risk her life. And yet... someone might be killed in this mess.”

“There are no easy answers in this, Severus. We can only hope and keep an eye out.”

Chapter Text

Severus Snape, November 7th 1992

 

The rain was disrupting the Quidditch-match between Slytherin and Gryffindor. The match was usually the most vicious one in the year, and while the teams' Seekers Malfoy and Granger were great friends, they were both competitive, and both teams were rumoured to be in top shape. Severus had given his team plenty of permissions to practice, which in turn had cause a couple of rows with Minerva, when the practices clashed with those of her team, and Albus finally had to meddle and settle the schedule. There was a small bet on the results of the match.

“Hey Granger, try to keep up!” Malfoy hollered from his broomstick. His was a much better model than Harry Granger's, but both boys were excellent fliers. “Slytherin is going to wipe the field with your broomsticks today!”

“Dream on, Dray!” Harry Granger grinned as he sped away. Malfoy chased after him, grinning as well, while his eyes also swept the surroundings, trying to spot the Golden Snitch.

Severus tried to fight back a grin as he watched Hermione Potter: her friends had dragged her to the Quidditch pitch for the match. She'd brought a book in the hopes of being able to read, but the clouds were dark and she'd cast an Impervius-Charm on her book. Once in a while one one of her friends would nudge her attention to the field: the girl did look up, but after a while her attention would drift back to the tome.

Malfoy and Granger were both speeding after the Snitch when suddenly the Bludger took a dive directly toward the Gryffindor seats: students dove out of the way, and then a loud shriek of pain echoed: Hermione Potter, her head bent over her book, had been hit by the Bludger. Severus jumped up and rushed toward the Gryffindors, along with several other teachers.

“Dray!” Harry Granger bellowed, “Hermione's hurt!” Malfoy stopped dead in his chase: both boys turned their broomsticks down and dove toward the ground like a pair of hawks, dismounting immediately and rushing to their friend. Lockhart was first to the scene, his gaudy robes immaculate and dry despite the rain. He had his wand out and trained at Miss Potter: the girl was obviously in pain, her arm twisted at an ugly angle, and still trying to crawl away from Lockhart. Severus tried to run faster to stop the blasted inept buffoon, but the throng of students milling about delayed him, and when he'd finally pushed Colin Creevey and his blasted camera away, Lockhart had already managed to cast a spell that had removed every bone from her hand. The poor girl fainted dead on the ground.

“Get away, you idiot!” Severus snapped at the stuttering Lockhart, pushed the idiot away and gathered Miss Potter to his arms. Her robes were muddy and soaked, but Minerva, arriving immediately after him, cleaned and dried them with a few fast flicks of her wand. “Is she all right, Severus?” she asked.

“Yes, just fainted, I think. She'll need some Skele-Gro: I'll take her to Poppy,” Severus replied, carrying the girl toward the castle. The girl's friends glanced at him nervously but did not dare to follow, and the game appeared to continue behind him as he and his charge approached the castle. The girl shifted in his arms, coming around.

“Sir?” she asked in slightly wan voice, “What...?”

“You got hit by a Bludger, Miss Potter,” Severus replied, “and Lockhart botched a simple spell, removing the bones from your arm instead of mending them. He should have allowed you brought directly to Madam Pomfrey, but none of us reached you in time to stop him. The bones will need to be regrown: it's unpleasant, hurts quite badly and the Potion tastes terrible, but I have a Potion that can numb some of the worst pain. I'll bring it to you later.”

“Thank you, Sir,” he girl said quietly.

“You're welcome,” he replied, still unused to being thanked for anything. He had been a teacher for over a decade, but no student apart from Miss Potter had ever before thanked him, and gratitude had been such a rare commodity in his life that he did not quite still know how to react. “This is the second time of carrying you to the infirmary, Miss Potter. I do hope you won't feel an urge to make this an annual occurrence,” he deadpanned as he climbed the stairs. The girl chuckled, the dry humour obviously easing her tension.

“Poppy! I have a patient for you!” he called as he entered the infirmary and set Miss Potter to a bed. After quickly explaining the events to Poppy, he made his way to the dungeons to pick up the pain-relieving Potion. It was a relatively expensive brew, one of his own inventions: it wasn't usually stocked in the infirmary, but no other Potion worked with Skele-Gro. He'd devised it himself in his sixth year after the Marauders had caused yet another broken bone which had to be regrown. It was patented but costly to produce: Severus usually kept a couple of phials for himself in store, an old habit from his time as a student and from the bad old days in the last years of the war, when the Dark Lord had seemed to slowly loose his mind and humanity, causing suffering and pain among his followers.

Miss Potter was already half asleep when he returned, but he helped her tip back the Potion. She seemed surprised by the taste, which was rather minty and fresh, though quite sharp. She was obviously beginning to feel pain, and the look she gave him along with her thanks spoke of profound gratitude.

“You're welcome, Miss Potter. The Potion will last till noon tomorrow, and by that time the pains should be gone. You should try to sleep now: you'll heal faster.” Unaccustomed to any kind of tenderness he quickly exited the infirmary and headed back to the dungeons, in need of a warm bath and some relaxation.

 

**************************************'

Severus Snape, November 8th 1992

 

Severus noticed Miss Potter attended lunch in the Great Hall. She'd been absent from breakfast, without a doubt receiving a portion of Poppy's infamous hospital breakfast, but seemed to be in good shape at lunch. Her eyes strayed to him and when their eyes met, she smiled and nodded, relaying her gratitude from a distance. Severus nodded politely in return, keeping his face impassive.

When he left the table, he noticed Miss Potter also scrambling to her feet and approaching him. He slowed his steps slightly to allow her short feet to catch up more easily, and she reached him just as he exited the Great Hall.

“Professor Snape, I wanted to thank you... and could I have a word? It's about the accident yesterday, and the incident at the train station's barrier, and, well, also about Colin Creevey.”

“Yes, Miss Potter. I had planned on doing some private research, but I can spare an hour. Come,” he replied, walking briskly to the dungeons as Miss Potter almost had to run to keep up. He opened the door to his office and gestured her to enter and take a seat. The quest chair was uncomfortable for a good reason: an uncomfortable chair made sure nobody delayed their visit longer than absolutely necessary. Usually he did not offer a chair at all for Gryffindor students, when they were unlucky enough to warrant a visit to his office. Hermione Potter had become... special.

“Yes, Miss Potter?” he asked, taking a seat behind his desk.

“I wanted to thank...”

“Yes, you have already done that. There's no reason to repeat it. You had some information on the attack on a fellow student?”

“Yes, Sir.” The girl blushed, embarrassed. “I woke up late last night when the house-elf I spoke of earlier came to the infirmary. He...”

“The Malfoy house-elf? Dolly?”

“Dobby, Sir. Yes. He told me that it was he who jinxed the Bludger to hit me, and he also told me that he closed the barrier to the train platform in September. He said he wanted to keep me away from the school because I was in danger from the Chamber of Secrets even though I'm not Muggle-born. He refused to tell me who opened it, and when I told him I knew he was from the Malfoy-family, he got rather frightened and fled. And then I heard Professor Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall bring in Colin. They think he was going to bring me grapes...” The girl seemed quite crestfallen.

“So you believe that a Malfoy is responsible for opening the Chamber of Secrets?” he asked.

“Not Draco, Sir. But his father, perhaps? Although Draco swore me that his father hasn't been to the school.”

“Not to my knowledge either, but I will ask the Headmaster and bring these new... developments... to his attention. Meanwhile it is essential that you be very careful. I have never heard of a house-elf deliberately injuring someone, let alone a child, so you must take very good care.”

“Yes, Sir. He told me he just wanted to frighten me away from the school, that he didn't mean to kill me.”

“Nevertheless, a broken arm now... what next? Be careful in the stairs and avoid the Quidditch matches and practices from now on. And it would be prudent to have at least one of your friends with you all the time. I know that Mr Malfoy's class schedule is quite often conflicted with yours, but perhaps one or more of your Gryffindor cohorts could accompany you?”

“Yes, Sir”, she replied obediently.

“Good. I know that you know what the Chamber of Secrets is, and so you also know that the Muggle-born students are at risk, but I doubt they are the only ones: you might be in danger as well IF the Chamber is real at all.”

“But Sir, wouldn't it be wise to... well, take the Muggle-born students away? From the risk, until it is eliminated?”

“Miss Potter... I believe you understand that what I'm about to tell you does not spread out of this office? I have certain connections that need to be protected, and I cannot have certain rumours spreading...”

“Yes, Sir, I promise I won't repeat what I hear,” she responded eagerly, her green eyes sparking.

“Good. We do not have any concrete evidence that the Chamber of Secret actually exists, and most believe it to be a legend. Furthermore, if the Headmaster were to remove all the Muggle-born students from Hogwarts, the board of governors would not approve. Not all of them, anyway. And the public outcry would be massive. Headmaster Dumbledore would be accused of blood-purity bias by excluding Muggle-born students based on rumours and one writing on the wall and one Petrified cat and one Petrified student, and he might be dismissed from his post: there are plenty of those who would gladly take advantage of such unfounded rumours, including some prominent members in the school's board of governors: and, Miss Potter, Lucius Malfoy, Mr Malfoy's father, is in the board of governors,” he said, cocking his eyebrow and giving her a glance that spoke volumes.

“Yes, Sir, I understand.”

“Good. I trust you've already spoken to Headmaster Dumbledore about this?”

She glanced at him, surprised. “No, Sir. I came to you. Do you want me to go to Professor Dumbledore?”

“No need. I will be meeting him today after my classes. I can give the information to him. Was there something else?”

“No, Sir,” she replied, smiling. “Thank you for your time.”

Severus remained seated as the girl quietly left. The Gryffindor Princess, the Chosen One, the know-it-all, had come to the feared and loathed Head of Slytherin with her information. Not her Head of House, not the Gryffindor Headmaster: she'd come to him, trusted him first.

And he couldn't deny the warmth in his heart.

 

**************************************'

Hestia Jones, November 22nd 1992

 

“Try lower, Hermione,” Hestia adviced, “this song will require you to climb higher, so begin at a lower tone.”

Hermione's singing lessons had progressed wonderfully. The girl had a lovely voice, and many techniques came naturally to her, despite her lack of previous training. It was almost miraculous, but then again so were Hermione's talents in almost everything she did. It was as if she already knew what to do, and needed only quick guidance.

“Perfect! That was just lovely, Hermione. I think we can end the lesson for today: we'll continue with another ballad next week, I believe.”

“Thank you, Madam Jones!” Hermione beamed at her, eyeing the piano longingly.

“Would you like to try?” Hestia suggested.

“Oh, might I?” she asked.

“Of course!” Hestina smiled. “You won't break it, and even if you did, the Room of Requirement would recreate it for next week's lesson. Do you wish to try?” She rose from her seat and offered it to Hermione, who sat gingerly and placed her fingers on the keys, stroking them carefully, then testing them, trying a tone here and there. In a while she grew more confident.

“I have to go soon to see Albus, but we'll meet again next week. I was wondering if you'd like to go to Diagon Alley for Christmas shopping soon? You'll probably be spending your Christmas here and at the Order's safe house, but I know you have a lot of friends. If Albus agrees and if you wish, I could take you shopping in Diagon Alley in early December.”

“Oh, thank you! It would be lovely!” Hermione beamed, her hands still stroking the keys absent-mindedly.

“I think you might have a hidden talent with the piano, Hermione. And you said you've never played before?”

“No, Madam.”

“Hmm. Well, we'll see, maybe we'll practice that, too, later on. Now I must really get going. Have a good week, Hermione!” she said, rushing to deliver the latest report to Albus, leaving the girl behind.

Staying behind Hermione Potter relaxed and continued testing the keys, trying, learning...

And if someone had been around, they would have noticed the seemingly random notes slowly morphing into a beautiful, haunting melody. But nobody was there, and nobody noticed. Not even Hermione Potter herself.

Chapter Text

Hestia Jones, December 12th 1992

 

Little Hermione Potter was absolutely frantic with nerves. She had a huge shopping list for presents: colour coded, no less, but she was ridiculously concerned on whether the people would enjoy their presents.

Diagon Alley was busy on this Saturday: though all the students were still at school, the people shopping for presents crowded every shop and corner. Hermione was, fortunately, very methodical: it saved them plenty of time.

Hestia shrunk packages into her bigger bag: Hermione had just picked out a new warm cloak for Remus Lupin, noting how old and patched his old one was, and several warm blankets: a tartan blanket for Minerva McGonagall, one with moving star patterns for Aurora Sinistra and a red one for Molly Weasley. Albus would be receiving a crystal candy box filled with chocolates, and quite a few teachers and members of the Order would receive smaller trinkets and candy. The boxes contained baubles, joke items, tea blends, Quidditch supplies and warm gloves to various people.

The main shopping would be done at Flourish & Blotts: the book list was extensive. Hermione's bushy brown hair was famous, and everyone recognised her immediately, even though her bangs tended to cover the scar on her forehead. Whispers and glances were aimed at them at all times, and Hestia knew that a few members of the Order were keeping an eye on them, though they kept out of sight. Hestia followed Hermione inside Flourish and Blotts, where the owner of the shop himself ran to greet and assist Hermione personally. Young Miss Potter's love for books was already legendary.

“How are you today, Miss Potter?” beamed Mr Flourish.

“Excellent, Mr Flourish, thank you. How are you?” Hermione replied with a smile.

“Never better! What can I do for you today? Shopping for presents, are you?”

“Yes, Sir. I have a list here...” she presented a long list of books and the man lead her along the aisles and stacks, introducing the books while Hermione selected what she wanted. Mr Flourish levitated the growing pile behind them, beaming at one of his favourite customers as she debated between two Charms tomes to give to Professor Flitwick.

“That's almost everything. I was wondering... do you know Professor Snape?” Hestia heard Hermione ask.

Mr Flourish lifted his left eyebrow in question. “Yes, he's one of our regular customers.”

“Would you know what book he'd really, really want? I would like to give him a really great present, but his collection is massive.”

Mr Flourish beamed and ruffled Hermione's wild hair. “You are such a kind girl to consider your teachers so much, even one as generally unpopular as Professor Snape. Not many would give him a present at all, I should think. Yes, I actually have a few tomes in the used book section he's looked at. There's one in particular... he's looked at it three times now, but the tome really is quite rare and expensive, and I do have some cheaper books as well that he's looked at.”

“Could you show me the book, Sir?”

“Oh yes, definitely, follow me!” he said, leading Hermione and Hestia toward the back, stopping by a shelf containing books about Potions. He took a stepladder that folded itself magically into a strange shape, allowing him to reach a higher shelf. The book he took was large: bound in blue leather with copper plates embossed with floral decorations in the corners, the nameplate in gold leaf.

“Here you are, Miss Potter: Herbert Hiddleweed's 'Ancient Sumerian Potions and Ingredients' from 1652. The price is quite steep, as I said, and if you truly wish to give this book to your Professor I can negotiate a small discount: but I do have some less expensive tomes as well, ones I'm sure your Professor would appreciate.”

Hermione caressed the book in her hands and opened it. The book was beautifully illustrated and in wonderful shape. Mr Flourish named the price, which was really quite expensive, but Hermione decided she wanted the book for Professor Snape anyway. She also selected one of the cheaper ones for Snape's birthday, which would be in early January: both books were rare antique prints and Mr Flourish beamed and assured them that it was highly unlikely that Snape would get them from anywhere else in the meantime. He gave Hermione a good discount on everything, charging the bill directly from her Gringott's account. They arranged for the books to be delivered straight to Hogwarts, and Hestia and Hermione shook hands with Mr Flourish before taking their leave. By that time the bookshop was brimming with customers who'd arrived to see the famous Hermione Potter but were also shopping: the generous discount from Mr Flourish was part from Hermione being such a good and reliable customer, but also from bringing him such excellent sales.

Hestia and Hermione made their way to Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour. They selected ice cream cocoas — a wonderful mixture of hot cocoa and cold ice cream — and chatted amicably. Hestia learned that her own present would be procured by Professor Dumbledore himself to preserve the surprise. Hestia glanced shortly around and spotted Daedalus Diggle just a few tables away, seemingly enjoying an iced lolly-cone, but his eyes kept watch at the door. Hestia had already spotted Professor McGonagall and Remus Lupin in the streets, and she suspected that a few surprises may have been spoiled, but Hermione did not need to know that. The poor girl had had very few true Christmas celebrations in her life. Even Christmas at the Dursley family had been a bleak affair for Hermione, who wasn't allowed in the dinner table, and usually received some of her cousin Dudley's old clothes for a present.

Hermione was quiet today. Both Minerva and Albus had told her that Hermione was actually quite active in the classroom, volunteering long and flawless textbook answers every time she was allowed to, and she'd heard Severus Snape once refer to her “incessant hand-waving” in classroom, but the girl also spent long times in silence, lost deep in her thoughts.

“Albus told me he asked you to sing at the Christmas Feast. Have you considered it?” she asked.

“Do you think I'm ready, Mrs Jones?” Hermione replied, looking very uncertain. Hestia had tried to make her call her by her first name, but she seemed to forget it constantly.

“Definitely,” Hestia said, nodding, “and we can practice some nice carols together. If you don't feel like singing you won't have to, of course, but the Christmas Feast would be an easier performance for you than singing in, say, at the Welcoming Feast or at the Leaving Feast. But if you're uncertain, you could consider singing for the Order. We'll be having a gathering on Boxing Day, and Molly has promised to cook. Would that be easier? You know everyone in the Order, and the audience is a lot smaller than at Hogwarts.”

“I... yes, perhaps?” Hermione said, still uncertainly.

“You have time to consider, dear heart, you don't need to make a decision yet,” Hestia said, sipping the last of her cocoa and pushing the cup away. “I heard Molly was disappointed that you wouldn't spend the holiday at the Burrow?”

“Yes,” Hermione nodded. “Ron, Ginny, Fred and George are great friends but the Burrow is so... noisy and loud? I prefer to stay at school and read.”

“I thought you might,” Hestia said with a smile. “Are you ready to go back to school now? Do you have everything?” Hermione nodded. “Good. If you're not too tired, we might still practice a bit, perhaps start with some Christmas carols?” Hermione beamed and Hestia took her hand, leading her out into Diagon Alley.

***********************************

 

Severus Snape, December 17th 1992

Severus kept his face expressionless as he awaited for the dull fop Lockhart to finish his introduction to the newly reinstated duelling club. The blasted clown pranced around in his garish plum-coloured robes like a peacock as the girls and women swooned and smiled at him, with only few exceptions, mostly among the older teachers who had taught Lockhart themselves: Minerva was clearly biting her cheek to stifle a giggle and Pomona Sprout was trying to place a bet on Lockhart falling on his bum, but Flitwick wouldn't take the bait. Severus noticed that Miss Potter didn't look as impressed with Lockhart as the other girls did.

Severus had promised to help Lockhart demonstrate a basic duel, quessing full well the extent of Lockhart's so-called talents.

'Can everybody see you and hear you', he mimed Lockhart's speech internally, 'Of course they can, you imbecile, they're neither blind nor deaf. And when you're done with me? Let's see when I'm done with you, you lackwit...” Snape curled his upper lip, baring his teeth, but the moron was much too self-absorbed to see the warning sings. He took his place calmly and in orderly fashion as Lockhart counted down and flourished his wand in a dramatic flare. “Expelliarmus!”, Severus cried, and the spell blasted Lockhart backwards, off the stage and against the wall, where he slid down to the floor with a stupid expression on his face. Most the the female students groaned or squealed in horror, and Severus had to fight off a huge grin.

Lockhart was trying to explain himself when he realised the strange sound coming from the spectating crowd. Stifled giggles were quickly turning into gales of strangled laughter, and Hermione Potter was nearly bent over, wiping away tears of mirth from her eyes, trying to control her laughter. Lockhart looked absolutely furious, and Severus had to fight back his own laughter. Most of the other girls glared at Hermione furiously as Lavender Brown handed Lockhart his wand.

“Perhaps it would be prudent to let the students practice in pairs,” Severus interrupted just as Lockhart had opened his mouth to reprimand Miss Potter, who was still trying to control her laughter. Minerva should have been reprimanding Miss Potter for laughing at a teacher, but one look at her grinning face told Severus enough. Flitwick was quietly wiping away his own tears of laughter, though he had managed to laugh quietly. Severus quickly paired Hermione with Draco Malfoy before Lockhart could pair her with someone more malicious.

On a count of three Malfoy and Potter both cast their spells. “Rictusempra!” cried Hermione, and Malfoy fell over laughing and giggling, while his “Tarantallegra” got Hermione's feet dancing uncontrollably. Lockhart cast a Finite Incantatem on everyone, stopping the crazy mayhem: Bullstrode was trying to physically decapitate Lavender Brown, several students were on the ground panting, there were bleeding noses and dazed students all around. Miss Potter and Mr Malfoy were both laughing, patting each other in the back, but the two were pretty much the best off: their duel had been a friendly one.

“Perhaps I'd better teach you how to block unfriendly spells,” said Lockhart*, and then grinned in a malicious way. “Potter and Miss Parkinson, how about you.”

Snape tensed and walked closer. Pansy Parkinson was a nasty piece of work: her parents were devout Death Eaters, though not as high in standing as the Malfoys, and their daughter knew a lot of Dark Spells. Malfoy cast a quick and worried glance at his Head of House, but Snape couldn't interrupt in any believable way: he took a good hold of his wand and prepared to cast to protect Hermione.

Parkinson was grinning nastily, fingering her wand as Lockhart counted down, and quickly cried, “Serpensortia!” A back snake fell on the stage, hissed and prepared to strike at the students. Severus tried to get rid of the snake, but before he had the time, Lockhart had cast a spell that only managed to bounce the serpent ten feet into the air, before it fell back down, now even more furious than before: it bared its fangs and was poised to strike at Justin Finch-Fletchley, who had frozen to his spot, his eyes on the serpent.

Suddenly Hermione hissed something, and the snake fell down, apparently completely docile and relaxed. Everyone stared at young Hermione Potter in horror. Had she really spoken in Parseltongue? As the students muttered and backed away, Snape quickly cast a silent Finite and the snake vanished in a puff of smoke, while Malfoy, Weasley and Granger quickly crowded around Potter and asked something in a quiet voice. Finch-Fletchley had fled after some words that were clearly accusatory: the snake had stopped its attack after the hissed words from Hermione, but most of the other students looked at Hermione like she'd grown a second head with pointed fangs.

“Miss Potter, a word,” Snape said quietly as the teachers began to usher the students back to their dormitories. Miss Potter's friends were surrounding her: Granger and Weasley were casting murderous glances at Snape, while Malfoy looked concerned. Longbottom was standing further back, looking scared out of his wits: the chubby boy rarely displayed the Gryffindor courage and flair, and the presence of the hated Potions Master made him keep his distance.

“The rest of you back to your dormitories at once,” Snape ordered. The three boys cast worried glances at their friend, Granger squeezing her shoulder in a comforting manner before he walked away with Weasley, both boys looking thunderous. Malfoy walked toward the dungeons, followed by Blaise Zabini: the two boys had grown closer this year, as Draco had all but ditched Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle. Zabini was not in the close-knit circle of friends that surrounded Hermione Potter, but Severus had noticed that Zabini and Malfoy liked to work together in classes. Goyle and Crabbe were dim-witted at best of times, and Zabini was quite intelligent and studious.

“Miss Potter, do you know what you did?” Severus asked when they were alone.

“I told the snake to leave Justin alone, and it did,” the girl replied. “Ronald said I was speaking snake language... Parseltongue? But I didn't do it on purpose. I thought I was speaking English. I didn't mean for it to hurt anyone.”

“I understand, Miss Potter. It turns out you are a Parselmouth, a person who can talk to snakes. It's quite a surprise, a very rare talent, though unfortunately most believe it is a mark of a Dark Witch or Wizard.” Severus Summoned them a pair of chairs and gestured her to take a seat.

“Justin thought I set the snake on him,” Hermione said sadly, sitting down gingerly. “But the snake fell down after I spoke to it. Why would he think I would?”

“Because he was scared, Miss Potter, and because he doesn't understand, and people are afraid of things they do not understand. The snake was poisonous and you saved the life of your House Mate, but people react irrationally when they do not understand, and most people think that snakes are evil and that people who can talk to them are evil as well.”

“Are they? Am I... evil?”

“No, Miss Potter. A snake is just an animal, and Parseltongue is just a language. However, I suspect a further reason for Mr Finch-Fletchley's panic is that the most known Parselmouth was Salazar Slytherin himself, and being a Muggle-Born, Mr Finch-Fletchley might suspect you of being the heir of Slytherin.”

“Me?!” Hermione's green eyes grew wide with horror.

“Yes. Most pure-blood families are related in some way, but as far as I know, there are families far more closely related to Slytherin than the Potters were. So, no, I do not believe you are the so-called 'Heir of Slytherin', though I suspect many others will think you might be.”

“Thank you, Sir, for believing in me. I would never hurt a Muggle-Born. Harry Granger is my best friend, after all, and I've nothing against... anyone, really!”

“You're welcome, Miss Potter. If you encounter bullying, you can talk to Professor McGonagall or myself. I will not tolerate bullying.” A surprised glint in Hermione's eyes caught his gaze, and he suspected she considered how Severus himself treated her fellow Gryffindors in class.

“Miss Potter, you have a very expressive face,” he smirked. “You were thinking about Potions Classes.”

“I... yes, Sir”, she admitted, blushing profusely, her gaze on the floor.

“Miss Potter... I will discuss some of my reasons sometime, at a later date, but most of the reasons you cannot yet understand, while some others I do not wish to discuss at any time. But you can understand this, I believe: if I wouldn't keep the likes of Mr Weasley, Mr Granger or, worst of all, Mr Longbottom, in strict order, how many accidents would we have?” Hermione nodded quietly, clearly understanding his reasoning. “Potions is a dangerous subject, Miss Potter, as you well know: we are dealing with poisonous substances, explosive concoctions and fire: an accident brought in by carelessness may cost lives. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Sir. Of course.”

“Good. Now, Miss Potter, go back to your tower with the rest of your House.”

“Yes, Sir. And thank you for the entertainment,” she said, trying to stifle another giggle. “It was an interesting duel, although I'm not sure Professor Lockhart learned anything.”

“Miss Potter, disrespect toward teachers is not permitted,” Severus replied, though a corner of his mouth curled a bit. “Such cheek would warrant docking of Gryffindor House Points, and Gryffindor is already behind Slytherin.” His thin lips began to curl again. “Now, off you go, Miss Potter.”

“Good night, Sir!” the girl called, scurrying off.

Severus leaned back in his chair and allowed the tiniest grin on his lips. “Two points to Gryffindor for an astute observation,” he said quietly.

 

***********************************

 

Severus Snape, December 25th 1992

 

Severus groaned as he woke up. He was on holiday and as such the staff was allowed to sleep late, but his blasted internal clock had undoubtedly woken him up at the usual early hours. He cast a quick Tempus, which confirmed his suspicions. Further attempts to sleep were in vain: he needed some breakfast and the loo.

A quick flick of his wand lit a few candles in his dark bedroom and he blinked blearily as his eyes adjusted to the light. He decided not to attend the breakfast at the Great Hall, opting to ordering some from the elves instead. The stress was getting to him: the few days since the dunderheads — usually known as 'students' — had left had not been enough to lift his spirits, and the stress of the recurring petrification attacks was getting to him. Even Albus himself was very concerned.

The last attack had occurred on the 18th of December: Justin Finch-Fletchley and Nearly Headless Nick had been found petrified. Though Hermione Potter hadn't been close to the attack site, everyone suspected that she'd done it. The little twits had decided that Hermione had indeed tried to attack Finch-Fletchley at the duelling club, and failing that, finished the deed later undetected. The rumours spreading around the castle were malicious, and it was clear that Hermione was suffering for it, though she hadn't sought out help. At least her closest friends had stayed by her side. Before the third attack some rumours from especially the Gryffindor students had suggested that Pansy Parkinson might have been the Heir of Slytherin — she had, after all, Conjured the snake at the duelling club — and another one claimed that the Heir of Slytherin might be the Head of Slytherin House, Severus Snape himself. Severus had snorted at that: if they'd known he was a meagre half-blood, a poor and half-penniless Manc-boy they might have thought differently. With three claimed Heirs of Slytherin they might as well start a club for the proclaimed 'Heirs of Slytherin'.

It had been an unexpected bonus that most of the students had left Hogwarts for holidays, most out of fear of another attack. The victims would be revived in due time, but if something could petrify a ghost, then who knew when someone would be killed? Reassurances from the Headmaster for the cure fell on deaf ears, and Severus knew that few students trusted the dour Potions Master to brew the Mandrake Restorative Draught. Severus scoffed at that: if those ungrateful little twits only knew that he was the one who brewed all the Potions for the infirmary...

Miss Potter had stayed, of course, as a ward of the Headmaster. Draco Malfoy had stayed, though he was sorely disappointed: he'd planned on confronting the house-elf Dobby during the holiday, but Lucius Malfoy had sent the word that he and his wife Narcissa would be spending the holiday in France. The boy clearly missed his mother. Longbottom and Miss Lovegood had also left for their respective homes. Most of the Weasley-children had stayed, though Severus did not know why: Ronald Weasley, however, had left with Harry Granger to spend the holidays with Granger's parents. It'd be a novel experience for the pure-blooded Ronald Weasley to spend a couple of weeks in a Muggle home, and Severus didn't doubt that Arthur Weasley would be very envious and unbelievably curious for what his son learned.

Severus struggled up and cast a Warming Charm on himself: the dungeons were chilly and the floors freezing despite the thick carpets covering the stone floors. He pulled on his thickest bathrobe and lit the fire with another swish of him wand.

The firelight illuminated the three gifts at the end of his bed. At Hogwarts the house-elves brought the presents at night, placing them by the bed. Severus usually received two presents for Christmas. One from the Headmaster: the customary bottle of elf-made wine for the female members of the staff, or a bottle of Ogden's Finest for the males (with the exception of Hooch, who had complained and now also received a bottle of Ogden's, and Minerva, who received a bottle of Scotch instead). The second gift had was from Lucius Malfoy, who sent a bottle of fine wine from his estates in France, meant as a subtle bribe for treating Draco Malfoy especially well. But there had never been a third present.

The parcel was wrapped in green paper and decorated with a silver bow. Severus cast a long list of diagnostic spells before he even touched it: spells to detect traps, poisons and enchantments, but got nothing malicious. Finally he reached out and opened the card on top: addressed to him from Hermione Potter. Severus groaned: of course she would send presents for all her teachers, though Severus never suspected he might receive one. The other teachers got some every year from their favourite students, but Severus had never been anyone's favourite teacher.

He opened the parcel carefully and gasped as his eyes grew wider. Herbert Hiddleweed's 'Ancient Sumerian Potions and Ingredients', the first printing from 1652. There had been a second printing but several chapters had been omitted and the the illustrations were a lot less glamorous. He knew this book: he'd caressed the blue leather-bound covers several times at Flourish & Blotts, but could never actually afford the damn thing: the book cost about the same amount of Galleons he made in two months of wages and then some. He had some extra income and savings from his patents, but he'd spared the Galleons for a rainy day, in the fear that he might one day be forced to flee or leave his job.

Severus sat down heavily, his eyes never straying from the precious book. How would she have known? By asking from Flourish & Blotts, obviously. But why would she have cared enough? And such a precious gift? Had she really purchased all the members of the staff such extravagant presents? The girl was extremely rich, he knew: the Potter family vault was a large one: James Potter had been the last of his line, leaving everything to his only daughter. But such an expensive book...

Severus was sorely tempted to remain by the fireside, reading the precious book from cover to cover. For a while he felt like he couldn't put it down, in the irrational fear it might turn out to be a hallucination, but then a miserable thought occurred to him: he hadn't gotten a present for Miss Potter.

Every shop in Diagon Alley would be closed: same at Hogsmeade. Severus groaned. A book. The girl would appreciate a book. The thought struck him like a lightning: she'd grown up in a Muggle home and probably had never had access to Wizarding fables. He had one book at Spinner's End: a red leather-bound copy of 'The Tales of Beedle the Bard' he'd owned since his childhood, a gift from his late mother. The book was used but in excellent shape: Severus had always respected his books.

His decision made, he jumped up, lowered the book carefully on the table and got dressed. He waded through the snow to the gates and Disapparated, landing inside his home in Manchester. The house was dusty and dark, the blinds lowered: the Muggle-repelling charms were working and the place was Secret Kept, though the only valuable possessions here were some of his laboratory equipment in the cellar and his collection of Dark Magic tomes. He quickly found the book, dusted it with a quick spell, Conjured some wrapping paper and ribbon, and wrote a card. With a quick glance around, he Apparated back to Hogwarts, making his way back to the dungeons, and summoned a house-elf, giving it instructions to deliver the parcel to Miss Potter's bedside. With any luck the girl would still be asleep: it was still early, after all.

Severus called for the elf again, ordering some breakfast, and finally sat down by the fire. He took off his dragon-hide boots, warming his feet closer to the fire, and carefully picked up his new book again. A genuine smile on his lips he opened the book and began to read: someone had cared enough to find him a present he would have wanted. The girl had actually cared.

 

 

*Quote: Rowling, J. K., Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Bloomsbury Publishing: London, 1998, pg. 144