“I can’t believe you did this Hermione,” Ron said in a disbelieving tone while they were walking towards their Transfiguration class. “I mean, I get it. Snape’s a git and all that, but he’ll make you pay for attacking him like that and making him look like a fool.”
“Yeah,” Hermione mumbled while staring at the floor in dismay. How could she have lost her restraint like that? Attacking him had just felt good , in a way that made her feel embarrassed now. There were just so many feelings she had bottled up over the last days and now there was finally this way out for them. While throwing spell after spell towards him she could pretend that she, too, was able to hurt him, as he had hurt her. Not that she’d ever had the chance to land a hit, to begin with. “I don’t know why I did that,” she said. “It just felt so good to curse him, you know?”
The boys snorted. “Course we do,” Ron said and squeezed her shoulder.
Harry, at her other side, nodded. “Yeah. He’s singled you out again. You did not deserve that. It’s like he knew what happened in the Department of Mysteries. But I guess his Death Eater friends have been bragging about it.”
Hermione sent him a doubtful look. “He’s no longer a Death Eater, Harry,” she mumbled. “Don’t you know?”
“Know what?” her friends chorused, staring at her curiously.
Hermione sighed. There wasn’t enough time for a lengthy explanation now, but she knew that the boys wouldn’t just let it go like that. Making a short decision she pulled them into a broom-cupboard around the corner, before casting a Muffliato around them. Harry and Ron watched her with wide eyes.
“What was that spell?” Harry asked, furrowing his brows.
“Muffliato,” she explained. “This way we won’t be overheard.”
“Wicked,” Ron mumbled, shifting next to her in the small space and involuntarily she felt his arm brush her chest. Hermione ignored it.
“It’s useful,” she admitted with a small, pleased smile. “Anyway, Professor Snape is no longer a Death Eater. He... something must have happened, I don’t exactly know the details, but I know that he cut off his arm to get rid of the Dark Mark.”
“He cut off his arm?” Harry asked, his voice full of disbelief. “But Hermione, he still has both arms.”
She rolled her eyes. “He regrew it, of course. I mean, there must be potions for that sort of thing, right? If you’re able to regrow a bone with Skelegrow, why not a whole arm?” she added resourcefully. ”Remember? I spent a big part of my summer break at the castle and I’ve seen it. For some weeks Professor Snape just had his right arm. The other one just grew back a couple of days ago.”
Hermione wouldn’t tell them that she had helped the Professor brewing the potion or regrowing his arm. That was none of their business. But she was sure the Order had been aware of his condition and the circumstances that led to it. Therefore she thought it was alright to share the knowledge with her friends. They needed to know, that Professor Snape was on their side of the war, without a way back to his former master.
“Wicked,” Ron mumbled, sounding impressed.
“Doesn’t change the fact that he’s still a git,” Harry added, before pushing the little door back open. Ron snorted before they one by one climbed back into the corridor again. They’d have to hurry if they wanted to make it in time for their next lesson. But Hermione thought this little talk would be worth Professor McGonagall scolding them, because with Ron and Harry back at the castle she finally had the feeling not to be alone any longer.
Hermione was just about to walk to her afternoon classes when Neatly, the house-elf, appeared right in front of her.
“Professor Dumbledore invites Miss Granger into his office,” the little female squeaked, staring at her with huge, yellow eyes. “Neatly is to tell Miss Granger, that she should get there right away and will be excused from her classes for the time of the meeting.”
Hermione stared at the little elf with wide eyes. Why did the Headmaster suddenly want to talk to her? Was something wrong with her parents? Or had she somehow gotten herself into trouble? She stared at Ron and Harry, who waited next to her, with a lost expression.
Harry, who must have understood her unasked question shrugged. “We’ll tell Professor Flitwick that you’ll be late. Don’t worry, I’m sure everything is fine.”
Hermione could only hope they were right. But she guessed she was about to find out in a few minutes.
“Ah, Miss Granger! Do come in,” Albus greeted the nervous girl and motioned for her to come inside. Miss Granger stared at him with an almost panicked expression, probably trying to access if she was in trouble. He could not fault her, as he rarely invited students for a friendly chat into his office. “Tea?”
The girl slowly came closer, looking at his cheerful expression in puzzlement. “Did something happen to my parents?” she asked, a hint of panic in her voice.
Albus shook his head with a reassuring smile. “Do not worry, my girl, everything is in the best order. I merely invited you here to talk about possible plans for the time after your birthday.”
He had decided to take things slow in this first meeting. As the girl was connected to Severus, she would not go anywhere anytime soon. Therefore, there was no reason for him to get careless and give away the game. He could afford to take his time to convince her of his position and the ideas he had for her and his DADA professor.
The girl’s relief was clearly visible as she sunk back into the cushioned chair he had provided for her. “I do not understand, Sir,” she said, carefully sipping the tea he had carefully laced with a mild calming draught. Nothing that went over the top, but enough to make her feel relaxed in his presence. Going by the pressure radiating from her body and the dark shadows under her eyes, she needed it.
“Did you consider joining the Order, after you are of age?” he asked, his grandfatherly smile firmly in place. “Because we could use such a bright and brave woman like you.”
Miss Granger looked at him with a confused expression, but the little smile on her lips told him that she was pleased by his compliment. Good. It would make her listen to what he had to say. “I’d love to, Sir. I just thought you only started recruiting once a person has left school.”
He nodded with a smile. “Usually we do. But in your case I see myself making an exception. Thanks to your intelligence and your out-of-the-box-thinking I am going to see the end of the school year, as well as hopefully many other years, after that. Apart from that, I have been told, that you are currently in a very special position.”
The girl looked at him with a considering look, but her face darkened as soon as she understood, what he had hinted at. “You mean my connections with Professor Snape?” she asked, her voice suddenly a lot more distant.
Albus nodded with a kind smile. “I do. Kindred Magic is a rare gift, my girl, even though it might not seem like it at the moment. But a fully established bond comes with many magical advantages, increased magical power being only one of them.”
She nodded with a tired sigh. “For that, Professor Snape and I would at least need to trust each other and from my side, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.”
“Ah,” Albus said, his understanding smile firmly in place. “I take it things are not going well then. Well, I am not going to ask for any details, as that is none of my business. Professor Snape can be a bit rough around the edges, but I assure you that he does mean well and has a good heart.”
The girl looked at him with a doubtful expression, but the tension was slowly starting to leave her shoulders, indicating that the tea was working. Good. He at least needed to implant a seed of hope and understanding in her, a seed that could be grown into something more, with time. “He has been a spy for a long time and he did not have anyone else than himself. But with this connection between you, the two of you could really have an impact on this war, that is if you are willing to work with each other. I am not going to ask anything of you just now, Miss Granger. There is still time until you reach adulthood. But maybe you would like to consider my words until then and see, what it is you’d like to do for the Order and to end this war endangering people like yourself and your parents.”
He hated to play that particular card, but from the expression in her eyes, he could see, that it was working. Apart from that, it was true. Tom and his cronies endangered the magical world but especially young wizards and witches of non-magical heritage. To end this war, they would have to do their part, too, no matter how hard or unfair it might seem to them.
“I understand,” Miss Granger mumbled, her eyes taking on a glassy look as she started considering his thoughts. Well, or maybe he had putten a bit too much calming draught in her tea, Albus thought, as he could see her keel sideways on the armchair a moment later. He sighed, his wandless magic catching her gently, stabilizing her as he called for a house-elf to carry her back to her quarters. He had said everything he wanted to, anyway and now the girl would have time to consider his words. He would let her sleep in her quarters for the rest of the afternoon, because going by her tired appearance she really could use a rest. And as far as he was told, she had detention with Severus in the evening and he wanted her in a good mood and well-rested for that.
Walking down to Professor Snape’s office felt like the hardest thing Hermione had ever done, even though that was probably total nonsense considering the trouble she, Ron and Harry had gotten themselves into. It was, like she was down in the forest again, together with Harry, facing a horde of dementors. But this time there was no getting away, as Professor Snape would be expecting her and if she somehow backed out today, he would only double her number of detentions - she knew he would. So she would simply have to brace those hours with him and scrub cauldrons, or whatever it was he’d make her do. That didn’t mean she had to talk to him.
She had barely knocked at his office when he opened the door, his dark eyes scanning her calmly. It was the first time she felt truly insecure under his gaze, which was strange considering she had found pleasure in cursing him in the morning.
“You’ll be serving your detention outside, Miss Granger,” he announced, before stepping towards her, closing the door behind him. “Follow me.”
Hermione did not dare to question him. Instead, she walked behind him as they exited the castle through a small door in the dungeons that led them to a place close to the Black Lake. Now the water surface was almost orange, reflecting the sun that was about to disappear behind the forest and for a moment she could not help but stare at the beauty of the scene in awe. No matter what Professor Snape would put her through tonight, that moment would almost make it worth it, Hermione told herself.
They walked for some minutes, always along the shore, until the Professor finally stopped and turned around her with an unreadable expression. “Here we are,” he said calmly. “Considering the amount of time you spent swimming in the lake during the summer, I concluded that you are able to swim well enough. Tell me if I am wrong.”
For a moment she just stared at him, unable to contemplate his words. “You want to take me for a swim?” she asked in total disbelief. Because this was Professor Snape, the man she had only once seen in less than his buttoned-up teaching robes and who did not appear like his idea of detention was taking a student out for a swim in the Black Lake.
“Not for leisure,” he commented in a dry tone. “You will help me procure something that is reported to be found below the surface of the lake.”
His words prompted a myriad of questions, that immediately started to float around her head, but she found herself unable to ask a single one of them. It wasn’t her place to question him and apart from that, she still did not feel inclined to talk to him, not if she could avoid it. Still, her curiosity wanted her to ask, even though she was not even sure if he would give her an answer. Professor Snape had an affinity for keeping things from her, after all. And she would not give him the chance to lie to her again, she thought, deciding that she wouldn’t say anything at all.
“Transfigure your clothes into something you’re comfortable to swim in,” Professor Snape instructed her and without waiting for her to do so, he took out his wand and transfigured his black robe into a short-sleeved and short-legged swimsuit, that reminded her of the clothes she had seen surfers wearing during the colder season. She decided to aim for something similar, as she would not feel comfortable wearing a bikini in his presence. The Professor patiently waited for her to finish at the shore, his eyes scanning the lake surface like he was looking for something particular. Considering their destination he probably was.
“Do I need to remind you of the lesson you’re supposed to learn from this detention, Miss Granger?” he asked in a deep voice.
“No, Sir,” she croaked out, her eyes fixed on his chest. Now that his body was not hidden beneath layers of black fabric she could see how lean and wiry his body indeed was. It looked like there wasn’t a bit of fat on him, as his body just seemed to consist of bones and lean muscles. Against the dark contrast of the ground, she could also see his pale arms, each of them unblemished, without the Dark Mark. Hermione blinked as soon as she caught herself staring.
“Good,” Professor Snape said, slowly stepping towards her until he was almost standing toe to toe with her. “I expect you to follow my commands, Miss Granger, without question and as soon as they are given . Did I make myself clear?”
“You did, Sir,” Hermione answered without raising her eyes from his chest.
“Take that,” he continued and offered her a simple bracelet, that seemed to be made out of thin thread or hair. “As soon as you slip this over your arm, you will be able to communicate with me mentally. I expect you to return it to me, as soon as our little trip has come to an end.”
“”Yes, Sir,” Hermione replied and took the bracelet out of his hand, careful as to not touch his skin. She slipped it unto her left arm a moment later, the soft material warm and comforting against her skin.
“Very well. Do you prefer the Bubble-Head Charm, partial Transfiguration or Gillyweed?” the man in front of her continued and suddenly Hermione felt the need to lift her eyes and look at him. They seemed black, as they usually did and looked at her with a reassuring calmness, that made her pause. He really had planned this trip very well, even leaving her the choice of the method enabling her to breathe underwater.
“I think I would prefer the Bubble-Head charm,” she said hesitantly. Ever since her Polyjuice-accident that temporarily turned her into a cat, she did not like the idea of turning parts of her into something resembling an animal. Not that she planned to share this information with him. “I never learned to cast it, though.”
“I will do it for you,” he said and offered her a second item. “Put your wand into this wand-holder and strap it onto your wrist. Your wand will come to your hand, once you make this motion,” he said and showed her what to do with his right arm. There, he too wore a black wand-holder that looked well worn. He probably had worn it for a long time, she realized. “We might have to use our wands later on,” he said, finally stepping away from her. “Your ability to cast non-verbally is luckily well enough established to do just that.”
Hermione blinked. Had he just praised her? Maybe not directly but taking her on such a trip after only one lesson on non-verbal casting seemed more than a bit… unusual.
“I will do my best, Sir,” she promised and stepped next to him into the water. I was still surprisingly warm, but then again it was still summer.
“I expected nothing less from you, Miss Granger. Now come. We will have to swim for a while until we’ll hopefully find the place I have been looking for,” Professor Snape said and walked into the water. Suddenly Hermione found her nerves tingle with anticipation and nervousness. She had expected to scrub cauldrons or prepare big batches of ingredients. Compared to that, accompanying Professor Snape on a trip into the Black Lake did not feel like detention at all.
Severus felt strangely pleased with himself when he glided through the water next to the girl. Miss Granger was indeed a true Gryffindor, as she had accompanied him into the depth of the lake without questions and without fear. All it took was for him to cast the Bubble-Head Charm on her and she followed him willingly underwater, deeper and deeper into the Black Lake. It was a stroke of luck that he stumbled across the location during his studies in the library and when he had given Miss Granger her detentions in the morning the idea to have her accompany him immediately sprang to his mind. The girl strived on knowledge and adventure and today he had a chance to offer both to her.
“ What are we looking for, Sir?” he heard her question in his mind, accompanied by a pleasant tingle of their slowly strengthening bond. Severus had felt their connection weaken over the last days and the dread accompanying this realization had been nothing he had been prepared for.
“ A cave ,” he replied, squinting his eyes against the darkness. “ It is reported to be located in the rocks beneath the castle. ”
“ I see ,” Miss Granger answered before falling silent again. It didn’t matter. She had spoken to him out of her own free will, which was more than he expected her to do today. It was progress and progress was good. He would not mess this up like an impatient Gryffindor idiot. No, Severus had time, and he would win back her trust bit by bit.
They were probably diving for about twenty minutes when the cave appeared in front of them. The opening in the rock wasn’t huge but big enough for the two of them to swim inside. And one look at it told them, that they were at the right place, as a ghostly bluish light came streaming towards them.
“ It’s here, ” he said and looked at the girl. Her hair was floating around her like a halo while the light from the cave painted her in ghostly blue. For a moment he thought she looked like a Nymphe, the excited smile on her lips making her look more beautiful than he’d ever seen her. Gods, he wanted to kiss her so badly!
“ Professor Snape? What exactly will we find in this cave? ” he heard her ask uncertainly.
He could not help but look at the girl with a smile. “Magical light crystals, of course.”