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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 Godric'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

Chapter Text

Severus Snape, December 25th 1992 (continued)

 

The bell rang for the Christmas Feast, startling Severus in his chair. He'd been immersed in his new book: he hadn't even paused to take notes. The potions he could brew with these instructions were interesting and many of them would be useful, but the inspirations he had already gotten were staggering. A true Potions Master could modify and change the existing recipes to create something even more powerful. The book had described techniques that would speed up his work, various new and exotic ingredients which he could test to some potions to improve them if and when he'd be able to acquire them, and several potions that he knew he could improve and test on, such as one that could be combined with the standard Blood Replenishing Potion to treat massive internal injuries, or one which — if he'd manage to combine it with Veritaserum, perhaps using dandelion extract for combining solution — would allow the drinker to know if the others were lying or telling the truth without anyone else knowing of it. There was a recipe for a potion that could be used to mend bones, and by instinct he knew that if he'd ever manage to combine it with most of Skele-Gro's ingredients, the resulting potion would work a bit faster and be less painful than the normal Skele-Gro.

The book he held was not just a collectible: in the hands of a true Master of Potions it was a treasure. He would have to work hard for months, perhaps years, but should he succeed — and he would not allow himself failure — it would result in patents that would increase his income. It wouldn't make him a rich man, but there would definitely be more gold in his chests at Gringott's. The Prince vaults were old and yet extremely empty for an old family.

Severus placed the book on his desk, caressing the cover's metal embellishments gently with his dexterous fingers and then quickly exited his chambers, striding toward the Great Hall with his usual silent prowl. The book was such a thoughtful gift from a student: but what on earth would possess the silly chit to splurge such extravagant amounts on presents? If the other teachers had received presents of equal value, the girl would probably have emptied her vault in a few years, never mind that she'd be getting some income from some of Potter's old real estate rents.

 

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

Severus Snape, December 25th 1992 (continued)

 

The Christmas feast was quite delicious, though he'd never admit it out loud, and the few teaches who'd stayed at Hogwarts were quite thrilled and in a festive mood. Lockhart had left for the holidays, thank Merlin, Circe and Nimue, and many others would leave to meet with their families after the Feast, though most would return quite soon. Severus had no family left, and so he'd stay: he'd stayed when he had a family, with no intention of going back home just to be beaten up by his father and ignored by his mother.

The Great Hall was once again lavishly decorated: Albus had absolutely no taste at all, but luckily he allowed Filius to do a lot of decorating at the Great Hall. Filius had excellent taste, and so while the Great Hall looked like Christmas had vomited all over the place, it wasn't as gaudy as the Headmaster's office tended to be: when Albus decorated by himself, there was an excess of red and gold, but there would also be bright blues, pinks and yellows, looking as if someone dumped an insane rainbow inside the office.

Every teacher had gotten a present from Miss Potter, as he'd guessed, but he realised that his gift had been special: Albus thanked the girl for a crystal candy container: she'd given blankets, warm gloves, trinkets and baubles and sweets, and the people who'd gotten a book had received a much more regular book: he knew the books that Flitwick and Babbling received had just been published, and hadn't cost nearly as much as the one Severus received.

He tried to avoid the inevitable question about his present, but of course Albus had to ask him. He replied, but judging by their expressions not one of them realised what an expensive present he'd received, although Albus had that annoying twinkle in his eyes again that told Severus he might have guessed. He thanked Miss Potter for the present like everyone else did, and she smiled and blushed.

After the feast Albus tried to goad the girl to sing, but she just shook her head and declined, so Albus began the usual annoying chorus carolling with Hagrid. Severus wasn't sure if her shy nature was because of her upbringing with the Dursley family or something from the Hermione Granger she'd once been: Lily Evans and James Potter had always been confident and more than eager to preform, with nary a trace of shyness.

When the Feast ended, he approached her.

“Miss Potter, I thank you again for the book. But are you quite certain you wanted me to have it? It was, after all, rather expensive.”

“Yes, Professor,” she smiled at him. “It's yours. I wanted it to be. And thank you for the book you gave me! It was so lovely.”

“You've finished it already?”

“I started, but haven't finished yet,” she replied.

“The book you gave is a treasure, Miss Potter,” he told her honestly. “It is not only a thing of beauty: it contains a lot of useful knowledge... I thank you, Miss Potter. It is unusual for me to receive a present from a student.”

“You're my favourite teacher, Sir!” she replied happily, bade him good day and skipped off to join Mr Malfoy, who was waiting for her.

He'd never been anyone's favourite teacher before, not even among Slytherin, though he'd always favoured them. He'd always been strict with Miss Potter, though he'd tried to avoid insulting her after the first time: he'd always held the title of the most feared and hated teacher at Hogwarts.

He shook his head as he made his way back toward his quarters in the dungeons and his new book, filled with such wonders...

 

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

Severus Snape, December 26th 1992

 

Albus dragged him to the Boxing Day dinner for the Order of the Phoenix on the 26th. Molly Weasley had cooked and the food was excellent: Molly was a wonderful cook, though her mothering instincts were irritating.

Hestia convinced Miss Potter to sing a carol for them. She was a bit pale and was blushing, but her voice was very pleasant: she was, in fact, very talented. The members listened to her in rapt attention and applauded: many of the women had tears in their eyes, and Hestia gave her a proud hug. Miss Potter was the Order's pet: not just the Chosen One, she was treated like a daughter by many.

Every member had received a present, for which they thanked her profusely: Remus Lupin's winter cloak had probably been one of the most expensive ones she'd bought, but Severus felt an unusual warmth when he realised that though she knew that Remus had been a friend to her parents, she'd still given a bigger present for Severus.

Then it struck him. Hermione Potter couldn't have known that he'd loved Lily Potter, but could Hermione Granger have known? Could the information have come through in some way? She couldn't know, could she?

When he heard her admit that she'd given Lockhart only a Christmas card and no present at all, he excused himself to the loo, cast a Silencing Charm and laughed for quite a while.

Only late that night, as he was falling asleep, he realised that in his mind he'd been thinking of Lily as Lily Potter and not Lily Evans like he'd always had. Why was she growing so distant? Was it because he saw only the green from her eyes on Hermione Potter's face, and only James Potter when he looked at Harry Granger?

He fell asleep before he could come to any conclusion.

Chapter Text

Severus Snape, January 9th 1993

 

The ninth of January dawned, though Severus only knew this by his internal clock: no light of dawn filtered into his bedchamber in the dungeons, but Severus had woken up at dawn so long he did it automatically now.

It'd been uncomfortably cold for days: the draughty corridors were chilly and the dungeons downright freezing. He usually patrolled almost every night because of his insomnia, but the cold had actually prevented his patrolling for a couple of nights in the last week. The potions classroom was almost unbelievably uncomfortable, and even in his thick dragonhide boots his toes were freezing. His own quarters had Warming Charms, but the cold he endured during the days were making him very uncomfortable.

Albus had briefly informed him that his patrolling duties as well as his supervision duties in the Great Hall for the day would be cancelled: a small present from him, he'd said with a chuckle that made Severus want to curse. Of course the meddling old coot would know what the insufferable Gryffindor chit had planned for his birthday party: she'd arranged one for everyone, after all. With some help from Dumbledore she'd arranged the artistic Professor Flitwick a trip to see a famous Vienna Boys Choir preform in London, and a special birthday dinner ended in charmed fireworks display provided by the Headmaster himself.

Nobody had ever arranged Severus Snape a party, he realised, but dreaded the very idea of having to spend the afternoon with members of the Order, like Lupin, or with Miss Potter's Gryffindor friends, because he certainly had none himself. The elves delivered his breakfast to his quarters: after he'd banished the dishes back to the kitchens he realised the house-elves must have informed her of it, because fifteen minutes after he'd finished she knocked on the door of his office.

“Yes, Potter?” he asked, as he opened the door.

“Happy birthday, sir!” the girl chimed happily, “Are you busy now, or would you be able to come with me? There's a surprise waiting for you.” She was carrying a small wicker basket and was dressed in her winter robes, though she wore jeans underneath it instead of her usual school uniform.

“Why?” he tried to delay, “Is something wrong?”

“No, it's just your birthday, Professor.”

“Very well,” he drawled, “Albus would probably have my hide if I did not come. But I am not one for birthdays or parties, Miss Potter. I do not celebrate my own birthdays.”

“I hope you'll enjoy this day anyway, sir,” the girl said, though she sounded a bit uncertain. “I tried to think of what you'd like.”

“And what would that be, Miss Potter?”

“It's a surprise, Professor,” she replied in her more usual bossy tone. “You'll see.”

She led him to the seventh floor and to the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy, where she briskly walked thrice back and forth, concentrating with a frown until the door to the Room of Requirement appeared. She seemed a bit apprehensive when she opened the door but seemed delighted at what she saw and stepped through, and Severus followed her.

The room had transformed into a clearing in a forest: the door seemed to open into a trunk of a huge tree. The warmth of midsummer air hit him and he shivered by the impact after the freezing and draughty Scottish air. The grass grew green and soft, and he could smell the scent of freshly mown grass. The sun shone upon the clearing and the trees created comforting shades.

Miss Potter softly called the name of an elf, and several of Hogwarts house-elves popped around them, each bringing baskets with them. They spread thick blankets on the grass, some in the shades, others in the sun, and floated delicacies and treats from the baskets, arranging them to be eaten. Miss Potter took out a present from the basket she was carrying: an antique printing just like the Hiddleweed she'd given him for Christmas, though definitely not as rare as that one, but definitely interesting, detailing the uses of several magical and non-magical insects in Potions and the differences on how the cutting or grinding techniques altered the consistency and effectiveness of the potion when insect ingredients were concerned. He'd considered the book but had never gotten around to buying it.

He heard several voices in the corridor before the door opened and the Headmaster entered, followed by Professors Vector, Flitwick and Sprout. They seemed delighted when they discovered where they were.

“Happy birthday, my boy!” Albus bellowed happily. “Such a fine day in here. Miss Potter's idea, of course, we all know how cold the corridors are. As I said earlier, you're excused from all the duties today, and Aurora will take care of the Slytherin House should any problems arise: she's already informed them. You'll stay here for today: we will visit you and stay here as well when our other duties permit. Miss Potter suggested that you might enjoy a quiet day of reading, so all of your visitors are here to read quietly and enjoy the company and the food.”

Each of the Professors did, indeed, carry some reading material with them: Albus had a magazine about knitting and the others clutched some books as they wished him happy birthday. Albus also presented him with a gift on behalf of the staff: a rare book about Dark Curses and a bottle of Ogden's finest, along with ridiculous pair of green socks he'd never wear. He made sure Miss Potter couldn't take a peek at the book: it would undoubtedly contain things that no child should see, and definitely not the Girl-Who-Lived-To-Wave-Her-Hand-In-His-Classroom, aged twelve.

The warmth made him grateful, and he thanked them silently, taking a seat on a blanket in the shade, as his sallow skin always burned easily in the sun. The other members sat or lay down on the blankets: Albus Transfigured himself a pair of sunglasses from a blade of grass he picked up and looked incredibly ridiculous as he sipped a cooled drink the house-elves offered him.

There was a variety of cool drinks available, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, and the food offered was finger-food, easily passed around. Minerva arrived soon with Sybill Trelawney and Madam Pince, all three quietly wishing him the happiest of birthdays before they, too, settled to read quietly. After a while Filius cast a Tempus and left, and Charity Burbage arrived soon after. Later Albus left only to be replaced by Hooch, Poppy arrived when Sybill left, and so on. It was clear that some staff would remain in the castle to make sure the students kept their peace, but quite a number of people were celebrating Severus Snape's birthday simply by reading quietly in the sunny and warm clearing in the Room of Requirement.

The house-elves quietly set a warm meal on a long table close to the clearing. Only a couple of the Professors supervised the lunch in the Great Hall, and Miss Potter entertained the eaters by reading out loud various and selected insults from a book that Albus had procured just for this occasion: the book was called 'The Gigantic Book of Outrageous Insults and Slurs', and they discovered that it was quite challenging to eat and drink when Miss Potter recited some horrible insults with a calm voice and a dead-pan expression on her face. Severus guessed she must have either rehearsed the thing or was using some kind of charm not to laugh: he had difficulty keeping his cool, and Hooch had spurted elf-made wine from her nose, while Septima was beating Pomona's back to stop her from choking. Argus Filch was hollering with laughter, his usually sour face almost unrecognizable contorted in wrinkles of laughter. After the meal they returned to their reading, and a companionable silence reigned. It was definitely a birthday to remember, Severus mused and suffocated a smile: his first birthday party and he'd actually enjoyed himself.

During the following weeks the mood among the staff was better: for weeks Pomona and Rolanda would spontaneously burst into manic chortles remembering some silly slur, and in the instances they repeated what they'd remembered, many of the staff burst into laughter. Lockhart had been insulted when he'd realised he hadn't been invited and that he'd been purposefully delegated to attend each meal that day. His absence had improved the day quite a bit, at least in Severus' opinion.

Aurora Sinistra's birthday was celebrated early in February, again in the Room of Requirement, which was again turned into a warm clearing in the forest, but this time it was dark as the night, and the ceiling displayed a clear night sky. The birthday meal was lighted by floating candles, and the guests spent their time lying on their backs and spotting constellations. The downside to a fine evening was Lockhart, who attempted to regale them with his stories of all the duels he'd won, but luckily Albus got rid on him quite soon. It was a very relaxing affair.

There had been no new attacks since mid December, the Mandrakes were maturing, and everyone seemed calmer. Lockhart attempted to take the credit for stopping the attacks, which was simply ridiculous: Severus knew in his heart that whatever had caused the attacks hadn't stopped just like that, and something far worse was to come.

 

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

 

When Harry Granger and Ronald Weasley showed up in the Gryffindor Tower with Riddle's diary, which Hermione instantly recognised as the Horcrux, she almost wailed in horror. She watched in disgust as her younger personality cast a Revealing Charm on it, to no avail. She'd have to get it out of their hands, she knew: she'd seen how Ginny Weasley had suffered, and she could detect some of the marks on her now, though Hermione Potter didn't.

It seemed to her like Hermione Potter had some kind of Occlumency-walls in her head, because lately it'd become much harder to get to the surface. It might have been a self-defence mechanism after the times Hermione Granger's older personality had surfaced with nearly disastrous results: whatever it was, it made it harder for her to reach the surface.

In her need to protect she pushed a simple idea to the surface: 'get the diary for yourself! You need the diary! Get the diary!'

“Could I take it for now? I could ask some of the Professors if there's anything to it,” Hermione Potter suggested Harry and Ron. “I could also research with some other Charms and see what I can come up with.”

“Sure,” Harry Granger smiled, glad to have someone else do the research work.

That evening, as Hermione Potter entered her dorm room, Hermione Granger pushed again. 'Place the diary into your chest,' she pushed, and absent-mindedly Hermione Potter did that.

Now all she needed to do was to keep it safe, away from the others, away from Ginny. Then the basilisk wouldn't be released again, Ginny wouldn't be at risk... and who'd get petrified? Would it be she herself again, like the last time? Who, then, would defeat the basilisk?

'Forget the diary,' Hermione pushed the thoughts with all her strength and collapsed tiredly as Hermione Potter yawned and drifted to sleep. She'd have to find a way to destroy it later, when it was safe to do so, when she'd be able to fully reach consciousness.

Chapter Text

There had been no new attacks since the 18th of December. Hermione Potter's birthday parties had lightened the mood considerably among the rest of the staff, much to the distaste of Lockhart, who furrowed his eyebrows whenever Minerva, Filius and Pomona would recite some insult they remembered from Snape's birthday party and laughed themselves silly, and so he announced a Valentine's Day surprise. A morale-booster, he called it, for the entire school, and Severus had to admit that although Hermione's parties had made the mood easier amongst the staff, the student body as whole was on the edge.

Severus had always detested February the fourteenth, and he had to struggle against his urge to Hex Lockhart when he entered the Great Hall for breakfast: the walls were covered in lurid pink flowers, heart-shaped confetti was showering down from the ceiling, and Lockhart was gracing the table in disgustingly gaudy pink robes. Severus sat down and glanced briefly at his fellow instructors: all but Lockhart were looking rather grim and annoyed, although Albus seemed to be in his usual good mood, smiling absently to his breakfast and humming something. Minerva seemed to be biting back insults and Filius groaned in exasperation, although quietly. The students were arriving, many of them looking quite disgusted, although many of the females were giggling in delight.

Severus noticed Hermione Potter arrived and pausing at the door, taking a look at the decorations and begin giggling. She seemed to find the whole thing quite thrilling, really.

Severus noticed there was a white envelope next to his plate, and he opened it carefully after casting a series of Charms to detect any Hexes, Curses and potions and finding none. He opened the envelope carefully using a knife he transfigured from his egg cup, and found a Valentine's card. The first one he'd ever gotten. No clues as to who'd sent it, it was tasteful as far as those cards usually went. And although it bore the irritatingly pink hearts involved with the day, they were paler than the lurid ones Lockhart seemed to favour in his decorations, accentuated with purple and blue flowers and green ferns in the background. His first card for Valentine's Day. He'd given Lily cards for many years and watched everyone else receive them: even the brutish idiots like Mulciber or snivelling cowards like the late Peter Pettigrew seemed to get one at one point or another, but Snivellus Snape had never gotten one.

Until today.

“Happy Valentine's Day!” Lockhart shouted, and Severus tore his eyes away from the card. “And may I thank the forty-five people who have so far sent me cards! Yes, I have taken the liberty of arranging this little surprise for you all — and it doesn't end here!” the irritating twit said, clapping his hands imperiously, and in marched a dozen dwarves: all looked more than a bit annoyed and irritable, and no wonder, considering they were all wearing golden wings and carried harps. A ridiculous sight if there ever was one, and Severus had to struggle to keep himself from laughing: it would have frightened the students out of their bloody minds. Severus risked a glance at Minerva and saw a mixture of blatant disbelief and amusement in her eyes: Minerva's seemed to be gripping her thighs with her fingernails to keep herself from laughing.

“My friendly, card-carrying cupids! Lockhart continued, smiling widely. “They will be roving around the school today delivering your Valentines! And the fun doesn't stop there! I'm sure my colleagues will want to enter into the spirit of the occasion! Why not ask Professor Snape to show you how to whip up a Love Potion! And while you're at it, Professor Flitwick knows more about Entrancing Enchantments than any wizard I've ever met, the sly old dog!”

Severus heard Filius groan lightly as the diminutive Charms Master buried his head into his hands, and Severus scowled at the student populace, his expression warning them of even daring to mention the day in his presence, let alone ask questions about illegal potions.

He observed Ron Weasley asking something from Miss Potter, who shook her head vehemently and blushed, before turning to her bag and rummaging through it.

All through the day the irritating dwarves kept barging into classrooms until Severus locked the door with a handy spell and silenced it when the knocking began to irritate him. Blessed relief! There had been two accidents during the first lesson alone when a brewing student was disturbed by a dwarf delivering a card. The other teachers were equally enraged and fuming in the staff room, several of them bearing expressions that promised Lockhart imminent retribution: Lockhart wisely chose to remain out of sight after Filius Charmed his pants to shrink several sizes quite unexpectedly and rapidly. Rolanda offered Filius a butterbeer and called for three cheers.

Minerva bragged about how many Valentine's cards Hermione Potter had received. The Girl-Who-Lived, despite being a bookworm with massive hair, had special status as the Chosen One, although Minerva declared loudly that her kind and considerate character probably contributed to the cause as well. Severus agreed: she was not the prettiest of girls with that ridiculous hair, and though her green eyes were striking, the main attraction about her would have been her fame and her kindness. Young boys would not appreciate intelligence, not at their age, when everything was about Quidditch, food and handy little Jinxes.

“She'll grow up to be a beautiful young woman, you mark my words,” Minerva said, defending her favourite cub loyally, like the lioness she was. Severus, remembering the striking, although starved, brown-eyed young woman he'd seen in Albus' memories, could only agree, although silently at the back of his mind.

“I saw you received a card today as well, Severus,” Albus remarked with a good-natured smile. The conversation at the staff lounge paused as every other professor present turned to stare at Severus. “Who was it from, do you know?” Severus scowled at him furiously, jumped off his chair and stalked off, slamming the door furiously behind him.

Chapter Text

February 14th 1993

 

“Eyes like chocolate balls?” Draco teased Harry, “Merlin, that was a hilarious card!”

“You shouldn't have teased Ginny, Dray,” Hermione chided their blonde friend.

“I fefinitely should have. I'm teasing Granger more, anyway,” Draco laughed. “Chocolate balls, that's just brilliant!”

“Shut it, Malfoy, that's my sister you're bullying,” Ron snarled.

“Relax, Weasley,” Draco drawled. “Anyway, at least Granger got one Valentine. I got five, Hermione got... how many? I lost count. Did you get any? Didn't think so.”

“Well, bet all of yours came from that pug-faced Pansy Parkinson.”

“She's not all bad,” Draco defended the girl.

“Oh she is,” Ron snapped.

“Stop it, you two,” Hermione sighed. “Such a fight for some silly cards.”

“Funny, haven't seen Lockhart all day,” Harry interrupted the impending fight. “I'd have thought he'd be attending all meals and boasting about his cards.”

“He's hiding in his office,” Draco said. “One of the sixth-year Prefects said Flitwick Jinxed his pants to shrink, and that he's hiding from McGonagall and Snape.”

“That's Professor McGonagall and Professor Snape, Dray,” Hermione corrected.

“Fine.”

“Why would he hide from Mc... Professor McGonagall?” Neville asked.

“I heard he tried to transfigure her clothes to pink. She stopped him just on time. Snape threatened to poison him.”

“With his skills he'd have probably vanished her clothes,” Ron snickered. “Remember what he did to Hermione?” The rest of the friends groaned.

“Did you send Lockhart a Valentine, Hermione?” Neville asked. “I know Lavender Brown did.”

“No!” Hermione exclaimed.

“Sorry, just asking,” Neville defended himself. “Seems like almost every girl did.”

“I don't like him,” Hermione said. “I don't know... he doesn't even teach us properly. I get a funny feeling from him... I don't like it. Or him.”

“The Cornish Pixies were outrageous,” Harry agreed, and Ron hummed in agreement, while Neville blanched at the memory and shivered.

“Did you send anyone a card?” Ron asked Hermione. The girl flushed and began rummaging through her bag.

“She sent one, but not to Lockhart,” Draco said with a wide and snide smile.

“Shut up, Malfoy,” Hermione hissed, her face red with embarrassment. Draco merely laughed at her, and their friends exchanged confused looks.

 

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

February 25th 1993

 

“Hermione, can I borrow a handkerchief?” Ginny Weasley asked as she stepped into Hermione's room. “I can't find mine, I've no idea where I've put it.”

“Sure, Gin,” Hermione said. “They're in my trunk. Let me find one,” she replied, walking to her trunk and opening it, beginning to rummage through all the items she'd tossed in.

“Have you anything planned for Ron's birthday?” Ginny asked as she watched the elder girl search for the handkerchief.

“Yes, I was planning on a game night. We already did Quidditch for Harry, and Professor Dumbledore did promise us the Room of Requirement again, but it wouldn't be quite as easy. Perhaps some flying obstacles, but I was planning on a game night with Wizard's Chess, Exploding Snap, some Muggle board games and treats, things that Ron likes,” Hermione said as she tossed Harry Granger's strange book and a pile of some old notes on the floor. She thought she heard Ginny draw breath behind her and turned, seeing the girl had gone a bit pale. “Gin? Are you all right?”

“Fine... fine,” she said.

“Something wrong?”

“No, nothing's wrong.”

“Oh, all right,” she said and frowned. “Found one,” she declared and pulled a clean handkerchief from her trunk: she's gotten a few of them as present from Hestia Jones last Christmas, embroidered with her initials. She began packing the things back into her trunk. “Promise you won't tell Ron what I've planned, all right? He's so nosy!”

“I promise,” Ginny whispered faintly, as Hermione placed the book, the papers and other items back into her trunk, making a mental note to rearrange the trunk soon.

 

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

Severus Snape, April 9th 1993

 

The staff meeting was utterly boring. The staff droned on and on about the students now that many of them were on holiday: as per usual, Hermione Potter and her little gang was a major topic of discussion.

“She signed up for everything!” Minerva gushed with pride. “Every subject, though she must understand that the timetable will conflict. But she's so clever! And so eager to learn.”

“The timetable conflict must be resolved. I will need to think about it,” Albus said.

“I definitely must have her in my class,” Septima Vector said with determination. “I've spoken to her and I've never met such a bright young mind. If I must, I will give her lessons separately.” Both Aurora Sinistra and Bathsheda Babbling nodded vigorously.

“I wouldn't call her anything special,” Lockhart scoffed in an insulted tone. “I have a lot of students more eager to learn in my classes.”

“Perhaps you should ask them something other than the colour of your favourite socks, Lockhart,” Severus snarled. “Miss Potter is so eager to learn that sometimes one feels the urge to glue her to her seat lest she jump up from it with the force that she uses to thrust her hand up in the air at every opportune moment. And perhaps apply the Silencing Charm on her at each lesson to stop her from responding to every question.”

“Now now, Severus, Gilderoy,” Albus placated, and gestured soothingly at Minerva, who'd bristled indignantly from the slights to her favourite cub. “Miss Potter is an eager student, and your bias on Gryffindor is widely known, Severus. Gilderoy, if her test scores at the end of term seem disappointing, I will discuss it with her, as her legal guardian,” Albus said, casting a glance at Lockhart that spoke volumes: Albus adored Hermione Potter and was very protective of her.

Severus would never have admitted it, but Hermione Potter was his favourite student as well. Although it was still a bit too early to scope the true magnitude of her skill, talent and aptitude at Potions, she followed the instructions perfectly and easily, demonstrating willingness to learn and ability to concentrate that was rare in pupils as young as she was. These were the moments he most hated his position: when the Dark Lord would return, he'd have to return to his side, and any favour shown to Hermione Potter at Hogwarts would surely be known.

Silvanus Kettleburn cleared his voice. “I have to announce that I will not be around next year. I have chosen to retire. It would have been interesting to teach a young mind as inquisitive and promising as young Miss Potter, but I would like to retire before I loose any more of appendages.”

The rest of the staff congratulated Kettleburn for his retirement, but Severus kept quiet. He wouldn't miss Kettleburn, who was reckless and all too enthusiastic.

“How are the Mandrakes, Pomona?”

“Well, they all have acne, although it's starting to clear up, there have been several raucous parties since the end of March, and some of them have become broody and are moping frequently, so they're maturing as expected,” Pomona said. “We'll have them ready soon, and then Severus can begin brewing the Restorative Draught.”

“I could very easily do the brewing, of course,” Lockhart said airily. “But alas, my schedule is much too busy...”

“Yes yes, Gilderoy,” Albus said. “Now, moving on in the agenda, I hope everyone remembers to start preparing for the final exams? We'll need to schedule who supervises the O.W.L.'s and the N.E.W.T.'s this year. The Apparition tests for the sixth years are scheduled...”

Chapter Text

Ron Weasley's birthday party on the first of March was a success, as expected. The guests dined on treats till they were fit to burst, and Ron bested everyone at Wizard's Chess, until Hermione invited a special guest to play against him: Headmaster Dumbledore himself sat across the chess board and figuratively wiped the floor with Ronald Weasley, much to everyone's amusement. Ron himself was deeply impressed and delighted, and the Headmaster gracefully promised they would play another game later: good opponents at chess were a rare commodity, after all.

Fred and George Weasley were especially delighted with the introduction of the Muggle board game 'Twister': they immediately begged for another game night for their own birthday from Hermione, with some special starring guests: and so, on April the first the Room of Requirement, now decorated with bright balloons that occasionally exploded only to shower people underneath them with confetti, filled up with not only students but various members of the staff for a birthday party that would become the stuff of Hogwarts legends, when the esteemed Headmaster Professor Dumbledore, Seamus Finnegan, Fred and George Weasley and Professor Vector battled in a game of twister until Professor Dumbledore tripped on his gaudy canary-yellow robes and fell on top of his co-players, forming an undignified and laughing heap, until Professor Vector, who had had unfortunately ended up at the bottom of it all, yelled, “Albus, get your arse out of my face!”, completely ignoring the fact that the room was filled with young students. Headmaster Dumbledore ignored the language and extracted himself from the flailing limbs of Fred Weasley, who was only brought down again by his brother.

Still laughing, Hermione entered her dorm room and to her great surprise found Ginny Weasley inside. The first-year was blushing with embarrassment.

“Ginny, hi! Did you need something? I thought you were still at the party?”

“Oh... nothing, I just... I thought I'd return you your handkerchief, the one you borrowed me ages ago,” Ginny muttered and offered the handkerchief to her. It'd been cleaned and pressed, and Hermione took it back to her trunk. Ginny was looking very uncertain, twisting her hands and blushing.

Somewhere deep inside Hermione Potter Granger was screaming, trying to pound the immaterial confines of her prison with non-existent fists, but to no avail. She was relieved when she saw the book was still in her trunk, but she knew Ginny had seen it and was after it: oh yes, she'd known it since Ginny had borrowed the handkerchief. Hermione Potter just wasn't listening, and Granger was beyond frustrated: in some ways Hermione Potter seemed to be about as frustratingly pigheaded as Harry Potter had been, and about as thick. The book was safe for now, but Ginny, oh, poor Ginny...

When Severus found out about the game of Twister, he'd first thought it was a bad April Fool's joke. Then he requested to see the memory in Albus' Pensieve. When he'd emerged from the memory provided by Albus, he collapsed against the nearest wall, doubling over in laughter.

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

April 9th, 1993

 

Hermione Potter wandered around the library, browsing the shelves absent-mindedly. She sometimes did that, but right now something was niggling at the back of her mind. Some realisation, some recollection, some connection she could barely form.

Images flashed before her eyes: seeing the group of spiders exiting the window, Harry telling her that two of Hagrid's roosters were killed. People being petrified. The puddle on the floor. Nearly Headless Nick and Justin Finch-Fletchley? Colin Creevey with his camera?

Her thoughts were interrupted when Draco and Neville entered the library. They were talking about something until Madam Pince shushed them: Draco glared at the librarian petulantly but obeyed and walked to Hermione: Neville looked sheepish and more than a little bit scared of the irate librarian.

“Hey Hermione,” Neville greeted quietly. “Anything new?”

“I'm not sure. Something's bothering me, but I can't quite get a grasp on it...”

“I got an owl from my mother,” Draco said. “Can we sit down?”

“Sure, there's a free table near the back. Madam Pince won't hear us from back there, I think,” she said, leading the two boys to the table. “Where are Harry and Ron?”

“Flying,” Draco said. “I borrowed Weasley my broom. Anyway, my father... he wants Dumbledore out.”

“What? Why? And that's Headmaster Dumbledore, Draco.”

“He doesn't like him, and you know Father is on the board of governors,” Draco said, dismissing Hermione's correction in his usual manner. “He detests Dumbledore. Anyway, mother wrote that the Chamber of Secrets had been opened once before, and that they believe that Hagrid did that.”

“He never would!” Hermione shrieked, and Neville shushed her, looking around him with a frightened expression: Madam Pince did not react well to shouting in the library.

“He'd never,” Hermione repeated quietly.

“Mother just wrote it happened when Hagrid was a student, years ago, but that Dumbledore vouched for him so he got off, scot free.”

“Headmaster Dumbledore. Or Professor Dumbledore, Draco” Hermione sighed.

“Anyway,” Draco continued, “one girl died back then, in the girl's lavatory. She wrote that father has suggested collecting signatures to an Order of Suspension for Dumbledore, as well as removing Hagrid, perhaps sending him to Azkaban.”

“That's preposterous,” Hermione hissed.

“That's what my father would do,” Draco said seriously. “I've learned to know Hagrid. Granger and Weasley like him and we visit there all the time. The rock cakes are truly horrid but he's harmless, really. I don't know what my father has against him.”

“Perhaps we should warn Professor Dumbledore,” Hermione said, frowning.

“I think so too,” Neville chimed in.

“I'm off flying,” Draco said. “I just thought you should know. Coming, Neville?”

“You go right ahead,” Neville said. “I think I'll stay for a while. Flying really isn't my thing.”

“We'll teach you two,” Draco promised with a grin that lit up his face.

“Perhaps later, Dray,” Hermione replied with a wan smile — she really hated flying. “I should try to look for something. I can't quite figure it out...”

Draco shrugged and waved as he left, leaving Neville and Hermione behind. Deep in thought, Hermione got up again and began browsing the shelves.

“Looking for something special?” Neville asked, looking at the section on Herbology.

“I'm not sure,” Hermione said quietly. Thoughts flew through her head: the terrible voice she'd heard. The spiders. The roosters. Colin and his camera...

Hermione stared at a book her hand was touching: she didn't even remember lifting her hand, but there it was: she'd read this one once, last year, researching some magical and mythical creatures and beasts like unicorns. A fascinating book, really, but something twinged at her memory.

She took the book down, her hands shaking. Neville had wandered towards the Herbology section: Hermione didn't bother sitting down as she opened the book and browsed the index.

Basilisk.

“Of the many fearsome beasts and monsters that roam our land, there is none more...” she read quickly.

“King of serpents... snake... murderous stare... spiders flee before... crowing of the rooster... fatal...”

A basilisk. A basilisk in the pipes.

Mrs Norris was looking at the water, Colin through his camera, Justin through Sir Nicholas... the ghost was already dead, so...

“Neville!” Hermione hissed. “Neville, come here!”

“What?” Neville asked, trudging to her, looking around, clearly afraid that Madam Pince would jump out from behind a shelf and glare at them.

“The monster is a Basilisk, Neville. A giant snake. That's why I can hear it: I'm a Parselmouth. Look over here. The spiders, the spiders were leaving the castle, and Neville, someone killed Hagrid's roosters to keep them from crowing and Neville, there's a Basilik around and none of the victims looked straight at it, they looked through things, like the camera and the water on the floor and...”

“Calm down, Hermione,” Neville said, though he looked nearly as frightened as she was. “You're going into panic again.”

“We need to take this page to Professor Dumbledore!” Hermione hissed. “Hold the book, I'll rip the page...”

“Are you insane?!” Neville squealed. “Madam Pince will kill us!”

“Oh... blasted! You're right...”

“We could check out the book,” he suggested.

“No time!” Hermione squealed. “Perhaps he'll believe us without it. We need a mirror.”

“A mirror? Why?” Neville asked, blinking in confusion.

“Because anyone who looks a Basilisk in the eyes dies! There hasn't been an attack in months but Neville, we can't...”

“We're not Muggle-born, Hermione,” Neville said hopefully. “You're half-blood, I'm pure-blood. It goes only after Muggle-borns.”

“We can't be sure. I'm quite certain it can kill anyone,” Hermione growled. “I'll... oh blast, I don't have a mirror. Do you?”

“No,” Neville replied.

“We'll need to be very careful. I'll just have to listen very carefully. Walk behind me, Neville. I heard it before, so perhaps I can hear it if it approaches us. We need to get to Professor Dumbledore!”

Debating against herself, she placed the book back on the shelf and walked to the exit as fast as she could, avoiding running, Neville trailing behind her.

Chapter Text

April 9th, 1993 (cont'd)

 

The journey to Headmaster Dumbledore's office took a ridiculously long time, but Hermione insisted on stopping often to listen, and Neville, hiding behind her back, did not object. They received some weird looks from other students passing by, but Hermione held firm: she did not wish to take risks.

The password to the Headmaster's office had changed since they last had tea, but Hermione politely asked the gargoyle guarding the entrance to ask for Professor Dumbledore, and after a moment, the gargoyle leapt aside and the two students entered the spiral staircase. Neville looked around in wide-eyed wonder as they entered the office: Hermione paused to use the large knocker at the door and they waited until Professor Dumbledore's voice bade them to enter.

“Welcome, Hermione, young Mr Longbottom,” the Headmaster said. He wasn't alone: Professor McGonagall and Professor Flitwick were inside as well. “What brings you here so urgently?”

“Professor, there's a Basilisk in the castle,” Hermione said. Dumbledore's eyes widened in unconcealed shock until he got it under control. Professor Flitwick squeaked and Professor McGonagall drew a sharp breath, turning to look sharply at the two students.

“What brings you to this conclusion?” Dumbledore asked.

“I found it in a book, sir. It makes sense!” Hermione said quickly. “Mrs Norris was looking into the surface of the water, so she wasn't killed when she saw the Basilisk. Colin was looking at it through his camera, and Justin probably saw it through...”

“Through sir Nicholas, yes, I understand,” Professor Dumbledore said. “Go on.”

“Harry, Ron, Neville and I saw a bunch of spiders exiting the castle a while back, a few days after one attack, and the book said spiders flee from a Basilisk. These were almost fighting to get out through a crack! Hagrid told Harry Granger that his roosters had been killed: someone was killing them to stop them from crowing, because they can kill it, and it flees from crowing roosters. I said I heard a voice, but nobody else heard it: I'm a Parselmouth and the Basilisk is the king of the serpents, which is why I heard it and nobody else did. And Professor Binns told us that Salazar Slytherin hated Muggle-borns, and Slytherin House is represented by a snake: they said a beast lurks in the Chamber of Secrets, and a Basilisk can live for centuries. It makes sense! Professor Dumbledore, everyone is in danger!”

“Calm down, Hermione,” Professor Dumbledore placated. “I understand, and I agree: your findings are very important. I believe we need to call a staff meeting. Minerva, would you be so kind as to take Mr Longbottom to Gryffindor Tower, and then gather all the staff for a meeting here. I want all the students sent to their dormitories until we decide what to do with this. Filius, would you kindly go with her and help gather staff and send your Ravenclaws to their tower? Do not tell anyone anything yet: we don't wish a full-scale panic to ensue. Hermione, if you would be so kind as to stay here: I wish you to present your findings to the full staff.”

Hermione nodded and hugged Neville, who then ran after Professors McGonagall and Flitwick: Professor McGonagall walked with a stiff posture, her lips tight, while Professor Flitwick seemed extremely nervous and had to nearly jog to keep pace with Professor McGonagall's swift strides.

Professor Dumbledore ordered the house-elves to deliver tea and sandwiches to his office, and set about to transfiguring more chairs to accommodate the full staff. “Professor Dumbledore?” Hermione said after a while.

“Yes, my dear?” Dumbledore asked.

“I almost forgot to tell you that Draco Malfoy told me he received a letter from his mum. She wrote that Mr Malfoy, Draco's father, is trying to get you fired as Headmaster. That he's collecting signatures for Order of Suspension from the board of governors. Draco's mum wrote him that Hagrid opened the Chamber of Secrets years ago, when he was at school, and that you let him off, and that a girl died.”

Dumbledore had paused and his back stiffened for a while. Then he sighed and his posture seemed to slump just a little bit. “I see. Hermione, whatever Madam Malfoy wrote, Hagrid was innocent of opening the Chamber of Secrets. A girl did die, yes, a Muggle-born girl. Poor Myrtle Warren. Hagrid was, however, innocent. I was not Headmaster back then, and Hagrid was expelled and his wand snapped by the ministry. I convinced Headmaster Dippet to give him a job as our Gamekeeper, but he is not allowed to use magic. It was a great injustice to Hagrid, Hermione, who is a kind man who wouldn't do anyone any harm. Madam Malfoy's account is biased, to say the least.”

“I didn't believe it either, sir, and neither did Draco,” Hermione said. “I just wanted to warn you.”

“Thank you for the warning, Hermione,” Professor Dumbledore said with a sad little smile, but his eyes twinkled nonetheless as he ruffled Hermione's wild hair. “We shall see what Mr Malfoy can throw against me, shall we?”

Soon the staff began to arrive: Professors Babbling and Vector arrived first, followed by Professor Sinistra, Madam Pince and Mr Filch.

 

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

Severus Snape, April 9th, 1993 (cont'd)

 

He stood by the stairs of the dungeon, a dark, menacing and gloomy figure in his customary black as the Slytherin students filed past him in orderly line, ushered by the Prefects who were gathering them from all over the school. While students from the other Houses scurried around wildly, the Slytherins moved in an orderly fashion, obediently following the orders given, though the expressions on their faces indicated they were far from pleased. They were also frightened: too young to hide their emotions from an experienced observer, they were glancing around, making sure they were surrounded by others, making sure nothing approached.

Severus kept his face blank and calm. He had no idea why Albus had ordered this: the last time students had been ordered into their dormitories early had been on Halloween during the previous school year, when a troll had been released into the castle by Quirrell seeking out the Sorceror's Stone. This time, however, there had been no indication as to why the orders were given: Minerva had arrived and ordered that all the students were to be escorted to their dormitories and the staff to arrive to Headmaster's office. She'd left immediately, on her way to spread the word and to escort her Gryffindors to their Tower, leaving Severus more than slightly concerned. He was quite certain this had something to do with the attacks: had someone been Petrified? Killed? Had the culprit been found, he was certain the students would not have been ordered to their dormitories.

He also had a gnawing suspicion that whatever was wrong, Miss Potter and her cohorts were smack in the middle of it all. He had, however, seen young Draco Malfoy make his way into the dungeons. The blonde second-year was obviously agitated, undoubtedly for his friends, but obeyed the orders and had indeed gone to the dungeons along with the rest of his House. He suppressed the urge to run and make sure that Miss Potter was alive and in good health: she was Minerva's responsibility right now, and he had a job to do.

The Prefect that was in charge of roll call arrived to report that every Slytherin student was now accounted for and in the dormitory, and Severus ordered the Prefects to go to them and to keep them there until he or someone else from the staff came for them: the students obeyed his orders without questions, and after he saw the portrait close after them, he strolled quickly to the Headmaster's office. Pomona Sprout was right behind him, arriving with Rolanda Hooch, both undoubtedly arriving from outside: Rolanda would have been at the Quidditch pitch and Pomona escorting her Hufflepuffs.

Severus gave the password and entered the staircase without waiting for the two witches: rude, perhaps, but he had no intention of listening to their prattle. The door to the Headmaster's office was open, and several other staff members were already milling about, taking their cups of tea, eating sandwiches and taking their seats. Usually these meetings were conducted in a staff room, but Albus must have transfigured new chairs for them all.

He was very surprised to notice Hermione Potter by the Headmaster: the girl was offering the tray of sandwiches to Septima, who took one and thanked her. Severus lifted a questioning eyebrow to Albus, but Albus shook his head diminutively and gestured Severus to take a seat. Severus chose one closest to the door and sat: Miss Potter rushed toward him eagerly with the tray.

“Hello, Professor Snape, would you want a sandwich? Shall I bring you a cup of tea?”

“No thank you, Miss Potter, but a cup of tea would be fine. Black, please,” he replied civilly, ignoring the rush of relief when he saw the Girl Who Lived was alive and fine. Last year had proved she had a tendency to get into trouble. The girl nodded and scurried off to procure a cup of tea, which she eagerly brought to him. Out of habit Severus cast his usual detection Charms on it to detect any possible potions or poisons, but found nothing: the tea was fragrant and of obviously good quality, better than the standard school fare tea. Severus liked to mix his own blends to use in his own chambers, but the Headmaster provided excellent blends as well.

Pomona and Rolanda had apparently been the last to arrive. Professor Trelawney had not arrived: she was safely tucked away in her tower and she wasn't very useful in general, and nobody would miss her. Filch was in the corner, Hagrid was seated in a special large and sturdy chair that still creaked under his enormous size. The Headmaster waited until the talk died down and every person present was looking at him: he had the ability to silence a group of people with his presence alone.

“Welcome. I am sorry to disturb you on such short notice, but young Miss Potter here has found out something important about the attacks. It appears there is a Basilisk loose in the school.”

Severus had to fight down any reactions with his Occlumency, but he squeezed the side of his chair tightly enough to turn his knuckles white: he was behind everyone else anyway, and only the Headmaster facing them might have noticed. The others either drew breath, gasped or, in the case of Lockhart, nearly jumped out of his chair, his eyes frantic in rising panic.

“A Basilisk, Albus?” Silvanus Kettleburn asked. “Are you quite certain?”

“Quite. Miss Potter here... I will let her tell you all of her findings. Hermione?” Albus gestured at the girl, who'd remained close to Severus. The girl blushed and walked to the Headmaster.

“I... um, I found it in a book at the library. I didn't want to check out the book because I was in a hurry, but it's there. Professor Binns,” she said, nodding to the ghost, “told us the Chamber of Secrets built by Salazar Slytherin, who hated Muggle-borns, and was rumoured to contain a monster: the symbol for Slytherin House is a snake, and the Basilisk is the king of serpents, according to the book. I'm a Parselmouth, and I heard the voice in the hallways while nobody else did: that's because nobody else can speak Parseltongue, and the heir of Slytherin won't tell he or she can. And, well, Harry Granger, Ronald Weasley, Neville Longbottom and I saw a group of spiders flee from the castle a few days after the first attack, the one on poor Mrs Norris.” Filch let out a sob, and Miss Potter looked at him with obvious compassion, before continuing, “The book said spiders flee from a Basilisk. Hagrid had told Harry Granger that his roosters were killed, and the book said that a rooster's crowing will kill a Basilisk, so the heir of Slytherin must have killed them to protect it.”

“Nonsense!” Lockhart said haughtily. “Basilisk kills with its eyes, everyone knows that! Nobody had died.”

“Yes, but nobody looked at it in the eyes,” Hermione explained. “Mrs Norris saw it in the surface of the puddle, so she only got Petrified, Colin Creevey saw it through the camera, and Justin... I'll bet Justin would have seen it through Nearly Headless Nick, who is transparent, so he got Petrified too. And sir Nicholas is already dead so he couldn't die.”

“We need to evacuate the castle,” Charity Burbage suggested. “It's not safe for any of us.”

“At least the Muggle-born students should be moved to safety,” Aurora said.

Lockhart was trying to creep to the door.

“Going somewhere, Lockhart?” Severus asked loudly.

“Yes, Gilderoy. I believe slaying monsters is your job as the Professor of Defence Against the Dark Arts,” Albus said happily.

“I was thinking, you know, I should go and prepare...” Lockhart stammered.

“Now now, Gilderoy, don't worry,” Albus said. “Do sit down now. I will have one of the other Professors with you at all times just for backup until the Basilisk in killed. I will, if fact, accompany you quite frequently myself. You are, after all, our expert in slaying monsters, are you not? And, Gilderoy...?” Albus said with a quietly threatening voice that was very unusual for him, “It would be extremely unfortunate for you if anyone should be found with problems with their memory, wouldn't it...?”

Lockhart slumped down on his seat, his face pale, his limbs shaking. Some of the other members of the staff exchanged curious glances, while some others were more than amused: Severus suppressed a snort. Memory Charms, of course, would explain how Lockhart could have managed to take credit for those heroic deeds.

“But surely more people would have seen it?” Silvanus scoffed. “It wouldn't be able to move about unseen! We'd have more Petrified students instead of just a few victims, one ghost and one measly cat!”

Filch was clearly about to protest, but Albus waved his hand at him, “Peace, Argus, please. Silvanus, Miss Potter believes it moves around in the pipes.”

“We could block them, then,” Silvanus suggested.

“I'm afraid not,” Albus sighed. “We'd have no water for drinking or bathing, no sewage, let alone that we don't actually know where the pipes run in. There must be miles of pipes all around the school, leading to every part, and we know most of them are Charmed to prevent blockages. Even if we were to stop the necessities like running water and survive on water created by the Aquamenti Charm, the Charms in the pipes would remove the blockages very soon. The Basilisk might also move into the corridors themselves, and people would start to die in great numbers before Cornelius decides evacuation is in order.”

“As for your other suggestions, I'm afraid we cannot empty the school. I took the matter up with minister Fudge himself, and he has decided the school year must be continued, and that it is our duty to stop the attacks and to revive the Petrified students. I will, however, install several safety protocols until the situation is corrected. We will order several roosters to be delivered as soon as possible: that should help us get rid of the Basilisk. I want the roosters to be watched at all times until they begin crowing and we can be sure we've gotten rid of the monster.” Hagrid nodded as Albus looked at him from above his half-moon glasses. “Very good. Now, as for the students, I believe they need to be escorted everywhere by the staff, and every member of the staff shall carry a mirror with them. At every corner, we must look at the next corridor around the corner to see if the beast is about before moving in to that space: we can cure Petrified people with the Mandrake Restorative Draught, but we cannot cure someone who dies.” The teachers nodded quietly.

“I could begin to Charm the ceilings of the busiest corridors to mirroring surfaces,” Filius suggested smartly.

“A very good idea indeed, Filius,” Albus confirmed, “Minerva and I shall transfigure mirrors for each member of the staff and to the students themselves, starting from our Head Boy and Head Girl and the Prefects. If we are lucky, we might need these precautions only for a day or two before the crowing roosters kill the Basilisk. It is quite possible we might not need the help of our... brave slayer of monsters,” Albus said, casting an amused glance as Lockhart, and Severus saw Minerva, Filius and a few others bite back their laughter.

Minerva had taken one of Albus' Sherbet Lemons and waved her wand at it, transfiguring it into a small, ornate hand-held mirror. Inspecting her work with tight lips she nodded approvingly, handed the mirror to Aurora, who sat closest to her, and took another Sherbet Lemon from Albus' desk, repeating the gesture and creating another mirror. Albus looked at her and opened his mouth to protest, when a single sharp look from Minerva shut him up: he sighed, took a Sherbet Lemon, sighed and created a mirror himself: the design was slightly larger but less ornate and simpler than the mirrors Minerva transfigured. Soon each member of the staff was holding a mirror of their own: Filius had waved the mirrors away, waved his wand in the air with a series of delicate and refined flicks, and created a shimmering mirror that hung in the air in front of him. Filius was a true master in his own field.

Albus looked forlornly at the diminished amount of Sherbet Lemons on his desk, but brightened up in his usual Gryffindor manner. “I suggest we create a rota for escorting students from their dormitories to their lessons and back again. We shall extend the curfew to full time, and no student is allowed to move about without a teacher, including the Prefects. We might include the Head Boy and -Girl in the rota if things get too tight. I also suggest closing the library until further notice, if that is fine with you, Irma?” Madam Pince nodded calmly.

“Since Miss Potter can hear the creature, could we not use her to find it?” Aurora suggested.

“I would prefer not to risk the life of a student on this,” Albus said calmly. “Once the roosters begin crowing, the problem should be over. Now, I suggest we begin making the roster for escorting students to classes. I believe we could ask the house-elves to serve the meals into the common rooms for a while now.”

Lockhart seemed relieved upon hearing the roosters would kill the Basilisk. The rest of the staff quickly made a schedule for the next two days, and Dumbledore promised to send an owl to acquire new roosters. Hagrid promised to make suggestions about their species, and Severus heartily hoped that Albus would ignore his advice.

“Now, since we're finished here,” Albus finally said, “we should depart to brief the students. Heads of Houses should calm down their students and tell them what to expect for the next two days, as well as make sure they understand that breaking the rules of curfew is a major offence and the consequence will be more severe than loss of house points. Minerva, since you're heading for Gryffindor Tower, will you take Miss Potter to her common room? Aurora, could you go with Minerva? Bathsheda with Pomona, Septima with Filius, and Rolanda could go with with Poppy to the infirmary. The rest can pair up as you wish. Keep in pairs if at all possible, at all times, and remember to use your mirrors! Severus, would you kindly remain behind for a while? Silvanus, can you please wait with Gilderoy for a moment?”

Albus leant down to Miss Potter and gently said, “go with Professor McGonagall, my dear, you've done well. You might have saved lives.” Miss Potter nodded and cast a quick glance toward Severus before she quickly followed Minerva and Aurora out of the door.

Chapter Text

Severus Snape, April 9th, 1993 (cont'd)

“Albus,” Severus said after the door had closed behind Silvanus and Lockhart, “as much as I agree with the agenda of exposing Lockhart as the fraud of a wizard he is, don't you think we have enough work and worries without one of us constantly guarding him? If there's a Basilisk...”

“There is, no doubt, Miss Potter would know,” Albus interrupted. “She's seen it once before, I'm quite certain of it, and even if she doesn't know it yet, she won't die, and she must know the way we got rid of the monster the first time. We'll simply bring in the roosters, and then there won't be a problem. And Gilderoy, well, I believe he'll expose himself in this. We'll have enough evidence of his lack of bravery in no time.”

“We can't be sure the roosters will do the trick, Albus,” Severus insisted, leaning back lazily in his chair and crossing his long legs at ankles. “What if something goes wrong?”

“We will... how do the Muggles say it, 'cross that bridge when we come to it'? We need to find the heir of Slytherin. We know that Tom Riddle was the heir of Slytherin, and that he framed Hagrid for it, though I never could prove it, not with Headmaster Dippet and the ministry. No, I believe Tom is the heir of Slytherin and that there is no other heir, but I want to know how he has found access to the school this year. Last year it was Quirrell, but unfortunately we lack a teacher with a conveniently suspicious turban...”

“I doubt he'll try the same thing again,” Severus said.

“Agreed, but he'll try something more inconspicuous. I would think that it would be perhaps someone, either a student or a member of the staff, under the Imperius, or blackmailed, but I don't think anyone except the real heir of Slytherin could open the Chamber of Secrets. I have been the Headmaster of this school for long decades and I've never even found the Chamber. Finding the heir of Slytherin is extremely important, nearly as important as destroying the Basilisk. I want the corridors watched, Severus.”

“The staff patrolling will be at risk.”

“I know. Until we get rid of the Basilisk, we will keep the patrolling down as well. I might ask the portraits to keep an eye out. It is curious that a ghost can end up Petrified while we've yet to encounter one single Petrified portrait, don't you think? And Severus, I also want you to know that Miss Potter delivered me the news that Lucius Malfoy is trying to get me suspended.”

“What? How would she know?” Severus asked, straightening his posture fast.

“Apparently young Draco Malfoy received a letter from his mother. He told her of the letter and she told me. Lucius Malfoy is, according to Madam Narcissa, collecting signatures for an Order of Suspension.”

“Lucius cares so very much about attacks on Muggle-borns,” Severus said, his voice oozing sarcasm.

“He believes it is in his advantage. Lucius may wish to replace me with someone more to his liking. Perhaps he wishes for you to take my place... or perhaps he himself...”

“Lucius wouldn't care to do the job,” Severus said. “He loathes work.”

“You then, or someone else. He cannot immediately get rid of Minerva, who is Deputy, but I want you to support her...”

“He shan't succeed, Albus,” Severus said quickly.

“We can only wish he will not. I would like to be prepared in any case,” Albus said. “Can I count on you to support Minerva, if it comes to that? Preferably, I wish, without your usual sarcasm, Severus.”

“If wishes were Thestrals, we'd all drown in their shit,” Severus muttered glumly.

“What was that, Severus?” Albus inquired.

“Nothing. Nothing at all.”'

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

April 9th, 1993 (cont'd)

 

Hermione followed Professors McGonagall and Sinistra to Gryffindor Tower. The trip took quite a long time, as the women paused at every corner to look into a mirror: one would look, while the other would stand back, and, in case the first Professor got Petrified, would immediately retrieve help.

The portraits seemed concerned after the initial amusement, but the Professors refused to explain their actions: they gave the inquisitive Fat Lady the current password and climbed in through the portrait hole. Voices of Gryffindor students immediately assaulted their ears: the common room was packed with students, Gryffindors from every year mingling and milling about restlessly or sitting around in the chairs or on the staircases, and the words repeated most often were 'Basilisk', 'Hermione Potter' and 'Headmaster'. When the students saw their Head of House, flanked by another Professor as well as Hermione Potter, the voices stilled, and every student strained to listen.

Hermione looked around: she couldn't immediately spot Neville, Harry or Ron, but it was obvious Neville had already told them about her findings and why the students had been sent to their dormitories.

“May I have your attention, please,” McGonagall announced imperiously, although also quite unnecessarily: each and every student had their eyes riveted on the Professors and Hermione. Hermione finally spotted Harry, Neville and Ron sitting on the floor, as Harry waved at her. Neville had the courtesy to look a bit sheepish.

“As you have apparently heard, we believe a Basilisk has gotten into the school: the Basilisk is apparently the culprit to the recent attacks on Petrified students. The information got to us thanks to your fellow house-mate here, Miss Potter, who found the information in the library. We are bringing in several roosters, and their crowing should kill the Basilisk. However, until the roosters get brought in and get ready to crow, we are implementing several new rules to do with moving about as well as curfews.”

A restless muttering spread wildly among the students, and Professor McGonagall straightened her already rigid posture further. “Silence!” she said loudly to an immediate effect, and continued, “Until further notice, all meals shall be served by the house-elves straight into the dormitories. Do not make a mess while you eat! Moving about in the corridors alone is forbidden: a pair of teachers will guide you to and from your classes. They, as well as the Prefects, will be equipped with hand-held mirrors: looking directly into the eyes on the Basilisk will kill you, but if you look at it through a reflective surface, such as a mirror, you will get Petrified: we can fix those who have been Petrified very soon.”

Some loud protests broke the silence, especially from the sixth- and seventh-year students, who were more confident and louder than the younger years. “Why can't the school be evacuated?” seemed to be the topmost question.

“That decision lies with the Board of Governors and the Minister of Magic,” Professor McGonagall answered. “For now, we believe the situation is merely temporary, and the staff will protect the students to the best of their abilities. As for now, I suggest you begin working on your essays and other homework: we shall pop in periodically to make sure the usual rules are being followed. For now, punishments for breaking curfew and other rules will be much more harsh than usual, and yes, Messieurs Weasley,” she said, looking at George and Fred with a harsh expression, “I especially mean you two. The usual detentions and docking of house points will be replaced by much harsher punishments for now.”

“All the Prefect's patrolling duties are cancelled for now. The Prefects are, instead, to keep order in the common room and in the dormitories. If you need any help from the staff, send a word through the portraits. It may take a while but it is safer. I will answer any relevant questions for a while now, and then I want the Gryffindor Prefects to come here for some additional advice as well as receive their mirrors.”

There were some questions, though not many dared to question their strict Head of House.

“Shouldn't the Slytherins be chucked out?” asked Lee Jordan. “It's the heir of Slytherin, the monster of Slytherin... no Slytherin has been Petrified either. Isn't it obvious all this stuff's coming from from Slytherin?”

A smattering of applause broke the air, but McGonagall bristled. “Mr Jordan, we cannot and will not implicate the whole Slytherin House, especially without any evidence that a single Slytherin is guilty of these attacks. I suggest you leave the investigation and accusations to your teachers, Mr Jordan. The same goes for the rest of you!” she said, glaring at the students, some of whom looked quite sullen. “Enough. Will be Prefects please come here.” The Prefects then surrounded the Professor, who gestured at Hermione to join her friends. Neville, Harry and Ron surrounded her.

“Did Draco get to his dormitory safely?” Hermione asked.

“Yeah,” Harry said, “I saw him join the other Slytherins when we were escorted from the Quidditch pitch by Madam Hooch.”

“Malfoy's a pure-blood anyway, and he takes care of himself better than anyone,” Ron said with a snort.

“You're pure-blood too, and so's Neville,” Hermione reminded him. “Draco's no different.”

“He's still a Malfoy. Neville told us about what his dad wants to do to Dumbledore...”

“And he's my friend,” Hermione said and glared at Neville, who blushed. “And Draco warned us, and I got the warning to Professor Dumbledore. Draco's not his father.”

“At least they're not all suspecting you now,” Harry said quietly. “I'll bet you'll receive some apologies soon.”

Hermione nodded silently.

“Why's Percy fretting like that?” Neville asked curiously.

“Who cares?” Ron said. “Who wants a game of Wizard's Chess while we wait for food?”

“Not me,” Hermione said quickly. “Where's Ginny?”

“Dunno,” Ron said, “she's around though, she was just here. Come on, I want to secure nice seats!”

 

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

April 9th, 1993 (cont'd)

 

In Hermione Potter's room Ginevra Weasley moved like in a trance, extracting a book from Hermione's trunk. Something else caught her eye, and she took it as well, gingerly lifting the shimmering fabric.

In her head, Tom Riddle goaded her, irritated by this unexpected turn of events, hating having to rush. Damn meddlesome girl! He'd have to act fast.

 

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

 

Severus Snape,

The staff took their meal in the staff room. So far everything had progressed well, but it was getting rather late: the roosters would not be delivered until late that night, well after dark. They would be protected by a pair of teachers all through the night in one of the unused classrooms, and in the morning they'd be released to crow all over the castle. They'd have to be delivered under a sleeping spell as well, to prevent them from fighting and killing each other, Hagrid had told them. Hagrid himself promised to take one of the watch turns, as long as he'd be accompanied by someone with a wand. He'd also suggested trying to capture and tame the Basilisk, but the idea had been shot down by everyone with a modicum of common sense. Basilisks were highly dangerous and volatile, and could only be controlled by a Parselmouth: Severus highly doubted Miss Potter wished to be in charge of a bad-tempered giant snake.

“Hermione Potter is a true wonder,” Septima said, “She probably saved multiple lives by delivering us this information.”

“Nobody's died yet,” Rolanda said.

“Not yet,” came a comment from Silvanus, “but it's only a matter of time with a Basilisk.”

“Well, she found the information when nobody else did,” Septima piped in. “She's a marvel. So unlike either of her parents!”

“Very unlike James, definitely,” Minerva said, “but Lily was a good student.”

"She's very bossy," Pomona remarked. "James Potter was the leader of his little gang, and Lily was no shrinking violet either. And Lily Potter was decent at Charms and Potions, but she was never a researcher, not like young Hermione is,” said Pomona calmly.

“She can't do a squat with a broom,” Rolanda noted. “James was a marvel on a broom and I do remember that Lily used to fly well. She enjoyed it, though she was never a Quidditch-quality flier. But Hermione Potter could barely get off the ground, for all her academic prowess, and a drunk Jarvey would ride a broom better than she does. It's curious, flying usually runs in the blood.”

“Not everything is hereditary. Young Mr Longbottom is very clumsy compared to either of his parents,” Pomona said. “Most of you remember teaching them, don't you? Except you, of course, Severus and Gilderoy. Oh, and Sybill... where is Sybill?”

“In her tower, where else?” Aurora scoffed.

“Anyway, if I didn't know any better, I'd think there isn't a single gene from James Potter in Hermione. Nor do I see anything from her mother, really. Oh, except the eyes,” Rolanda said. “I do remember Lily was quite... well, might she be, you know, off the other side of the marriage bed?”

“Rolanda! That's quite enough!” Minerva yelled indignantly. “Speaking ill of the dead that way... And parents who gave their lives to save their daughter, no less!”

Severus felt his hackles rise when thinking of Lily being accused of cheating, but a warning glance from Albus made sure he didn't open his mouth. It was in their best interest that nobody remembered his friendship with the late Lily Potter.

“They were still only humans,” Rolanda said, although her tone was a bit more meek than previously. “She did have her flaws, and was, well, she was a very popular girl...”

“That's enough, Rolanda, I think,” Albus said calmly. “The poor woman is dead and has earned our respect. Let the dead rest in peace without dwelling on their perceived flaws.”

The discussion changed directions after Albus' gentle reprimand, and Severus continued to pick on his meal, his stomach twisted on knots of unease.

 

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

April 10th, 1993 (around 3 am)

 

It was very late, and Aurora Sinistra was guarding the sleeping roosters with Hagrid. It'd taken a while to get the gentle half-giant to let the roosters sleep in peace: the man was fascinated with the dozen handsome birds that had been brought in under a Sleeping Charm and placed into an empty classroom. The Charm would be lifted at dawn after the birds would be distributed to various locations around the castle, where they'd hopefully greet the dawn by crowing and killing the Basilisk.

Aurora was utterly bored. For all his soft heart, Hagrid had never been a very interesting conversationalist, and Aurora had brought an Astronomy periodical, which she'd occasionally read to pass time.

Suddenly she heard a very strange sound from behind her. A mixture between a gasp, and then silence.

“Hagrid?” she asked, not turning from her seat. No answer. She suddenly felt very cold and concerned.

The ceiling had been charmed by Flitwick to reflect everything. Slowly Aurora raised her eyes up to the ceiling...

Silence.

Chapter Text

April 10th 1993

 

Hermione yawned and stretched her arms and legs before she got up. She blearily made her way to the bathroom to reach it before Lavender and Parvati would take residence with their eternal grooming habits. Ever since she'd been very small, Hermione had been almost obsessed with brushing her teeth, though she had no idea where that came from: the Dursleys were never very keen on the ideas of dental hygiene, but Hermione had always had a very strict regime when it came to her teeth. Her self-conscious seemed to nag at her if she ever thought that she was too tired to brush her teeth, and more than once she'd fallen asleep by the sink with her toothbrush in her mouth and woken up with drool and bubbles frothing on her chin after a long day of cleaning aunt Petunia and uncle Vernon's house.

Fresh from a quick shower she still struggled to brush and beat her unruly curls into submission when Parvati entered the bathroom, her eyes half-lidded. Parvati commandeered the shower without a word, and Hermione exited the bathroom. Lavender's voice moaned and whined painfully from between the covers, too exhausted to get up, and the blonde girl dragged her covers over her head and made herself into a human-sized cocoon of blankets and sheets.

Hermione quickly dressed herself, putting on her uniform, freshly cleaned by the house-elves during the night. She made her bed, though she knew it was in vain, because the elves would simply redo the entire thing and change her sheets during the day, but her consciousness would nag at her if she'd leave it undone: an undone bed in the Dursley household was a crime, and here she only had to make her own bed. Somehow she knew the house-elves adored their work, but something inside her still nagged at her, and she didn't bother debating the matter. Arguing with herself was, well, mental, really, Ron would say.

She was one of the first girls in the corridor, although she heard voices of other girls from the other rooms as the students began waking up. Someone was shouting something about a comb, while another one was laughing. Hermione felt hungry, and she walked to the common room, presuming that breakfast would probably be available there. The scents assaulted her nose as she walked to the stairs, when suddenly her eyes were drawn to the floor.

A dark brown feather on the floor? She picked it up and then dropped it with a frightened squeal. It wasn't brown: it was covered in blood, and the dried blood flaked into her fingers.

Hermione squealed again and cleaned her fingers quickly with a Charm. Still feeling unclean, she rushed into her room and into the bathroom, past the wide-eyed Parvati who was drying herself up, and washed her hands in the sink. As the warm water engulfed her hands she felt silly, really: the Charm had probably cleaned her hands completely, but there were situations when some part of her brain demanded that she use the Muggle-means, and cleanliness was simply one of those things. Hermione supposed it had to do with being raised in a Muggle household.

Without any explanations she departed again. The feather was now gone from where she'd seen it, and for a moment she wondered if it had ever been there, or had she seen some strange ghost of a feather? Ginny Weasley was just ahead of her, walking down the stairs into the common room, her shoulders stooped and her head drooping.

“Hey, Ginny, are you all right?” Hermione asked the first-year as she reached her.

“Fine, I'm fine,” Ginny said quietly.

“You don't seem fine, your eyes are really tired. Did you sleep badly?” Hermione asked.

“No, nothing's wrong,” Ginny insisted evasively. “Just... starving, you know.”

“I can smell breakfast,” Hermione said as they walked to the common room, where several boys were already loading their plates with food.

But Hermione couldn't help but notice that Ginny ate very little, mostly picking on her meal. The Basilisk dominated the conversation, and Hermione did, indeed, receive several apologies as well as gestured meant as apologies from those who were too embarrassed to straight out admit they'd suspected her of the attacks on Muggle-borns. It seemed like Ron was the most angry for her, and Harry didn't look too thrilled either: Hermione guessed that several of the boys, especially Seamus, had suggested that Harry should avoid her, if she was really a secret hater of Muggle-borns.

It was Saturday, and the consensus seemed to be that the day would be extremely boring: there would be no Quidditch, no walks outside, no meeting friends from the other houses... they'd all have to stay in the dormitories and do their homework. Hermione did pipe in to tell them they could use the time to revise for the upcoming exams as well as do their homework, but the suggestion was met with frustrated groans from every direction: honestly, they should have taken their studies more seriously, Hermione chided them, to no real avail. Apparently life was useless and droll without Quidditch.

Then again the teachers had promised that the Basilisk would soon be killed, and the third-years were hoping that any upcoming Hogsmeade-weekends wouldn't be cancelled. Many students pulled out games, and soon matches of Exploding Snap and other games were abound everywhere, while Ron tried to coax Harry to loose another game of chess.

Hermione went back into her room to collect her books, quills and some parchment. She'd work on her essays on Charms, though she was disappointed she wouldn't be able to do any research in the library. Her quill was frayed — she'd chewed on it again — so she decided to take another one from her trunk. She'd have to ask Hestia if she'd be able to buy her some new ones, and hoped that Sunday's music lesson would not be cancelled.

She meant to take a quill, anyway. The trunk was all mixed up, like someone had rummaged through it in a hurry, or perhaps released a minor hurricane inside it. One quill had snapped, another one was bent, one book was open in the middle and — Hermione let out a horrified squeal — the pages were creased! She quickly smoothed the pages as best she could, frowning. Who would...?

Then she realised the trunk was emptier than it had been. Something was missing. Something...

Her Invisibility Cloak! She'd kept it in there, though she never really used it: it had belonged to her father, she knew, though she'd never dwelt on why she didn't feel closer to him. She should have cherished the Cloak that had belonged to her own father who'd died, but for some reason it was just a... cloak. It was easier to keep it hidden, too, because Ron and Harry had kept bugging her to borrow it so they could sneak out after curfew. Now it was missing. Someone had, what? Borrowed it? Stolen it?

(Inside her mind, Hermione Granger moaned in despair. Tom Riddle's Diary. Ginny must have taken it, but this time she'd taken the Invisibility Cloak too. Blasted!)

She quickly walked back to the common room. Lavender and Parvati quickly denied even touching her trunk, let alone borrowing something from it — it just wasn't done. Harry, Neville and Ron wouldn't have gotten to the girl's dormitory anyway, what with the stairs turning into a slide — Seamus, Lee, George and Fred got inspired by the idea and went to slide down the staircase, which prompted several protests from the girls trying to walk up or down the staircases and ended up in a pile at the bottom when the entire thing slid everyone down. Angelina Johnson hit either Fred or George on the head with her book after her downfall.

Hermione contemplated the situation for a while, before she went to one of the portraits. “Hello!” she greeted the friendly-looking lady in the painting.

“Hello, young lady. What can I do for you?” the painting asked kindly.

“Could you get a word for one of the Professors, please? Professor McGonagall, Professor Dumbledore, or perhaps, um, Professor Snape? My, well, someone has stolen something from my trunk. Something that Professor Dumbledore gave me. I think it might be important.”

“A theft is a serious matter,” the painting admitted. “I will send a word.” The lady nodded and strolled out of the frame, leaving an empty frame. A few minutes later another painting appeared to take her place: a serious-looking elderly gentleman, who nodded at her politely. “Did you need help, my dear?” he asked.

“No, thank you, the previous lady went to deliver my news, sir,” Hermione said, settling down to wait. The painting seemed lonely and so she chatted with him a while: the paintings often liked to friendly chat. Apparently being a painting could be a bit boring, but the gentleman could tell fascinating tales about Hogwarts in his own time, over two hundred years ago.

After over ten minutes the portrait hole opened to let in Professor Snape, who seemed very out of place in the scarlet and gold-coloured Gryffindor common room. The room went instantly quiet, all eyes turned on the sallow and hook-nosed Professor. Professor Snape cast a slow glance around the room, his eyes narrowed and his lips pursed into thin and disapproving line.

Finally, he looked at Hermione, who'd frozen in place, her heart thudding nervously in her chest at the sight of the impressive Potions Master. “Miss Potter,” Snape drawled, “the Headmaster has requested your... presence... in his office. Come.” He turned and his robes billowed impressively. The other students looked at Hermione with apparent pity, but Hermione rushed after Professor Snape.

 

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

Severus Snape, April 10th 1993

 

He didn't wait long: when he'd gotten away from any nearby portraits, he stopped and cast a non-verbal Muffliato. The girl glanced around her curiously, but something of a recognition seemed to flicker in her eyes, and again Severus wondered: how would she know the buzzing that Muffliato caused, when he was the only soul alive today who'd known it? He'd never shown it to Lily: he'd stopped showing her his own inventions after Lily showed the Levicorpus to Potter and the rest of the Marauders.

“You told that something was stolen from your trunk, something given to you by the Headmaster. Will you tell me what was taken?” Severus asked. He'd asked Albus, but Albus had refused to respond, only smiling faintly.

“My Invisibility Cloak, sir,” Hermione replied without a single moment of hesitation.

“Your... what?”

“My Invisibility Cloak. It belonged to James Pot... my father,” the girl corrected. “The Headmaster gave it to me last year. It's been in my trunk, I never really use it.”

Severus felt a flash of rage flood him. An Invisibility Cloak explained why Potter and his gang had been able to sneak up on him so often, ambush and strike unseen and he'd never really been able to retaliate. And the Headmaster had given it to this... this brat. But she hadn't misused it, at least not to his knowledge.

“You have never used it to sneak around? To break curfew? Borrowed it to your little Gryffindor friends for them to do so?”

“No, sir! They asked, but I... I wouldn't. It's against the rules!”

“Of course. You would follow the rules to your last breath if you could,” he said, partially amused and partially exasperated. “Did anything else go missing?”

“I... I'm not sure... I think... I thought I remembered something but I can't be certain...” the girl stammered.

“Take your time, but think hard. I'll take you to see the Headmaster now,” Severus said, “Come along, Potter. Don't dawdle.”

Hermione had to almost run to keep pace with him. Severus was a tall man, with long legs, and he was used to walking with a brisk pace. The girl took some running steps occasionally to keep up with him, but Severus didn't chide her for running in the corridors. The disappearance of an Invisibility Cloak was troubling, to say the least. It must have been an exceptional piece of magic as well, if it had belonged to the James Potter and was still functioning this day: the enchantments usually wore off relatively quickly.

Severus gave the password to the gargoyle guarding the Headmaster's office and gestured Miss Potter to step on the staircase: he went after her and stood calmly while it revolved and led them up to the door to the office. The girl seemed nervous and kept casting glances at him: she didn't seem to be afraid of him, though, which had always been more than a little strange to Severus. She seemed to trust him, but she was curious and probably wondering what he was thinking.

Severus used the knocker and waited, but the door remained closed. They waited for quite a while, before Severus knocked again: still no reply. He knew the door had enchantments that would prevent eavesdropping by any means, or he'd tried using them, regardless if the girl was there or not.

After a while the door finally opened and Dumbledore exited, along with Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic, and Lucius Malfoy, who was looking decidedly smug.

“Ah, Severus!” Albus exclaimed. “And Miss Potter, how splendid. It appears, however, that our meeting must be cancelled, as Mr Malfoy has just presented me with an Order of Suspension signed by all twelve governors.”

Severus cast a quick glance at Lucius but kept his face impassive.

“No, Professor Dumbledore, you can't go!” Miss Potter implored impulsively.

“You must be young Hermione Potter then,” Cornelius Fudge said condescendingly. “The Girl Who Lived! What a lovely child you are. And your hair is indeed just as described. And the scar...”

Severus saw Hermione narrow her eyes in rising outrage. She was generally very respectful to her elders, but Fudge was an idiot to comment on the scar and her hair, both of which she seemed to consider major flaws. Severus could understand why she would hate the scar, and the hair was a regular rats' nest when she didn't brush it, or, indeed, when she'd been busy for more than a few hours. But for Fudge to pay special attention to them was just plain rude and insulting. Miss Potter made no comments and when Fudge extended his hand to shake hers, she merely glanced at it and then aimed her furious eyes into Fudge's for a moment, before turning back to Dumbledore.

“When will you be back, sir? I'll miss you,” she said.

“We shall see, dear girl, we shall see,” Dumbledore answered. Severus knew they needed to exchange some information, but now was not the time and place, not in front of Lucius and Fudge. “I trust you shall see Miss Potter safely back to her friends, Severus?” Dumbledore requested.

“Still giving orders after your suspension, Dumbledore?” Lucius drawled. “My, my, how difficult it is to give up power.”

“Merely expressing my concern for a student and making a request to an old friend, Lucius,” Dumbledore replied. “And Severus, I do hope I can count on you to take care of Fang for Hagrid. Goodbye for now, my dear girl,” he said to Hermione, ruffling her wild mane as he went to the stairs, followed by the others. Severus groaned: he did not need Hagrid's huge mutt to make a mess in his classroom, let alone in his private quarters! Miss Potter looked concerned at the mention of Hagrid, but Severus shook his head lightly, and she refrained from asking questions. Smart girl.

Once they'd exited the stairs and emerged from behind the door guarded by the gargoyle, Fudge went to walk alongside Albus, while Severus walked considerably slower, with Miss Potter trailing at his heels. He would not let her out of his sight easily now, not with Albus gone. Severus saw Albus pause at the corner to peer into his mirror, and noticed that Fudge, who seemed to have already forgotten the entire problem of the Basilisk, jumped in fright. Lucius slowed his pace to walk alongside Severus.

“I do hope you will consider applying for the post of the Headmaster, Severus,” he said quietly. “I very much doubt Dumbledore will return any time soon, and the school could do with a proper Headmaster for a change.” Severus gave a curt nod and a tight-lipped smile but refrained from commenting. Damn Lucius! He'd undermine whatever little trust the girl had in him.

Lucius stopped. “Cornelius will escort Dumbledore out of Hogwarts. I shall go and have a little chat with McGonagall. She'll act as a replacement... for now,” he smirked, before waving his walking stick in a handsome arch and strutting away. Severus turned at a corner that would lead to Gryffindor Tower, stopping at each corner to look into it through his mirror, keeping the girl securely behind him. “If I get Petrified, girl, run. I mean it: none of the usual Gryffindor bravado!” he adviced. The girl nodded obediently.

Severus stopped at the door of an empty classroom, peeked into his mirror to make sure it was secure, and then showed the girl inside. “I wish the Headmaster would have told you these things, but alas, it seems I'm forced to play the part of an owl as well as an unwilling babysitter and a dog's guardian, to boot,” he grumbled.

“Sir, we can take care of Fang. Harry and Ron and the others, so you needn't worry. We can take him to Gryffindor Tower. But is Hagrid ill? Isn't Fang always with him?”

Severus didn't bother to hesitate. The duty to watch the dog was unpleasant and unwanted, and the brats at Gryffindor Tower would do the job splendidly. They'd probably poison the dog with wrong food or get it otherwise killed, but it wouldn't be his problem, would it? “Fine. We'll fetch the mutt when we're done. As for Hagrid... there was an attack last night, Miss Potter. Professor Sinistra was guarding the roosters with Hagrid. They were found early this morning, both Petrified. The roosters had all been killed in their sleep. Thanks to your warning they'd both been looking at the ceiling's mirrors, so their lives were spared, but for now, they're at the infirmary and stiff as boards.”

Severus actually had thought that Hagrid, silent and still, was marginally better than the Hagrid who opened his stupid mouth too often and did stupid things. He still hadn't forgiven him for bringing in a dragon last year: it'd grown quite large when the Headmaster finally discovered it, and Dumbledore had used his influence to get the thrice-damned beast off the premises and sent to Romania unnoticed. Severus hadn't been forced to join in capturing it, but he was still rankled at having to cast spells to repair and cleanse the surroundings of Hagrid's partially scorched hut. The pumpkin patch had been fried.

“The roosters... oh!” Hermione breathed.

“Yes?”

“I found a bloodied feather in the corridor today. Girl's dormitory. I picked it up because it looked strange, and then realised it was covered in dried blood, so I went to wash my hands. It was gone again when I got back.”

“And your cloak went missing from your room as well?”

“Yes, sir” she replied.

“Then the person who stole your cloak must have used it to kill the roosters.”

“Didn't the Basilisk kill the roosters?”

“No. Basilisks flee from roosters. Whoever is controlling the Basilisk killed the roosters after the Basilisk Petrified Hagrid and Sinistra.”

“So the heir of Slytherin must be a girl from Gryffindor. Because the boys couldn't get in the girls' dormitory or our corridor.”

“It could be any member of the staff as well,” Severus replied thoughtfully.

“Really? But the staircases turn...”

“Into slides, yes, but not for members of the staff. We do need to get anywhere in case of an emergency, after all. The staircases do recognise the staff.”

“Oh.”

“Indeed. So now the heir of Slyherin can use your Invisibility Cloak.”

“I'm so sorry... I shouldn't have left it unguarded. It's all my fault,” she sniffled. Severus was at a loss: sniffling children had never been his forte, and even the fist-year Slytherins learned immediately not to bother their Head of House with foolish expressions of emotions. He had a distinct feeling he should have comforted the child, but he had absolutely no idea on how to accomplish this.

“There, there, none of that now,” he said stiffly and patted her shoulder in a way that he hoped would belay some sort of comfort enough to stop the snivelling. The other alternative was terrifying her and right now it was probably not the best alternative. Luckily, it seemed to work.

“Professor McGonagall will make a fine temporary Headmistress while Professor Dumbledore is away,” he continued, “and we'll find a way, some way to resolve this. I believe you promised you and your little gang of boys could take care of that furry slobbering beast of Hagrid's?” Hermione nodded, wiping her nose into a handkerchief, and Severus continued, “Good. We shall pick him up now and deliver him to Gryffindor Tower then. One could hope he'd offer some additional protection, though I fear that may be too optimistic an expectation: he'll probably flee with his tail between his legs at the first chance he gets. Come along now.”

“Yes, Professor. Do you know if Professor Dumbledore cancelled my music lesson for tomorrow?”

“I believe he did, but I will make sure tonight.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Chapter Text

Severus Snape, April 10th 1993

 

In the end it took almost an hour to convince Hagrid's mutt to leave with them. It would have taken longer by Hermione's way, but Severus finally lost his patience and levitated the dog out of the hut. The dog wiggled and howled in the air, and Severus froze it with a Petrificus Totalus and silenced its howls with a Silencio. Miss Potter looked like she disapproved, but Severus silenced any protests with a threatening glare: the dog levitated behind him as they walked to the castle, its eyes rolling in mindless fear. Hermione hushed and shushed it as she walked behind it, trying in vain to calm the beast down.

On their way they met up with Filius, who'd been babysitting Lockhart: a good choice, since the diminutive Charms Master was also a brilliant duellist and could beat Lockhart hanging upside down and probably without his wand as well. Filius gave Lockhart over to Severus, who indicated the blond buffoon to follow him and Potter up the stairs to deliver the dog to Gryffindor Tower. Severus kept Lockhart in front of him and had him peer into the corridors through his hand-held mirror: Lockhart whimpered in fear whenever they approached a corner. Severus was less concerned: if Potter could hear the Basilisk, she'd alert them before it'd approach them.

The Fat Lady opened the entrance to Gryffindor Tower, and Lockhart clambered in, followed by Miss Potter, with Severus bringing up the rear. The common room was almost full of students, many of whom began to gush over Lockhart, who had immediately began to posture and preen and was promoting his latest book to a group of seventh-year girls.

Severus let the dog down and released the spells holding it: the animal let out a loud howl and ran, trying in vain to hide under the nearest chair. It managed to hide its head, which seemed to suffice, though it shivered all over.

“Now, if that's all...” Severus began, when Potter's friends Granger, Weasley and Longbottom burst in.

“Hermione!” Weasley called. “Wasn't Ginny with you?”

“No, she wasn't,” Potter said. “Is she missing?”

“We had the girls' dormitories checked, all rooms, all bathrooms, everything. The boys too. We searched the entire Gryffindor Tower, and she's not here!” Harry Granger said. Percy, George and Fred Weasley also appeared, all serious and extremely concerned: the twins were rarely this serious, and Percy Weasley, a Prefect, was anxiously twisting his hands.

“Sir,” Percy said, “my sister has been terribly depressed and nervous. I'm afraid my brothers may have bullied her...”

“We never!” one of the twins protested.

“Never did!” the other agreed.

“Except the silly childish stuff you always pull,” Percy said. “And Ron hasn't been much better.”

“Quiet, all of you. When did you last see Miss Weasley?” Severus asked Percy Weasley.

“Nobody's seen her since breakfast, sir,” Percy replied. “She looked troubled.”
Severus looked down as he felt someone tugging persistently at the sleeve of his robes. No student ever dared to tug at his sleeve. Apparently Hermione Potter did. Her eyes were frantic.

“Professor, I'm afraid... I think I know where she might be. I know where she is, where the Chamber is, and I can open it. I just figured it out!”

Severus shook his head at the child. Potter had a tendency to panic, and she was currently displaying a mixture of Gryffindor bravado and panic attack. “You will stay here, Potter. I will go and take care of the matter, along with some others. This is not a game for children...”

“Sir, you don't understand! I know where the Chamber of Secrets is, but I think you need me. I'm a Parselmouth, and I can talk to the Basilisk. I can tell it to stop.”

“Miss Potter, the staff will handle this.”

“Sir, may I talk to you in private?” she asked.

Severus narrowed his eyes. “Fine,” he snapped, and led her a little further away, casting a non-verbal Muffliato. The other Gryffindors, who'd tried to eavesdrop on them, looked puzzled and confused, but also curious. Severus saw the Weasley twins inching closer and glared at them.

“Sir, please. The entrance to the Chamber is hidden, and I think it's in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. Professor Dumbledore said that Myrtle Warren had been killed, and the ghost is called Moaning Myrtle. I think she was killed by the Basilisk. Mrs Norris was found close to Myrtle's bathroom, the message was there too. And Harry found the book from the bathroom, and it was stolen from my trunk... and the pipes run through...”

“What book?” Severus interrupted. “You never said anything about a book.”

“Harry found an empty book in the lavatory, a diary, I think, bought from Vauxhall Road. Someone tried to flush it down a toilet, only the bathroom flooded. It had a name on it, Riddle, T. M. Riddle, Harry thinks he or she was a Muggle-born. I asked if I could keep it to inspect it, but I put it in my trunk and forgot it until now. I don't know why I forgot, honestly I don't. But it was gone when the cloak was taken.”

“T. M. Riddle?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What else was in the book?” Severus asked sharply.

“Nothing, sir. It was empty. I cast some Revealing Charms on it, but there wasn't anything.”

Severus' mind was whirling. Riddle, Tom Riddle, Voldemort. He was now quite certain that the book was either cursed, or, most likely, one of the Horcruxes Albus was looking for. The Dark Lord could bring himself back with it. He was a Parselmouth, and now controlled a Basilisk... He'd have to act fast. A Horcrux inside a school was a horrifying thought. The items would probably be protected by horrifying curses, and if the Dark Lord managed to use it to return to power... Potter could prove an advantage. She'd at least find the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets faster, if it was where she said it was. He'd be calmer if he'd know that Hermione Granger was providing the information, but so far he'd not seen a flash of her presence. He was quite certain that Granger would know how to open the Chamber of Secrets: she'd have her memories.
Severus had kept an eye on Lockhart, who was currently inching away toward the exit. Severus abruptly cancelled the Muffliato. “And where are you going, Lockhart?” he sneered. “I believe the Headmaster ordered you to remain with me.”

“Well, seeing as Dumbledore is no longer the Headmaster...” Lockhart tried.

“Minerva gave no orders to cancel Albus' last orders,” Severus said calmly, and flicked his wand threateningly. “I would suggest you stay where you are!”

“Please, sir!” the girl begged, tugging his sleeve again. “I can hear the Basilisk and warn you if it's coming, I can talk to it and maybe I can order it to stop, I might be able to find the entrance sooner, please Professor, Ginny's my friend and she's in trouble, I know she is, please let me come!”

“Fine,” Severus huffed, “I'll take you as far as the entrance, just so you can show me where it is. But no further! I won't have you chatting to an overgrown snake. And you'll do exactly as I say!”

“Yes, sir!” she quickly promised.

“We'll come too!” Granger piped in.

“Yeah, my sister's out there!” Weasley said.

“You will remain here,” Severus said sharply. “Potter will come with me only for a short while, until I can return her. I will not play babysitter to a bunch of Gryffindors.”

“But sir,” Granger tried.

“Fifty points from Gryffindor for arguing, Granger. Shall I make it a hundred?” The boy shut his mouth with an audible snap. “I thought not. Come along, Potter. Lockhart, you as well. You have boasted about facing far worse dangers than a simple Basilisk, after all.”

“I thought I might go and get some equipment. I could meet you...”

“I think not,” Severus drawled. “Move.” He gestured towards the portrait hole with his wand. Potter walked after them. “And take out your mirror, you blithering idiot,” he snapped at Lockhart. If the charlatan got Petrified, he'd snatch up Miss Potter and run for their lives. The man would perhaps prove useful that way. Damn Albus for bringing him here!

In the dark corridor close to the bathroom they stopped. A new message was scrawled on the wall, just below the previous one: “Her skeleton will lie in the Chamber for ever.”

“Ginny,” Potter whispered, her eyes wide with horror. “Ginny's in there.” Severus nodded quietly. There was no time to waste: a human sacrifice would activate the Horcrux. The Chamber needed to be found, fast.

Lockhart was visibly shaking by the time they got to the bathroom, and Severus had to snarl to make the man enter. He spotted the ghost sitting on a cistern of the end toilet.

“Oh, it's you, Hermione!” she said, seeming to brighten up a bit from her usual moping. “You've brought company? Oooh, that one's handsome!” she gestured at Lockhart, giggling manically. Severus looked at Potter and raised a questioning eyebrow.

“I've been coming to talk with her a few times, sir,” she replied with a blush. “She seemed lonely.” The girl turned to Moaning Myrtle again. “Myrtle, sorry to ask you this, I don't mean to upset you... did you die here?”

“Yes!” the ghost replied brightly, seeming happy to be asked that question. “It was dreadful! It happened right here. I died in this very cubicle. I remember it so well. I'd hidden here because Olive Hornby was teasing me about my glasses, and you know how that's like, like when you told me that the red-headed boy teased you,” she said dramatically. “The door was locked, and I was crying, and then I heard somebody come in. They said something funny. A different language, I think it must have been. Anyway, what really got me was that it was a boy speaking. So I unlocked the door, to tell him to go use his own toilet, and then —“ Myrtle paused dramatically, “I died.”

“How did you die?” Potter asked.

“No idea. I remember seeing a pair of great yellow eyes. My whole body...”

“Enough,” Severus interrupted, having heard quite enough. “We know enough. So the Chamber was opened with a foreign language. What did it sound like?”

“Well, you're very rude!” Myrtle replied. “I don't think I'll answer you. This one is much more handsome, and nicer too,” she said, flirting with Lockhart, who was looking like he was about to soil his robes.

“Please, Myrtle?” Potter asked.

“Well, it was a hissing sort of sound,” Myrtle replied, hovering close to Lockhart, admiring his hair, twirling in the air and, apparently, winking.

“Where did you see the eyes, Myrtle?” Potter queried, trying to keep the ghost's attention.

“Somewhere there,” she said, gesturing vaguely towards the sink in front of her toilet. Severus kept an eye on Lockhart, who was trying to evade the ghost's assessing gaze, and went to inspect the sink. Potter was already there, looking at the thing sharply.

“Over here, Professor. A snake, here,” she said, indicating a small carving of a snake by the side of a copper tap. Before Severus could do anything, the girl's gaze had become unfocused, and suddenly she let out a strange hiss. The tap glowed with white bright light, and the sink sank to the floor, leaving a large pipe exposed, large enough for a man to slide into.

“Ginny's in there, Professor...” she squealed, looking at Severus. For a mere moment her eyes flashed brown, and Severus knew he was looking at Hermione Granger. The eyes were calmer and older, more experienced, and before Severus could react, the girl displayed the typical brash Gryffindor bravado and jumped through the hole, letting out a loud squeal as she apparently slid down the sloping pipe, her voice growing distant fast. Severus had howled “No!” but to no avail: the girl was gone, and Severus was certain she'd meet her fate down there alone.

He quickly snatched Lockhart by the scruff of his neck. “Get down there!” he ordered, shoving the pathetic excuse of a wizard down the pipe, and the man disappeared with a frightened howl. Severus slid his long legs into the pipe and pushed himself in, hoping he'd be on time to stop the Chosen One from killing herself before she even got to the age she'd last departed her life. Foolish, reckless child!

The slide down was long, and Severus bruised himself a few times into the curves of the slimy dark pipe as he slid helplessly down, well below the dungeon level, he'd wager. Finally the pipe levelled out, and he shot out of the end, bruising his knee as he fell. Potter already had her wand lit with a Lumos, Lockhart was just getting up: they were all covered in slime, and both Potter and Lockhart looked pale and frightened.

“You foolish, reckless child!” Severus hissed, trying to keep his voice low. “Do you have any idea of the danger you've put yourself in?! You're supposed to be the saviour of the Wizarding world and you rush off like this, rushing towards the worst danger...”

“Ginny's my friend, sir!” Potter argued. “I can't abandon her here, couldn't. I don't know what came over me, really, I know I should have, but at the same time...”

“Be silent,” Severus snarled furiously and looked around. The walls were covered in slime and the floor wet. “Can you hear the beast?”

“No, sir,” she replied meekly.

“Fine,” Severus replied. “I'll call for reinforcements.” He hated to do this: his Patronus was a well-kept secret, and he'd probably have to Obliviate both the girl and Lockhart. He'd have to send the word to Minerva: Albus probably was not alone, and he could possibly even Obliviate Minerva if necessary. He raised his wand, recalling the memory of Lily, and called “Expecto Patronum!”

The silver light from his wand tried to form a shape, but his doe was vague, unclear, and it faded almost immediately to formless mist. Lockhart looked at him. “Difficult one, that,” he said. “I myself, of course, could do a large corporeal one. Not in these conditions, of course, but...”

“Shut up,” Severus snarled and released the Charm, calling it again, with the same result. Lily's green eyes and red hair, her laughter no longer worked: the memory was too vague. He concentrated just on the green eyes. “Expecto Patronum!” he hissed, and the doe formed, though it was very faint, the outlines unclear. As always, Severus felt a twinge of terrible regret and sorrow as he watched it.

“Minerva, Ginny Weasley's been taken to the Chamber of Secrets. Potter found the entrance from Moaning Myrtle's bathroom and rushed in. I've gone after her. Send help. The entrance is behind a sink!” he told the Patronus and flicked his wand, sending the doe away.

Miss Potter had wandered forward into the tunnel, lighting the way with her wand, while Lockhart hovered closer to Severus. “Go on, Lockhart,” Severus said, “you'll work fine as Basilisk bait.” Lockhart blanched ever further, if that was possible, and swallowed thickly before he walked after Potter, avoiding the animal bones littering the floor. Mostly rats, Severus noticed. The girl was in the tunnel, inspecting a large form that turned out to be a massive snake skin: green, disgusting poisonous shade of green, and long: the animal that shed it must have been at least twenty feet long, if not more.

Just then he realised he'd taken his eyes off Lockhart for too long. “Expelliarmus!” the man called, and Severus ducked, rolling to the side, shielding with a non-verbal Protego. Lockhart was a coward and a moron, but right now he was a cornered rat, and a cornered rat would fight fiercely. Severus might have stood in place, however: Lockhart managed to fumble his Disarmament Charm and it threw Lockhart against the nearest wall. Severus heard a crunch.

Lockhart rose to his feet: he'd hit his head and his wand seemed cracked. Unfortunately the man was simply either too dazed or too stupid to notice. “Obliviate!” the called, raising his wand high. His wand let out an audible crack as the power rushing through the damaged wood broke it further, and then an explosion shook the air.

Large rocks began to topple down down the ceiling. Severus snatched a hold of the girl and rushed further into the tunnel, shielding her with his own body. He rolled, trying to cover the girl as best he could, and laid panting on top of the terrified child as the dust settled down.

There were cracks in the ceiling, and while he could try to move the rocks that now blocked the exit, any careless use of magic might topple the ceiling down on them. He knew he could do it, but the Basilisk was most likely in here, and so was the Horcrux. Voldemort had his human sacrifice — a student, no less, a first-year! — in there, and damned if he'd let that bastard resurrect himself inside Hogwarts.

“Damn!” Severus cursed quietly. “Of all the bloody fucking blasted things... Do not move an inch, Potter,” he snapped, pointing his finger at her. “You've caused enough trouble as it is. If we get out of here alive, I will take every bloody point Gryffindors have managed to achieve this year and you'll be scrubbing cauldrons for the rest of your school career! Reckless, foolish chit.”

Severus concentrated on the Patronus Charm again, trying his best to concentrate on Lily's eyes. The first Charm failed again, and out of desperation he added the thrill he'd felt when he'd received the rare Potions book for Christmas from Miss Potter. He cast again, and the doe became more solid, though it was obviously far from what he'd previously achieved. He'd been able to cast this Charm for years, and right now wasn't the time to dwell on why it was failing now.

“Minerva, Lockhart tried to attack me and caused the ceiling to collapse. Miss Potter and I are behind the landslide under the school, possibly close to the Chamber of Secrets. The ceiling is cracked, do not attempt to use magic to blast through. I will try to look for Miss Weasley.” Severus flicked his wand and the Patronus bounced away through the stones: he hoped it would reach Minerva.

“You'll come with me, foolish child, but one more silly act of reckless Gryffindor bravery from you and I'll wring your neck, Chosen One or not. Or would you prefer to be expelled?” Severus threatened, and Hermione squeaked in fright at the latter threat, nodding vigorously.

“I'm sorry, sir, I didn't, I didn't mean to...”

“Quiet, you silly little girl. Stay behind me and do exactly what I tell you to do. Or would you prefer I left you here alone?”

“No, Professor. Please...”

“Fine. But keep quiet!”

Severus crept along the tunnel, which seemed to go on for quite a while, bending here and there. Potter kept pace behind him, her steps relatively silent and her wand lit. Finally, just after another bend, the corridor ended to a door, upon which two serpents were carved. Their eyes were large emeralds, glinting in an unnerving way in the wand-light. It had no handles or openings.

“Potter, I believe you can open this one,” Severus hissed quietly. Potter nodded and approached the door. She cleared her throat and hissed at it in a low voice, and the serpents parted as the door cracked open and the sides slid out of sight.

“Remain behind me, quiet, and do exactly as I tell you, Potter. Do not disobey me in this, girl,” Severus hissed. “We'll see if Miss Weasley can be retrieved alive.”

Chapter Text

Severus Snape, April 10th 1993 (con'td)

 

Severus quietly crept inside the large chamber behind the door. It was dimly lit by an eerie greenish gloom. The ceiling seemed to be supported by stone pillars carved with serpents, but Severus paid them little attention, though he kept well away from them: it would be unwise to approach something that seemed so eerily alive, possibly carrying some nasty curses.

“If you see any sign of movement you need to close your eyes, turn your back and run. Just... run,” he whispered to the girl behind him.

He heard nothing but the sounds he and Miss Potter made: their breathing, rustle of their robes and the sound of their footsteps. He did try to creep quietly, but the massive and long chamber echoed their footsteps: trying to move completely silently was useless. Severus extinguished his wand-light and gestured for Potter to do the same: the gloomy light showed them enough of their surroundings, and to draw the attention of the Basilisk upon them with more light would be very unwise. Severus hoped fervently they'd be able to locate Miss Weasley and the Horcrux and escape before the Basilisk was alerted, but he'd give his life to prevent the Dark Lord from rising again.

Finally, at the end of the chamber, Severus found he was facing a massive statue of Salazar Slytherin himself: the statue was as high as the ceiling, massive and imposing, and by its feet, he could see the prone form of the missing student sprawling on the floor. “Ginny!” Potter screamed in terror and attempted to run towards the girl, but Severus caught her and held her back.

“Foolish girl!” he whispered furiously. “What did I tell you?!”

“Sir, it's Ginny!”

“Be. Quiet.” Severus intoned very clearly. “And stay behind me. Be ready to run.” Keeping the girl behind him he approached the still form of the first-year, looking around him to spot anything, any trace of movement.

He saw a boy leaning against a pillar, looking at them calmly. He appeared to be around sixteen, a sixth-year, and it took Severus only a moment to recognise him.

Voldemort.

Or what he'd been when he had been several decades younger. Severus had last seen him in 1981, when he'd been over fifty: not even middle-aged by wizarding standards, a man on his prime. This was a boy, but the man he'd grow into was apparent in everything: his face, his body, his posture... leaning lazily against a pillar with his arms folded across his chest, radiating calm arrogance.

He was also almost transparent, shimmering and translucent. Not quite there, not quite... real. But if Severus was right, he was well on his way to become real, sucking power and life out of Ginevra Weasley.

Riddle didn't say anything, just watched them. Severus tried to keep Potter behind him, but Riddle obviously knew she was there, for he let down his arms and straightened his posture a bit. “Hermione Potter, I presume?” he finally said softly.

“Y-yes?” the girl squeaked, and Severus pushed her further back, behind his own back, scanning the surroundings for the Basilisk. “Who are you?” she asked.

“My name... was Tom, once. Tom Marvolo Riddle.”

“Was? Are you a ghost?”

“A memory,” the boy corrected. “Preserved in a diary for fifty years.” He pointed towards Miss Weasley, and there, close to the statue's feet, lay a small book, which Severus guessed was the Horcrux. He needed to get that blasted thing destroyed.

“You... you're the heir of Slytherin,” Potter said quietly, and the boy raised his eyebrows.

“Yes,” he said softly. “She did say you were smart. Know-it-all, she called you, always boasting with your knowledge. Did you know how much she envied you? How she opened her little heart when Harry Granger paid no attention to her, always you, being around you. With your wealth and your fame and friends, while she came to school in second-hand robes and books...”

“She spoke to you like that?”

“She wrote in my diary, and I answered. She was so boring, with the silly little troubles of an eleven-year-old girl, but I was patient. I wrote back, I was sympathetic, I was kind. She simply loved me. No one's ever understood me like you, Tom... I'm so glad I have this diary to confide in... It's like having a friend I can carry around in my pocket...” Riddle laughed, and Severus stiffened and shoved the girl behind him, shielding her with his own body.

“I know who she is, but who are you?” Riddle asked, narrowing his eyes at Severus. Severus did not reply, keeping his wand at the ready.

“No answers? By your looks I'd hazard a guess you're the Potions Master. She calls you a nasty, greasy git. Dungeon bat, she called you, and guessed you're just as evil as you're ugly. She had a lot to say about how you treat her and the other Gryffindors. I might have commended you on apparently good tastes, Head of Slytherin House, but are you now hiding a Gryffindor behind your back?”

Severus kept his face impassive and offered no answers to this memory. 'He doesn't recognise me,' he thought, 'He doesn't know I'm supposed to be his servant. He cannot sense the Dark Mark.' His brain went through various possibilities, assessing the dangers. Riddle could control the Basilisk, and he probably could call for it at any given moment. He'd have to act fast.

“You refuse to answer me, then?” Riddle taunted. “Pity. It seems a Slytherin can have some bad... tastes.

“What have you done to her?” Severus asked, hoping to buy himself some time.

“To little Ginny Weasley? Why, I simply listened, let her pour out her soul to me... and her soul happened to be exactly what I wanted. I grew stronger on a diet of her deepest fears, her darkest secrets...”

“You've been controlling her, haven't you,” Miss Potter whispered. “You made her open the Chamber...”

“Yes. You really are bright, aren't you? She was afraid she was loosing her mind, with feathers in her outfits when she strangled the roosters, with paint all over her, and then blood when I let go with the second roosters... far too clever of you, little Miss Potter, far too clever. I would have taken more time with her, taken out more Mudbloods had I had the time. I had to take out a half-blood to get to the second roosters! No matter of the half-breed, but such a waste... still, the old woman shouldn't have stood on my way, and not in the way of my Basilisk.”

Riddle began pacing around, trying to get to the the other side to get a clear view of Miss Potter, but Severus kept himself between the two of them, his eyes trained on Riddle.

“She was so envious when she saw you had the diary,” Riddle continued. “She was afraid you'd realise she'd been behind the attacks, that she'd be sent away, expelled and imprisoned. She thought you'd also stolen her friend, her only true friend Tom, even though you already have her precious Harry and all of her brothers eating off the palm of your hand. Such envy from someone so young! It really was so easy. She stole the diary back, and your Invisibility Cloak... I was already controlling so much of her mind by then, you see. So much easier to control someone who is overtaken by vicious envy and jealousy. I let it fester inside her and used it to control her.”

“Do you know who I am, bright little witch?” Riddle asked her.

“You... you're Voldemort.”

“I am,” Riddle confirmed. “How very bright you are. Miss Weasley told me all about you, of course, letting out all her anger and jealousy. How your parents died by my hands to protect you, and how you managed to destroy my powers... mine, though I am the heir of Salazar Slytherin himself, through my mother's side.”

“I... I don't...” Miss Potter began, but Severus shoved her and cast a quick warning glance at her.

“Ah, he doesn't want you to tell me, does he? Protecting a Gryffindor, though Miss Weasley often spoke of his the Potions Master hated the Gryffindors and favoured the Slytherins? I wonder...”

Suddenly an eerie music filled the chamber, seeming to come out of nowhere, and Severus recognised it, though he'd rarely heard it: the song of a phoenix. The only phoenix around was Fawkes, Albus' familiar.

Flames erupted close to the ceiling, and Fawkes soared downwards in all his splendour: he'd recently had his burning day, Severus knew, but here he was, as beautiful as ever, singing warmly enough that their hearts seemed to swell, and clutched in his talons was a ragged bundle of fabric that seemed all too familiar...

Fawkes flew down and settled on Hermione's shoulder, dropping the bundle, which she deftly caught before it fell on the floor. Fawkes seemed to gaze steadily at Riddle.

“That's a phoenix...” Riddle breathed. “And that... that's the old school Sorting Hat,” Riddle said, stating the obvious. Hermione and Severus would have recognised them both, having spent so much time at Albus' office. Riddle began to laugh mockingly. Severus had had enough: there was no sense in delaying further. The Basilisk didn't seem to be making an appearance, neither did the help he'd requested, and time was running short for Miss Weasley. He'd observed how Riddle seemed to grow more and more solid by the moment.

“Incarcerous!” he cast towards the spectre, but the spell went right through Riddle.

“I'm not solid enough for that yet, I'm afraid,” Riddle replied nonchalantly.

“Silencio! Expulso!” Severus tried, but the spells once again passed right through the spectre, causing barely a few ripples.

“If you'd have tried that just a few hours later, it might've worked. You see, I'm not quite through with little Miss Weasley yet. She's alive, but there isn't much life left in her: she put too much into the diary, into me. Enough for me to leave its pages at last. It's a pity a proud member of the Slytherin House would choose the wrong side, to protect my enemy from me. You'll die along with her, blood traitor. Now to business, Hermione Potter. I have many questions for you. Twice — in your past, in my future — we have met. And twice I have failed to kill you. How did you survive? Tell me everything! The longer you...”

“I'll never tell you anything!” Potter yelled defiantly. “Never!”

“You'll live longer if you do,” Riddle promised with a nasty smirk. “You and your defender.”

“You can go ahead and try, but I'll never tell!” she said. “And I promise you you'll die again, for good. You'll never figure it out! I've seen how you look now, weak and pathetic, crawling creature...”

“ENOUGH!” Riddle roared, shivering with fury. Severus had rarely seen him in such a state: Riddle had always been a master of charming and manipulating people, talking with a soft and gentle voice even when he told people they were about to die. This rage and fury was unexpected: but Potter had the skill to irritate anyone, and it seemed to Severus like Riddle had just expected her to divulge her secret.

“Enough,” Riddle repeated. “Keep your secrets, then. Die with them, and soon.” A nasty smirk spread on his face and he walked to the statue of Slytherin, looking up to his face and let out a nasty hiss. The mouth of the statue opened to reveal a large hole and something was slithering out...

“Don't look!” Severus warned the girl, and twirled her around, pushing her in front of him. “Run! I'll be right behind you, don't look back!” Fawkes took flight from Potter's shoulder, but Severus cared only about keeping himself between the Basilisk and the girl. He'd allow her to run faster, and the Basilisk would reach him first, killing him. He'd fight back with all he had, though he knew the Basilisk's skin was resistant to magic, but perhaps it'd buy her enough time to reach the rockslide. Perhaps help would come fast enough for her, if not for him...

A large thud echoed as something hit the floor with force enough to make the chamber shudder, and Riddle let out another hissing sound. Severus kept pushing the girl to run faster, but the foolish girl was staring at the Sorting Hat with furrowed brows, stumbling as she tried to run. She suddenly thrust her hand into the hat and pulled out a pommel of a familiar sword, then the entire sword of Gryffindor that had only recently been in Dumbledore's office.

Severus realised the Basilisk hadn't been following them: its body was trashing wildly against the pillars, and Severus paused just long enough to cast a sidelong glance: Fawkes had attacked the Basilisk's dangerous eyes, tearing at them. Empty eye sockets gaped in the Basilisk's head, bloodied and raw, and Riddle hissed furiously at the beast. Its mouth stretched wide, lined with long fangs, which Severus knew to be incredibly poisonous. The beast's bite means certain death.

Ignoring Fawkes at last, the Basilisk lunged at them, and Severus pushed the girl to the left, leaping to the right himself and let out a shout to lure the creature to him, hoping to buy her time. The girl might have been holding the sword of Gryffindor, but the weapon looked all too heavy for her small hands, for a girl to wield. She'd grown small and frail from the years of starvation at the hands of the Dursleys, and she looked all too small to wield a weapon of that size. Severus blasted the Basilisk's mouth with a Sectumsempra that severed two of its teeth and rolled swiftly to the side as the great serpent hissed in pain, spewing blood all over the floor. The Basilisk's mouth and eyes were vulnerable, where its skin was thick and resisted most spells. The beast struck a pillar that shook from the weight of the blast and hissed in rage.

Suddenly he heard Hermione hiss something at the creature that was just preparing to lunge at Severus again. The beast immediately paused, turning its head towards the girl's voice. She hissed again, a longer sequence, and Severus could see from her posture and hear from the tone that she'd said something incredibly insulting and stupid. The Basilisk turned incredibly fast for its size and headed straight for the girl.

“NO!” Severus howled. “You foolish girl! Shut up and run!” He hit the Basilisk's tail and back desperately with a Sectumsempra and an Expulso, hoping to draw its attention back to himself. The beast began turning again, and Severus ran towards Hermione as fast as he could, intending to snatch her away and hide her behind his body, but the Basilisk was upon them in a moment, and he heard Hermione scream in pain: she'd tried to hit the Basilisk with the sword, all valiant Gryffindor bravery, but she'd missed and dropped the heavy weapon, and at least one of the Basilisk's teeth was sinking into her arm...

Severus howled and struck the beast's eyes with another Sectumsempra, groping the sword of Gryffindor from the floor in his desperation. His fingers touched the handle, and he knew that a Slytherin shouldn't have used a Gryffindor relic, but his veins were filled with rage and outrage and blind fury at the beast...

The creature lunged at them. He was clutching Hermione to his chest with his left arm, though he had no idea how he'd caught hold of her, his left hand clutching his wand. His right hand raised the Sword of Gryffindor, and just as the beast struck at them, he thrust the sword to the hilt into the roof of the beast's mouth.

The poisonous fangs surrounded them like prison bars for a moment, and then, blessedly, the beast keeled over sideways and fell twitching on the floor.

Severus felt the girl go limp and whimper in his arms. A splintered fang was still hanging in her wound, and Severus carefully pulled it out, but the girl was growing weaker by the second. He'd dropped on his knees on the floor, holding the girl to his chest in a partially sitting position to help her breathe.

“FAWKES!” Severus yelled, calling the bird. “FAWKES, PLEASE!”

The bird appeared almost immediately, its great wings beating the air as it landed on Severus' shoulder. “Your tears, Fawkes, please...” Severus pleaded, and the bird looked at him with its beady eyes: Severus could have sworn the bird though he was an idiot stating the obvious, but he didn't care, as the bird allowed several of its tears to drop into the wound left by the fang, healing it.

“How sweet, the last moments of a dying girl, and the only person left to mourn her,” Riddle said with a mocking voice. “So ends the famous Hermione Potter, defeated at last by the Dark Lord she so unwisely challenged.”

Severus lifted his gaze and smirked as he saw the colour return to Hermione's face and the wound heal itself. “You always were terrible at Potions, Riddle,” he drawled in a silky voice. “Phoenix tears...” Fawkes took off flight from his shoulder, singing triumphantly.

“Who are you?” Riddle asked Severus. “How do you know me?” Severus did not reply, and Riddle shook his head.

“Phoenix tears have healing powers. Of course, I forgot,” Riddle said quietly. He walked a bit to the left and picked up Hermione's wand that had fallen off her fingers. He twirled it in his long fingers and pointed it at Hermione. Severus aimed his own wand at Riddle, but he feared what he'd cast upon the girl laying in his arms: no shield would protect them from an Unforgivable.

“It makes no difference,” Riddle muttered. “I'll simply kill you with your own wand...”

Just then, in a rush of wings, Fawkes arrived back, dropping the diary into Hermione's lap. For a split second all three stared at it, frozen in a moment, and suddenly Hermione snatched the Basilisk fang and plunged it straight into the book.

A long, piercing scream shredded the air of the chamber. Ink splurted out of the diary in torrents and onto the floor. Riddle was writing in pain, screamed and flailed and then, suddenly, he was simply gone. Hermione's wand fell on the floor, and then there was only the dripping sound of ink still oozing from the remains of the diary. The venom in the fang had burned a large hole right through the book.

Hermione sighed and leaned back against Severus, who patted her uncomfortably. “It's over, I think,” he said. “Feeling good enough to get up?” The girl nodded and struggled to her feet. She picked up her wand, shoving it into her pocket.

“Fetch the Sorting Hat,” Severus said, “I'll retrieve the sword. You're just about foolish enough to accidentally cut yourself with another fang.” The girl nodded silently and fetched the hat, while Severus pulled out the sword from the Basilisk's gaping mouth. He gave it to Hermione.

“I'm not supposed to wield this,” he said to her. “It is meant for a deserving Gryffindor, and I am no Gryffindor.”

“But you're a hero, Professor!” she said, “You killed the Basilisk!”

“We'll have to discuss that later. In fact, it is best for everyone if my involvement in this matter is kept secret.”

“But we can't! You killed it! I only got hurt, and you saved me...”

“And if the word got out of what I did, my life would be forfeit, Miss Potter,” Severus said harshly. “I have to be in contact with people who would kill me without hesitation if they were to learn of what I've done. We may have to...”

Just then Miss Weasley let out a moan from where she lay. She seemed to be struggling up. Hermione rushed to her, and Severus followed with long strides.

Ginevra Weasley was staring at the dead Basilisk, her eyes darting from Hermione to the dead creature, then to Severus and back at Hermione. Tears swelled in her eyes as her gaze landed on the diary.

“Hermione... P-professor Snape, I'm sorry, so so sorry... It was me, I-I d-didn't mean to, I s-swear I didn't mean to, but Riddle made me, he t-took me over – and – how did you kill that - that thing? W-where's Riddle? The last thing I r-remember is him coming out of the diary —“

Hermione took the younger girl into her arms and held her as she sobbed.

“Calm down, Miss Weasley,” Severus said. “Riddle's gone, Miss Potter took care of everything. Take this Potion,” he said, pulling out a vial of Dreamless Sleep from a pocket of his robes.

“W-what is it?”

“Take the Potion now, Miss Weasley,” Severus said irritably, and Miss Weasley knocked it back, her eyes drifting closed almost immediately.

“There, now that's done with,” Severus said. “It'll quiet her down and stop her hysterics. Let's get back. I believe we can now work on getting above ground. Are you well enough to walk? I'll levitate Miss Weasley.” Hermione nodded quietly. Severus cast a Mobilicorpus and began to walk, levitating Miss Weasley in front of them. He stopped on his way to pick up the Basilisk's fang that Hermione had struck into the diary, and then fetched the two others he'd severed with his Sectumsempra. He pulled a small pouch with an Undetectable Extension Charm from a pocket of his robes and placed the fangs inside: the pouch was equipped with several Charms that would protect the fangs and keep them from tearing or harming the pouch itself. If one of these could destroy a Horcrux, they could definitely use them.

“What are you doing, Professor?” Hermione asked.

“Potion ingredients, Miss Potter,” Severus lied. “These will be very useful indeed. In fact, I believe you shall be serving some detention with me for this debacle, and I believe we shall be back to harvest some Basilisk parts later, when I've acquired proper equipment,” he said with a smirk. “Quite unpleasant business, but a good learning experience for you nonetheless.” He pointed at Fawkes, who was hovering in the air close to the chamber entrance. “Shall we go, Miss Potter? I believe we need to convince the board of governors to let the Headmaster return to his position, as well as return this overgrown chicken to him.”

Chapter Text

Severus Snape, April 10th 1993 (cont'd)

 

As Severus levitated Miss Weasley in front of them, Hermione let out a small shriek and dashed to her, pulling at a small piece of fabric protruding from Weasley's pocket. A large piece of silver fabric pooled out, and Hermione spread it over herself for a moment, parts of her disappearing from sight: it was her stolen Invisibility Cloak. She took it off again, apparently satisfied it was still working and intact.

Potter sighed. “So, Ginny took it. Or Riddle told her to take it. Sir... do you want it? It was just stolen from my trunk. I never really use it, and it might be taken again.”

Severus thought for a long moment: Invisibility Cloaks were rare and valuable, and owning one would give a nice edge when one stalked for rule breakers in the hallways after curfew. Then again the thought of taking something that had belonged to James Potter felt unpleasant. He'd always detested Potter and Black, and to know they'd hid under that piece of fabric to hurt him so many times... how many of his various scars were caused by that Cloak? How many batches of Skele-Gro had he been forced to ingest because James Potter had owned it? Where had he gotten it? Bought, most likely, with the vast Potter fortune.

Finally, Severus shook his head. “I shan't take it. It does belong to you by right, and apparently you've not been abusing it. Although I do suggest we find a better way of storing it, in a place where it shan't be in danger of being taken so easily. If you wish, I can take care of it for these last remaining weeks, just until the term ends. Then, upon returning to the Order's safe house, I shall find appropriate means of making sure it'll remain in your possession. If the word gets out you have an item such as this, there might be those all too willing to steal... or borrow it, for various and sundry purposes.”

Hermione nodded enthusiastically and offered the Cloak to Severus, who took it carefully and folded it. The thought of this cloak in the hands of some foolish teenagers with their hormones running rampant was disconcerting, to say the very least. He had no idea what Dumbledore had been thinking, giving the girl something like this. Of course she was wiser and more mature than anyone in her year. And it'd be interesting to explore this piece: usually the Invisibility Charm wore off sooner, and if this cloak had been used by James Potter and his gang...

He saw Hermione wince a few times as they slowly walked through the Chamber of Secrets, the door closing behind them quietly. “Do you have any pains, Potter?” he asked. “And I suggest you light up your wand,” he added, “I shall need mine to levitate Weasley.” She did as he ordered and walked ahead of him, keeping her wand raised to light the way in the dark tunnel.

“Just a few bruises, sir,” she replied, “how about you?”

“The same. Madam Pomfrey will give you a potion for the soreness, and a quick Charm will heal the bruises,” he replied calmly.

“And you'll come too, sir?”

“A few bruises matter very little to me. I shall heal.”

“But sir...”

“Miss Potter, do not talk back at me,” Severus said. “You risked your hide unnecessarily, while you could have awaited for help to arrive. We were merely lucky escape alive. As such, I must remind you that we can not reveal my involvement in slaying the Basilisk. We shall inform the rest of the staff as well as the students that the door to the Chamber closed behind you when you entered, leaving me outside while you faced the Basilisk alone.”

“But you can't! You killed it and they'll think I did! And Ginny...”

“I shall remove the memory of me from Weasley's mind.”

“But...”

“No buts, Potter!” Severus snapped harshly.

“...Yes, sir,” she replied quietly, her face downcast.

Severus sighed deeply. “I need no reputation or fame for being a hero, Potter. I have a job to do. I do not need you further complicating my duties by rushing off into danger. I thought you were more clever than that.”

“Yes, Professor.” Her tone was subdued.

“I believe the detention chopping up various Basilisk parts will teach you the lesson adequately,” Severus added, suppressing a smirk as she shivered.

“Now remember, Potter,” Severus said, “not a word about what has happened here until you and I have a few words with the Headmaster. And you were the one who killed the Basilisk with the sword, while I was accidentally locked out of the Chamber. Is that understood, Miss Potter?” he said, drawing his full weight of authority on the last words.

“Yes, sir,” she replied meekly, clearly embarrassed.

“Good. Now, let us see if we can get to the landslide and out of these tunnels before we've wasted the entire day ambling in the dark.”

They remained quiet for a moment as they trekked through the tunnel, until Severus had to ask, “What did you say to the Basilisk?”

“What?”

“Back there, when it was about to attack me and you foolishly lured it to yourself. A very stupid move, I would add.”

“Um, oh, I, well...”

“Do go on, Miss Potter.”

“I called him an overgrown earthworm, sir.”

“What?” Severus asked incredulously.

“And, well, I might have called him some other, nastier things.”

“Surely you didn't...”

“I did,” she sighed.

“Of all the moronic, witless, retarded, utterly lunatic ideas you've had...” Severus groaned, but stopped as they saw a glimmer of light ahead. Severus stopped and placed his hand on Potter's shoulder, pressing his finger to his thin lips and shaking his head to make sure she'd remain silent. He lowered Weasley on the wet floor, lifting his wand and taking a defensive posture, when he heard the unmistakeable Scottish brogue of Minerva McGonagall, and the answering voice that could belong to none other than Albus Dumbledore. His shoulders slumped slightly in relief, and he levitated Weasley again, walking briskly forward, half dragging Potter with him.

They soon came across Minerva and Albus, advancing through the tunnel with their mirrors at hand. Both had their wands raised, but seemed relieved when they came across Severus, Hermione and the levitating Miss Weasley. Minerva let out a low, relieved cry and jumped forward, pulling Hermione into her arms, whilst chiding her of recklessness. The usually strict and harsh Scotswoman adored Hermione Potter, who was her absolute favourite cub: orphaned, yearning to learn, excelling at Transfiguration, an eager pupil with a kind heart... Severus knew the usually harsh woman adored Hermione like she'd been her own child. Minerva adored her nieces and nephews, but Severus guessed she might have been replacing her own child with little Miss Potter.

“Are you both unharmed, Severus? Is Miss Weasley...?” Albus asked, petting Fawkes who'd immediately flown to sit on his shoulder.

“Yes, Albus, we are in good health, and the Basilisk is dead. As for Weasley here... she was hysterical, and I've put her to sleep for now. Albus,” he added silently, casting a sideways glance at Minerva, who had paid them no attention, still chiding Potter while looking through her to make sure she'd acquired no injuries, and then rushing to see Weasley, whom Severus had once again lowered on the muddy floor. “I will need to talk to you alone. And we'll need to modify Miss Weasley's memory a bit.”

“Yes, I think speaking first would be for the best. We shall go to my office. Ginevra's parents have been called and I'm sure they shall be along shortly. We found Gilderoy behind the landslide,” Albus added, raising his eyebrow questioningly at Severus.

“Is he alive, then?” Severus asked.

“Yes, but he sustained a blow to his head from a falling stone. He's unconscious. We left Filius with him. Your message said he'd attacked you?”

“He attempted to,” Severus said calmly. “He botched a Disarmament Charm, broke his wand, and then the idiot tried to cast a Memory Charm with it. It backfired quite spectacularly and caused an explosion. We managed to get to the other side of the rockfall...”

“Professor Snape was brilliant,” Miss Potter chimed in. “He snatched me and rolled me away from the falling rocks. He saved my life!”

“Well done indeed, Severus!” Albus said with a smile and a twinkle in his eyes, while Severus cast a warning grimace at her.

“What were you doing down here?!” Minerva childed them both. “I'd have thought you'd have more sense in you, young man...!”

“It was my fault, Professor, honestly,” Potter again interrupted. “I jumped behind the sink because I was so worried about Ginny...”

“And I tossed in Lockhart, thinking he might be useful as bait, if nothing else,” Severus added quickly, knowing that Potter was a very poor liar. “I then went after them. After the landslide we went through the tunnels. I was slower and more careful than Potter, and when she'd opened the final door to the Chamber of Secrets, it closed behind her, leaving me out. As of what occurred within... we should discuss that later, I believe? Weasley here should be taken back up before she awakes on her own. She was rather hysterical...”

“Of course, say no more,” Albus said, leading the way. “But the Basilisk is truly dead?”

“Yes, and the heir of Slytherin as well,” Severus said with a nod. He could see Albus was very curious indeed, but refrained from asking further questions for now. Instead he went to Miss Potter, whose hand was clutched firmly in Minerva's hand, and took her other hand. He, too, had grown very fond of his charge.

“I'll levitate Ginevra, Severus, you've clearly worked hard,” Albus added and lifted Miss Weasley wandlessly into the air.

The pathway through the rockslide had been cleared, and Severus found Filius watching over Lockhart, who was lying prone on the floor, but awake. His expression was confused and befuddled.

“Severus! And Hermione, dear girl!” Filius squeaked and opened his arms to Miss Potter, who rushed in to hug the diminutive Charms Master. She was about the same height as Filius: the girl Severus had seen in Granger's memory had been quite tall, but the malnourishment she'd been subjected to with the Dursleys had left her short and slight, and Severus could only hope her next growth spurts would catch her up. The Charms Master was just as charmed with her as everyone else.

“What happened?” Filius inquired. “You're not hurt, are you?”

“They're fine, Filius,” Albus placated him. “They'll tell their story again to a more full audience when we get poor Miss Weasley up into my office and awake, and safely to the arms of her parents. And Professor Lockhart?”

Lockhart looked at them all, a strange expression on his face. “Who's Lockhart, then?” he asked.

“You are,” Minerva replied.

“Oh... I am? Oh, how very splendid. Odd sort of place, this, isn't it? Do you live here?”

Severus suppressed his urge to grin. “It seems like he's just as intelligent as he's always been,” he said. “I see no difference.”

“Must have been the Memory Charm. Come along, Gilderoy,” Albus said.

“Who's Gilderoy, then?” Lockhart asked, as Albus let go of Miss Potter's hand and aided him up. Miss Potter slipped closer to Severus, apparently seeking comfort from an adult.

The group made their way up to the pipe that had led them down. “I have a nice Charm to get us up,” Filius said. “I had a little time to think about it.” Albus shook his head.

“I believe I shall take a lift from Fawkes, and it would be prudent if Severus, Miss Potter and Miss Weasley were to come with me. Can you three get back with Filius' Charm?” Minerva seemed slightly reluctant to let Miss Potter out of her sight and hands, but she nodded. Albus took Miss Weasley to his arms and asked Severus and Hermione to take a hold of one of Fawkes' long, golden tail feathers.

“You're very short, aren't you?” he heard Lockhart say to Filius, and a loud yelp a mere moment later indicated that Lockhart had just been at the receiving end of a Stinging Hex.

“Up we go, then,” Albus said happily, and Severus felt a strange lightness spread through his body: suddenly they were flying up the pipe, holding on to the tail of the phoenix, until they all slid out from behind the sink. Severus nearly fell but managed to keep his balance, and Albus seemed accustomed to such events, but Miss Potter fell on the floor, though she got up quite easily. The sink began to close, but Miss Potter hissed at it to keep it open.

“It appears we shall have to await for the others to get back up,” Albus said, inspecting the sink closely, as they heard the approaching voices coming from the pipe. Apparently Filius had used a Charm that had them slide upwards, and his voice was squealing in delight and thrill as he popped up from behind the sink, with Lockhart following close behind him. Minerva was less than amused, righting herself and straightening her robes as she fell on the floor, her expression threatening anyone of speaking about her less than dignified entrance.

Moaning Myrtle had floated in to stare at them. “You're alive!” she wondered.

“No reason to be so amazed, Myrtle,” Hermione replied with a smile.

“Well, if you'd have died, I could have had you as a friend. Shared my toilet,” Myrtle said.

“I'll be your friend alive, too, Myrtle,” Hermione replied. “We'll do a great death-day party for you next year, I promise.”

Albus followed in fascination as Hermione hissed in Parseltongue for the sink, which now closed. “Fascinating,” he wondered, as Filius cleaned all their robes to pristine condition with quick Charms. “Now I believe we shall adjourn to my office. Oh, Hermione, I see you have the sword of Gryffindor. You have the right to carry and use it, of course, the sword presents itself to a worthy Gryffindor, after all, but it does seem very heavy for you to carry. May I carry it for you?” Hermione offered the sword freely to Albus, who took it with practised ease: for a moment, despite his sky-blue robes, he looked like an ancient, fearsome warrior brandishing a sword along with his wand.

“Minerva, Filius, would you be so kind as to escort Gilderoy to the infirmary, and then go meet Molly and Arthur and escort them in? I believe they'd be delighted to hear their daughter has been rescued.” The two others nodded and departed, although Minerva looked a bit reluctant. A faint yelp from Lockhart a moment later could be heard, and Severus was certain he heard Minerva cackle just a bit. She'd apparently not forgiven Lockhart either.

Once again levitating Miss Weasley, Albus lead Severus and Hermione through the corridors to his office door, the gargoyle guarding it opening to allow them entrance. Albus placed the sword of Gryffindor to a shelf, and Miss Potter quietly offered him the Sorting Hat, which Albus reverently placed on another shelf. Finally Hermione offered him the broken diary, which Albus took gingerly, his face calm, before he placed it into a locked drawer of his desk. One glance into his eyes told Severus that Albus knew exactly what he had been holding.

Albus had lowered Miss Weasley on a sofa and gestured for them to sit down, calling for tea. “Now then,” he said, “I should very much like to hear what happened.”

Severus told the story of their adventure in the tunnels, and the slaying of the Basilisk. Albus' eyes twinkled.

“I must thank you, Hermione,” Albus said. “You must have shown me real loyalty down there in the Chamber. Nothing else could have called Fawkes to you.”

“I'm not sure what you mean, Professor... I don't know what I did, or showed. I was just... scared and frightened, and I really hoped you'd been there too, with us. For a moment I really really wished you'd been there.”

“That would have been enough to call Fawkes,” Albus replied. “And it seems to me Professor Snape also did well protecting you!”

“He did!” she replied. “He was marvellous! He killed the Basilisk! The sword was so heavy and I was too slow to hit it, but Professor Snape struck it right in the mouth, when it was about to swallow us!”

Albus chuckled and his eyes twinkled merrily. “Yes, Professor Snape is a remarkably brave man, and I am glad someone else has also witnessed his courage and bravery.”

“But we must keep my involvement quiet, Albus,” Severus added. “You know my position... it was already endangered when I had to send my Patronus to Minerva. We must make sure everyone believes that Potter killed the Basilisk.”

“I believe I shall quietly remove any memories of the said Patronus from her mind, as well as the minds of Filius and all the others who might have heard of it. I trust we can count on your discretion, Hermione?”

“Yes, Professor, but it hardly seems fair. He deserves the honour of the kill, and I really didn't do anything...”

“Professor Snape's life would be in grave danger, Hermione. I will explain this to you one day, perhaps, but not today. Can I count on your maturity and wisdom to protect Professor Snape this way?”

“Yes, sir, of course,” the girl promised, although she was obviously unhappy.

“Very well then. I think it would be more prudent if you work on Ginevra's memory, Severus?”

“You're better at it than I am, but I know what I'm looking for,” Severus said. “I shall remove the memory of my presence in the Chamber of Secrets completely, and modify it to include me only after the latter door had been reopened,” Severus explained. “She'll remember waking up there, with only Potter present, and that she helped her out of the Chamber, where upon opening the door, they found me.”

Severus knelt next to Weasley and modified her memories, carefully adjusting them to omit his involvement. He could trust Albus and probably Potter herself, but Miss Weasley was too loud, too social and, like most young girls, very likely to blurt out secrets. Fishing out a couple of vials from his pockets, he looked at Albus. “Shall I wake her up? I doused her with a strong Potion for Dreamless Sleep.”

“Let her sleep until her parents arrive. She'll calm down better with her mother close by. Severus, may I have a few words in private? Hermione, would you wait here with Ginevra? There are some chocolates in that jar over there, they might cheer you up,” Albus said, patting Hermione's hair that had gone from merely wild to a veritable hurricane-induced disaster field during their adventure, and currently stuck to every direction in a messy tangle.

After they'd entered Albus' private sitting room, Albus looked at Severus. “The book was a Horcrux, then?”

“Indeed,” Severus replied, “And she destroyed it with a Basilisk's tooth. In fact, I managed to...”

Just then the voice of Molly Weasley broke the air: she was fussing loudly in the stars, certainly loud enough for her voice to echo all the way to Albus' private rooms. Albus nodded and said, “We'll finish this later, Severus. For now we must make sure the Weasleys calm down and that Hermione won't say anything we don't wish her to say.”

Nodding, Severus followed Albus to the office just as Minerva and Filius guided Molly and Arthur Wesley inside. Molly and Arthur both rushed to the side of their sleeping daughter, Molly whimpering in fear.

“Calm down, Molly, she's merely asleep,” Albus placated the parents. “Severus, will you give her the antidote? And some Calming Draught wouldn't go amiss, I should think. She's gone through a terrible ordeal, but Hermione here saved her life.”

Severus woke up Weasley from her sleep. The girl's expression was disoriented at first, and then her face contorted first to fear and then desperation, as she clunk to her mother, sobbing uncontrollably. “Ginny!” Mrs Weasley cried, clutching her daughter to her chest, while Arthur held them both, his eyes closed.

“And Hermione!” Molly Weasley said. “Minerva told us you saved her! How did you do it?”

“I think we'd all like to know the whole story,” Minerva said, glancing at Albus and Severus irritably.

And so Severus told his story again, lying that he'd been locked out of the Chamber of Secrets while Hermione had killed the Basilisk. He could tell by the expression on Molly's face that she didn't believe him, that she rather suspected Severus had allowed Hermione to go alone into the Chamber, or possibly encouraged her to go alone. Severus barely cared: he was all too used to being suspected, but still, it stung. He didn't omit Ginny's involvement in the case, and Molly looked at her daughter in horror.

“She didn't mean to!” Hermione added quickly. “She was being controlled by You Know Who, or a memory of him, preserved in the diary when he was sixteen. Ginny thought it was a diary and wrote in it, and he enchanted her through it, and finally controlled her. He was trying to kill her, you see? Eat her up so he'd live again. It wasn't really her fault. She couldn't help it. Please, sir, please don't expel her,” she pleaded the Headmaster.

Severus remembered the things Riddle told Hermione of Ginevra Weasley's jealously, and marvelled at her forgiveness.

“You Know Who was controlling our daughter?” Arthur stuttered, horrified.

“It would appear so. Very few people know that Lord Voldemort was once called Tom Riddle. I taught him myself, fifty years ago, at Hogwarts. He was once the most brilliant student Hogwarts has ever seen. He disappeared after leaving the school... travelled far and wide... sank so deeply into the Dark Arts, consorted with the very worst of our kind, underwent so many dangerous, magical transformations, that when he resurfaced as Lord Voldemort, he was barely recognisable. Hardly anyone connected Lord Voldemort with the clever, handsome boy who was once the Head Boy here.”

“Ginny!” Arthur Weasley said. “Haven't I taught you anything? What have I...”

“Please, Mr Weasley,” Hermione begged. “Don't be angry at her. It really isn't her fault.”

“Yes, Hermione, I do understand, but she does need to learn not to handle suspicious objects clearly full of Dark Magic.”

“I found it inside one of the books Mum got me. I th-thought someone had just left it in there and forgotten about it...” Ginevra Weasley tried to explain, still sobbing.

“Arthur, Molly, I think you should take Miss Weasley to the hospital wing. This has been a terrible ordeal for her. There will be no punishment. Older and wiser wizards than she have been hoodwinked by Lord Voldemort. Bed rest and perhaps a large, steaming mug of hot chocolate. Give her the Calming Draught, Severus,” Albus advised. “Filius, go with them. Madam Pomfrey might still be awake, but if she isn't, you know where the cocoa is.”

“Take this, Weasley,” Severus said, giving the girl the vial. The girl drank it and grimaced at the taste, calming down almost immediately. Severus took the empty vial back and pocketed it after a quick Scourgify.

As Molly and Arthur left with their daughter, Albus sighed. “It shan't be long now until the Mandrake Juice is ready, and then we'll be able to wake the Basilisk's victims. And we'll be able to clear Hagrid's name, I should think. They've never believed in his innocence, and now we can tell them he never did open the Chamber of Secrets. He'll be pleased to know he's no longer a suspect when he wakes up.”

“They'd have arrested him, wouldn't they? If he hadn't been Petrified?” Hermione asked.

“I'm afraid so. They would have sent him to Azkaban, and that is a terrible place to be, even for a short while. You did well, Hermione,” Albus said, petting her mad hair.

Just then the door opened violently, and Lucius Malfoy stepped in, looking absolutely livid, followed by his house-elf that was wrapped in bandages all over. The creature was cowering, looking absolutely terrified as it followed its master into the room.

Severus saw Hermione flinch and her eyes widen. “Sir,” she said quietly, just as Lucius began to rant at Albus. “I really need to talk to Draco right now.”

“What? Now?”

“Yes, it's really really important,” she whispered back. “He needs to be here, as soon as possible. Can we go get him?”

“If you really think so...” Severus replied, as Lucius cast a glance at them.

“Good evening, Mr Malfoy,” Hermione greeted the blonde man politely. “I just thought you might wish to talk a few words with your son, seeing as you've not seen Draco in a while. I'll go get him now,” she quickly said, dashing out of the room before Malfoy could say a word. Severus saw his eyes grow slightly wider: Lucius hadn't expected that, certainly anything but that. He followed Potter out, down the stairs.

“There's a shortcut down to the dungeons here,” he said, gesturing to a portrait, “but if you ever try to use it without my express permission, I will have you in detention for the rest of your days. And now will you explain to me why we need to get Malfoy to have a nice chat with his father?” he snarled as they walked briskly down the hidden stairs that would lead them almost directly outside Slytherin common room.

“Mr Malfoy slipped the diary to Ginny's cauldron,” she explained.

“He what?”

“In Flourish and Blotts. Just this summer. We were picking up school supplies, and Mr Malfoy picked up her Transfiguration book. He must have slipped the diary inside it.”

“That is a serious allegation, Miss Potter,” Severus said, whispering the password to the portrait outside Slytherin common room. “You have no proof, have you?”

“No, that's why I didn't tell him that,” Hermione replied, stepping boldly into Slytherin territory. The students paused as they saw the Gryffindor crest on her robes and recognised her, possibly by the hair, but none of them protested out loud when they saw she was being escorted by their Head of House.

“Get Draco Malfoy,” Severus snapped at a Prefect who'd been lounging in one of the most comfortable chairs, “And do not slouch!” Several Slytherins corrected their bad postures, while others tried to get up off the floor where they'd been playing Gobstones.

“Hermione!” Draco Malfoy shouted as he rushed down the stairs from the dormitory. “You're all right!”

“I'm fine. I need your help. Your father's in the Headmaster's office...” she said, snatching Draco by the hand and almost yanked the boy off his feet, though Draco was much taller than she was, and dragged him by the hand out the exit. Draco yelped at the first yank, stumbling a bit, protesting for a while, but followed quite obediently. The girl pressed her head closer to him and whispered at him, her tone bossy, as usual. Draco tried to protest, and Hermione slapped him at the back of his head, almost sending him stumbling.

“Oh fine, I'll do it,” Draco whined. “Did you have to slap me so hard!”

And as he followed the two students back, allowing them entry through the shortcut, he realised that though Draco Malfoy was used to being worshipped by little thugs like Crabbe and Goyle or followed loyally by people like Parkinson, Nott and Zabini, Hermione Potter was Draco Malfoy's best friend, and that Draco Malfoy absolutely adored her.

Chapter Text

Severus Snape, April 10th, 1993 (cont'd)

 

Just before they reached the gargoyle, Hermione stopped Draco. “Wait, we'll need to take off your sock!”

“Mine? Why can't we use yours?”

“You have trousers! Nobody will spot one missing!”

“Mine are better quality,” Malfoy sniffed.

Severus looked at the children quietly, unwilling to reveal his ignorance of what on earth they were planning.

“Fine,” Potter sighed, “we don't have time to argue!” She toed off her left shoe, removed her sock and replaced the shoe, taking a hold of Draco for balance, and still almost managed to trip them on the floor in her hurry. Finally she shoved the sock into Draco's unwilling hands: the boy look it like it'd been a dirty rag used to scrub toilets and made a face at Potter.

“Shut up!” the girl snapped, “You insisted using my sock, so now bloody well do it!”

“Language, Potter,” Severus remarked, and went completely unnoticed.

“Fine,” Malfoy sighed. “But make it look convincing, will you? You really are an awful liar...”

“Shut it, Draco,” she said and walked to the gargoyle. Severus gave the gargoyle the password and the two children entered the staircase, whispering at each other, both looking nervous, although the girl was also very determined. When they'd reached the door, Potter snatched a good hold of Malfoy's collar by one hand and by his back with another.

“You'll ruin my collar!” Malfoy whined. She cast him a withering glare and simply asked, “Ready?” Malfoy nodded, and the children entered the Headmaster's office.

Whatever Lucius had told Albus, it was finished: Lucius looked furious and seething as he glanced at the students who'd entered. Only very few miniscule marks belayed the love Lucius felt for his son: to an outsider Lucius seemed very cold and indifferent, but Severus knew the Malfoys well enough to know they adored their only son and heir, though they'd raised him to the pure-blood ideals and almost completely spoiled him. It'd taken a year by Hermione Potter's side, among her band on little brigands, to shake off at least some of his foolishness.

“Good day, Father!” Malfoy greeted the man. He held Potter's sock behind his back.

“Draco,” Lucius said curtly, nodding. “Miss Potter here seemed keen to fetch you. How are your studies progressing?”

“Well, thank you...” the boy started, until Hermione gave him a little push further. Lucius looked at her, his eyes drawn to a missing sock on her foot, his eyebrows furrowing in confusion.

“You seem to have misplaced your sock, Miss Potter?” he drawled, “Is this the way the school upholds uniform standards, Headmaster?” he asked scathingly from Albus.

Potter shoved Draco forwards again, and the boy cast a quick glance at her. “Hello Dobby,” he said to the house-elf, “Take this, please,” and handed the confused house-elf the sock he'd been hiding behind his back.

At that very moment Severus realised what the children had done. Dobby the house-elf looked at the sock in his hand and gasped, “Young Master Malfoy had given Dobby a sock! Dobby is free!”

“Draco!” Lucius Malfoy roared in outrage, and Hermione pulled the boy back pushing herself in front of him. She glared at the proud Lord Malfoy defiantly.

“Draco, how dare you...!” Lucius gasped, and Hermione glowered at the blonde man in front of her, a full Gryffindor on a mission.

“I made him,” she said.

“The proud Malfoy heir catering to a blood-traitor? Being bossed around by a chit of a girl?!” Lucius raged. “Dobby, I am your Master, not Draco. He had no permission to give you clothes!”

“Young Master Draco was Master Draco,” Dobby said defiantly. “and Master Draco gave Dobby a sock! Dobby is free!”

“Draco's my friend, Mr Malfoy,” Hermione Potter said, staring bravely into the man's eyes, “And now Dobby is free.”

“Well then,” Albus finally decided to meddle, “it seems like you're short of an elf, Lucius. I know you have several, you won't miss one. I'm afraid our business was already concluded, and I do have a school to run. You can find your own way out, can't you?”

Lucius hissed in fury, glared in rage at the children and Albus, and left without a backwards glance. Draco Malfoy sagged in relief, and Hermione hugged him, while the elf looked at the boy adoringly.

“Master Draco set Dobby free!” the elf squeaked in delight.

“Hermione here made me, and it was her sock, but yes, you're free,” Draco said.

The house-elf grinned toothily at them both, his eyes wide with adoration.

“You tried to warn me, didn't you?” Hermione said. “All those things you did were just to warn me, to protect me?”

“Yes,” the elf admitted, trying to fit Hermione's small sock to his foot.

“Thank you, Dobby, though I'd ask you not to do it again. I really didn't like the methods,” she said. “Dobby, this here is Headmaster Dumbledore, and Professor Snape,” Potter introduced them to the elf, and the creature's eyes grew wider with wonder.

“It is a great honour, sirs,” it gasped, fingering the hems of his pillowcase.

“Do you have a place to go, Dobby? A home?”

“No, Hermione Potter, Dobby cannot go to Malfoy home again.”

“You could live with me, if you want? I don't want a slave, but I can help you search for work. Real work where you'd be paid. Then you wouldn't be a slave. I'm sure we can find someone who would pay you for work,” she suggested, and Severus' eyebrow rose involuntarily: elves were never paid, and they loved to serve. Severus looked at Albus quickly and saw his amusement.

“Oh yes, Hermione Potter, Dobby would be thrilled!” the elf squeaked, his large eyes glistening.

“I'm sure we could talk about possible employment, Dobby,” Dumbledore added. “If you wish, we could perhaps discuss later tonight. I'd insist giving you some free time, and a weekly payment,” he added generously.

“Sir!” Dobby said happily, “Sir, Dobby would be honoured! Dobby will be glad to talk with Professor Dumbledore, sir! Professor Dumbledore is a great man, all house-elves know of Professor Dumbledore!”

“We shall talk later, Dobby, if you don't mind that I will call for you when I have more time?” Albus asked kindly.

“Yes, Professor Dumbledore sir, thank you, Professor Dumbledore sir!” the house-elf squeaked and Disapparated.

“Well done, the both of you,” Albus said to the children. “You've saved an unhappy creature from great misery. I think you both deserve points for what was done and gained today: I would say two hundred points apiece for both Gryffindor and Slytherin.”

Both Draco and Hermione grinned happily. The expression no longer seemed weird on the face of the blond Slytherin boy, who'd been an intolerable brat in his first year.

“You're not fired any more, sir?” Potter asked.

“I am not suspended, no,” Albus replied. “It seems there was some confusion among the board of governors about what has happened here... amongst other things,” he continued evasively, without a doubt because of the Malfoy heir. The boy's face flushed in shame for his father, and Albus noticed.

“You are not your father, young Draco,” Albus said gently. “You have been a true and loyal friend to Hermione, and the love and loyalty we show to our friends has the ability to make us all better and more noble than anything else. Indeed, friendship and love are something infinitely more valuable than power or position.” The boy looked at Albus, and now his face seemed much more relaxed. Hermione took the boy's hand and squeezed it, and the boy squeezed it back.

“Now, you two run along. It'll take us some time before the Petrified students can be revived, but there's a lot to do. I will need to find replacements for Professor Lockhart and Professor Sinistra. We can lift the curfew now. I think this calls for a feast, in fact! And I believe you, Hermione, can have a singing lesson with Hestia tomorrow,” Albus added.

“No,” Severus said coldly, “she'll be in detention, picking the Basilisk into pieces tomorrow. Report at my office at 10 o'clock, Potter!” Malfoy looked like he was about to protest, but Potter kicked him swiftly in the shin. The boy yelped and glared at her.

“Well then,” Albus said with an unnerving twinkle in his eyes, “I cannot argue with that. I think I shall join you as well. I believe as Headmaster I should see the Chamber of Secrets for myself, as well as the Basilisk so bravely slain. Now, run along, you two,” he said to the students. You may freely go to your dormitories. I shall have a few more words with Severus, and then I shall announce the feast!”

As the children departed, Albus waited until they'd left and made sure they were no longer there, possibly eavesdropping. Potter never would have, Severus knew, but Malfoy was Slytherin. When he was convinced they were alone, he grew serious.

“The tooth she used to destroy the Horcrux. Did you bring it, or was it destroyed?”

“I have it, as well as two others that got severed with a spell I used. The mouth was surprisingly vulnerable. I shall harvest the rest tomorrow,” Severus promised with a smirk. “There will be plenty for the Order.”

“Excellent,” Albus said, “well done. I have great respect for you, my boy,” — at this point Severus snorted cynically, remembering some of the things Albus had said, and knowing all too well he was being used — “but you have outdone yourself. Now we have a way to destroy the Horcruxes. If you could please leave the fangs with me?”

Severus gave him the bag, which Albus hid into his desk. “And did he recognise you?” Albus asked, and Severus knew what he meant.

“No. It seems to me the Horcrux had only the memories of the sixteen-year old he was when he created it. The rest of the knowledge he possessed came from Miss Weasley, who'd written in the book. It recognised me as her Potions Master and Head of Slytherin, but it did not seem to sense my Dark Mark, at least not in its current dormant state. If he'd been more real, however... he wasn't completely corporeal when we got there.”

“There's a risk that Tom, where he'd hiding right now, might know what happened to his Horcrux and who killed his Basilisk. Your position as our spy may have been compromised.”

“We have no proof of that,” Severus argued.

“No proof either way, and that worries me,” Albus said with a sigh. “Get some rest, my boy, you have earned it. I shall arrange a celebratory feast for this occasion, but you should rest while you still have the time.”

Severus was about to leave, when Albus' eyes set on the Invisibility Cloak Severus was holding. “Is that Hermione's cloak?” he asked.

“Yes. She wanted me to keep it for now. She didn't feel secure with it in her trunk and wanted me to keep it for her. I agreed: if the word gets out she has it, half the insipid teenaged girls will be trying to steal it for various sordid encounters with their paramours.”

“I could keep it safe for her,” Albus suggested, and Severus felt an instant stab of suspicion: did Albus not trust him to give it back? Did he not trust him to keep it safe for her?

“She asked me to hold it for her, and I shall keep it safe, Albus,” he replied. “She'll get it back when the summer begins, and I will invent a way to keep it safe from the hands of further little thieves.” Albus made no protest, but Severus was quite certain Albus had thought of something that he didn't want to reveal to Severus. There was that sting again: he was needed and used, but very rarely really trusted, was he? Albus sighed and gestured that he was free to leave, and Severus folded the Invisibility Cloak neatly to his arm.

“Oh and Severus, please do not be too harsh on the girl,” he added. “If she hadn't taken the Basilisk on and had waited for more people to get involved, I'm sure at least someone would have died.”

Albus shooed Severus from his office, and, though he was loath to admit it, Severus felt quite relieved. He was utterly exhausted from the exertion and stress they'd encountered. He stalked to his quarters, but after closing the door behind him, he didn't bother removing his clothes and merely collapsed on his bed, asleep almost immediately when his head hit his pillow.

 

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Severus Snape, April 11th, 1993

 

The celebratory feast had been appreciated by the students, who were already bored of the strict curfew rules that had only been in place for a short moment. They were bursting with energy, friends from other houses greeting each other exuberantly, and relief coursing through everyone now that the threat had been eliminated. Many congratulated Potter, who seemed almost ashamed and embarrassed of the whole thing: she knew she hadn't killed the Basilisk and was ashamed of taking the credit for it. Weasley seemed to be bursting with pride for being a friend of the Basilisk slayer, but Longbottom, Granger and Malfoy seemed to take a hint that she preferred to be left alone and began to usher the others away from her, something that seemed to make her relieved, by the faint but grateful smiles she sent her friends. Her eyes also seemed to drift to the professors almost constantly.

If she'd truly been James Potter's spawn, she'd been basking in the glory and fame, deserved or not, Severus knew. No offspring of Potter would have cared if he deserved the praise or not, but this girl was better. It almost seemed like a shame to punish her with detention.

Well, almost. She'd deserved it, really, jumping to danger like that, no matter what Albus said. And, of course, she was the only person who could open the Chamber of Secrets now: they needed the teeth, and the rest would be very useful as potion ingredients. He could use a bit of that Basilisk hide, he thought, maybe have it made into a pair of gloves, those would be useful. The blood would be useful as well...

At exactly ten o'clock Severus heard her knock on the door of his office. “Enter,” he called, and she did, dressed in her customary school uniform and greeting him with a cheery “good morning, Professor Snape!” Severus had spent some time gathering supplies: strong axes, saws, various knives, protective aprons and gloves placed in a bag with an Undetectable Extension Charm. He wore one of his older attires: clothes could get quite soiled in such gruelling work. Chopping up a Basilisk was no easy feat. Severus smirked: she'd probably lose those shiny shoes.

“We shall be off then, Potter,” Severus clipped. “The Headmaster shall meet us in the bathroom.” He walked briskly to Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, Potter almost jogging behind him to keep up with his pace, but Severus didn't feel like delaying.

There were various students milling about in the corridor around the bathroom, and Moaning Myrtle was thoroughly enjoying the attention, regaling them with the take of what she'd seen. The students flinched as Severus approached, a gesture belaying their fear that he was very familiar and satisfied with. “On a count of three, anyone milling about without any true cause shall loose ten points each!” he bellowed. “One, two...” the corridor was nearly empty when he got to three, with only some speedily retreating backs in sight. Severus allowed himself a satisfied smirk and entered the bathroom.

He'd expected Albus, of course, but he hadn't expected Filius, Minerva, Hooch and Silvanus, who all were looking at them expectantly. “It seems like the others also wished to see the Chamber of Secrets,” Albus said happily.

“This is detention for Potter, not a holiday trip,” Severus said testily. “We're chopping up a Basilisk carcass! Why don't you bloody well bring a picnic basket while you're at it?”

“Severus! Language!” Minerva chided with a gasp, looking at Miss Potter standing behind him, while Albus' eyes twinkled merrily.

“Oh, a splendid idea, Severus!” he said, and clapped his hands summoning a house-elf, requesting a picnic spread to be delivered in a basket for them. The elf beamed and Disapparated, and Severus groaned in defeat, shaking his head.

“Open the blo... open the entrance, Potter, before Dumbledore decides to summon the whole school, along with representatives of the Daily Prophet and the whole board of governors,” he hissed quietly, afraid that Albus might overhear and decide that it, too, was a splendid idea indeed, and they'd end up trekking through the tunnels with four dozen people in tow.

Hermione did as he ordered, and the trek to the Chamber of Secrets was far more relaxed then the previous day's journey had been. Severus set Potter to the task of assisting in the chopping: the girl looked a little green around the gills by the time they got to extracting the heart, and Severus smirked openly as Hooch lost her breakfast in the corner, but Hermione was obedient and seemed to almost enjoy her detention. Albus gladly took the fangs that Severus carefully extracted from the cold carcass, and placed them in protective bags.

The extra people turned out to be useful when it came to transporting the various parts: he sent them off several times to deliver the parts through the tunnel, where Hooch would hoist them up the pipe. Filius had cleaned the pipe with a quick Charm, and the others also helped by casting Charms for cleaning their attires and equipment. Severus cast various protective Charms over himself and Hermione to protect their skin from contact with the creature's blood and secretions. Albus also cast a strong Impervious Charm on her shoes and clothes.

It took them several hours of gruelling work, although the job got a lot easier once the spell-resistant hide was removed and they could use spells to sever the parts. Severus felt jubilant when he inventoried the various extremely rare and valuable Basilisk parts they'd managed to extract: as the one who'd slain the Basilisk, he'd received a quiet permission from Albus to use or sell any other parts to his own account and keep the profit, and he intended to do just that. He'd be able to brew some great potions, and various apothecaries and other Potions Masters would pay well for some of these things...

Feeling much better, he set about quickly penning a missive to Slug & Jiggers, for starters.

Chapter Text

Severus Snape, April 12th — June 19th, 1993

 

The last weeks after he'd slain the Basilisk were relatively satisfying to Severus. He didn't show any of it in the classes, of course: he still deducted points (especially from the Gryffindors), berated the them (especially the Gryffindors), made snide and caustic remarks (especially to the Gryffindors) and sneered at them all. He actually managed to make a third-year girl cry (A Hufflepuff, which wasn't as satisfying as making a Gryffindor cry, but one could hardly expect everything to go perfectly, right? Right.)

He'd sold some of the Basilisk parts and make a nice amount of Galleons to deposit into his otherwise quite empty vault at Gringott's. He'd spent a small amount on an interesting book and a fine-quality silver cauldron to his home laboratory, but saving most of the money for a rainy day, something he'd barely been able to do before: he'd actually quadrupled the meagre amount of money in his vault. He'd also acquired various rarer ingredients in trades, and he'd managed to snatch a few of the smaller Basilisk fangs for rare and valuable Basilisk venom for his own experiments.

He'd sent the Basilisk's hide to a professional who'd used some of it to craft him a pair of gloves. The man had taken some of the hide as payment for the work and paid for the rest of it: another large pouch of golden Galleons for Gringott's, Severus smirked. The gloves would resist magic and potions better than dragonhide, yet the gloves would be supple and his hands wouldn't sweat in them. They'd most likely last a lifetime.

Hermione hadn't been as satisfied. She seemed to detest the attention she received from her schoolmates, and preferred not to speak about the matter. The others seemed to find it odd, but it was written off as modesty as well as a traumatic experience.

Ginevra Weasley seemed to bounce right back: she had apparently gotten over the jealousy she'd felt towards Potter, and she, as well as a blonde Ravenclaw first-year called Lovegood, were integrated tighter into the growing group around Potter.

Lucius Malfoy lost his place in the board of governors and Lockhart had been sent to St. Mungo's: the man seemed half out of his mind. Severus had seen him stop by a mirror once, address it and tell his own image 'You are very pretty, you know,' after which he'd spent quite a while trying to chat his own reflection off. The Charmed mirror had been incredibly confused, and when Madam Pomfrey had managed to wrestle Lockhart back to his bed, Severus had locked himself into an empty storage room, cast a Muffliato and laughed so much he had to wipe tears out of his eyes. The ministry sent temporary replacements for the Petrified Aurora as well as the incapacitated Lockhart. The Auror who'd replaced Lockhart for the final weeks was about to retire anyway, and had specialised in training rookie Aurors: he was loud, obnoxious, and the students had probably never been as exhausted as after his lessons. Potter, of course, was thrilled.

Albus cancelled the exams as a 'school treat', which made the staff at least as happy as the students: nobody liked grading exams. The O.W.L.'s and the N.E.W.T.'s would be sat, of course, but the ministry graded those exams. Truthfully Severus had been torn between telling Albus that Hermione would be disappointed about exams being cancelled, but he decided she'd just have to get over it: and Minerva and Filius as well as some others had already progressed far beyond the second-year syllabus with her, giving her extra exams at every turn: the girl loved her exams, although she revised like a witch possessed for them. Still, her moan of disappointment over the loud cheering from the others was apparent when Albus announced there would be no exams. It was easier for everyone, really, with two teachers incapacitated, others taking care of Hagrid's duties, and two students Petrified in the hospital wing already behind in their studies and needing extra tutoring.

On the 29th the Mandrakes were finally large enough to be cut: after a long day of brewing Poppy administered the cure for the Petrified. Not even Hagrid protested over the Basilisk's death, although the half-giant was usually the first one to try and adopt every monster: being Petrified by a Basilisk was apparently experience enough. Potter's little gang brought Fang to the the hospital wing's doors, and the man and his dog greeted each other enthusiastically. The others were no worse for wear when they came around, although they were all feeling a bit stiff in the muscles and joints, and Severus had also brewed doses of muscle relaxants for them. Albus decided to celebrate this event with another feast: nobody was really surprised, knowing how much Albus enjoyed his celebratory feasts.

After the exams were declared cancelled, Potter was having a hard time getting her friends to concentrate on their studies. Since there was no need to revise for exams, the students spent their spare time wandering around, and Potter's occasionally shrill voice could be overheard all over the school, nagging at them bossily to get back to their books. It was, for the large part, useless: the staff, however, was quite entertained hearing Hermione Potter in her nag mode.

Draco Malfoy's birthday on the fifth of June was celebrated in large scale at the Quidditch pitch. The boy received a large present from his mother, but apparently nothing from his father, who was still extremely outraged. The younger Malfoy didn't seem to mind: the presents he received from his friends across the Houses were very likely to be modest and humble compared to what the pampered boy was used to receiving, but the boy seemed to rejoice in everything. Hermione had invited many of Malfoy's fellow Slytherins as well as the usual Gryffindor-gang, and the invitation had been accepted with moderate grace, although Severus was quite certain it was most likely out of respect for Malfoy rather than Potter. Still, the Quidditch teams for the birthday game were drawn from lots, and thus Nott and Zabini found themselves playing for a team with the Muggle-born Harry Granger as their Seeker.

Meanwhile on the ground level Hermione Potter had arranged a cheerleading team consisting of herself, Luna Lovegood, Ginevra Weasley and Neville Longbottom. After a while they actually managed to drag Pansy Parkinson into the cheering line, which led by Potter seemed to make up their movements as they went along. They were eventually dragged down by Longbottom, who managed to trip over his own feet and brought the others down like a pile of dominoes.

Longbottom's and Ginevra Weasley's birthday was celebrated close on the 17th of June, since they'd both have their birthdays during the summer — Severus hadn't bothered to find out the exact date. Hermione had asked him to come as one of the supervisors but Severus refused to attend a Gryffindor birthday: still, Potter brought him a fine selection of delicacies after the event, and Severus guessed she'd stored some of the best pieces for him from the table. The girl was in very apparent hero worship mode, though she tried to be subtle: she was true a Gryffindor, about as transparent as a sheet of glass and as subtle as an axe. Severus could do nothing but sneer and bare it: he'd never been made into a hero by an adolescent and the feeling was very uncomfortable. The treats from the Longbottom-Weasley-birthday were, however, extremely satisfying, and there was enough to last him several days: he'd never eaten a lot.

Gryffindor, unfortunately, managed to snatch the House Cup this year by a small margin: Severus lost his small wager, but this year he could afford it, and he slipped the Galleons off in good grace. Hermione Potter graced the leaving feast with a song: she sang the 'Scarborough Fair', an ancient Wizarding song describing miraculous deeds and a potion. Muggles had adapted a simpler, shorter version of it and it was quite popular, but the Wizarding version was longer and much more fascinating. The students and staff were in awe as her clear, beautiful voice soared in the Great Hall: even many of the ghosts had gathered to hear her sing.

Finally, on the last day of term, the students were sent off to Hogsmeade for their train ride back to London. Hermione seemed much more exited this year, when she wasn't being sent back to the Dursley's: she'd be picked up from London by Lupin and Jones, who'd escort her to the Order's safe house for the summer.

 

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Severus Snape, June 22nd, 1993

 

Severus had spent a few days at mandatory meetings with the rest of the staff, cleaning his storage cupboards and transporting his items to Spinner's End, but he'd also dedicated some of his time to research Potter's Invisibility Cloak. The item was a marvel, Severus thought jealously as he examined it carefully: in pristine condition despite the years of use, the enchantments supreme, its weave of the finest quality. He had no idea how much one would have had to pay for such an item.

He sighed and undressed, heading to bed after a quick shower. The dungeons were still chilly though the weather outside was relatively warm: Severus burrowed his way under his various blankets and sighed, whispered “Nox” to extinguish the last light, closing his exhausted eyes.

Invisibility Cloaks were rare and valuable, and their enchantments usually wore off quite soon. And James Potter with his gang, playing with it like it was a toy, tormenting him with it. This rare, valuable... Hermione treated it with more respect than Potter ever had. Respect, like an object of such fine make would deserve.

His mind began to drift to his childhood, moments drifting by, and he forcefully shifted his focus away from the torment he'd been subjected to at Hogwarts. He tried to remember how he'd read in the attic of Spinner's End, reading through the old books belonging to his mother. Her old books of Wizarding fairy tales, the Tales of Beedle the Bard...

Suddenly, his eyes snapped open in the dark, and his black eyes darted around the ceiling. His hand snatched his wand, and hi cast Lumos, staggering out of bed in a fumble of covers and sheets. He'd hidden the Invisibility Cloak into a cupboard that he'd enchanted, protecting it from house-elves, creatures and humans alike. He quickly dismantled the protections and took the cloak into his shaking hands.

Could it be? Was it? It couldn't it, could it? They were a legend, surely?

It had to be. He was holding in his hands one of the Deathly Hallows: the Cloak of Invisibility.

 

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

 

Remus Lupin, June 19th — June 29th, 1993

 

The safe house was filled with people on the date when Hermione's train arrived from Hogwarts. They cheered when Remus and Hestia arrived with Hermione, who was securely clutched by Hestia for side-along Apparition, and many rushed outside or to the door to welcome her in. Molly Weasley had prepared a welcoming feast, though she herself had left earlier to welcome her own children and take them to the Burrow. Hermione received a multitude of hugs from all around the Order, along with congratulations for slaying the Basilisk. She seemed reluctant to accept them or even talk about it.

Life settled to a new routine relatively easily for Hermione: she worked hard on her homework, finishing up essay after essay, browsing her books and on occasion asking someone to pick up a book or three for her from the Hogwarts library. Her essays were much longer than required, often exceeding the length by several scrolls, although Snape groaned in pain when he saw the essay he'd set on Shrinking Potions: a whole scroll more than he'd ordered. Lupin had begun giving her extra tutoring a week after she'd arrived from the school: he would have given her a longer time to rest, but Hermione was having none of it, claiming that working was actually a holiday for her. Albus had promised Remus that he might be able to take Hermione to Hogwarts by floo so that she might practise defensive spells with her wand, not just in theory.

She sent and received letters frequently: an odd one here and there from Harry Granger, who'd gone with his parents to France, and an occasional one from Ron and Ginny Weasley. Her most frequent correspondence seemed to be with Neville Longbottom and Draco Malfoy: both only children of pure-blood families and trained on writing letters. Harry Granger and Ronald Weasley seemed to be closest to each other, but Neville and young Draco Malfoy seemed to consider her their best and closest friend. She wrote to them in turn, and Remus was quite certain a lot of it consisted of badgering them to do their essays, though he never pried.

Severus and Albus became much more frequent at the safe house a week after the term had ended: Albus had already settled to hiring Rubeus Hagrid to teach Care of Magical Creatures, and was currently trying to negotiate for the next Professor for Defence. Apparently the substitute they'd had for Lockhart was very competent, although Albus told them that his lessons could be heard two floors up and down before they'd cast some spells to silence his loud voice. The man was keen to retire, and Albus would probably have to use a lot of persuasion to convince him to stay. As of now, though, he considered other things to be of more importance.

A meeting for the Order of the Phoenix was called on the 29th of June. Hermione had been sent upstairs with a some new books for a school assignment, and the adults crowded into a meeting room. As they settled around the table and Molly Weasley bustled around pouring tea and offering sandwiches and cakes, Albus stood up and called them to order. He had already briefed them on the discovery and subsequent destruction of the first Horcrux — although the Horcruxes were to be kept a secret from Hermione — and Lucius Malfoy's involvement in the attempt.

“And yet his son is befriending her,” Doge protested, his voice accusatory. “No good will come of it!”

“He means her no harm, Elphias,” Albus said calmly. “I have peeked into his mind. He might have been asked to befriend her, but their friendship is genuine.”

“You used Legilimency on a boy, Albus?” Hestia chided the Headmaster. “He's only a boy!”

“I was very careful and he never noticed me. My first duty is to protect her...”

“Isn't your first duty to the school and all the students?” Hestia snapped.

Albus shook his head. “Hermione is the most important person for this war. She is also my ward, under my legal care, not to mention I love her like she was my own child. I did no harm to young Draco, I only gauged his emotions and intentions towards Hermione.”

“And what were those?” Elphias asked.

“Friendship and loyalty. He is Slytherin and does feel that friendship with her may profit him one day, but he also truly cares for her. As well as the others in the group,” Albus added, gazing at Molly and Arthur.

Molly nodded. “Ginny, Ron, Fred and George have all said that he's become a good friend to all, including Harry Granger. If the boy cares not a whit about Harry being a Muggle-born, nor how bad things have been between the Malfoys and the Weasleys then he's a fine boy, especially compared to his parents,” she said with a derisive sniff. “We've only met him a few times at King's Court and at Diagon Alley, but he's been polite, unlike his father.”

“Whatever Lucius' ambitions are, Draco isn't taking part in his plans, at least not voluntarily,” Albus said. “However, I shall not let her visit Malfoy Manor or any other of the Malfoy estates. Lucius is a Death Eater, and a loyal one at that, but Draco is not his father. Wouldn't you agree, Severus?”

“Yes,” Snape said from the corner he'd taken. His chair was pushed back against a wall the farthest away from everyone, his black eyes as cold as ever, his face emotionless. “I have no doubt that Lucius will be playing for the other side. Of course, if things get rough for them, his first and furthermost loyalty is always to himself and to his family.”

“So he'll switch sides if they begin to loose?” Shacklebolt asked.

“Likely so,” Severus concurred. “Or at least try to appear neutral.” The expressions on the faces of the other people showed exactly how they felt, and Remus remembered what James had once said: 'Slytherins are always like that... taking care of themselves first, then their family and money. Nothing else really matters to them!'

“Back to the Horcruxes,” Albus said. “The first one is, as I told you earlier, gone. After Hermione told me about the memory of Tom she'd met in the Chamber of Secrets, I got an idea of where another Horcrux might be hidden. Tom Riddle was the son of Merope Gaunt and a Muggle also called Tom Riddle. Merope in turn was the daughter of Marvolo Gaunt, and Tom's middle name comes from him. I believe there is a good chance that one of the Horcruxes may be hidden in the old homestead of Marvolo Gaunt.”

“Which one?” Daedalus Diggle inquired.

“I do not know, not yet,” Albus said. “I shall see soon. It is a logical place to hide one. The cottage has been abandoned for years. I intend to go looking for it.”

“I shall accompany you,” Kingsley said in his usual calm manner.

“Me too,” Remus said. “There might be traps laid there. It's good to have backup.”

Albus nodded slowly. “I intended to go alone, but you might be right. Severus, would you also accompany us? You're the best expert we have on Dark Arts.”

“As you wish,” Severus said quietly.

“Kingsley, you have the busiest schedule of us all. Can you arrange a time for us all to meet? I think we should move as soon as possible, now that we have the means to destroy the Horcrux.”

“Shall we continue searching for alternative means?” Emmeline Vance asked.

“In smaller scale, perhaps,” Albus said. “We do have a good amount of Basilisk fangs: I have brought a few, and I shall leave them here, readily available in case someone needs one. Right now it would be detrimental to find out what the other Horcruxes are and who has them. If Lucius had one, the other loyal Death Eaters might have some as well. Severus, can you give a list of every name in the Dark Lord's inner circle you know of, dead as well as those alive today, and all the names you know of those who are not in the inner circle?”

Severus nodded curtly, and Albus continued, “I believe those of you in a position of do so could keep an eye on the people on that list. Find out who they are, where they live, and if they'd be in possession of a Horcrux, where might they have hidden it.”

“On that note,” Arthur Weasley interrupted, “I hope you won't mind that Molly and I won't be of much help this summer. It just so happens I've won the Daily Prophet draw, and with the money Molly and I shall take the children to Egypt, to see our Bill.”

The congratulations from everyone except Severus interrupted the conversation for quite a while. Molly was obviously thrilled, and Arthur beamed: the Weasleys were not a well-off family, and they hadn't had a proper holiday in years.

“A holiday will do you good,” Albus said. “Do go freely and enjoy yourselves, you have earned it!”

“Thank you,” Arthur said. “We shall be leaving in about three weeks.”

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

Severus Snape, June 29th, 1993

After the meeting Severus took the Invisibility Cloak upstairs, where Miss Potter had been doing her work. The chit was sprawling on the floor, her wild and frizzy hair sticking to every direction, wearing clothes that looked very loose and comfortable, and twirling her quill in her hands as she read from three books at once, her eyes jumping from one to another as she scanned the lines. She looked up as Severus opened the door, and her face lit up with a delighted smile.

“Professor!” she exclaimed, “You're here!”

“I am, Miss Potter, although temporarily for now. I've come to return your cloak.”

“My cloak...? Oh, the Invisibility Cloak! Did you like it?”

“It's a cloak, Potter, an invisible one. I've kept it safe for you. I have devised a series of Charms that will keep your Cloak safe, although I shall have to teach them to you some other time, when you can practise with your wand and actually cast the Charms yourself.”

Severus had, truthfully, enjoyed the Cloak of Invisibility. He'd used it to sneak around the castle unseen, trailing after Minerva, Filius and Hagrid all in their turns, spying on them shamelessly with a boyish grin on his face hidden under that blasted cloak that had made his youth a bit more of a misery.

“Mr Lupin — I mean Remus — promised me we'd be going to the school several times this summer to practise Defence. Perhaps you could show me then, sir?”

Severus nodded. “Perhaps.” Then he cast a sharp look at her. “Usually I would protest to a student holding such an object at school, but seeing as the Headmaster himself surrendered it for your use, and that you have not abused it nor allowed your little friends abuse it, I shan't voice any of my concerns... for now. I suggest you make sure you won't disappoint me in that manner, Potter,” he said, raising a challenging eyebrow.

“No, sir, I won't,” the girl promised, and Severus nodded.

“Good. Make sure you remember.” He turned and left the room. “Good day, Potter.”

 

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

Remus Lupin, July 5th, 1993

Less than a week later, on the 5th of July, Remus dressed up in his most flexible and worn-out clothes, ready for the trip to search for the second Horcrux. Albus had warned them that the cottage at Little Hangleton was in near ruins: he'd visited the site briefly alone, but they'd agreed he wouldn't enter alone: he'd Apparate them side-along, Severus first, then by Kingsley and Remus.

The other men looked grave and concerned. Severus had brought several potions for emergencies, and Kingsley had acquired some interesting equipment to study and store Dark artefacts. Albus himself gave them each a Basilisk fang, and told them to handle them with care: a wound from a poisonous fang might prove lethal. Remus took his gingerly, holding it in his gloved hand before storing it in his pocket: he'd received the pair of gloves from Hermione for his birthday, a fine pair of excellent quality. They'd kept his hands comfortably warm.

Remus hated side-along Apparition: it always left him nauseous. He shook his head and took in his surroundings. The cottage was situated between large trees, hidden in the shade of their leaves. The entire house was speckled with moss, grime and dirt, most of the roof tiles lay broken on the ground around it, and the roof itself had sagged under the weight of the years. The windows were very small and grey with dirt, all but one of them broken, and the house was surrounded by a field of nettles and hay that grew high. No path led to the house, and no evidence pointed to anyone having visited there in ages. The chimney had collapsed onto the roof, and the large wooden door hung half open on its hinges.

Albus cut the nettles down to form a proper path to the door. Severus stopped him. “Let me cast some detection spells first,” he suggested, and Albus stood aside.

No matter how Remus disliked Severus, the man was impressive in his power and skills: his wand drew delicate arches into the air as he cast one spell after another, detecting Dark intent, curses, protections, hidden things, monsters, creatures... Finally he sighed.

“A lot of powerful spells and protections,” he said, “and many of them lethal. Some were meant just to repel Muggles, but the others... they'll take a while to dismantle. It's a good thing we tested for them. Walking in there would kill a man painfully.” He set about dismantling the protections. After a while Remus took over so that the work wouldn't overtax Severus.

“Can you sense the Horcrux?” Albus asked.

“No, but I might not be able to,” Severus replied. “There might be a layer of protection around it, to avoid detection. We should progress carefully.”

Albus once again took the lead as the men made their way to the door. It had been worn down by the years of rain and snow: a grey mass of half-rotten, worm-eaten wood with a strange nail in the middle of it, like someone had at one point hung a wreath on it for Christmas. A strange memory of happier times in such a place, Remus wondered. A small touch of his hand had the entire thing collapse, as the last hinge gave away and the remains of the door collapsed on the ground with a creak.

“Careful, Werewolf!” Severus snapped. “Keep your bloody hands to yourself lest you get us all killed!”

Remus lifted his hands in placation and shook his head. Severus turned back and entered the door first, still casting detection spells. “Careful with the floor,” he said, “it's quite rotten and we don't know if there's been a basement here. I can see the soil underneath here, but if there's space underneath somewhere, one might fall through.”

The others entered after him. One of the walls had actually collapsed partially, though the damage had been hidden from the front, and the house looked like it might collapse under its own weight at any given day. There was a skeleton of a bird — a pigeon by the looks of it — on the floor. The house was nearly empty, with a simple wooden table, broken and collapsed, close to a window. A hearth on the Western Wall, some of the tiles from the chimney littered around and inside it. It had once been connected to the floo network: splintered remains of a simple brown ceramic bowl lay on the floor, covered by dust.

Kingsley cast some of his own spells. “I think I found something,” he said, and Severus looked at him sharply, his eyes narrowing suspiciously. “Over there, under the floorboards by the hearth.”

Albus cast some detection spells of his own. “I agree. There's something in there.” A quick flick of his wand lifted the floorboards and sent them away: a small space underneath was revealed. Albus stepped closer carefully, and Remus followed: there was a small golden box inside the cavity.

Severus cast a quick succession of Charms over it. “The box itself is cursed. This might take a while.” Severus set to dismantle the curses, the others waiting restlessly. The forest around the house was quite quiet, and the mood in the ruins of the cottage was eerie.

Finally, Severus sighed. “Done,” he said, and Albus looked at him questioningly. “You can open it now. The box itself is safe. However, do not touch whatever is inside it. Gold will repress the magical signature of what it contains, so we cannot know what the artefact itself might do. What the diary did...” he trailed off as Albus opened the lid carefully with a spell.

There was something inside the box, though Remus couldn't quite see the small item.

“A ring,” Albus said quietly, and reached to take it out of its box.

“Do not!” Severus snapped, and Albus' hand stilled, his eyes jerking to Severus. “Do not touch it! I can sense it now. It's dark. Very dark. Albus, that thing will kill you if you touch it.”

“I agree,” Kingsley said, a small device in his hand whirring and buzzing. “Very Dark, whatever it is. It is protected, Albus, just as the box and the house itself. Put it down, Albus, lest you hurt yourself...”

“But it's...” Albus tried, and then sighed. “Yes, you're right. I was sorely tempted. I believe it wanted me to put it on.” He set the small box on a tile on the floor, straightening up. He reached for a Basilisk fang.

“Allow me, Albus,” Remus said. “We don't know if it'll strike back. I'm replaceable, you are not, and if it strikes me when I destroy it, you're more of help for me than I would be to you.” Albus looked at him sadly, but shook his head.

“I need to do this, Remus,” he said. Albus drew his wand and cast some sort of complicated spell on it: he seemed to be layering it with something that Remus could not recognise. The ring, Remus noted, was an ugly, clumsily made thing with a strange black stone in the middle.

Albus knelt back down. “Back away, all of you,” he said, and the three did as they were ordered, each ready to cast shields and protections. Albus drew breath and plunged the fang into the ring without hesitation: there was a terrible scream that seemed to shake the house itself.

The tiles of the chimney began to slowly topple down, and they heard a nasty creak from the beams above their heads. “Everybody out!” Kingsley shouted and clutched Albus by his elbow as the old wizard quickly scooped up the box and the ring, both still pierced by the fang. Severus was already at the door and out of it in a heartbeat: Remus pushed Kingsley and Albus ahead of him as the roof tiles rained down around them and the walls began to collapse. Albus moved surprisingly spryly as they cleared away from the toppling cottage: the ruins groaned behind them and the dust rose high into the air, before everything settled down once more.

“Are you hurt, Albus?” Severus asked quickly. “I saw you snatch the ring! You shouldn't have done that, not before we examined it for more curses!”

“It was a hasty decision, Severus, but it seems I am fine,” Albus said, and Remus stood aside to let Kingsley and Severus past him. “Show me your hands,” Severus ordered brusquely, and Albus showed his hands meekly, the box, ring and fang still in his right hand. “Set them down,” Severus said, and Albus did so.

A quick examination revealed that the ring held no further curses, the Horcrux was gone and Albus uninjured.

“There's something in the ring,” Kingsley said, moving his wand above the remains of the ring in slow movement. “Not a curse, nothing malignant, I should say.”

“Move, Shacklebolt,” Severus said, and cast his own spells. There was symbol carved on the stone, Gellert Grindlewald's symbol... Severus remembered Albus' involvement with Grindlewald all too well. Was it his ring? He, too, could see the traces of magic on the ring, but they were not harmful. He nodded quickly at Albus. “It's safe,” he said.

“Well done, all of you,” Albus said with a heavy sigh. “I should say it would have been wiser to destroy the Horcrux outside the ruins, but I was not expecting a reaction of that magnitude, I'm afraid.” He picked up the box, extracted the fang and closed the box over the remains of the ring carefully, storing them all inside the various pockets of his purple robes.

Chapter Text

Severus Snape, July 6th — 23rd, 1993

 

One the 6th of July the Order of the Phoenix threw a celebration for the destruction of the second Horcrux: Hermione wasn't privy to know what they were celebrating and Severus could almost see the curiosity radiate from her. She did what she was told, though, and when she was told not to pry, she reined it in. Albus had summoned Dobby from Hogwarts to help with the celebrations, and Molly Weasley cooked a fantastic meal aided by the enthusiastic house-elf.

In the next couple of weeks Severus ended up spending quite a bit of time in the Order safe house, immersed in research of the Horcruxes. The books they had to handle were terrible: some by the materials they were made from, others by merely the terrible intent they held, and most by both and more. He stumbled upon a mention in an obscure text of Fiendfyre as an element able to destroy a Horcrux. Another one found by Vance suggested that a living thing, like an animal, might also be made into a Horcrux, although they would be riskier to make, as they'd be much easier to destroy: the Horcrux inside a living creature would die when the creature did. The creator of a Horcrux could also destroy the Horcrux by regretting deeply and truly, feeling true remorse and grief for what he'd done, but that one, in the case of the Dark Lord, was just about as likely as Albus to stop twinkling and meddling, turning straight and beginning a courtship with Minerva.

The reason why the Dark Lord had become so unstable in his last years was glaringly obvious now that they knew he'd been splintering his soul. Creating the things must have been driving him even more insane and unstable. What was left was in no way human.

“The Horcruxes have been items that have held special meaning to him,” Lupin said in a meeting on the 23rd of July.

“An astute observation, wolf,” Severus said with dripping sarcasm, and Lupin glared at him.

“His own diary, the ring of his grandfather and the locket that seems to have belonged to the founder of his House.” Lupin picked up the parchment upon which Albus had sketched the locket he'd seen in Hermione Granger's memory. “I have no idea how you know about this locket, and I know you told us not to ask, but I think finding it is vital. The rest of the Horcruxes, if there are any, could be other items he's owned, or other Slytherin relics. Something that hold a special meaning to him. We know there are at least three, then? We don't know if there are any more?”

“Yes,” Albus replied, “at least three. Perhaps more. He was certainly insane enough to create more.”

“But we cannot know for certain?”

“No.”

“Shite,” Lupin sighed.

“I have a lot of memories of my time as his teacher,” Albus said. “I'll take them to Pensieve and see through them. If he held some items at value more than others, I might have seen them. Like that diary: I do remember seeing it with him more than once, when he was just a boy. Perhaps you, Remus and Severus, would have time to look through them as well?”

Severus growled, “I'll not look through anything with him in the same room.”

“Severus...” Albus said.

“No. I'll work with him but I shan't share a Pensieve with him. I'll look through them alone, on my own, and that is my final word.” He left the room and slammed the door behind himself, going to the small kitchen. After a while, footsteps approached from behind him.

“Severus,” Lupin said, “can't we put this argument behind us?”

“You nearly fucking killed me once, wolf. Then I was forced to close my mouth about it. What do YOU think?!” Severus hissed.

“I know it wasn't fair to you. And I'll try not to make excuses, but you know I'd never have done that in my right mind. And Sirius and James... we were children! Stupid schoolboys.”

“Black was a murderer in the making then and he'd a bloody murderer now. He should have been sentenced to be Kissed. You all should have been expelled.”

“I won't argue with you about that,” Remus said quietly. “Sirius betrayed my friends and murdered all those people, but I never knew. I never would have let him. He deceived me too. He robbed me of my best friends, all of them. James, Lily, Peter... all gone, because of him.”

“I don't care to hear their names from your mouth, wolf,” Severus hissed. “Back away now before...”

A sudden movement at the door distracted him: Hermione had entered and was watching at them both intently, her green eyes darting from one face to another. She was wearing a ridiculous light blue pyjama with printed flowers: they didn't move and the colour wasn't glaringly bright, so it obviously wasn't acquired by Dumbledore. Her hair was also frazzled and stuck to the left: she'd obviously been asleep.

“Hermione, shouldn't you be in bed?” Lupin asked.

“Woke up,” the girl said.

“The door slammed loudly, huh?” Lupin asked, and the girl shrugged. “Are you hungry?”

“A bit,” she admitted.

“Come, Molly brought some cookies for the meeting. I'll make tea.”

“I'll make the tea, Lupin,” Severus interrupted. “Anything you brew is pig swill. She won't drink it.”

“Feel free,” Lupin said non-committally, bringing out the cookies as well as some cakes and scones. Hermione took out a pot of jam from a cupboard and took out plates and cups for tea, setting the table as Severus brewed the tea.

“Can we go to Hogwarts soon, Remus?” Hermione asked. “I wanted to practise the spells I've learned.”

“In such a hurry to get back to school?” Lupin laughed. “I don't see why not. The Weasleys are leaving soon though, won't you wish to spend time with them at the Burrow?”

Hermione let out a small groan and then blushed of embarrassment. Severus suppressed a smirk: Hestia Jones had taken a role of a substitute mother, and was in a competition with Molly Weasley, who seemed to wish to do the same thing. Molly kept trying to lure her to the Burrow, where she tried to make her learn how to cook and maintain a house, which was definitely not something that Hermione seemed to be interested in. Molly was a traditional wife, believing in home, family values and had aimed all her considerable powers to creating a large brood of children and maintaining them. She was truly a powerful witch, and while Severus could respect her being a doting mother, spending over twenty years in nothing but household management seemed like such a waste.

Hestia, in turn, was still giving Hermione singing lessons and took her to the beach for a swim frequently, when weather permitted. She'd also recently decided that since Hermione was now almost thirteen, she should learn about make-up, hair care and other feminine things: she'd once taken Hermione to Diagon Alley into a popular beauty parlour, where she'd been subjected to various and sundry beautification techniques involving baths, potions, scrubbings and hair-care products. She arrived smelling like she'd been dunked into a cauldron of herbs and flowers, dressed in a flowery dress, and promptly hid herself into the the library with a desperate expression in her eyes, begging Severus not to give up her location. For quite a while after that she flinched whenever Hestia called for her: she was accustomed to comfortable baggy clothes, and the pretty dresses she received from Vance, Jones and Minerva as well as Albus himself seemed uncharacteristic for her, though she occasionally did wear them, just to appease the people who'd generously purchased them for her.

“Um, no, I'd rather stay here or go to the school,” Hermione replied, offering the tray of sandwiches to Severus first, then Lupin. Severus had already noticed the pattern: whatever was served, she offered it to him first. He'd have called it brown-nosing if he hadn't known she was having a bout of hero worship due to the whole Basilisk incident. Besides, he'd noticed that it irritated Lupin, who had thought he'd be her favourite, considering he'd been a friend to both her parents until their death, and had been there when she'd been born.

“Don't you miss spending time with your friends?” Lupin asked, taking a sandwich from the tray offered to him.

“Yeah, but Harry is in France, and he and Ron mostly speak about Quidditch anyway. Ginny too, now, she loves flying and wants to play in the team one day. Um, Draco loves Quidditch but we can talk about studying too, and Neville, well, Neville's great at Herbology. We can talk about plants for hours and hours. He has no parents either, so I guess we understand each other a bit better.”

“Harry and Ron won't be in the country for your birthday, then,” Lupin said.

“No, but Neville said his granny could invite us there for a party. I hope Draco's parents will allow him to come.”

Severus had nearly forgotten her birthday was approaching. He had never been the type to give presents, but the girl had been more than considerate on both last Christmas and on his birthday. He'd have to visit Flourish and Blotts, then.

 

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Severus Snape, July 29th, 1993

 

The morning of the 29th of July dawned as all the mornings had, and gave no indication of how shitty the day would turn out to be. Severus had spent the night at Spinner's End, but he arrived to the safe house by floo: in his childhood Spinner's End had never had a proper, large fireplace, but Albus had paid for a fireplace to be installed and connected when he'd turned spy. He'd quickly grown to enjoy the advantage of served and prepared breakfast at the safe house, and while he enjoyed the advantages of having the solace of his home to retreat to, the breakfast with the Order was free and tasty as well as varied and healthy. It had the added advantage of being able to piss off Lupin by snatching the copy of the Daily Prophet before the wolf could get his paws on it, and sometimes read it at his leisure until the bastard had to leave.

He'd managed it this morning: he leaned back on his favourite chair and read the paper while Hermione quickly dashed to bring him his tea and a good serving of breakfast. He nodded in thanks rather than thanked her out loud, but the girl seemed content with non-verbal thanks.

He'd been reading a while when her excited voice broke the air just next to his ear, giving him a start. “Oh look!” she exclaimed, “Ron and his family is in the paper! Look!”

Severus glared at the girl. “Potter, will you stop screaming into my ear!”

“Sorry, sir!” she said in a lower voice. “But look, it's them! That's Mr Weasley and Mrs Weasley and Ron and Percy and there's Fred and George and...”

“Yes, Potter, I am neither blind nor stupid. I know the Weasleys, having taught all their children myself, and I have a pair of perfectly functioning eyes.”

“Sorry, sir!” she repeated, and tried to read the article over his shoulder. The headline was 'MINISTRY OF MAGIC EMPLOYEE SCOOPS UP MAJOR PRIZE'.

“I shall give this paper over to you when I am done with it, Potter,” Severus sighed, and the girl blushed and retreated back to her seat. Settling down to read and continue with his breakfast, Severus saw Lupin enter the kitchen: the wolf's eyes zeroed in on the newspaper and an irritated expression graced his face.

Severus decided he was in no hurry at all this morning, and that he could read the paper at his leisure. He was on holiday, wasn't he now? Severus allowed a tiny little smirk show up in the corner of his mouth as he sighed, rustled the paper and sipped his from his cup, prepared just the way he liked it.

If only the day had continued like that. Very late in the evening Albus arrived to the headquarters with a grave expression on his face. His eyes held none of his customary twinkle, and he moved briskly, clutching his wand in his hand.

“Where is Hermione?” he asked instantly.

“With Jones, singing,” Severus replied, putting down the manuscript he'd been studying, “unless she's already been put to bed.”

“Good. I want everyone else here. I'll talk briefly with Hestia and then I want as many members as possible gathered in here, as soon as possible.”

“What is going on?” Severus asked. He knew the Headmaster well enough to know he was gravely concerned.

“Sirius Black has escaped,” Albus replied.

“FUCK!” Severus cursed loudly. “That goddamn fucking...”

“We'll talk later, Severus. Right now she needs to be kept inside and under watch at all times. And do not talk about this with Hermione. I don't want her to worry,” Albus said, exiting the library. Severus followed, searching out the other members, spreading the word. Lupin shot off his wolf-Patronus to alert those who were not in the Headquarters, and soon several others began to arrive, most of them very tired, some obviously had already been to bed and had been woken up.

As the members settled down around the table, the silence descended immediately, as every member present looked expectantly at Dumbledore. The Weasleys hadn't been called in from Egypt, Moody was still in the States and as of yet hadn't been sworn into the new Order, Jones was upstairs putting Hermione to bed, and Vance and Doge were out of country as well, but the room was quite full. Kingsley Shacklebolt must have known, Severus guessed: he'd probably alerted Dumbledore before the Wizengamot, and quite possibly even before anyone had told Fudge.

“Less than half an hour ago Kingsley brought me grave news. Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban,” Albus began. Lupin grew as pale as a ghost and his hands began to shake as he clutched them into fists: several others gasped or stirred, and all expressions around the room were either troubled or horrified.

“He'll come after her, you think?” Minerva asked. As she was speaking, the door opened, and Jones entered with a solemn expression on her face. “Hestia, is she all right?” Albus asked her.

“She's asleep,” Jones replied and sat down on an empty seat.

“Yes, Minerva, I'm afraid he'll come after her,” Albus replied to Minerva's earlier question. “This house is, thankfully, Unplottable as well as under the Fidelius Charm, but if she leaves, she'll be in danger. The Aurory is looking for him, but until they find him we cannot let her outside alone, and I believe the birthday party at the Longbottom house will have to be cancelled. It isn't safe enough.”

“Augusta will be furious,” Minerva sighed, “and Hermione will be so disappointed.”

“She'll understand,” Albus said, “they both will. It is unfortunate but it cannot be helped, not until they catch Sirius. There will be no further trips to the beach for her, I'm afraid. We have to take her to Diagon Alley at one point to shop for school, but she'll be escorted by at least two members of the Order. No trips to Hogsmeade for her either, I'm afraid... and Minerva, the thing you were hoping to...? We can't do that, not now. We can't take risks with her. She'd be unsupervised.”

Minerva nodded sadly, and Severus was puzzled by what the two had been plotting: judging by their expressions nobody else knew, either.

“Poor Hermione,” Jones said, “she's always loved those trips to be beach. She loves to swim, she's never had the chance before with the Dursleys. She'll miss that.”

“That cannot be helped. I want her guarded until she's back at school,” Albus ordered. “I know she'll never do something as foolish as sneak out when ordered not to, but I'll talk to her. I want her to know that she's in danger from Sirius Black if she's outside this house, but I do not want her to know that he is her godfather. I think it'd be cruel to tell her. Now I doubt Sirius Black will show his face at Diagon Alley, but I want to be absolutely sure. She's grown very dear to me.”

“There's the backyard,” Jones said. “Can she use it? It's protected.”

“An excellent suggestion. It's not large, but it'll give her some fresh air, at least. We'll arrange her birthday party here, with the Order. I'll arrange the house-elves to make a cake and a feast for us. I hope as many of you as possible can join us on Saturday, at, shall we say three o'clock?” People all around were either nodding or voicing confirmations of their participation. She'd celebrated each of their birthdays, after all, always considered their needs and wants.

“Also, I'm going to ask Remus to be our new Professor for Defence Against the Dark Arts for this year.”

“NO!” Severus bellowed, jumping from his seat so fast the chair fell over with a loud noise. “You can't do that!”

“Severus,” Albus said sternly, and his tone brooked no argument, “I'll talk to you alone in a moment. Remus, you knew Sirius better than anyone else, and Hermione trusts you. Will you come?”

“Yes, Albus, I will.”

 

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

Severus Snape, July 30th, 1993

 

The girl had accepted the changes without protest, although she did seem disappointed about loosing the trips to the beach. The trips had required an Apparition each way, and it simply wasn't safe: she understood it and accepted it with good grace. Molly would probably protest that Hermione had been told that Sirius might be after her, but Fudge had told that Black had repeated both 'He's at Hogwarts' and 'She's at Hogwarts' over and over again in his sleep.

“'He's at Hogwarts'?” Severus had asked Albus as the two had sat in one of the smaller rooms in the early afternoon. Albus had spent an hour the previous night placating Severus, who was still seething over Lupin's appointment: bringing a Werewolf into a boarding school was borderline insane, but his protests had fallen on deaf ears. “He, not she”?

Albus nodded. “Cornelius thought he was even more mental than usual, or possibly about to come after me. He's been in Azkaban for twelve years, among Dementors. And I believe one reason he'd mixing the gender is that Lily actually believed they were getting a son.”

“What?” Severus had uttered.

“Yes. I spoke to her quite a few times when they were in hiding. She was quite convinced she was carrying a boy. James had been keen to believe her, and I do think Lily was, at first, a bit disappointed that she'd been wrong. They adored her, of course, but they'd been expecting a male heir. We both know why she was born, why she was not a boy...” Albus drifted off, gazing at Severus over the edges of his half-moon spectacles. “I always thought she was simply mistaken, but now... well. Fudge considered that an even further example of how deranged Sirius has become. I believe his memory might be playing tricks on him. He's remembering the time they thought Hermione would be born a boy.”

Albus had also told him that Minerva and he had planned on giving the girl a time-turner in order to allow her to take all the electives she'd wanted: she wanted to study everything, but the schedule was impossible. Minerva had already written to the ministry, but since the girl would have to be alone when she turned time, she'd be in too much danger, Hogwarts or not. She was the Chosen One, and much too important to risk because she wanted to study something like Muggle Studies or Divination. She'd been raised among the Muggles, anyway, and Divination was a load of codswallop, Severus thought.

Albus had asked Severus to watch over the girl and the house that day, as many other members of the Order were out shopping for presents, with their families or at work. Now, as the supper had been eaten and Severus was relieved of his duty as the guardian, he watched as the girl followed Jones to the music room, where the first notes of the piano announced she'd began warming up her voice.

He'd spent the day in thought. He knew she was obedient and sensible for the most part, but his experience had taught him more than a few things about Gryffindors, especially ones who were bored, and he remembered all too well how she'd jumped to the pipe behind the sink before he could protest.

Thoughtfully he took a large blue plastic bowl from a cabinet and twirled around in his long fingers, frowning. He took it to the back garden: the sun hadn't set yet, and he had perhaps an hour before it'd be completely dark. The garden wasn't terribly large. The grass was trimmed by spells, but it tended to overgrow on its own before anyone remembered to do it. Nothing spectacular or beautiful: it was just a space.

Severus laid down the blue bowl and aimed his wand on the ground. He'd received an O in each of the subjects he'd taken a N.E.W.T. in, including Charms and Transfiguration: Potions and Dark Arts were his speciality, but he'd never been one to let a skill rust.

A quick spell, and a large hole appeared on the ground with barely a sound, the soil vanished instantly. He repeated the spell until he deemed the hole large enough. He levitated the bowl into the hole, placing it in the middle, and cast an Engorgement Charm on it, pausing to strengthen it and to make sure he wasn't about to blow the bowl up.

Soon the bowl filled the hole, and Severus nodded. A few flicks of his wand sent some dirt to the sides of the bowl to keep it steady, and then he began filling the bowl with an Aguamenti. He used it at a high strength, and the bowl filled up rapidly.

A few other flicks to repel insects, pests and frogs, and Severus cast an approving glance at his work: a swimming pool, although it was round, not too deep, but large enough for a good swim, even for an adult. He heard someone come out the door behind him, and instinctively whipped around: he'd never gotten over that reaction, not after the years spent at the mercy of first his father, then the Marauders and finally the often unstable and violent fellow Death Eaters. His first years as a teacher hadn't been easy either, not with many of the pupils still remembering him as Snivellus Snape, the boy everyone bullied, and tried to prank him, before he'd taught them to fear him.

Minerva had stepped outside, her eyes widening with surprise as she looked at the backyard. “Severus?” she asked.

“Minerva,” Severus replied evenly.

“What is... you did this?” she asked, gesturing at the pool with her hand. Severus merely lifted an eyebrow.

“You did this for Hermione, didn't you! Don't you dare deny it, young man!” she said with a blossoming smile on her usually tight face. “You adore her just as much as the rest of us.”

Severus didn't bother denying it. He merely glanced around.

“Might I do a few things as well?” Minerva suggested. “I think some patio around it, and sun chairs?”

“Feel free,” Severus said.

“Thank you. I wouldn't want to interfere with your gift, of course, I'll just make a few additions,” Minerva said, picking up a few small pebbles and laying them on the ground. With a few flicks of her wand they grew larger, flattened and their surface became smoother, and they settled to a nice rock patio around the pool. Minerva continued her work, picking up pebbles and laying them at appropriate distances until she had a nice rock surface around the pool.

“The dirt won't get into the water in the feet that easily,” she explained.

“A lot of experiences with pools, Minerva?” Severus quipped.

“Enough. Malcom has one, you see.” She picked up a few small twigs and swiftly transfigured them into five excellent sun chairs for lounging around the pool. A sixth twig became a round table.

“There. That should do it.”

“Well done,” Severus rumbled.

“Well done, you. I would never have thought of it. You are a good man, Severus Snape,” she said, prodding him on the chest. “You just never show that side of yourself, one tends to forget...”

“Spare me the platitudes, Minerva,” Severus grumbled. “I need to get some sleep.”

“Remember to get back early in the morning,” she called after him, “She'll want to thank you!”

 

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

 

Severus Snape, July 31st, 1993

 

She did. When Severus arrived to the safe house and peeked into the backyard, quite a few members of the Order were there. The girl was paddling in the pool in her swimming suit, until she noticed him: she jumped up and dashed at him, dripping and soaking wet and leaving a trail of water from her bushy hair along the way. Jones managed to hit her with a Drying Charm just before she clutched him by his stomach: she'd have managed to get his robes wet if Jones hadn't hit her. As it were, her bushy hair frazzled up into a cloud around her head until she resembled a grinning brown dandelion. Severus patted her head awkwardly.

“So, you already told us this is the best birthday present ever,” Dumbledore said with a smile. “Is there some other thing that you would really, really like?” The girl looked serious and shy, her eyes cast down. “Come now, my dear, there's no shame in telling me.”

“A cat,” she whispered. “I'd love to have a cat.”

 

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Sirius Black, July 31st, 1993

 

Hermione's birthday. She'd be thirteen today, his god-daughter. He'd once again missed her birthday. Failure, failure, Sirius, failed once again, you received a Troll in the examination of godfathers, you've failed James and Lily's trust...

Fucking Pettigrew. The rat was alive and he was close to her. She was in danger! Sooner or later Pettigrew would either kill her or deliver her to his master, and he'd have failed the pretty green-eyed baby she'd been.

Sirius settled down. His stomach was growling with hunger: he'd need to find food, and fast. Switching forms was the worst idea ever, and he'd doom himself by doing so: he'd already seen posters of his face in the Muggle world, and the entire Wizarding world would be searching for him. He'd have to scavenge as a dog, then. Hardly worse than what he'd been fed in Azkaban, really, and no Dementors. Merlin yes, no Dementors.

He had to protect Hermione, his little baby god-daughter. The green-eyed baby he'd seen when Lily had given birth. He'd visited them then...

“Congratulations, Prongs! You're a father, finally!” Sirius whacked James in the back, and James Potter grinned dumbly, his hazel eyes bright and swimming with unshed tears behind his glasses.

“I'm a papa, Padfoot,” he said, “I'm a papa.”

“Can we go see her?”

“Soon, Padfoot, soon. They're just cleaning them up, and Lils is resting.”

“You're not disappointed, are you? That it's a girl?”

“No!” James denied, “I'm afraid Lily might be, just a little bit, but we can have a second go later. I think Lils is more disappointed for being wrong, anyway. I didn't see much but she's perfect, Padfoot. She has tiny little toes and fingers!”

“Yes yes, Prongs, babies usually have toes and nails. Did you notice she also had two arms and two legs and a head, too!”

“Be serious!”

“I'm always Sirius. That's what I was named,” Sirius beamed at his friend and winked, and James groaned.

“That's been old since the tenth time you told me that joke, Padfoot. Come on, let's see if we can go badger the nurses. Where's Remus and Peter? They should be here by now...”

Padfoot sighed and laid his head on his front paws. It'd been so cold in the ocean and he'd been so sure he'd drown at one point, but his rage had kept him going. Anger and rage and the injustice of it all. He'd lost Lily and James, Remus stopped believing in him and Pettigrew, that filthy little rat... he'd kill him. He needed to kill Pettigrew, commit the crime he'd been sentenced for. Protect Hermione Potter. She's probably be with the last remaining relatives of hers, wouldn't she? The Dursleys, the Daily Prophet had said all those years ago. Little Whinging?

A delicious scent wafted into his nostrils. Food. Something greasy, too. Sirius licked his chops. There was food somewhere, something hot, and a big black dog like him? The food was his.

Time to play fetch, Padfoot.

Chapter Text

Severus Snape, August 3rd — 8th, 1993

 

In the next days bad news just kept piling up, one on top of another. Black hadn't been caught: there had been numerous sightings, of course, by people all over Britain, both Muggles and wizards reporting seeing the famous convict here and there. Various homeless Muggles had been arrested, mostly thin alcoholics who'd born passing resemblance with Sirius Black, and someone reported seeing him board a ship off the coast on his way to France. There'd been an arrest at Heathrow, but the man in question had been an innocent and well-dressed businessman who'd been outraged over his treatment.

Then Fudge had informed that the ministry would be posting Dementors around Hogwarts, mainly into Hogsmeade, but also around the entrances to the school. This made Severus more than uneasy: he remembered the Dementors all too well from his brief stint in Azkaban, before Dumbledore had managed to get him out. He'd come out haggard, hopeless, wanting nothing more than to burrow himself inside the very earth itself and never get up, if it meant avoiding those horrid creatures. He'd have to face them, now, when he went to the school, and every time he'd want to leave the school he'd have to walk past the terrible, terrible cold that emanated from them. They could leave a man so cold and without hope that Severus knew Black would be a deranged and manic lunatic after twelve years, on top of having been a treacherous bastard who'd sold out his friends.

Albus was looking at him with grief and pity in his eyes, and Severus hated it: he hated the pity, hated that Dumbledore knew how badly the Dementors affected him. He hated being so weak and helpless. He couldn't even freely cast he fucking Patronus without revealing that he wasn't a Dark wizard, or revealing its embarrassingly feminine form. Albus had managed to remove the memories of it from Minerva and all the others who'd encountered her or the creature, but it'd taken a while. It'd been weak, too, barely corporeal at all.

“I am sorry, Severus, but there is nothing I can do,” Albus said. “I will not allow them on the school grounds. We'll go to the castle together, and I'll Apparate us both straight inside.”

“And I'll be trapped inside the whole fucking year,” Severus said bitterly. “Like a prisoner.”

“At least you won't have to supervise Hogsmeade weekends.”

“When have I last supervised Hogsmeade weekends?” Severus asked.

They'd argued about Lupin's appointment to the Defence position countless times, but Albus refused to listen to reason: the Wolfsbane had kept Lupin's transformations safe and secure, and he would lock himself into the Shrieking Shack every full moon. Though Severus had gotten used to Lupin among the Order, the werewolf still made his skin crawl, especially when the full moon approached. The members of the Order seemed to tolerate his affliction, but they'd never been face to face with the beast when he'd been transformed: insane, staring him in the eyes filled with hunger for his flesh, jaws dripping drool. And Albus wanted to bring him to a school filled with defenceless children, most of whom knew nothing about werewolves. Hermione knew, having spent time with the Order, what with Severus brewing Wolfsbane, and Lupin being away at every full moon and haggard in the days around it — the girl was anything but stupid, after all — but the other children would probably have no idea what to do, including some of the older years, considering how deplorable the teachers at Defence had been for the last years.

At least one could give Lupin that: his grades in Defence had been excellent, and he'd probably have become an Auror along with Black and Potter if it weren't for his lycanthropy. He'd been much more studious than the other Marauders, and Defence had been his best subject. He'd teach them well enough, provided he wouldn't kill or maim them if he neglected his Wolfsbane Potion.

Severus could never forgive Lupin, not after the things he'd done. He hadn't been the worst of the lot, really, not after the first couple of years, but then he'd simply stood aside, his Prefect badge shining, and allowed his three mates to bully Severus, while Potter wooed Lily. And the incident in the Shrieking Shack had just been the icing on the cake. No, he'd never forgive Lupin, not for the things he'd done nor for the things he'd allowed to be done by turning his back. Seeing his ugly mug in the Order was bad enough; seeing him close to Hermione was disgusting, not to mention dangerous — was Albus really willing to risk the girl-who-lived becoming a werewolf, unless he meant to have the girl attack the Dark Lord during the full moon and rip his throat out? — but being forced to endure him the year around at Hogwarts...

“Lupin and Black were thick as thieves,” he'd warned Albus. “I wouldn't be surprised if he'd assist Black.”

“Remus was betrayed, just like the rest of us, Severus, you know that,” Albus had insisted stubbornly, but Severus merely sneered at the old wizard.

“He's a werewolf, to top it all. He almost killed me once!”

“He never meant to, you know that. He would never have done that in his right mind. Please let it go, Severus. There's no sense in dwelling on what is past...”

“Tell that again when we loose a student,” Severus growled. “And just how are you going to explain Harry Granger to Lupin, when he sees him? The boy is a spitting image of James bloody Potter, apart from those ridiculous teeth of his. He'll think he's seeing a ghost.”

“He'll believe me when I tell him it's a mere coincidence,” Albus said calmly.

“You mean you hope he'll believe you.”

“I know he will,” Albus replied evenly.

“Of course the bloody Gryffindors all fall into line whenever the great and powerful Albus Dumbledore orders them to,” Severus sneered. “Like watching a herd of sheep.”

Albus glanced at him above his half-moon spectacles. “Remus is a good man, and he follows orders.”

“He's a stupid man enough not to question what he's told,” Severus translated, and Albus sighed, shaking his head.

 

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

 

Albus Dumbledore, August 29th 1993

 

Hermione had asked to do her shopping in Diagon Alley with her friends on the 31st of August, but Albus had decided against it: he wanted to accompany her personally, and he'd definitely be too busy for the last few days before the students arrived. It'd also be easier to keep an eye on her with less shoppers around. She'd been a bit disappointed, but taken the changes into stride when Albus had delivered her another batch of books. She'd quickly immersed herself in a large tome about Charms and had fished out various parchments and a quill and sat down on one of the chairs by her swimming pool. The girl adored her pool, and could be quite frequently be found immersed in a book next to it, if she wasn't swimming. She'd developed quite a tan during the summer, her usually pale skin now lightly browned.

“Haven't you written that essay already?” Remus asked as he tossed a beach ball into the pool.

“Yes, but I'm re-writing it. For the second time.”

“Second time?”

“Well, I just thought I'd add a bit more,” she defended herself. “There's quite a bit on developing Charms in this book.”

“Looks like a long essay,” Remus remarked, eyeing the three scrolls filled with her cramped script.

“It's a bit longer than Professor Flitwick asked,” she said, slightly defensively, “but I thought it was important.”

Albus chuckled. “Filius will appreciate it,” he said, “even though he did assign one scroll only, I believe. As long as you don't do the same with Professor Snape's essays.

The girl flushed and shook her curly hair vigorously, and Albus patted her wild mane affectionately.

And so, on the 29th of August Albus and Hestia escorted Hermione to Diagon Alley between them. Hermione was almost bouncing on her toes, despite the initial disappointment she'd expressed when Albus indicated that Severus wouldn't be one of the people escorting her. Teenage crushes, Albus had thought with a slight chuckle: if he wasn't mistaken, she might have been the first ever Hogwarts student with a crush on the Potions Master, and Severus would indubitably be very uncomfortable with the notion. The surly man preferred to be feared and respected and would instantly suspect that he was either the butt-end of a joke or that his carefully constructed personality cover was failing.

Their first stop had been Gringott's, after which Hermione had shopped for her school supplies, selecting parchments, quills, and, most of all, books. It was always difficult to drag her out of Flourish and Blotts, although Mr Flourish was more than thrilled to receive her, and even more thrilled when he heard that Hermione already owned the 'Monster book of Monsters': the books were brooding in their enclosure, although one was obviously stalking another book that was preoccupied with stretching its binding. The stalking book attacked the other and shreds of paper flapped into the air as the two books began rolling around before a harried-looking clerk rushed in with a stick to separate the fighters.

Hermione had seemed disappointed when she'd been told that her schedule was conflicted, but relieved when she'd heard that various teachers had agreed to teach her privately in their electives: she'd be able to take Arithmancy with Septima and Muggle Studies with Charity privately. Mr Flourish gladly sold her all the books on her list and a few others on the side: she was already stocking birthday presents, Albus noticed with a soft chuckle, and the merchants were thrilled to sell their wares for the famous, kind and polite Hermione Potter.

A short lunch at the Leaky Cauldron was followed by ice cream at Florean Fortescue's, and then a drop at the Magical Menagerie. Hermione's owl Hedwig, a birthday present from Hagrid, required a steady supply of owl treats. The owls generally fed themselves by hunting and kept the grounds relatively free of pests, but the pet owls were generally used to receiving a treat when they delivered the letters. The treats were relatively cheap and healthy, and saved the owls from various health-related problems, as the children who had treats to offer didn't offer them something as foolish and unhealthy as rashes of bacon, toast, or, in some ridiculous cases, pieces of fruit and vegetable*. Hermione also occasionally offered the more expensive premium quality treats from Eeylops Owl Emporium, but these slightly cheaper treats were nice for daily use.

Albus was exchanging greetings with a former student dropping by at the Magical Menagerie, when he suddenly noticed that Hermione was no longer by his side. He glanced around, the first swells of panic rising, only to notice her behind some cages, grouching on the floor. “Hermione,” Albus queried, “what have you got there?”

Hermione didn't even seem to notice him. Hestia, too, approached, and peered around the corner. Hermione was petting an orange cat, an obvious half-Kneazle: flat-faced and huge with a massive bottle-brush tail and a thick orange coat. He also had yellow eyes that seemed to sparkle with intelligence: Kneazles and half-Kneazles were very intelligent creatures, and this one was no exception. The animal seemed slightly wary, but it was obviously enjoying the petting, and was eyeing Hermione with contemplation.

“He'd wonderful...” Hermione gasped, and the animal rose from where it had been sitting, pushing his back against Hermione's hand. His legs were bent strangely, and his face looked grumpy.

“That one is called Crookshanks,” the seller said from behind Albus. “He's been here for a long time.”

“Nobody wanted him? Oh, poor Crookshanks!” Hermione cooed. “You are absolutely gorgeous!”

“May I talk to you, Albus?” Hestia requested, pulling him aside as the witch behind the counter looked at Hermione benevolently. Albus nodded and followed her.

“She did say she wanted a cat,” Hestia said, “and I've been waiting for one of Arabella's half-Kneazles to have a litter, but it'll be a while before they're old enough to be weaned, and she seems enamoured with that one. I know the rules of Hogwarts state the students may bring one familiar to the school, but do you think it might be... relaxed a bit?”

Albus smiled. “I don't see why not,” he promised. “The rule is more of a guideline, and Hedwig spends her time in the owlery. Half-Kneazles are excellent judges of character, and I believe that one might be able to protect her. She'll be granted very few joys this year, when her fellows are allowed to attend Hogsmeade weekends and she'll be left into the castle. I don't see why not, but do allow me to join in purchasing the cat for her.”

“Of course,” Hestia acquiesced with a smile. “She'll be very pleased.” Albus handed her a pouch of Galleons, and she walked to the witch behind the counter and began negotiating price for the creature, purchasing some additional supplies such as specialised Kneazle-food and a carrier basket. Hermione was still petting the half-Kneazle in the corner, obviously loath to part from him.

“Hestia and I have decided to buy this cat for you, Hermione,” Albus said quietly. “She had wanted to give you a half-Kneazle kitten, but it would take some time for them to be old enough, and as you seem so enamoured with this one... I hope you'll take good care of him?”

“Thank you, sir! Thank you!” she gasped, her green eyes sparkling with delight, and she hopped up to hug Albus, then rushed to thank Hestia, who laughed in delight as the thirteen-year-old little witch wrapped her hands around her waist and squeezed. The half-Kneazle sat down, but somehow Albus knew it had understood.

“You are very intelligent even for a half-Kneazle, aren't you?” Albus asked the animal quietly. The cat blinked slowly, his eyes aimed directly at Albus. “She's a very special and precious child, you know, and she'll love you dearly, but she'll also need you, both this year and in the future. She'll be surrounded by witches and wizards who will want to hurt her or use her, and she might not recognise that. You'll protect her, won't you?” The animal blinked again, but Albus was certain the animal understood.

There was something fragile in the cat's eyes. Half-Kneazles were very independent, but they were also intelligent, and most intelligent creatures felt the need to belong, to be loved, and this creature was no exception. He'd been left here, ignored by people who only wanted to purchase the cute, small kittens, seeing year after year how the owls, toads, rats and kittens were carried off to a new homes with loving families of their own. The half-Kneazle was a familiar without a human of his own, and Albus knew he'd protect the girl.

Albus petted the cat, who allowed it with dignity, although without the obvious delight it'd taken from Hermione's touch, and Albus knew they'd made the right choice.

 

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

 

Severus Snape, August 29th 1993

 

Severus arrived to the Order's house half an hour before supper. He'd spent some time at Malfoy Manor, trying to glean any information from Lucius Malfoy. The usually arrogant and lazy Lord Malfoy had seemed quite uncomfortable and irritated: not only because of the humiliation he'd endured when he'd been sacked from the board of governors, but because he'd apparently had no idea his stunt would have released a Basilisk into a school.

From what he'd revealed to his old comrade-in-arms, Lucius had received the diary approximately two years before the girl-who-lived had managed to destroy the Dark Lord. He'd believed it was a simple cursed object, containing something that would bring destruction on the Muggle-borns: Lucius had been disturbed when his son had made friends with a Muggle-born wizard Harry Granger as well as the girl-who-lived, who also trumped his every academic achievement despite being a half-blood (Lucius had cast an apologetic glance at Severus, knowing all too well that his half-blood friend was one of the most brilliant and talented wizards in Britain for decades) from a lineage of blood traitors.

But neither Lucius nor Narcissa had any inkling that a Basilisk would be released into the school. The creature could just as easily have killed any half-blood or pure-blood heir or heiress, the Malfoy heir included. That the creature had been controlled by Tom Riddle's memory had given them little comfort: Draco, despite his unfortunate choice of friends, was the only heir to the Malfoy line, and Lucius and Narcissa had been unable to conceive another child. Narcissa had, in fact, almost died giving birth to their only son, and the boy was more precious than all the gold and jewels in the kingdom for them. Lucius had great expectations for his son and heir, and demanded a great deal from him, but any risk for Draco's life and health was enough to make the Malfoys shake in their expensive boots.

“I didn't mean to put Draco in harm's way, nor any other member of Slytherin house, Severus,” Lucius had implored. “The ministry has been harassing me and hunting for Dark objects, and I merely thought it'd be an excellent vengeance on Arthur Weasley if his daughter were to be found in possession on a cursed object. I was told it contained a curse on Muggle-borns, not something to release a blasted Basilisk into the school my own son attends! The death of that bloody Potter-girl would have been an ideal outcome, and killing the Muggle-borns would have purified the blood. But I'd never have put my son in danger, never!”

The two had been sitting in the drawing room of Malfoy manor after an excellent meal. During the meal Draco had been slightly withdrawn, polite as ever but sitting closer to his mother than his father. Narcissa had kept her emotions in check as far as Lucius was concerned, but the small clues in her demeanour told a different story: things were strained between the usually loving Malfoy couple, who'd adored each other since the day they'd met. After the meal both Narcissa and Draco had retired, bidding a polite good evening to Severus, allowing Lucius and Severus to retire for some drinks. Lucius had brought some new samples from his distilleries and vineyards in France, and the men sampled them quietly.

Lucius was a true Death Eater, of that Severus was certain. He'd tortured and killed, just as Severus had: he'd enjoyed it more than Severus ever did. But the first and foremost loyalty of Lucius Malfoy was to his wife and son, not to the cause he'd committed himself to before his marriage or the birth of his son. Severus was quite certain that Lucius wouldn't hesitate to eradicate all the Muggle-borns he'd encounter, given the chance to do it and get away with it. He was equally certain that Lucius
didn't believe the Dark Lord would ever be able to return: he was absolutely certain that Lucius knew nothing of the Horcruxes. But young Draco had chosen to side with Hermione Potter and her friends: if the Dark Lord managed to return, Draco would be in grave danger lest he chose to defect and managed to convince the Dark Lord of his loyalties. Lucius himself would be undoubtedly punished for loosing the Horcrux, should the Dark Lord ever find out, and those who hadn't actively struggled to bring back the Dark Lord would be severely punished: Severus could only hope he'd avoid the worst punishments by claiming he'd held on to his post, waiting for his return.

That evening, returning to the Headquarters, he encountered the delicious scents of food being prepared, but judging by the sounds the food wasn't yet ready. He sat down into a spare room with a book and set to read while he awaited. He was feeling unusually mellow after the excellent meal with at Malfoy manor — the meals were brilliantly cooked and inventive — and several glasses of good wines and shots of Firewhisky. The meal being prepared smelled tempting, and upon arrival he'd just been able to offer Lupin his goblet of Wolfsbane and watch his awful grimaces as he drank the foul concoction. He'd also have less of an appetite after it and he'd be more quiet, which never failed to cheer up Severus' evening.

The full moon was approaching, and Lupin would be arriving to the castle with the students on the 1st of September after his transformation on the 30th of August**. Severus could see the werewolf was stressed and nervous, and Severus revelled in seeing his discomfort.

A sudden movement at the door drew his gaze: a large, orange half-Kneazle with an ugly, flat face had just strolled into the room like he owned the place. The creature stopped and stared at Severus, and Severus stared back. After a moment the creature blinked slowly and strolled to him, winding himself around Severus' ankles and rubbing his fur over his black slacks.

“Oh Crookshanks, no!” Hermione called from the door: the girl had followed the cat, holding a large brush covered in orange hairs. “You'll get hair all over Professor Snape's clothes... I'm so sorry, Professor! I just went to get a glass of water. I was just brushing his fur, he's shedding all over...”

“No matter,” Severus said curtly, banishing the hairs off his clothes with a swift flick of his wand. “This isn't the first time I've encountered cat hairs. Minerva quite enjoys shedding on my clothes.”

“Professor McGonagall?” she asked in disbelief, obviously unaccustomed to the thought of her strict Head of House pranking her colleague. Severus nodded, and Hermione burst into surprised laughter.

“I'm sorry, Professor, that was just... surprising, that's all. Can I bring you anything? Tea? Cake?”

“No, thank you, Miss Potter, I believe the supper will be ready soon?”

“Yes, sir, it shouldn't take long now,” she replied.

“I see you have a new familiar, then?” Severus inquired politely, lifting an eyebrow at the cat that was currently splayed in Hermione's lap, all four feet in the air, getting his belly rubbed.

“Yes, sir. Professor Dumbledore and Madam Jones bought him for me. He'd gorgeous, isn't he?”

“Quite impressive,” Severus commented, though he'd seen much nicer looking half-Kneazles: this one seemed intelligent, but he was far from the beautiful specimens usually owned by witches and wizards. The creature seemed to ignore him completely, enjoying his rubs to the fullest.

“Nobody else had wanted him, but he's absolutely gorgeous, aren't you, Crooks?” she hummed. The Professor, his student and the cat sat in companionable silence until Emmeline Vance's voice rang through the house, calling everyone for supper.

 

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

Hermione Granger's consciousness was unbelievably stressed. If she'd had hands, she'd have been wringing them; if she'd had feet, she'd have paced around restlessly. As such, she could only groan, sigh and fret endlessly. She wasn't allowed a time-turner! She knew how she was supposed to rescue Sirius Black and Buckbeak, but how would she do it without a time-turner? This was going terribly, terribly wrong! She was a terrible Chosen One and she'd fail them all!

Chapter Text

Sirius Black, August 31st, 1993

 

Sirius panted as he settled down under the dilapidated bed in the Shrieking Shack. He'd managed to steal some food from the kitchens again, though he knew it was risky: there hadn't been anything in Hogsmeade today, though he'd gotten a decent meal the day before. It was risky, but catching prey wasn't easy for him either.

He'd spent almost a week in Little Whinging, stalking outside the Dursley home, waiting to see a peek of Hermione Potter. He'd presumed she lived there with Lily's family: he'd presumed wrong. For a while he'd suspected he was in the wrong place, but even though Petunia Dursley was nowhere near as pretty like Lily Potter had been, there was something very similar about the two women. The long neck, although Lily's neck was framed by her red long curls and was often described 'swan-like', whilst Petunia looked like a failed giraffe. Lily had tended to purse her lips too, their facial structure was similar, and though their colouring was very different — Lily's red hair and green eyes contrasted with Petunia's pale blue eyes and blonde hair — they shared a lot of similar traits. Lily had often said that Petunia was jealous and bitter, and Sirius kept his mouth shut in front of James when he thought of the many times when Lily had been viciously envious and jealous of others.

Sirius had finally crept into the garden of the Dursley home, where the husband — a man as big as a whale with an ugly red face — had thrown a stone at him. He'd missed, luckily, and Sirius had fled like a real dog, though his first instinct had been to attack the man and tear a pound of flesh from him. The foray into the garden had given him evidence that Hermione hadn't been there for quite some time: he'd felt the last remains of protective magic that had lingered above the house, continuously and slowly fading, not strong enpugh to keep him outside: they'd be completely gone come August, if not sooner. Placed by Dumbledore, no doubt, to protect Hermione, but fading in her absence.

So, Dumbledore must have moved her, but where? It was easy to see why: the Dursleys were disgusting and unpleasant people, Muggles of the worst sort, and he doubted Hermione would have enjoyed her life in there. Sirius had never been a bigoted blood supremacist, like his parents and even Reg had been, but some Muggles really were just as bad as the pure-blood extremists said, and the Dursleys were just the sort. But where could Dumbledore have taken her? London? His brief foray into the city was cut short when he had to flee to avoid a dog catcher.

There was no way he could acquire a wand without risking exposure: he could attack someone, perhaps, then Obliviate them with their own wand, but the risks were too high: he couldn't get caught, not now. He'd have to protect Hermione from Pettigrew, he'd have to avenge the time he'd spent in Azkaban, avenge James and Lily and those Muggles Pettigrew had murdered to frame him. He couldn't Apparate, not without a wand, and he'd have to get to Hogwarts. Disappointment churned in his gut: he'd wanted to see how the little baby girl had grown, his little god-daughter. Had she grown to resemble Lily or James at all?

Travelling in human form would have been so easy, but he couldn't risk it: he was in no condition to walk all the way either. He'd managed to slip into a convenient train in London, hiding under the benches until he'd gotten to Edinburgh. A kind woman had actually offered him pieces of her lunch when he'd begged — man had his pride, of course, but an empty belly and twelve years in Azkaban shook that quite well from any man — and he'd managed to scavenge some leftovers from a dumpster behind a pub near the train station in Edinburgh. The journey from thereon had been exhausting, but he'd walked slowly, taking his time to rest and recover in uninhabited areas, while making sure he fed where he could. He didn't need much: he'd gotten so thin over the years anyway, and was barely skin and bones.

The Shrieking Shack would offer some safety, perhaps. The Forbidden Forest was bloody risky, and he'd have to avoid detection. Dementors were already swarming around the grounds and Hogsmeade, but they didn't bother a dog: still, he hated their fluttering, gliding and hooded forms. The term would begin soon, and Hermione would be here. So would Pettigrew, Sirius was sure of that.

 

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

Remus Lupin, September 1st, 1993

 

Remus boarded the Hogwarts express with Hermione immediately when the train arrived to wait for the students. He wanted to settle into an empty compartment and sleep: he'd had a terrible night with the transformation, and his muscles ached terribly. Wolfsbane Potion had kept him sane, but the terrible pains could not be helped, and he'd barely slept a wink, not with his nerves on the edge anyway. He was very stressed about teaching.

Of course he could have gone to the castle earlier, like the other teachers: he could have taken his place at the Shrieking Shack like he'd done when he was younger, but the staff would have noticed him going missing so close to the start of term. Besides, the Shack brought back terrible memories. He'd had no Wolfsbane then, and now he wouldn't have his friends to keep him company. Now there was no James and no Peter, and Sirius Black was a black-hearted murderer as insane as the rest of his family tended to be. He'd be truly alone.

He'd be able to protect Hermione, too, during their train ride, although they knew Sirius probably wouldn't be able to attack her, not aboard the Hogwarts Express, surrounded by the protections and the other students. Still, Remus had brought her here early: Hestia had escorted them through the barrier into the platform and helped Hermione place her cat and her owl into the compartment. Hedwig had protested, like she always did, and Crookshanks hadn't been too thrilled either. Hermione let the cat and the owl out of their carriers: she disliked keeping them locked up.

Remus sank down next to the window, sighing in exhaustion. Students and their parents were beginning to trickle into the platform, and the air filled with excited chatter, shouts and giggles, sounds of luggage being loaded onto the train cutting through the thrum of conversation.

“Remember, Hermione,” Remus reminded the girl, “that you cannot tell the others of my... unfortunate condition. They wouldn't understand, you see.”

“I know,” the girl sighed. She'd been told before, and it was obvious she was impatient with it.

“I'm sorry to remind you, it's important you remember it. I won't harm anyone, but people fear those of us who suffer of this affliction, and I'd be sacked immediately.”

“I won't tell anyone,” the girl promised sincerely.

“I know,” Remus sighed and smiled wearily. “I hope you don't mind if I take a nap? I'm still exhausted, and I thought I might sleep as much as I can.”

“I don't mind. Is it all right I stay here, though?”

“Of course. You won't bother me. I'll probably sleep like a log even if you want to have some of your friends over and chat with them. It'll be interesting to meet them.”

“Thanks! Have a good nap,” she said. “Oh, do you want anything from the trolley when it comes? Chocolate?”

“No thank you,” Remus replied. “I have snacks with me, chocolate as well.”

“Night then,” she laughed cheekily, and Remus smiled wearily, leaning on the wall and closing his tired eyes.

He probably hadn't slept a long time when he woke up just a bit: the door to the compartment had slid open and two boys had entered, greeting Hermione happily, one of them bickering with someone he called Ginny until Hermione told him to stop. She was as bossy as ever as she greeted the friends she hadn't met in two months: these must have been Harry Granger, Hermione's Muggle-born friend, and probably Ronald Weasley and, judging by what he heard, his sister.

The girl slipped away after greeting Hermione, clearly irritated by her brother, and the two boys sat on the benches. A strange whistling began to sound, coming from somewhere above their heads, and Remus felt irritated: the transformation had left his hearing very sharp, and the sound was rather irritating, although so faint the children did not seem to notice it. A third boy entered soon after, and was greeted happily: the boy spoke in a slightly arrogant tone that implied this was Draco Malfoy, but his words suggested true friendship with the others.

“Who d'you reckon he is?” he heard one of the boys ask. He avoided opening his eyes and engaging in the conversation: he'd be able to doze off sooner. Blasted how his back ached!

“That's Professor Remus Lupin, the new Professor for Defence Against the Dark Arts,” Hermione replied. “Please don't wake him up, Ron, he's awfully tried.”

“How d'you know that?” the boy asked.

“I know him. He lives where I lived for the summer, and we came to the train together. He's really nice, and skilled too. He'll be a great teacher, you'll see.”

“Better than Lockhart and Quirrell then,” the third boy snickered.

Suddenly one of the boys let out a loud cry, “Keep that cat away from Scabbers! No, stop! Ow!”

“Crookshanks, stop!” Hermione cried, and the children began to struggle to restrain the cat that had apparently attacked another familiar. Remus refrained from interfering, his muscles protesting loudly at every movement, his head feeling both light and heavy at the same time. The children managed to restrain Hermione's half-Kneazle soon.

“Sorry, Ron, I'll hold and restrain him,” Hermione said. The half-Kneazle protested loudly. “Bad Crookshanks,” Hermione chided the cat. “You cannot attack Ronald's familiar! There's plenty of pests to eat at the castle!”

“Scabbers isn't a pest!” Ron protested. “You just don't like Scabbers, and you never have!”

“Whose cat is that? The Professor's?” the third boy, apparently Harry Granger, asked, trying to interrupt a fight before one broke out.

“No, he's mine. This is Crookshanks, he's a half-Kneazle. Isn't he gorgeous? Professor Dumbledore and Madam Jones gave him to me.”

“You get to have two familiars?” Ron Weasley whined, sounding jealous.

“Yep. Hedwig spends a lot of time in the owlery. And I think Professor Dumbledore felt bad for me because...”

“Oh, did you see my owl?” Harry interrupted, sounding very excited.

“Yes! She'd gorgeous! Did you pick her yourself?”

“Yeah, I had some extra money to spare. It's a boy though. I wanted one like your Hedwig, but they hadn't any Snow owls...”

“Hedwig's a Snowy owl, Harry, not Snow owl,” Hermione corrected. “And owls are called male and female, not boy and girl...”

“Either way,” the boy said.

“What's that noise?” Ron interrupted the conversation.

“What noise?” Harry asked.

“That whistling sound. It's coming from your trunk, Hermione.”

Remus listened as the children took out Hermione's trunk and opened it: the whistling grew louder, a tinny sort of sound.

“What's that?” Harry asked curiously, and Remus opened his eyelid just a tad, enough to see Hermione hold a glowing, spinning ball on her palm.

“It's my Sneakoscope,” Hermione replied. “I'll slip it under the spare clothes so the noise won't bother us. Ron sent it for me for my birthday. Because of, you know, Quirrell and then the whole Basilisk thing.”

“And now there's Black on the loose, the murderer,” Ron added. “I though she might be able to use it. It's still going off randomly, though. I bought it for her from Egypt, for her birthday” he explained to Harry. “I guess it's junk, because it went off on its own there, too, before I sent it to her. Or maybe it was because of Fred and George, because they had just slipped beetles into Bill's soup.”

“Anyway, why'd Dumblefore feel bad for you, Hermione?” Ron queried.

“Because I won't get to go to Hogsmeade,” she replied sadly.

“What? Why not?” Ron asked.

“Because of Sirius Black, you idiot,” Draco replied snidely.

“Stop calling him an idiot, Dray!” Hermione ordered the boy.

“Fine! Fine!” the boy mumbled irritably. “Anyway, Black's a threat to Hermione. I heard Fudge tell my father that he's after her.”

“No way! What else did you hear?” Ron asked, his voice disbelieving.

“It's true though. Fudge was telling all this to my father, trying to make an impression on him, of course, the slimy git,” Draco continued, sounding smug that he could supply them with new information. “Anyway, Black was the Potter's Secret Keeper when they were in hiding, and he sold them to You-Know-Who. He. He killed a ton of Muggles, too, and their other friend, Peter Pettigrew, when he came after Black. Fudge saw it himself: Black laughing at them, in the middle of all those corpses, right after Hermione's parents were killed. Nothing left of Pettigrew except a finger. He said Pettigrew went after Black when Hermione's father and mother were murdered and intended to avenge them, only Black got him first. And Black's her godfather, too.”

“What?!” the two other boys roared in unison.

“He is. Fudge said he was the best man when James and Lily Potter got married, and they named him her godfather.”

“Wow, Hermione, I'm so sorry for you,” Ron commiserated their friend.

“What's a Secret Keeper?” Harry Granger asked.

“It's a very complex piece of magic. You seal a secret inside a soul, and nobody can get it out unless the Secret Keeper chooses to tell. Nothing works, not even torture, not Legilimency or Veritaserum, nothing. He'd had to have chosen to tell You-Know-Who. Fudge said that Sirius Black and James Potter were best friends at school. Father is older than they were, so he didn't really know them, but almost everyone knows about it.”

“Well I didn't,” Ron Weasley whined.

“You don't listen, do you?” Draco quipped. “And Harry couldn't know, being Muggle-born. They probably didn't want to tell Hermione. But I think she ought to know.”

“You mean you eavesdrop on your dad,” Ron said.

“Of course I do,” Draco said haughtily. “He'd never tell me everything otherwise, knowing I'm friends with you lot. Hermione, are you all right?”

“Yeah, I'm fine. I just don't get to go to Hogsmeade this year, and I have to stay in the castle grounds.”

“That's just rotten luck,” Ron said, and the two others seemed to agree.

“We'll bring you back treats from Honeydukes,” Harry promised.

“Thanks, Harry,” Hermione replied with a smile. “That's fine. I hate missing it, I'd have loved to have seen Hogsmeade. In 'Sites of Historical Sorcery' it says the the inn was the headquarters for the 1612 Goblin Rebellion, and the Shrieking Shack is supposed to be the most severely haunted building in...”

“Stop!” Draco laughed, “or you'll give us a whole lecture right here and now. And don't start with the Honeydukes and their treats, Weasley, or you won't stop either,” he cautioned the other boy, and they all laughed.

“Tell me about your summer, all of you!” Hermione bossed her friends around, shifting the luggage back. Their chatter continued as the three boys spoke and told about their summer, starting with Harry Granger's holiday in France. Remus drifted off to sleep: he was relieved that none of them had mentioned him belonging to the group of friends around James Potter, although Hermione already knew of it. It always made him very sad: he was the last true Marauder left, because a traitor couldn't be really counted as one of them, could he?

Remus had no idea of how long he'd slept: the train stopped with a sudden jolt, and distant crashes and thuds revealed that luggage was falling off the racks. The entire compartment went pitch black just as Remus opened his eyes: he was feeling physically better, and he allowed his eyes to adjust to the dim light.

The door of the compartment opened and two children slipped in: they were greeted as Neville and Ginny, and Remus was quite certain that the girl was the same one who'd been chased off earlier by her rude brother. Neville tried to sit on Crookshanks, who hissed, Ginny tried to sit on Harry Granger, and then Neville stumbled on Ron's feet.

“Quiet,” Remus ordered them and lit a bunch of flames on his palm with a non-verbal Charm. He was certain something was very, very wrong. “Stay where you are,” he ordered, his voice still hoarse and rough from sleep, but ready to fight for their lives if necessary. He reached for the door, but it opened before he could reach it, and a Dementor stood in the doorway, towering threateningly to the ceiling.

The air seemed to grow cold, and all joy seeped from the world. Hermione let out a whimper and fainted: one of the boys, surprisingly, did the same on his seat, both children dropping on the floor unconscious. Remus stepped over them, extending his wand.

“None of of us is hiding Sirius Black under our cloaks. Go,” Remus ordered calmly, but the Dementor refused to move.

“Expecto Patronum,” Remus muttered quietly, and cast a Patronus strong enough to repel the Demetor: not strong enough to be corporeal, but it didn't need to be right now. The wolf would have been one further giveaway to his condition as it was. The Dementor fled, and Remus turned back to Hermione and the boy who'd fallen. The other children were gaping at him, but quickly began to help their friends. Remus quickly made sure they were both breathing well: Hermione came to first, and Remus offered her a piece of chocolate, quietly ordering her to eat it. Then he turned to the black-haired boy who was just getting up, aided by two red-headed children, evidently a sister and a brother. The boy was...

The boy opened his brown eyes under an unruly short back hair, and Remus felt his jaw go slack as he stared into the spitting image of James Potter, brown eyes and all.

“J- James?” Remus breathed, and his legs gave away underneath him.

Chapter Text

Remus Lupin, September 1st, 1993 (cont'd)

 

“J- James?” Remus breathed, and his legs gave away underneath him.

The boy who looked very much like James Potter looked around him in a daze and opened his mouth to groan, revealing two large and bucked teeth at the front, something that was definitely not James Potter. On a second, longer look Remus could see some faint differences: his eyes were darker than James', and the teeth were definitely not James. His clothes were obviously Muggle, unlike James', who'd been born into a pure-blood family: the boy's fair skin was tanned: looked like he'd been on a beach holiday. Still, it was all there: the glasses, the wild hair sticking to every direction, although Hermione Potter's wild mane could put anyone's hair to shame where wildness was concerned.

Remus noticed the train had begun moving again and was gaining speed.

Hermione, recovering from her own fainting, scooted over to the boy who looked so much like James Potter that it made Remus feel sick. The red-headed children and a short, plump and round-faced boy tried helping him up, but the bossy little Hermione shooed them all away. “Harry! Harry, are you all right?” she asked.

The boy's face was covered in sweat, and he pushed back his glasses on his nose and nodded, and Hermione allowed the red-headed boy to help him to his seat. Typical Hermione, Lupin thought, caring for another though she'd fainted herself. She wasn't looking too good either: her face was covered in sweat as well, and she seemed to shiver. Remus gained back the use of his legs and used one of the benches to assist himself back up, although his knees still felt weak.

“Are you both OK?” the red-headed boy asked nervously, glancing between the boy and Hermione.

“Yeah,” the black-haired boy replied, glancing nervously around. “What happened? Where's that — that thing? Who screamed?”

“No-one screamed,” the red-headed boy replied nervously.

“No, I heard it too,” Hermione said quickly. “A woman. She was screaming.”

“I heard two voices. Two women. They were so afraid,” the black-haired boy said.

“I only heard one woman,” Hermione said.

“Are you sure?” the boy asked, blinking.

“Positive. Only one.”

“I didn't hear anything,” the red-headed boy said. “Did you, Ginny? Nev? Draco?” The other children shook their heads, all looking very pale and shaken. The red-headed girl had huddled into a corner, and Hermione went to comfort her, wrapping her arms around her.

Remus took out a bar of chocolate and broke out pieces of it, handing them to the children, giving two largest pieces to the boy and Hermione, who'd experienced the biggest shock. “Here,” he said. “Eat it. It'll help.”

Just then the door to the compartment slid open again, and a girl with dirty-blonde hair entered. She rushed to the corner where Hermione was comforting the other girl, and Hermione took the other young girl to her arms as well. The girl seemed quite shaken and troubled, and Remus offered her a piece of his chocolate as well, deciding she needed it more than he did. Crookshanks huddled close to the three girls, and the blonde girl began stroking the cat's fur.

He should have gone to talk to the driver, but the boy who looked so much like James held his attention. It was strange: he was so familiar, so eerily familiar. Hermione nibbled on her chocolate, and the others followed suit: they calmed down, and the girl with the dirty-blonde hair seemed calmer, her pale eyes holding a dreamy look. The 'almost-James' seemed to ignore the piece in his hand, and Remus told him, “I haven't poisoned that chocolate, you know...” the boy flushed, thanked him politely and nibbled on it, his face gaining some colour soon.

“Sorry, sir, thank you. My parents are dentists, and I don't get to eat chocolate often,” he said politely, taking a bite. He'd been well raised, very polite, Remus concluded. “What was that thing, sir?” the 'almost-James' asked.

“A Dementor. One of the Dementors of Azkaban. Hermione, do you want to introduce your friends?” he said gently.

“Oh! Yes, sorry Professor!” she replied, and introduced the childen. The boy who looked like the spitting image of James Potter was, in fact, called Harry Granger, and Remus remembered he was Hermione's Muggle-born best friend. He couldn't stop his suspicions: there was something there. It'd been over a decade since he'd seem James Potter, but they'd grown up together: he wouldn't forget his face, not like this. Nor his build, his hair, the glasses... Merlin, everything!

The red-headed boy was Ronald Weasley and the girl his sister Ginevra, a second-year. The young girl with dirty-blonde hair was Luna Lovegood, the round-faced boy was Neville Longbottom and the boy with the platinum blonde hair was Draco Malfoy: the children Hermione mentioned so often, her best friends.

“Professor Lupin will be teaching us Defence Against the Dark Arts this year,” Hermione concluded her introductions. Remus had shaken each child's hand gravely and politely.

“You fainted then, Granger,” Draco Malfoy snickered, obviously feeling better and ignoring the fact he'd been pale and shaking mere moments ago. “Well done! Very dramatic!”

“Shut it, Malfoy,” Harry Granger replied with a small, faint smile, his voice holding no bite. Remus couldn't help but marvel at it: the son of the proud pure-blooded Lucius Malfoy was kindly teasing a Muggle-born, and neither of them seemed to hate or despise each other.

“I need to speak to the driver,” Remus finally said, “excuse me...” He exited the compartment, but just as he was about to reach the front, a quick glance out of the window revealed familiar sights: the train was mere moments away from Hogsmeade. He turned on his heels and went back: the girls were still in the corner, and though the boys were obviously too proud to seek comfort from the group, they, too, had their eyes drawn on the trio: Neville Longbottom sat quite close to them, shivering slightly.

“We'll be at Hogwarts in a couple of minutes,” he told the children, who obviously relaxed, and he noticed Ronald Weasley release a relieved breath of air, while Draco Malfoy and Harry Granger looked at each other and nodded in some unvoiced confirmation, so used to each other they obviously could communicate with mere looks. Hermione smiled at Remus, although her smile was still slightly tremulous.

“Are you all right, Hermione? Harry?” Remus asked, and Hermione nodded, while Harry muttered “fine,” clearly embarrassed, and began fumbling with his trunk, while Hermione coaxed Crookshanks into his basket with a little help from Luna Lovegood.

After making sure her friends would assist Hermione, Remus stepped out of the train into the hubbub on the platform. He dearly wanted to enjoy the feeling of coming back to the castle he'd considered home for many years, the familiar buzz of the Hogsmeade station, but right now he needed to hurry: he wanted to send an owl to Minerva McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey in advance.

Sending the owl off, he hurried to the Thestral-pulled carriages and selected one that had space: he'd have liked to share one with Hermione and her friends, but most of the students had already stepped into the carriages and dozens had pulled off: Remus settled in among a group of Ravenclaw students who gaped at him curiously.

Remus felt slightly uneasy: the memories of being a student himself were overwhelming. He'd been accompanied by his mates then: James and Sirius, so full of life and joy and pranks, little Peter always staring at them, following behind them all. Lily had been with them during the last times: tucked under James' arm, her auburn hair perfectly made, her make-up pristine and her attire perfect. Remus had adored Lily Evans, perhaps even loved her more than a little bit, but James had been the luckiest of men under the stars to capture her for his own. Remus wasn't used to getting any such attention, really, and coming from Lily it'd been like a mercy from heaven itself. And that one, single night they'd spent together had burned itself into his memory.

Gone now, all of them. Peter, James and Lily lost forever, Sirius a cowardly traitor and murderer after the life of his own god-daughter. Remus was a teacher now, a Professor on his way to his old school, to teach as he'd been taught once. To protect Hermione Potter.

And he'd find out why that boy resembled James Potter so much, because by Merlin, there was something going on.

As the carriages pulled up outside Hogwarts, Remus stepped out, wanting to make sure Hermione was all right: the Dementors had guarded the gates, and she might have gotten frightened again. A sneering female voice carried over from the next carriage: “-- fainted, Potter? The great girl-who-lived fainted at the sight of a Dementor? Hah! That's brilliant!”

“Shove off, Pansy,” Draco Malfoy snapped.

“Defending the half-blood, Malfoy?” the girl sneered at the fair-haired boy. “Surrounding herself with boys for protection! Some Chosen One!”

“Is there a problem?” Remus asked, trying to keep his voice even. The pug-faced girl in Slytherin uniform, surrounded by a few of her friends, turned and flushed.

“Errrr, no, nothing,” she muttered and fled in haste, followed by her friends. Hermione and her friends all looked grateful for his intervention.

Bullying wasn't something that the Professors generally seemed to get involved in at Hogwarts, Remus had noticed, but something felt wrong in this situation. Perhaps it was just that he'd grown to love Hermione like almost every member of the Order — except Snape, naturally, but then again, the dour man was probably incapable of loving anyone — and seeing her bullied felt terrible. It was, however, difficult for a new teacher to get involved, he told himself.

“Are you OK, Hermione?” he asked the girl, and at her confirmation he squeezed her shoulder reassuringly. “I need to run, but if you need to talk or want help, just come and talk to me?” Hermione nodded and Remus petted her wild mane affectionately. “Good girl. See you soon.” He nodded at her friends and rushed in towards the Great Hall to get ready for the Feast.

 

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

 

Remus Lupin, September the 1st, 1993 (cont'd)

 

It had been very strange to sit among the staff, gazing over the familiar Great Hall, over the sea of heads in their school robes. He could see the places they'd sat in at the Gryffindor table, he and his friends, and he could almost see them, Lily and James and Sirius and Peter... and he saw Harry Granger who looked so much like James sitting next to a red-head, except this red-head was also a boy, and a girl who was the daughter of his friend and the girl he'd once loved just a little bit, and who had her green eyes but resembled neither of her parents, and once again he wondered.

He'd have believed it was all a mix-up at the hospital if he hadn't been there when Hermione was born: James had let him hold her when her eyes had still been blue, before they'd turned green months later. He'd seen her when the wisps of brown hair — neither black or auburn — turned curly and then grew to a wild mop that struck to every direction. He'd seen how sad James and Lily were when the baby didn't laugh or even smile at their games of peek-a-boo, when she had gazed at them with a sad, forlorn and all-too-aged expression in her eyes.

At the feast Albus had spoken of the Dementors, and Remus suppressed the flinch when Albus mentioned the Invisibility Cloak: he'd nearly forgotten the cloak that James had used so often. He'd been under it more than once, too, on a way to raid the kitchen after curfew or to prank someone, usually Snape. The thought brought back bittersweet memories of treacle tarts and mince pies given by the elves, and of the instance when all four of them had taken a tumble and Sirius had landed face-first into a bowl. Peter had fallen over squirming with laughter as Sirius has sneezed clotted cream from his nostrils until they'd heard Filch approach and had scampered off, leaving behind them a mess that would undoubtedly be blamed on Peeves. Did Hermione own James' Cloak now? It probably wouldn't work, not after all this time.

Albus had introduced him as the new Professor for Defence Against the Dark Arts, and Remus could feel how Severus' eyes pierced him, full with loathing and hatred. Severus had confronted him once, before he'd departed from the Order's house: he'd hissed threats at Remus if he should ever miss taking his Wolfsbane Potion, and made his opinion of Remus quite clear. They'd worked together, and Remus had seen Severus participate in destroying the Horcrux, but the hatred Severus felt for that old prank of Sirius Black would probably never be truly gone. He might have easily killed Severus that night, there was no denying it, and without intervention from Albus Severus could have gotten Remus expelled from Hogwarts. It had been a stupid and childish thing to do, really, and just like Sirius Black: Remus had long refused to believe that Sirius truly wanted Severus dead.

This wasn't ideal, not by a long shot: he believed he'd enjoy teaching and being around to help and support Hermione during the term was excellent, but having Severus as an enemy was very depressing, and the danger to Hermione from Sirius Black was very real.

It was good to see many familiar faces. Most of the staff had taught him when he'd been to school: Vector, Sinistra, Minerva, Filius... they'd all taught him once. And Hagrid now teaching Care of Magical Creatures and beaming with pride, congratulated by Hermione and her friends until the soft-hearted half-giant had to pull out his napkin to cover his tears. Remus smiled warmly at Hermione as Minerva shooed her and her friends away, covering up her own proud smile under the stern exterior.

After the Feast Remus went to Albus and asked to talk to him privately for a moment after the staff meeting that would follow the Feast. Albus acquiesced with a beaming smile, and as the students drifted off, the staff slowly made their way into the staffroom.

After the short meeting Albus led Remus to his office. “Sherbet Lemon?” he offered, and Remus declined: her preferred chocolate, and the meal had been more than sufficient. Remus quickly summarised the encounter between the Dementor and the students, especially Hermione Potter's and Harry Granger's reactions to it.

“Albus, have you noticed that Harry Granger is a spitting image of James Potter?” he asked.

Albus nodded. “There is a resemblance, of course. But when one is dealing with so many generations of children, one learns that there are always coincidences. Why, only a few years ago we taught a boy who looked very much like you during your earliest years. He, of course, changed, and during his sixth year he had changed so much he didn't resemble you at all. We have seen a girl who could have been Aurora's daughter, and I've even taught a few children who looked a lot like I did when I was a student.”

“Coincidence, then?” Remus asked.

Albus nodded sagely. “When one has taught for a long time, one does get used to such things.”

“And what about their reactions? I can understand Hermione's reaction: she's been through a terrible ordeal, and a Dementor would have such an effect on her, but what about Harry Granger?”

“It is quite possible that he, too, has had some bad experiences...”

“He heard a woman scream,” Remus interrupted.

“You said he heard two women scream, not just one, so I believe it's logical the situation is completely different. He might have heard any pair of women scream,” Albus said sternly. “We cannot know what he has faced in his life, perhaps before the time he remembers it consciously. Hermione heard a woman scream, and yes, it is likely she heard Lily. As with young Harry... we cannot know if he's been a witness to an accident, perhaps something that left a scar into his memory? Or the two unknown women screamed for some other, less traumatic reason, leaving a memory of being very frightened once. We cannot know, and frankly, unless it causes trouble, it isn't our business.”

Remus sighed but nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“Splendid. I believe I shall show you to your chambers,” Albus said, getting up and escorting Remus out and through the corridors. “They're close to the Defence classroom. You can call the house-elves if you need anything, or come to me at any time...”

The chambers were quite large and convenient, equipped with a private bathroom and a small staff kitchen as well as a sitting room and a bedroom. Very luxurious compared to the Order's house he'd lived in, and Remus was grateful and pleased. But in the dead of the night he couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong, despite the assurances from Albus. He could have shaken off his suspicions if it was just a matter of the boy looking so much like James, but the reaction to a Dementor was just too much. Something was off, and Remus swore to himself he'd find out what.

 

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

 

Albus Dumbledore, September 1st, 1993

 

After he'd left Remus to get some rest, Albus departed back to his office. A shimmer by his left side betrayed Severus under a Disillusionment, but the men exchanged no words until they'd reached the office.

“Remus needed to be assured that Harry Granger isn't James Potter. He saw their remarkable similarities.”

Severus snorted. “Of course he did. He's an asshole and a moron but he's hardly blind.”

Albus gazed at him chidingly above his half-moon spectacles. “Very few others have noticed.”

“Tells us quite a bit about their level of intelligence and skills of observation, doesn't it? Lupin will cause problems. Of course he'll cause even more if he helps Sirius Black. I keep telling you, those two are simply...”

“No, Severus, he won't. He loves Hermione too much to endanger her.”

“And I think he's too damn stupid and Gryffindor to consider the consequences of helping...”

“That's enough, Severus. I'll have no more of this. I think you should also know that Hermione and Harry Granger reacted to a Dementor by fainting. Hermione heard a woman scream, and Harry Granger heard two women.”

“Two wom...” Severus paused and swallowed thickly. “Two?”

“I cannot know for certain, but I do believe Harry heard Miss Hermione Granger scream, as well as Lily. He heard things from his old memory.”

“So now we know that Miss Potter isn't the only one who remembers things from her former incarnation, as it were.”

“So it seems. We should keep an eye on both of them.”

“You could try forcing Granger's brain with Legilimency.”

“It would be just as likely to damage his mind or body as with Hermione.”

“So?” Severus shrugged. “The Chosen One needs to be protected, Granger does... not. The boy is stubborn, unpleasant, reckless and without almost any measure of talent.”

“You have never willingly endangered the life of one of your students, Gryffindor or not, no matter how they've acted, Severus. You're judging the boy by associating him with James Potter. Harry Granger was raised to be a Muggle, and he's very different, surely you can see that! He has a lot of Lily inside him as well.”

Severus' only reaction was a raised eyebrow, and Albus sighed. Severus had protected even the most headstrong of Gryffindor students for over a decade: he'd taught them and protected them from their own mistakes — occasional intentional mistakes included — even when they'd spewed their hatred and insults at him, thinking he couldn't hear their insults or wouldn't care. They'd insulted his looks: his nose, his hair, his teeth and his skin, and yet Severus had prevented anyone from getting themselves killed, week after week, month after month, and Albus knew him well enough to know that every insult had struck him like a bolt of lightning or another nail in the coffin that was his self-esteem.

Albus had always thought that Severus detested James Potter because he'd married Lily Evans, but it seemed like Severus hated James Potter because he was James Potter, and now Harry Granger merely because he looked like James Potter. Perhaps Lily had been the one last thing in a pile of unfortunate circumstances, but Severus' hatred for James Potter and his friends was almost disproportionate.

“I will try Legilimency with Harry myself,” Albus promised. Severus was right in one thing: Hermione was the Chosen One, and while Harry had failed when he'd been in her place, he might be able to glean something from Harry's mind. If they had any luck at all, they might be able to prevent a full-out war, and if sacrifices were necessary...

Albus took off his spectacles and rubbed the bridge of his nose: a rare show of exhaustion from him. The portraits of the former Headmasters and Severus Snape were his only witnesses, and he knew none of them would talk. Sometimes Albus really hated being the general.

Chapter Text

September 2nd, 1993

 

Hermione sat between Ron and Harry at the breakfast table. In general the students sat at their house tables during meals, but Luna had taken it upon herself to sit with her Gryffindor friends, and Draco often followed her example, if he wasn't sitting with Blaise Zabini or Theo Nott: both Theo and Blaise were relatively quiet and studious Slytherins, and had formed a truce with Hermione's band after she'd demanded points for Draco during their first year. While many other Slytherins tended to respect Draco because of his blood status and his wealth, his friendship with Hermione had cost him friends at his own house, and the blonde Slytherin enjoyed many of his meals with Hermione, Harry, Neville, Ron, Ginny and Luna.

Draco had rushed to fetch his timetable from Professor Snape — Hermione's heart gave a familiar flutter at the sight of the tall, dark and surly man — but rushed back to his place next to Harry. By an unvoiced agreement someone always sat between Draco and Ron, unless they were sitting on the opposite sides of the table. Professor Snape glared at Draco disapprovingly but didn't appear to rebuke him this time. Luna had already received her timetable from Professor Flitwick, and she compared hers with Ginny's timetable quietly.

“Ooh, good, we're starting some new subjects today,” Hermione said happily.

“Hermione, they've messed up your timetable,” Ron said, looking over her shoulder. “Look — you have classes during weekends. And late in the evenings too! You have both Arithmancy and Muggle Studies on a Sunday. There aren't any classes on Sundays!”

“I've fixed it with Professor McGonagall,” Hermione said calmly. “They couldn't fit them into my timetable, so the professors agreed to give me private lessons.”

“Why are you taking Muggle Studies?” Neville asked. “Weren't you raised Muggle?”

“Sure, but I think it gives perspective on how Wizards view Muggles,” Hermione explained.

“Of course they're willing to give you private lessons, you're the Chosen One...” Ron muttered bitterly.

“I'm sure they could fit you right in if you wish to take more electives than required, Ronald,” Hermione said, deadpan, and Draco chortled, almost spraying his pumpkin juice on the table. Ron's face flushed and he muttered something, stabbing his sausages violently, then turning to look at Hagrid, who'd just entered the Great Hall dressed in his moleskin coat and holding a dead polecat.

 

Inside Hermione Potter's mind Hermione Granger wanted to pace around, bristling with nerves. Honestly, this was worse than the end of term exams! They hadn't given her the time-turner, and how was she supposed to solve this without one!? How could Professor McGonagall do this to her? She needed that time-turner! And to think that she'd been given one when she hadn't been the Chosen One, but now that she was, she wasn't... what were they thinking?

Hermione Granger both bristled and felt a stab of regret and disappointment: she'd been very careful with the device back then, she'd followed the rules to the letter until the Headmaster himself had suggested they'd use it to help Sirius Black and Buckbeak. Didn't Professor McGonagall trust her now?

Then the realisation hit like a Bludger... or a sixteen ton weight, like she was more prone to say in her Muggle-born mind, the mind that remembered watching Monty Python's Flying Circus on the telly with her parents and chortling with laughter: she'd been given a time-turner because it was deemed dangerous and now she wasn't expandable. So that's how little they had valued her back then? Was this a choice made by Professor Dumbledore?

How on earth was she supposed to get things done now? She could see how things were playing out, almost exactly like they had been back then, and she could do nothing to help them.

Of all the bloody, buggering, blasted... Hermione cursed inwardly, using language she would never have deemed appropriate out loud, language she'd used when they'd been camping in that blasted tent. She was going to fail, and fail them all!

 

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September 2nd, 1993 (continued)

 

“Well done, Hermione!” Hagrid cheered. “Right — yeh can touch him! Pat his beak, go on!”

Hermione Potter gently rubbed Buckbeak's beak, and the Hippogriff closed his eyes, enjoying the touch. “Hello there, you're so beautiful,” Hermione cooed gently, and the animal peeked at her curiously, apparently very pleased.

“Right, then, I reckon he migh' let yeh ride him!” Hagrid said happily, and Hermione gasped in terror. She heard Draco and Ronald snicker behind her.

“No, sir, please, I can't...”

“Sure yeh can!” Hagrid beamed. “He'll let yeh!”

“Hermione is afraid of flying, sir,” Harry Granger said gently. “She's afraid of heights.”

“Oh...” Hagrid said, sounding disappointed.

“But he's really beautiful, and I love petting him,” Hermione said quickly, and Hagrid smiled and took a few steps towards the other Hippogriffs, ready to introduce them to the students.

“I'll ride him!” Draco said, advancing quickly towards Hermione and the Hippogriff that had lowered his head on Hermione's shoulder, his hand raised.

“No, Draco!” Hermione gasped and shoved the boy back just as Buckbeack had raised his head and his pupils had narrowed at the boy who'd acted disrespectfully.

“Ow!” Draco whined. “Why'd you do that? Just look at my robes!”

“Better that than getting mauled, you idiot,” Hermione snapped and petted Buckbeak again. “Hagrid clearly told you how to approach a Hippogriff: with respect. You need to bow!”

“Fine,” Draco groaned, backing away. “Can I approach him again?” he asked Hagrid, who thought for a while and guided Draco towards another Hippogriff, leaving Harry to approach Buckbeak. Draco did as he was told, and soon Draco and Harry were both riding on the backs of the Hippogriff, laughing exuberantly.

“So, are you going to continue with Divination then?” Draco asked Hermione later, as they approached the Great Hall.

“I don't know. It's a load of rubbish if you ask me,” she said.

“You'll like Arithmancy more,” Draco said.

“Will you let me look at what you did in class?” she asked. “I'll have private lessons, but I'm not sure if Professor Vector will follow the curriculum exactly and I'd...”

“...Like to be prepared!” Draco finished her sentence with a smirk. “Of course you would. I'll give them to you later.”

“Well, Trelawney said she had a Grim in her tea leaves, and my uncle Bilius...” Ron grumbled, still irritated from the earlier argument.

“Everyone knows about me and You-Know-Who. And Lavender thought she was just seeing a dog in my cup,” Hermione snapped. “Trelawney's just guessing.”

“It was a brilliant lesson though,” Harry said quickly, trying to stop the argument from flaring up.

“It was!” Draco admitted and grinned. “Wouldn't mind doing that again! Not as brilliant as riding a broom, mind you.” Harry nodded at his friend with an equal grin, and Ron, too, conceded. “I almost slipped off his back,” he admitted. “Bloody slippery if you ask me!”

 

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Severus Snape, September 9th, 1993

 

“Please, sir,” Hermione asked him, her voice pleading, “please, I could help Neville put it right —”

“I don't remember asking you to show off, Miss Potter,” Severus said coldly, and his heart stabbed when Hermione's face flushed with shame and sorrow. “Longbottom, at the end of this lesson we will feed a few drops of this potion to your toad and see what happens. Perhaps that will encourage you to do it properly.”

Moving away, Severus distinctly heard Longbottom moan “Help me!” to Hermione. He knew she would: she'd hiss instructions from the corner of her mouth as she always did, and Severus would ignore it, like he usually did when she was subtle and silent enough: it might have been cheating, but Potions was a core subject and damned if he'd ever watch Longbottom double a year in his class. He'd have to endure him for five long years, and the boy would never attend his N.E.W.T-level classes: damned if he'd endure him for any doubles. And, to be frank, Hermione did usually prevent the worst explosions and accidents from happening.

Watching her and Longbottom subtly he couldn't help but be impressed by the way she managed to help the useless boy to correct his potion, countering the effects of the extra rat spleen and too much leech juice while preparing her own, perfectly made potion. The Shrinking Solution itself was a simple potion, and she'd followed the instructions to the letter: the efficacy could be improved with one third of a sliced fig leaf and two very rapid extra turns counter-clockwise at the end of brewing, but the curriculum followed textbook instructions and botching with the leaf could cause an explosion, so Severus had decided not to add that piece of instruction: he'd be scooping up miniature students off the floor and having to cancel the rest of the classes while the ceiling was being scrubbed.

As Severus trickled down the potion from Longbottom's cauldron down the toad's throat, he had to hide his smirk: the girl was, indeed, quite brilliant. Longbottom's potion would have poisoned the toad if she hadn't corrected it. The Gryffindors and Draco Malfoy cheered and applauded when the toad became a tadpole, and Severus pulled out the antidote and trickled a couple of measured drops on the tadpole, which grew back instantly. Severus handed him back to Longbottom, but glared at Hermione and shook his head minutely, letting the girl know that he knew she'd been helping her friend. The girl flushed a brilliant shade of crimson and averted her eyes.

“Five points from Gryffindor for a badly scrubbed cauldron, Granger,” Severus added, pointing at Harry Granger's cauldron, and James Potter's clone flushed with outrage.

“Class dismissed,” Severus said curtly. He faintly heard Weasley whine: “Neville's potion worked and still no points! And there was nothing wrong with Harry's cauldron, either!” and Hermione's responding “Shut up, Ronald!” Severus smirked.

 

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Sirius Black, September 7th, 1993

 

Sirius had once again managed to snatch himself a piece of meat from the shack where Hagrid stored the meat to be taken for the Thestrals. He never dared to take a lot, but there was enough there that the half-giant would never miss one of the smaller pieces.

Sirius was anxious: he'd not seen a hide nor hair of Pettigrew, though he'd seen the red-headed boy Ronald Weasley at a distance, and guessed that he'd have the rat with him. He hadn't dared to attack him to get to Pettigrew when he was surrounded by his friends.

And he'd seen Hermione! She'd grown up so much from the little green-eyed baby she'd been: her hair was even wilder than it had been, a riot of bushy curls that seemed to grow everywhere, her eyes sharp and intelligent. The thought of his little god-daughter in the same space as the rat, unsuspecting and defenceless, had fury boiled in his veins for the injustice of it all.

Just then Sirius saw movement: it was close to dusk, and the orange creature — a part-Kneazle, by the looks of it — had gotten quite close without alerting him. The animal was staring at him: he'd caught and killed a large mouse, but at that moment it stared at Sirius in a way that told it was not just looking, but absolutely scrutinizing him. Kneazles and part-Kneazles were intelligent, and this cat was definitely a smart one. They could sense unreliable people and creatures, and this animal was determining whether Sirius was an enemy, a friend, or worth his time.

After a while the orange cat dropped the mouse and approached Sirius, purring and rubbing his head against him, and Sirius allowed it. It'd been a long time since he'd had any kind of companion of any species, and an intelligent part-Kneazle would be a formidable ally in protecting Hermione and catching the rat that was Peter Pettigrew.

 

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Remus Lupin, September 9th, 1993

 

Remus watched and smiled as his third-year class faced their Boggart: Neville had already dressed the Boggart-Severus in his grandmother's clothes. The students had turned the Boggart into various shapes including a mummy, a banshee, a rat, a rattlesnake and an eyeball. The Boggart was becoming confused as Dean turned it into a severed hand trapped in a mousetrap. Ron Weasley's intervention made it into a gigantic spider that lost his legs, and the Boggart rolled like a ball, passing the squealing Lavender Brown and ending up at Harry Granger's feet.

Suddenly the Boggart turned into a Dementor, and Harry Granger froze, his eyes wide and shocked. He was trembling as the Boggart advanced on him. Suddenly Hermione Potter, right behind Harry Granger, snatched a hold on the boy's shoulder and shoved him behind her, placing herself between the Boggart and the frightened boy.

The Boggart changed with a loud crack! and became Severus Snape again: angry, forbidding, seething with contempt. Black eyes stared at Hermione, and the Boggart hissed: “You've failed, you silly little girl. You've failed everything. You've failed your exams, you've failed your mission. Nobody could like you, you ugly little...”

Hermione's eyes brimmed with tears, and Remus had had enough: he jumped in front of her, and the Boggart became a full moon with a loud crack!, until Remus changed into a cockroach and called Neville to finish it off. The Boggart changed back into Snape in a dress, until Neville's laughter made it vanish into thousands of wisps of smoke.

Remus set the students an essay and asked Hermione and Harry to remain behind. The two students, obviously troubled, still clutched each other: Remus had rarely seen siblings as close as these two unrelated students were, and again he wondered about the boy who could have been James Potter if he hadn't had the teeth and the darker brown eyes, and Hermione Granger, who didn't resemble James at all and only had her mother's distinctive green eyes.

“We... I failed...” Hermione said sadly, and Harry patted her back comfortingly.

“It isn't unusual to fail facing a Boggart, Hermione,” Remus said soothingly. “You are facing your worst fear, after all, and you have a tremendous pressure on you. You feel it's necessary to succeed at everything, not just saving the world but at school, too. It is only natural. You'll do better later, I promise. And it was incredibly valiant of you to protect your best friend behind you,” he remarked with a kind smile.

“As for you, Harry...” Remus said, “your worst fear seems to be — fear. I think that is extremely brave, and a very difficult fear to conquer. One of the most difficult ones, I think. Very wise.”

Harry Granger nodded, looking slightly dejected. Hermione, though, was looking more and more angry all the time.

“Is there a problem, Hermione?” Remus inquired.

“Sir, I think it was very rude to make Neville embarrass Professor Snape like that,” the girl remarked, and Remus was reminded of Lily Evans during her earliest years when she's sometimes defended Severus against them, before she'd gotten enough of him.

“I'm sorry if you feel that way. It's just the way that Boggarts are defeated, that's all. It was a simple lesson for one class, that's all. No harm done,” Remus said gently.

“They'll make fun of him, and doing that to him was nasty!” Hermione insisted.

“Come now, Hermione, don't worry. Severus has thick skin, and he doesn't care about what people say about him,” Remus argued logically. Hermione's green eyes turned angrier and she was biting her lower lip, clearly torn between disrespecting her teacher and defending Severus: the surly and taciturn man had obviously become one of her favourite teachers, though Remus could not fathom why: Severus was thoroughly unpleasant and unlikeable. In the end she turned her head away from him, and Remus couldn't shake the feeling he'd disappointed her in some way.

As the days went by, Hermione's assessment turned out true: the word of the Snape-Boggart had travelled through the entire school in less than a day, and almost every student tittered about it. When Hermione was around, very few dared to: she'd screamed at Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnegan and slapped Gregory Goyle hard enough to make the big and burly boy fall on his backside. If Septima hadn't been there to see it, Remus suspected that Goyle would have attacked Hermione: Septima had given Hermione detention, but Remus suspected she'd spent the time doing Arithmantic calculations instead of lines, considering how much Septima gushed about her incredibly clever student. Goyle and his friend Vincent Crabbe seemed to be slightly frightened of her, Remus noticed: they seemed to avoid her during the following days. Apparently the little spitfire of a girl packed quite a punch.

Remus saw Severus seethe in rage when he heard the students laugh and giggle, and once witnessed when he overheard some fourth-years laugh at the descriptions of Snape in a vulture hat, until Hermione Potter happened to pass them by and shout at them all. Severus' face was blank and expressionless when he turned and walked away and Remus couldn't help but wonder what the man was thinking.

 

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Severus Snape, September 11th, 1993

 

Severus collapsed on his bed, exhausted beyond measure. He'd been prowling in the corridors again, by the excuse of catching errant students during curfew, but it wasn't his shift, and he'd truly been out hoping he'd catch Sirius Black, that black-hearted bastard. And, truthfully, because he was quite often too lonely and restless to simply sit and read.

He'd corrected the various essays and started on some of his own brewing, but the thoughts hadn't left him alone. It was usually guilt over Lily's death: sometimes it was guilt over the people he'd been forced to torture or kill in the name of the Dark Lord, usually because he couldn't risk his cover as a spy. He'd watched his so-called brothers torture, maim and kill dozens of Muggles and Muggle-borns: he could sometimes hear their cries and see their eyes, and on those nights he patrolled the corridors, his long legs trying to carry him faster than his mind did.

And sometimes he caught rule-breakers and could deduct points, and the delight from that, counting the points to for the meaningless House Cup (and the amount of Galleons involved in the bet) would distract his mind for long enough for him to fall asleep, and sometimes even sleep well over the night, but this hadn't been one of those nights.

And fucking Lupin. The word of what happened to Longbottom's Boggart had spread all through the school, and he'd faced the staff room filled with badly suppressed smirks and grins. Hooch and Sprout had ribbed him, and Filius fucking Flitwick had giggled inanely. His students were trying not to titter and he'd confiscated a few drawings of himself in a dress and a vulture hat. He'd been furious, of course, but wouldn't let them see how much it hurt. Just like it had hurt when he'd been a mere boy and the Marauders had bullied him.

Lupin had actually told Minerva that Hermione had been furious at him, and he'd overheard her berating another student in the corridor. Such a strange feeling to combine the name of Potter to someone defending his name, unasked as the defence was.

Too tired for anything else, he stripped his clothes and pulled the covers over himself. He tried to recall the happier memories of Lily and their childhood together, the years before Hogwarts, but once again those memories failed to appear: for years he'd used the memories to fall asleep and gain some meagre amount of peace, but they'd grown hollow over the course of last few years. Where he'd once seen Lily's perfection, he now saw her flaws: he could remember the times she skipped their time together to meet some other, more interesting friends, remember her refusal to invite him to her home when he'd been dressed in poor and shabby clothes, the times she'd wanted someone to listen for her grievances but didn't want to listen to his in turn. The times she'd giggled when Potter, Black, Pettigrew and Lupin had tormented him, though she'd done her best to hide her amusement. For the last few years the memories had grown hollow. He could remember her eyes, because he saw them in Hermione's face daily, and he could remember her dark red hair, but what was the shape of her nose? He couldn't really recall. And what about her face? Had it been round, or oval, or heart-shaped? He couldn't remember.

Severus tossed and turned, settling on his side and tucking his arm under his pillow. Had Lily's face resembled Hermione's face at all? He closed his eyes and pictured Hermione's face in his mind, the shape of it, the way she laughed and smiled and the green eyes, or the brown eyes he'd seen in the Pensieve in the face of the older girl...

Severus Snape slept soundly.