Actions

Work Header

The Savage

Chapter Text

 savage cover

 

 

Chapter 1: The Savior

 

Severus Snape, Potions Master and teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, ex-Death-Eater, spy extraordinaire and member of the famed Order of the Phoenix, reluctant War Hero and recipient of the Order of Merlin First Class and of the Chocolate Frogs Collectible Cards, was currently trudging through the Forbidden Forest with mud-caked boots and a basket tucked under his arm, muttering to himself with every step.

“Really, if Muggles are smart enough to domesticate wild plants, you'd think wizards could at least attempt it. But nooooo... Pomona insists on keeping it 'traditional'. Bloody lazy old biddy if you ask me. Just what I needed, a lousy walk in this confounded forest full of death traps, at night, with a storm brewing... Reducto!” the dark man yelled, blasting a knot of innocent giant creepers that had the misfortune of being in his path.

However the wizard's current bad mood could not really be blamed on the difficult trek through the dense forest, or on the weather, or even on an uncooperative and unimaginative colleague, for that matter. No, truth was, this man had never been in a good mood to begin with. Ever. He did not doubt he had started scowling and sneering when he was just a babe at his mother’s tit. And so, he didn't see the point in starting being all chipper now. No sense in breaking tradition.

First of all, it would creep everyone out and he would probably be sent to a permanent spell-damage ward in St Mungos.

Secondly, he had no reason whatsoever to be happy. Sure, the war had been over for a few years now, and he was no longer life-bound to serve two Masters with wildly conflicting demands. But  he also had no purpose left in his life. He had really expected to be killed in the war and he felt...let down.

 

Severus arrived in a small clearing and slowed down, looking carefully where he stepped. He cast  Lumos as it was too cloudy for the full-moon to be of any real use in his search of the rare Silver Knotgrass.

“Of course, you can only harvest the damned plant on the full-bloody-moon when all the dark creatures lurking in this accursed forest are crazed for blood... Knotgrass just couldn't turn silver on the second sunny day of the month... Noooo... It has to be on the full moon. Maybe I should feed Pomona to the darned creatures.”

The brooding wizard felt better at the prospect but Minerva, the current headmistress and as close a friend as he was willing to admit, would probably ruin his fun and forbid it.

“Old, meddling, fussy, tabby, cat.” Yes, ‘cat’ was an insult by and of itself in his opinion. He hated cats.

A glint of silver caught his eye and the man approached cautiously so as not to get entangled by the vicious plant, and sure enough, a nice batch of Silver Knotgrass was just waiting to be collected. Finally, some good news. He let out a breath of relief. Now, if only the weather didn't turn to rain, this outing would not have been half as bad as he had feared it would.

The wizard kneeled down, put on his dragonhide gloves and in one swift swoop of his gold sickle started collecting the precious grass and placing it cautiously in his basket. He was almost done when the sound that haunted his nightmares reached his ears. A wolf's howl, if he was lucky. However, this being the Forbidden Forest, and on a Full Moon to boot, he was practically certain it would belong to a werewolf.

Typical, he thought grimly.

In the blink of an eye, he was already running in the direction of the castle. Nothing could make him sprint like the prospect of coming eye to eye with the dreaded beast. He had barely run a few feet when the heavens decided to join in on the fun, a torrential downpour of rain dropping out of the sky, followed soon after by a  blinding bolt of lightning hitting a tree nearby and sending splinters of wood in every direction.

Severus ducked, closing his eyes but he felt a few pricks in his shoulder and right cheek. Groaning, he clenched his jaw and resumed his race towards Hogwarts, towards safety. He wasn't that far now, he could make out the lights of the high towers through the trees. He heard another howl, closer this time.

“Shit!”

Where were those bloody Centaurs when you needed them? He vaguely recalled Minerva explaining something about the Centaurs migrating some place or other in one of the staff weekly meetings... Now he wished he had paid a bit more attention.

Severus could hear heavy footfalls behind. Any second now, he'd be werewolf snack. Not that he minded dying that much, but a cleaner death would have been more to his taste. Blood, grime, torn limbs and entrails spilled everywhere just wasn't up to his standards. He liked things clean and organised, like his potions lab. Oh well, at least the students would get a kick out of this.

The wizard received an unexpected blow in the back which sent him sprawling forward on the muddy ground and he felt the near miss of a very hairy and muscular limb. Then, he heard a scuffle and the cry of a dog in pain. Had the Centaurs arrived? Or Hagrid? He quickly twisted around, still lying on the mossy floor, wand at the ready if they needed help.

 

Standing protectively before him and facing the beast of his nightmares was his saviour, brandishing what looked like a wooden bludgeon. However, he considerably lacked in either height, muscles or equine legs. What the hell? Okay, so it wasn't a Centaur. But who would be crazy enough to be in the Forbidden Forest at this hour. A student? Probably, since he seemed too dimwitted to brandish a wand. With his luck, it was an underage student who had gone in the forest on a dare. Idiot.

Severus couldn't let a student get hurt so he sprang to his feet, pushed whoever it was aside and cast a fire-whip from his wand. Not very useful but usually sufficient to frighten the younger werewolves. The beast only backed a few paces away and growled menacingly. Severus sighed. Nothing was ever easy, was it? He then threw a barrage of light hexes and curses, most only intended to restrain or frighten the dark creature. He wasn't a monster himself, he knew very well there was a person beneath all those fangs, claws and fur. At long last, the beast roared it's... What?... Displeasure, annoyance, defeat? Whatever. The werewolf was gone. But so was the student.

“Damn!”

He hadn't even heard the stupid brat scamper off. Severus bolted for the castle, hoping to evade further attacks from the werewolf now that he was a lone prey once more. But more than that, he hoped to find the missing student on his way to give him an epic tongue-lashing. He’d have to warn Minerva too, and that, he was not looking forward to.



 


 


“What do you mean a student is missing? In the Forbidden Forest? At this ungodly hour?” Minerva asked shrilly.

Severus only nodded, too busy trying to down the contents of the tumbler the headmistress had mercifully filled with Firewhisky.

“What House? What year?” she barked.

“Don't know, too dark,” he answered truthfully. And too bloody scared, he kept to himself although his trembling fingers might give him away. Still, he could blame it on the cold or adrenaline so his pride wa safe enough.

“Well, at least tell me if we're looking for a boy or girl, that we might start searching!” she shrieked, her tight bun getting more and more undone by the second as she paced the round office.

The shaking wizard's face became utterly blank for a moment before he responded in a bewildered voice.

“I... have no idea...I really don't...I just assumed it was a boy...”

“And assumed it was a Gryffindor too, I suppose?”

Severus had the decency to looked abashed and said nothing. Thoughts of the Marauders had crossed his mind if he had to be honest.

Minerva threw her arms in the air and screeched in exasperation before leaving the office, ready to rouse all her Heads and Prefects for a very thorough head-count. Severus finished his liquor and dragged himself off to the dungeons to check on his Slytherins. It wouldn't do if the foolish rule-breaking idiot that saved his life was one of his Snakes but he really doubted that was the case.

“Probably a thrice-damned Gryffindor as usual.” He muttered stubbornly before stepping into the green and silver common room.



 


 


“Well, Severus? Care to explain?” asked the headmistress in a clipped voice from her seat behind an oversized desk. Rousing the whole school for the useless hunt of a potentially missing student had left her tired and irritated. Week-ends were supposed to be restful.

“You're certain all of your precious lions are accounted for? It would be so like them to sneak out playing hero and breaking Merlin knows how many rules in the process,” the scowling wizard countered with a sneer of evident disdain.

“Of course I am,” Minerva bristled “I would never endanger any student, whatever House they may be from, for a cover-up...I'm not Albus, you know that,” she said, throwing an apologetic look at the portrait of the former headmaster. “But, since there are no students missing... Add to that the unlikely presence of a werewolf so near the castle, too… Are you sure of what you saw, Severus?”

“Since when have any of my reports been anything but accurate?” he demanded calmly, but the air around him shimmered with contained rage.

“Forgive me, Severus. You're right, of course,” she amended.

The rest of the staff present in the headmistress' office had wisely remained quiet and out of the way, sipping their well-earned tea in their tartan-covered armchairs, until Baylee Finkle cleared her throat, asking for their attention.

The battle-scarred witch sporting overly colourful robes was the newest addition to the Hogwarts staff. She had replaced the late Carrow sibling who had been the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor before the Final Battle and the last applicant to succumb to the cursed job. Miss Finkle, who as an Auror had been dramatically impaired during that battle when she lost both legs to a vicious Diffindo, had been happy as can be to fill the position offered by Minerva. And despite the lack of legs, she had proved to be an excellent teacher and new Head of House for the Gryffindors for the last four years, proving in the process the position was no longer cursed. Severus didn't care much who was the DADA professor anymore. Actually, he didn't care much for anything. His life was now utterly meaningless, his only ray of sunshine was making others feel as miserable as him. He chuckled at the thought of having turned into a Dementor.

“Maybe it could have been a … you know, one of the Most-Wanted?” Miss Finkle asked, avoiding his eyes.

The Most-Wanted was a list of Death-Eaters who had fled the battlefield as soon as Voldemort had been struck down by the Boy-Who-Lived-Again. The Ministry of Magic had issued the list along with the rewards for their capture and had thus created a new career, unprecedented amongst wizardkind: the bounty-hunters. The crippled witch didn't want to say 'Death-Eater', since it was widely known, thanks to the Potter brat, that Severus had been a Death-Eater himself, albeit a double-agent one. But nobody wanted to remind the snarky ex-spy of that fact unless they had a certain death-wish.

“I somehow doubt that a former servant of the Dark Lord would want to save the life of THE traitor, don't you, Miss Finkle?” He answered harshly.

The witch merely shrugged her shoulders.

“I just don't see who else could be hiding in the Forbidden Forest, it's hardly a welcoming place.” She concluded and a few others nodded their heads in approval.

Severus sneered at their asinine questioning, although he was asking himself those very same questions, and he left for his rooms to heal the little cuts and bruises he had gained that night, only remnants of his impromptu werewolf-taming adventure.



 


 

 

The Potions Master's temper was getting worse, although the students had doubted it was even  possible. There was someone in the Forbidden Forest and, if it wasn't a student, he was determined to find out exactly who, or what, it was.

The best way to achieve that was to consult the half-giant gamekeeper, Hagrid. He wasn't particularly smart but he knew the forest and it's inhabitants better than anyone else.

“Snape?” Hagrid was visibly surprised to find him on his doorstep, not that he blamed the huge man, he had never come to his hut before for a social call. “Won' yeh come in now? Still a bi' chilly outside! Heard all 'bout tha' ruddy werewolf of course. Bin lookin' for it too.” The giant’s tone was a bit too jovial in his opinion but Severus was impressed that the gamekeeper took his job so seriously.

“Any...evidence?” Severus asked after refusing his host offer of what appeared to be a bucket of tea and a sugar-coated rock.

“Well, there's bin a bloody storm since las' night so it was hard findin' anythin' at all bu' since yeh said a tree bin blasted ter pieces, I did find the place it happen' at. Lucky it was a mossy ground an' all, I found footprints.”

Snape congratulated the half-giant, he had earned it, after all. Except for the House-Elves, who didn't like being thanked, he didn't know one person whose work he’d consider well done, and least of all the dunderheads he still taught for Merlin knew what reason. At this point in his life, he was just doing it out of habit.

Soon after, Hagrid accompanied the gloomy professor through the Forbidden Forest, pointing here and there at various creatures and plants he found interesting. Severus learned that the Centaurs had all moved further away to the north of the Forest, nearer the Mountain border to take refuge in the caves for the winter. It rang a bell, so he must been half-listening to Minerva's ranting on the subject at the very least.

“'Ere yeh are, see here the deep tracks of the werewolf no doub' an those musta be yer footprints. Dragonhide boots, he'? Leaves clear prints, those do,” he explained as if he was teaching a class, and Severus thought it might actually be a good idea and made a mental note to submit it to Minerva as an optional course.

“So what of the other person? It all looks a bit vague to me.” He demanded, trying not to sound too impatient. He really craved some answers since that night, but he didn’t want to fluster his only chance at getting them.

“That's the bes' part. Yeh see, here?” he pointed at a vague hollow in the mossy ground. “An' here. D'yeh see the very small footprints? Def'nit'ly looks human, very small, and light. Prob'bly a kid or a small woman,” his face screwed up in thought. “'Course, it coul' be a mighty huge wood nymph or dryad bu' that's noy very likely.”

“Why would you even think that? I don't think there has ever been wood nymphs in this forest,” he asked, really curious. He was starting to actually enjoy the half-giant's company, who didn't seem affected at all by his dark persona. But then again, the gamekeeper found the most deadly creatures just adorable...

“Jus' seems strange someone human woul' be walkin' out here withou' their shoes on is all.” The half-giant pointed out. “As I said, it’s still chilly out here.”

“Indeed.”

Severus looked around trying to spot more of the small naked footprints but had to give it up as a bad job. Everything looked like a jumbled mess he could make no sense of himself. Unless... “Hagrid? Do you think you can follow the trail, see where the human came from and where he went?”

The huge man beamed, happy that the dour wizard seemed to trust his skill and nodded like an eager puppy. He scouted the area, hopping around here and there as if he was doing some strange ballet danse while looking mostly at the floor, but occasionally up at the trees with a confused expression.

“Well?” Severus asked despite himself, urging him on.

He had tried to be as patient as possible, but it wasn't one of his better qualities. He wondered idly if he even had one except for potion-making. Down-to-earth, composed, perfectionist...but all those could be faults as much as qualities.

The half-giant finally shuffled back, scratching his beard where his chin might be hiding.

“Strange. Never seen anythin' like it ter be hones’. Trail jus' dissapears near trees so I'm guessin' he climbs 'em or somethin'. Good concealmen' stayin' in the trees, have to admit, good protection too from most of what yeh'd find in these woods.”

Severus was a bit disappointed with the little information he had gathered, but he could at least rule out the possibility of it being a Death-Eater, since all their marked women and children had been accounted for, whether dead, imprisoned or in Saint Mungo's permanent wards and orphanages.

Back at the oversized hut, Severus thanked the gamekeeper for his time, and had to promise to come visit him again at his insistence. That was strange, nobody sought out his company usually, except for Minerva and Poppy, but he was almost sure it was more out of habit than anything else. Maybe the Gamekeeper felt lonely. Hagrid promised in return to keep his eyes open for any other evidence of the 'bare-foot' as he had taken to naming the human hiding in the Forbidden Forest. He always liked to give silly names to creatures after all, and this one wasn't half bad compared to 'Fluffy' the Cerberus hell-hound or 'Norbert' the dragon.




 


 

 

The Potions Professor was walking back to the castle, deep in thought as he replayed over and over again the events of that night, seeking out the smallest of clue that could help him identify his saviour, when he effectively remembered the wooden bludgeon the bare-foot had been wielding. It looked familiar...the size, the shape.

Damnit, he could kick himself! He hadn't recognized it out of context but it could only be a Quidditch beater's bat, it was too similar to be anything else.

He quickened his pace, looking more than ever like a giant bat with his black robes billowing all around him. Rolanda Hooch, the flight instructor for the first years and the Quidditch supervisor would know if any equipment had been reported missing lately. If he hurried he would be able to talk to her in the teacher's office, just before she left for lunch in the Great Hall.

“Rolanda,” he greeted her curtly as he entered, but not quite managing a smile.

“Severus,” She replied in the same tone, but her yellow hawk-eyes widened slightly when she saw he was approaching her to engage in conversation.

An actual conversation! This was most unusual. Minerva and Pomona who had been gossiping about students nearby, stopped at once and ogled them too. Severus rolled his eyes in annoyance.

“If it's not too much bother, would you mind checking with the Quidditch teams and into the school supplies to find out if any Quidditch material has been reported missing this year,” he might as well check an overly long period of time, just in case, and the school year had started over seven months ago.

“Hum...sure, Severus. May I ask why?”

Of course, the gossipy witch would want to know. Well, it was hardly a secret anyway.

“Hagrid and I are hunting a mythical creature that may have some kleptomaniac tendencies,” he answered crytically, enjoying the look of confusion that clouded her face.

Madam Hooch looked at him as if he had gone mad or spoken Gobbledegook.

“And what monster could possibly interest the both of you?” inquired Minerva, butting into a private conversation without a shred of shame, but that was so like her, he didn't even take offence.

“A bare-foot. It seems to be a small, tree-climbing, bat-wielding werewolf-basher.”

“I'll believe it when I see it,” she chuckled. “Please indulge him, Rolanda. It's so rare of him to take an interest in anything else besides potions.”

Nobody ever believed you when you said the whole naked truth.

“Funny you should mention something like that though,” the flight instructor told him. “because it's notorious the Quidditch Pitch has been 'visited' more than once since... well, since the school reopened four years ago, really.”

After the Final Battle, right here in Hogwarts - be it castle, lawn, greenhouses or even the Black Lake and the Quidditch pitch - where so many had died and the damage been so great, the school had been shut down for a year to put it back in shape in order to welcome the students back.

“I don't listen to idle gossip, as you very well know,” he retorted snidely.

If he did, he would probably hear so many nasty things about him, it would give him a headache.

“It just proves how useful the rumour mill really is, doesn't it?” she snapped back, but resumed quickly at the scathing glare he was sending her. “Since the school reopened, students have been complaining about their Quidditch gear going missing. Sometimes it's a their outfit, discarded on a bench because it was too hot; a glove they dropped on the pitch while flying; or a bat they left for a few minutes break; even a snitch went missing last year. And before you go accusing anyone, all of the Houses have been targeted these last four years. But you really should know that, being a Head of House yourself. So, of course, the Quidditch teams started the rumour that they had their own Quidditch ghost now, although he has never been seen. And it's more like a poltergeist actually, if it can steal their stuff. Funny thing is that the team that is last robbed is said to be cursed with bad luck for their next match and the students actually take that into account for their bets. It really tips the odds.”

Severus was speechless. He had really been out of touch with reality if he had never heard about any of that before.

“Oh! And his name is Clyde,” she added as an afterthought.

“What? Why?” he asked, a bit befuddled by all the new trivia.

“Beats me,” she said with a shrug.


 


 

 

Severus glided away from the staff room, but not to lunch in the Great Hall. No, he didn't feel like it. He went to his personal quarters instead and summoned the Slytherin ghost.

“Bloody Baron, it's so nice of you to come.”

The translucent being merely bowed his head in acknowledgement to his current Head of House. Contrary to his Gryffindor counterpart, the Bloody Baron disliked communicating with the living, which suited the Slytherins just fine.

“I wonder if you could confirm the presence of a poltergeist, or even a ghost, currently haunting the Quidditch pitch?”

“I think we already have our hands full as it is with Peeves,” the ghost slurred nastily. “No new spirits have taken up residence at Hogwarts lately, which is surprising, considering...”

Yes, considering... Considering the sheer amount of lives taken violently and prematurely in this very place. It was a wonder indeed. But Severus thought that might be because most everyone, whether on the winning or losing side, fully expected to die on the battlefield anyway.

“Indeed,” the wizard said slowly, echoing his thoughts “Thank you, Bloody Baron. That will be all.”

It was starting to feel like detective work and Severus found himself enjoying it. Like any good Slytherin, he valued a puzzle complex enough to sharpen his wits and take his mind off more mundane matters. However, it was hard to imagine someone had been surviving alone in the Forbidden Forest for these last four years or so. Or maybe his bare-foot wasn't alone, he couldn't jump to conclusions, that would be so...Gryffindor.

Only one way to find out, he'd have to scout the Forest and he didn't feel like leaving that for later. It was still the week-end and he fully intended to get some answers before resuming his monotonous work on Monday.

Severus hated what he was about to do with all his heart, but it was the only way he could think of to achieve his goal. He opened his window and, standing in front of the cool fresh air, he made himself relax. It had been a long time since he last tried it, but he closed his eyes, concentrating on the transformation process and flew out the window.



Chapter Text

Chapter 2: The Bare-Foot

 

Everybody would laugh heartily at him if they knew what his animagus form was. Only Albus had known, for the obvious reason that you could not hide anything from the nosy old meddler, and even he had had a hard time stifling his laugh. He had always liked a good joke.

Severus had learned that particular transfiguration skill because any additional ability that could  help him survive the Dark Lord was more than welcome. It had not come to him naturally though, and since he could not turn to anyone for help, he had only accomplished it a few years before his Master's return.

But why, by Merlin's bloody beard, why did his animagus form have to be a bat of all things? He blamed the students, in the end. Hearing them call him that for so many years must have made an imprint on his mind and he had unconsciously called it forth when meditating in search of his inner animal. That was another reason for him to make the ungrateful brats as miserable as he could.

Bat-Severus soared above the Forbidden Forest, through the trees and branches sensing for anything out of the ordinary. He had forgotten how good it felt to fly and feel free. If only he wasn't a bat, he would indulge himself in this form of escape more often than not. As it was, the transformation had not been very smooth and he wasn’t sure how much longer he would be able to flap his wings. However, his obsession drove him to search for hours and he returned to the castle, exhausted but satisfied to feel useful again.

Severus searched the next day too, returned on monday morning to his tedious schedule of teaching and scowling, before resuming his search on the next week-end. He had followed this pattern for over a month already, and the three gossipy witches, Minerva, Pomona and Rolanda had the gall to tease him about his obsession for a figment of his imagination.

But at least he had Hagrid's support.

 

 


 

 

The weather was getting warmer with spring settling in, bringing in its wake torrential storms, as was the case tonight. Severus hesitated leaving the dry comfort of his quarters, but since he couldn't manage to stay focused lately anyway… He sighed, opened the window and transformed. It had become easier with practice.

It was particularly difficult to fly in these conditions though, so the bat-animagus decided to cut short his exploration and he flew directly towards the Quidditch pitch before regaining the safety of the castle. It was always the first place he checked, ever since he had learned of the existence of the-so-called-ghost, Clyde. He flew through the Keeper's hoops, it amused him for some obscure reason, and he was about to leave the pitch when he spotted some unexplained movement, even in this gale. It was too big, too deliberate and too fast to be something blown over by the storm, and it was heading under the Hufflepuffs stands. This looked promising.

Severus landed nearby, in the shadows and resumed his human form. He quickly cast a silencing charm on his feet and disillusioned himself, before slipping under the same stand. He had been in the dark so long he didn't need time to adjust and refused to cast Lumos as it would defeat the purpose of discretion. Instead, he relied on his ears and his overly large nose – it may as well make itself useful. It smelled... strange, he wasn't expecting that. It smelled of wet dog but he couldn’t hear anything. However a quick inspection showed the ground level was empty, he'd have to climb, he groaned mentally at the prospect, he was not exactly a young man any more and he felt a little foolish playing hide and seek with a shadow.

As he climbed higher up, the smell grew stronger and he could hear a very faint but frantic clicking sound. He had no idea what to expect but followed the faint sound to its source until he decided he must be very near. Everything was in shadows here unfortunately, so he'd have to risk it all on surprise, lest he lose his prey again. Severus whipped out his wand and cast a Lumos in the general direction he thought he ought to look.

The sight that met his eyes was...unexpected, unbelievable, breathtaking? A little of all of that, and enough to convince him that his obsessive search had been well worth it. There stood his bare-foot, he was sure of it, as he could see the Beater's bat held tightly in one hand and the naked feet firmly planted in a defensive stance. His mythical creature was a small woman with wiry muscles, tanned skin and wild tangled hair that reached her hips. She must have been wearing a Slytherin Quidditch robe judging by the colour and length but it had known better days as it was badly torn and dirty. He only had a glimpse of her scarred face and two fierce eyes glittering menacingly, before she lunged straight at him like a savage beast, landing the both of them in a tangle of limbs on the old wooden floor that creaked in protest.

Fuck. He hadn't expected such an attack from a human, let alone a woman, so he hadn't even had time to stupefy her. Did he even want to? Should he? He realised belatedly that he should have asked Hagrid how to handle a wild beast, but he had been so sure it would be just a human. A regular one, that is. One that didn’t bite, snarl and claw you bloody. Well, at least she wasn't part werewolf since he had seen her on the full moon. Could she be part vampire? Somehow, he really doubted it, she didn't look like an un-dead in the least, just wild and savage.

Taking advantage of his hesitation, the woman jumped over his head and was already halfway down the steps by the sound of it. Severus leapt to his feet and followed after her.

He was catching up to her already, probably because he was that much taller, and they were both speeding across the Quidditch pitch as if a hell-hound was right on their heels. Now what? Lacking time to think things through, he let his instincts take over and tackled her, pinning her to the muddy ground. The little savage was very unhappy and made it known, squirming, kicking and clawing madly at him. She didn't scream though, which he found perplexing. It should be a reflex for a woman to cry out for help when assaulted.

“Calm down!” he shouted over the howling wind and she flinched. “Calm down,” he repeated, trying to adopt a soothing voice this time, which was a first, he had to admit. “I don't want to hurt you. Let me help you. Stop struggling. I just don't don't want you to disappear again.”

She seemed to relent but before he could savour this small victory, Severus was flung back by a jet of red light. A trip jinx? So she was a witch. What a sneak, he hadn't even glimpsed a wand. He quickly got back to his feet and shot an Expelliarmus straight at her, impossible to miss at this distance. Nothing happened. No wand came flying to his hand, but the bare-foot cried out in pain and tried to flee again. Oh well, nobody could blame him for not trying to not hex her. He aimed and cast a precise Stupefy at her back, right between the shoulder blades and she collapsed head first in the muddied pitch. He approached, satisfied and cast a Mobilicorpus to bring her back to the shelter of the castle. The sooner, the better.




 


 

 

“Severus?” came Poppy's anxious voice as she got out of her office to answer his summons. “Are you hurt?”

“Don't be silly, woman, I can take care of myself. But I'd like you to help me with her,” he explained pointing at the bed where he had dumped his werewolf-basher. The sheet were already drenched and filthy from the mud and rain they had brought with them.

“What's the meaning of this? Did you finally lose control and hex a student into oblivion?” she asked, rushing to her patient's side.

“I wish,” he muttered. “Be careful, she's the bare-foot I've been looking for. I had to stun her, though. She's a real harpy when she’s conscious.”

The nurse looked at him in disbelief. Like most of the staff, she had thought her dear Severus was somehow deluding himself. Depression, maybe. It wouldn't be the first time, and it was not as worrying as his heavy-drinking episodes, so she had let him be. But with the evidence lying in one of the Hospital's bed as well as the claw marks marring the potions master’s face, she felt guilty for not having more faith in him.

Madam Pomfrey cast a spell causing restraints to snake around her patient's legs, arms and torso to keep her still. They were loose but tightened the more agitated a patient became. She had been forced to use it several times on Severus, when he was being too stubborn to let her finish her ministrations and he hated it, but he nodded his approval in this instance.

Severus couldn't find her wand anywhere on her though. The little witch must have dropped it when he had disarmed her but he hadn't thought to look around before he left the Quidditch pitch. He’d have to go back later and look for it.

“Ready?” Severus asked the nurse, now that the bare-foot was securely bound.

The matron nodded, wand at the ready.

“Renervate!” he said firmly.

The little savage immediately thrashed around for a while, her wet hair clinging to her face covered in mud and hiding her angry features. She looked just like one of Hagrid's pets, wild and dangerous, as she snarled and twisted, while the restraints tightened more and more. She flailed about for over twenty minutes before finally calming down, defeated.

“That's better, dear,” the burse cooed. “You seem to be in excellent health at least, so we'll start off by cleaning you up. How does that sound, poppet?”

Severus looked at his friend in disgust.

“Really, Poppy? She's not a kid, in case you hadn't noticed. You're just like Hagrid and his monsters.”

The nurse frowned at him and crossed her arms over her bosom.

“You asked for my help, Severus, and I'm in charge here, so I'll talk to her however I want. Now, why don't you give us some privacy so I can get her into something clean and dry.”

The wizard scowled and closed the privacy screen for her.

“I'll wait right here,” he grumbled “Tell me if she gives you any trouble again.”

He paced for five minutes before he heard the nurse's strangled squeak and her quivering voice calling for him to come back. He looked at the bed questioningly, then at the pale Madam Pomfrey who was leaning shakily against the wall.

“You're not finished,” he stated, taking in the still bedraggled and muddy bare-foot “Poppy, are you feeling unwell?”

“Look!” she urged him, pointing her trembling finger at the bed. “Look at her. I'm not sure... Well, I'm almost sure. Look at her! Doesn't she remind you of someone?”

Severus raised an eyebrow, intrigued and approached the bed. His bare-foot was still restrained but she wasn't fighting against them any more. Poppy had only just started cleaning her face, judging by the only visible expanse of clean skin. He remembered she had fallen face-first in the muddy pitch and it had been very dark outside, but now he could clearly see her features and her accusing chocolate-brown eyes glaring daggers at him. She had a full bottom lip that was quivering in rage, or maybe in fear. A nose that had probably been broken at some time and had not been set straight and the scar he had already noticed that paraded from her left temple, across her crooked nose and finished in the right corner of her mouth. It was old and stood out, a white ragged line across her tanned features. The effect was striking, adding to her wild savage looks.

But she did look familiar. How was that possible? The deep colour of her wide eyes and the thick dark eyelashes, the very light smattering of freckles across her nose... yes, she did look familiar, but her snarling and the fierceness in her eyes that burned like fire were not right. He stared at her intently, trying to imagine her without the abuse marring her face, with a peaceful expression and probably a few years younger if she had been lost to the Forbidden Forest for as long as he feared she had… Maybe an old student? Severus stumbled back a step, mouth hanging open in shock.

No… No way in fucking bloody hell! He recoiled from the savage woman, his bare-foot, and looked at Madam Pomfrey, incredulity painted across his features.

“It can't be!” he blurted out. “Hermione Granger?”

He looked from the savage girl to the nurse who was nodding, apparently relieved he had come to the same conclusion as her.

“I think so,” confirmed Madam Pomfrey. “I'll floo-call Minerva. She's going to be in need of a good tumbler of Firewhisky, if you don't mind fetching it in my office.”

The stunned wizard shuffled over to the other room, he could use a good swig of fixer-upper too. How was it possible? Hermione Granger! One of the Golden Trio! She had been declared a war hero after the war and had received a posthumous Order of Merlin First Class when no trace of her had been found on the battlefield. There had been so much death and gore everywhere on the grounds and castle, the possibility that she had been blasted to bits unnoticed had always been an option. Horrible, inhuman, but that was war. Still, they must have been very negligent to overlook her whereabouts for so long and end up in this predicament.

He heard a wail in the infirmary. Minerva must have arrived, and recognised her cub.

 

 


 

 

Severus pushed a goblet filled to the brim with the burning liquor in Minerva’s shaking hands. The older witch was sitting in the visitor's chair next to the girl’s bed and looked as pale as the Bloody Baron.

“Oooh Severus...” she moaned. “It’s our Hermione. What happened to her? She doesn't even recognize me. Do you know what happened to her? Is that who you've been looking for all this time?”

“Calm down, Minerva, you'll wear your heart out. I wasn't looking for her. Well, I was, but I didn't know it was her... Hagrid and I were searching for the bare-foot, but it's definitely the same person, and that is definitely your precious Miss Granger,” he answered, his head indicating the bed where Poppy was fretting over her charge with renewed vigour. He took the opportunity to recount his capture of the missing woman and told her about her savage behaviour.

“I'm finished for now,” the nurse chimed in. She seemed to have recovered from the shock and was all business now. “Not much I can do about her hair though. It's tangled worse than a devil's snare. I'll probably have to cut it off.”

“As if she needs another shock,” Severus scoffed. “I'll prepare a Silkening Balm tomorrow.”

“Oh... that's... nice of you, Severus,” Poppy told him uncertainly, as if he had never show kindness before.

Alright, so maybe it wasn't so far off, but she didn’t have to be so obvious about it. “Have you finished your check up?” he asked instead.

The woman shifted into full nurse mode once more.

“It seems she suffered many contusions and cuts, a few minor frostbites and broken bones. All of it over several years, and all of it badly healed, if at all, so she has many scars, mostly on her legs and arms, except for the one across her face and a scar on her thorax but we all know she received that one at the Battle in the Ministry in her fifth year,” she said, pushing aside any doubt they might still have had about her identity. “I'll have to reset her nose, her right shoulder and two of her ribs but she's surprisingly in overall good health. However, she is dealing with acute memory loss as you've noticed, whether from mental trauma or from a curse, I don't know as of yet. But it isn't from a physical trauma to the head so there is hope left if...”

“If it isn’t the Cruciatus?” Severus asked.

The nurse nodded grimly. What were the chances it wasn’t due to the Cruciatus curse when your were dealing with Death-Eaters? Slim to none, admittedly. Minerva was sobbing in her chair. He couldn't blame her, but he had to ask, since she had known Miss Granger best:

“Minerva, does she have family we can call? It could help her recover her memory. Jump start it or something.”

The headmistress shook her head sadly.

“Her parents disappeared. She has no one else.” Seeing him raise his eyebrows in astonishment, she continued. “Harry and the Weasleys are like family to her, maybe we should inform them instead.”

Oh great, the insufferable hero of the wizarding world and the invasive redheads... Just when you think you'd gotten rid of them forever.

“I suppose so, if we have nothing better under hand. But wait a couple of days for Miss Granger to settle down and see if she can be... tamed a little. I don't think they'll appreciate seeing her tied up like a criminal.” Minerva looked at him disapprovingly but he ignored her and resumed. “We should keep her here and hide her from the press too. If they get wind of this...”

The two witches nodded their approval and Minerva left to prepare a few missives inviting the Golden Duo for a reunion. Severus cast a Notice-me-not charm around her bed, as it should suffice to hide her from the students.

“Severus, there's something else,” Poppy said in hushed tones as she glanced nervously at the headmistress’ retreating back, and he understood she didn't want to overwhelm Minerva any more than necessary.

The nurse soothed the growling Miss Granger with a gentle caress to her brow and turned the young woman’s right hand over so Severus could see her palm. Instead of a white, smooth stretch of skin, he could see a dark pattern  just beneath the skin's surface, as if a brownish bursting star had been tattooed there. He leaned closer, his large nose almost touching the surface It wasn't smooth like ink, it almost looked like splinters, dozens and dozens of splinters of all sizes dotting her hand. He took out his ebony wand to cast a spell, chanting under his breath and oscillating the wooden length just above her upturned palm which started shimmering with a soft blue-white hue.

Sweet Slytherin! No wonder his Expelliarmus had hurt her! Her wand, or part of it had gotten imbedded in her hand.

“I need to do some research,” he announced brusquely and left the hospital wing, not quite managing to glide with his robe still damp and muddy from the storm.




 


 

 

Severus took it upon himself to send a letter by owl to Mr Ollivander despite the late hour asking  the wand-maker for his assistance on an important matter. His next stop was the library, more precisely the Restricted Section, where he snatched several volumes off the shelves and settled down at one of the deserted tables. Using the library at night was absolute bliss. No noisy students, no Madam Pince to throw irritated looks his way, no interruptions of any sort. It was usually bliss, but he couldn't concentrate. Despite himself, his mind was continually drawn to the infirmary and to the not-so-mythical creature that was lying there.

With a sigh, he gathered his copies of 1001 Rare and Exotic Magical Incidents; Wandlore and it's Darkest Secret and Unexpected and Gruesome Injuries, leaving a note to Madam Pince so the old hag wouldn't ferret him out asking for a receipt, looking to reclaim “her” property, before he made his way back to the hospital wing.

“Any improvement?” the wizard asked Poppy as he approached.

She looked up with a frow, a damp towel in her hands. She was not happy with her attempt at washing Miss Granger's hair again, it was visibly not a success judging by the knots and occasional twig still peeking through the wild mane.

“She still hasn't spoken but there are no visible damage to her vocal cords that I can see. And she refuses to eat or drink. I can't blame her for not trusting us really, seeing how she was...invited here. For the same reason, I won't be giving her potions or resetting her bones for now, it'll only make her more wary of us.”

“You've always been the smart healer, Poppy. Go get some rest, I'll read here, it's as good as any place. I'll call you, if need be,” he promised, seeing her reluctance. After a short duel of glares, the nurse gave up, thanked him, and left for a well-deserved nap.

Severus transfigured the hard-backed visitor's hair into a comfortable dark leather armchair and settled in, opening the first voluminous book. He soon tore his eyes away from the page as he could feel someone looking at him. It always gave him an insistent, prickling sensation down his back, a very useful trick when he had been a spy.

The bed-ridden woman was staring at him quite openly. Curious, he guessed, but still suspicious and wary. It would probably be a good idea to ask for Hagrid's assistance. Miss Granger was not there anymore, all that was left was a wild creature that would bite your fingers off if it meant regaining her liberty. Such a waste, she had been a brilliant, if annoying, witch, if he had to be honest. Severus returned to his reading, determined to find some way to heal her.

 

 


 

 

“Go catch some sleep, Severus, I'll take over from here,” Poppy ordered, holding a breakfast platter filled with a wide variety of foods. Smart witch. Whatever she could have been eating in the Forbidden Forest, fruits, vegetables, eggs or barely cooked meat, was on the platter. That is, if she hadn’t taken to feeding herself with bugs.

Severus frowned at the woman daring to give him orders, if only out of habit, and glanced at the wild girl to find her staring wide-eyed at him again and then hungrily at the platter of food. Nodding his agreement to retire for a while, he let his feet lead him back to his quarters.

He didn't know when he had finally fallen asleep last night, but felt completely awake by now, his mind alert like it hadn't been in a long time. Ah, yes! The sense of purpose, of urgency, of being useful. He hadn't felt like that since the war ended and he was saddened to discover he only functioned correctly under pressure.

His research in the dusty volumes had been a disappointment so far, so he paced in front of his cold fireplace, needing something to occupy his hands and clear his mind...Brewing! Yes, that should help him calm down, it always did in the past. And he had promised Madam Pomfrey a Silkening Balm to untangle her patient's unmanageable hair, so he might as well kill two birds with one stone.

It didn't take long before he found himself returning to the hospital wing, the balm in one hand and an old musty book in another.

Poppy was busy sorting out the transfigured faces of two students, one with a parrot’s beak and the other covered with silver scales from what he could see. He probably could not recognise the two idiots even if he cared to try. Hermione, on the other hand, had a visitor he knew well.

“Hagrid!” he greeted the half-giant, genially happy for once. They had developed quite a bond over their hunt for the bare-foot. “I'm glad you could come, you have more experience with… uhm… untamed beasts.”

“I'm sorry, Prof'ssor Snape. I've bin tryin' to feed her breakfast, seein' as Poppy hadn't managed but she jus' refuses. Poor 'Mione...” he said before sobbing and blowing loudly in a very large handkerchief. Or was that a tablecloth?

“She probably just needs time. Don't fret over it, Hagrid. She'll eat eventually when she gets too hungry. Isn't that what you usually do with your stubborn monsters?”

The gamekeeper aggreed half-heartedly and excused himself, lamenting all the way out of the infirmary. Well, that hadn’t been such a good idea. He had forgotten just how attached the huge man had been to the Golden Trio.

He looked at Miss Granger, who gazed right back at him. Still an insolent little chit, he noted with amusement. He pushed the breakfast platter away, laying it on the bedside table and could have sworn he saw a flash of anguish flash in her eyes. He was certain she was hungry, he had noticed her avid stare when Poppy had first brought it in and that had been a couple of hours ago.

The raven-haired wizard resumed his place in the comfy chair and flipped his book open. He could feel the prickling sensation informing him she was staring at him again, but he couldn't blame her, he knew very well how boring it could become, lying in a hospital bed with nothing to do but stare at the blank walls and ceilings.

His stomach grumbled loudly and he realised he had skipped his own breakfast, as well as the last dinner, and lunch? He couldn’t recall so he reached absent-mindedly for the discarded platter. No use letting it go to waste. Severus grabbed a few grapes, eating them slowly as he perused a new chapter on memory loss, but was interrupted by the sound of a whining puppy. He hated dogs with a burning passion for some obscure reason, and they had no business being in Hogwarts anyway. He cast a glare around in search of the damned nuisance. It was Miss Granger.

He raised an eyebrow when their eyes met and she whined again, her gaze turning towards the grapes still in his hand and then back at him again.

“You've got to be kidding, Miss Granger, if you think I'm going to feed you... Poppy!” he called out.

She glanced at them and seeing there was no emergency whatsoever, threw a distracted “Busy!” and tended to the two students crying over their disfigurement.

The wretched girl whined again, Severus merely sighed, exasperated.

“I can't believe I'm doing this! I'm not a bloody nurse, you know.” But she was his responsibility in some way, since it had been him who had found her and brought her back. “You better not tell anyone,” he muttered, glaring at her. But she wasn't impressed. At all.

He closed his book and sat on the edge of the bed where she was still bound and fed her one of the grapes that she seemed suddenly so keen on. He had feared for the safety of his fingers, but apparently she was smart enough not to bite the hand that feeds.

“Just like a little puppy, aren't you?”

She didn't answer. She never did.

Severus tried giving her a bite of a blueberry muffin but she shook her head violently, growling. Did she only eat fruit? Or maybe... He took a bite of the sweet treat, making sure she was watching. She whined once he had swallowed.  Oh! So she was checking that it was edible or looking out for poison.

“That is so Slytherin of you Miss Granger. Did you get food poisoning in the Forest? Not surprising really. It's not exactly a friendly place to live in. Half of the mushrooms in there aren’t edible, and let’s not even mention the berries… Why am I even trying to converse with you?”

He presented her the muffin once more and she bit a large chunk out of it in a very unladylike manner, crumbs falling all over the sheets. He should probably feel vexed that she used him as a food-taster for poisons, but he was proud of the survival skills she had developed. It was a quality greatly valued by Slytherins, survival, and one they were quite proficient at. He was living proof of that.

They spent the next half-hour sharing the food, until she purred...purred!... with satisfaction. At least, he had new elements to investigate. The more, the better when you didn't know what you were looking for, and this looked more and more like a twisted memory spell than a mental trauma since her brain seemed to be otherwise fully functional.

That afternoon, the snarky wizard couldn't concentrate with her constant staring, he'd have to think of something to give her to keep her occupied. He glimpsed the Silkening Balm and the hairbrush waiting for Poppy on her bedside table. But the nurse was now busy with a first-year who had been fed too many Weasley Skiving Snackboxes at once by his 'friends'. That might take some time to sort out, so he snatched the hairbrush from the table and started applying the balm, muttering under his breath.

“I swear if you ever mention this, I'll tie you to a tree in the middle of the Forbidden Forest and obliviate myself.”

The silent woman didn't protest when he started treating her hair. Silkening Balm was a concentrated -and smellier- version of the famous Sleek-Easy that the female student body used and abused, but it still took a lot of time and work to get rid of all the snags and knots, twigs and dirt, especially as her hair was so long. However, he couldn't imagine she would take it well if they just chopped it off.

“Having fun, Severus?” Poppy asked with a smirk when she sneaked up on him an hour later.

“Not a word woman. Here, I just finished,” he said, handing over the hairbrush. “I'll let you clean the stuff away if you don't mind. I feel emasculated enough as it is for today.”

The sulking wizard explained to Poppy the best way to get her to eat something before he left. He had his teacher's responsibilities to resume the next day, after all, so he couldn't play bloody nurse all the time.

If he thought the next day would be back to normal, he had been sorely mistaken.



Chapter Text

 



During his lunch break that monday, Severus came to check in on their guest, the one and only Hermione Granger, come back from the dead. He told himself it was because he had nothing better to do, but knew it for the lie it was, since a stack of his students’ assignments were awaiting his grading on his desk. So, instead, he explained away his presence here as his "responsibility" and mere "curiosity". He was the one who had found and brought back the woman after all.

Madam Pomfrey was sitting in front of her patient, identical platters filled with steaming and appetizing food set for each of them. He watched as the nurse ate a bite of roast potato from her plate, soon imitated by the wild girl who looked almost civilized, with a fork in hand and eating from her own plate instead of pinching the contents of the nurse’s plate.

That’s when he realized what had changed. Miss Granger was partially unbound, her arms and upper body free of movement, and she had a potential weapon, in the form of a very pointy fork, in hand, with Madam Pomfrey's neck at fork-point. However the savage girl was not even trying to harm the older witch, or run back to her forest. He spied upon the two women for a while longer, Poppy encouraging the younger witch and clapping when she achieved something new and Miss Granger giggling happily in return. They sure seemed to have built a strong bond in so little time. Severus squashed the fleeting pang of jealousy that had no right to be there and strode forward.

Miss Granger beamed at him, a sure indicator she had not recovered any of her memory yet. The girl he had known would never have smiled at her hated potions teacher that way. Oh, she had always been a polite student, to be sure. The only Gryffindor with enough courage to greet him everyday despite his forbidding demeanour, he couldn’t deny her that. But she had never shown him any warmth, like she was doing now. It was… disturbing. So he scowled down his beaked nose at the impertinent chit.

“Hello, Poppy,” he drawled, completely ignoring the smiling young woman. “And how is our guest doing today?”

“Never better.” The nurse answered. “Hermione is very responsive. I think she completely got over her fear of us already. All thanks to you.”

“I did nothing, woman," he scoffed. "I will not abide your inane flattery.”

“No, really, Severus. You brought her to safety, made her accept our food and saved her hair,” Madam Pomfrey said before whispering theatrically, as if imparting a great secret. “The dear girl has been cooing over her shiny locks ever since you untangled it. She’d thank you if she knew how.”

Severus harrumphed. He hadn’t figured his bare-foot was such a vain creature. But her hair did look good, nothing like that tangled frizzy bird's nest she used to flaunt. Instead deep caramel curls tumbled elegantly down to her waist. Who would have guessed the ugly duckling of a girl would turn into such a striking swan of a woman. The witch in question was now whining pitifully as she tried to call for their attention. Poppy prodded him forward, jabbing her fork in the small of his back.

“Hello. Miss Granger,” he said stiffly.

The young woman cocked her head to one side, observing him unabashedly, like he was some kind of fascinating bug. Severus shifted uncomfortably under her stare, something he had never done before, even when Voldemort’s malevolent red eyes had been upon him. He cleared his throat and addressed the nurse again.

“When do you think she will be ready to see visitors?”

He really wanted to have Ollivander examine her wand hand and the star-burst pattern embedded there as soon as possible, but knew Potter and his clique took precedence to visit her. Potters always took precedence, he thought bitterly.

"In a couple more days. I want to work on healing her today and let her rest tomorrow."

Severus winced at the thought of having to reset some of her bones and getting the amnesiac witch to drink foul smelling potions.

"Good luck with that," he sneered malevolently, just barely resisting adding an evil cackle, and fleeing the hospital wing before the nurse could request his assistance.

Severus returned to his classes, docking many points everytime he had the misfortune of thinking of the woman being healed at the other end of the castle. He shouldn't care. He had done his part by rescuing her - even if the rescue resembled more a capture. He should just forget about the whole sorry affair now. At least that's what he told himself all day, but the next morning found him stalking down to the infirmary before breakfast with another excuse for doing so on the tip of his tongue: he was just making sure that Poppy did not need specific potions for Miss Granger's healing process. It was, in the end, only a school infirmary and not a fully functional hospital ward.

However, he found Miss Granger's bed woefully empty and something akin to fear had his stomach in knots. Had the healing gone awry?

"Poppy?" he called, trying to keep his voice steady. "POPPY!" he bellowed when no answer came.

A door leading to the infirmary's bathroom flung open, the nurse giving him the evil eye from the doorway when she saw there was no emergency whatsoever requiring her presence. She even had the nerve to close the door again and make him wait for five full minutes before she came out. By that time, Severus was pacing and muttering curses under his breath.

“Really, Severus. How many times do I have to remind you to be quiet in the hospital wing,” the nurse scolded.

“Then you shouldn’t leave your ward unattended, should you?” he countered.

“Don’t pout, dear, it doesn’t become you,” Poppy answered, patting his cheek.

The nerve of the woman. She’d never dare if she hadn’t known him as a skinny, frightened first year. His retort died on his lips when he saw Miss Granger though.

She was clad in a Hogwarts uniform, of all things, and walking as if she’d never worn shoes before, raising one foot high in the air before letting it clumsily fall back with a loud thud.

“Why in heavens name is she dressed as a Hufflepuff?” he snapped.

Miss Granger had been a Gryffindor, should have been a Ravenclaw and had quite a Slytherin streak to her… but... but… a Hufflepuff?

“Minerva thought that she should visit the castle. Try to trigger her memory with familiar places. No one looks twice at a Hufflepuff, I should know. We’re still trying to keep her presence here unknown.”

The young witch beamed at him again when she finally reached them, before grabbing the ends of her standard black Hogwarts robes and flapping them about her as if she was some kind of giant bat. Wait… Was she mocking him? His billowing robes? Or had she seen him in his animagus form stalking her steps in the Forbidden Forest. From the two women’s giggles, he’d bet on the former. She then admired her silky yellow and black tie, pulling it between her fingers before trying to unfasten it. Not that he blamed her. She had then been twirling her skirt around like a six year old when she suddenly grasped the hem of the skirt and pulled it up over her face, suddenly looking much more like the woman she was in her dainty, frilly panties that he had no idea how she had procured and frankly, didn’t even want to know. Severus turned beet red, he knew he did, but for the life of him, he couldn’t not blush at such a display.

He groaned, closing his eyes as he pinched the bridge of his nose, and turned away, intent on forgetting this morning. Visibly, Miss Granger was fine, so he could just push her out of her mind now and get on with his life. His boring day to day life with his dunderheaded students who exploded cauldrons on a daily basis. He was already halfway through the great hall when the comedy of the situation finally hit him. Miss Granger, the goody two-shoes Gryffindor bookworm, flashing her panties at him, her most hated and feared teacher. Never in a thousand years would he have thought that could happen. Luckily, only a few students were down to breakfast this early to witness him laughing so there was little chance anyone would believe them.

 


 

During the day, he glimpsed Minerva arm in arm with her precious cub, showing her around the castle, pointing her wrinkled finger here and there, and probably telling her all the unbelievably foolish adventures she got herself into because of Potter and his ginger sidekick. No, he'd never understood why she hung out with those two. They seemed to have very little in common and she always bickered with the Weasley boy. Even he had noticed that, despite it being his policy to ignore Gryffindors whenever possible.

Miss Granger was smiling all the while, clapping and cheering at the creaking armors, the moving portraits and the floating ghosts, but he doubted it would do any good in recovering her memory, or she would have remembered upon seeing familiar faces. Maybe Potter would be good for that, at least. He had been important to her, so important she fought to the death for him - or so they thought. Maybe she had even loved him. And soon, she would see him. Surely that would trigger her memory?

Severus left the library with his large nose ensconced in an ancient potions book he had salvaged from a dusty corner of the Restricted Section. It was a bit dark, admittedly, but there was this one potion that could heal brain injuries as a last resort, but the ingredients… The dour professor looked up sharply as he heard giggles nearby. He loathed giggling teenagers and made that fact known to the culprits, who scattered off like so many snitches.

“Gryffindors…” He muttered. Only Gryffindors dared laugh at him openly. He itched to hex the little buggers but knew he’d have to be content with finding an excuse to make those three miserable in their next potion lesson and committed their faces to memory for future point loss.

He continued on his way to his private potions lab and heard guffawing and snickers from a rather large group of Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws moving in the opposite direction towards the library. He looked around to find the source of their amusement but a few pointing fingers and staring eyes confirmed that it was him once again.

“Be gone before I assign you all cauldron-scrubbing detentions!” He told them.

He approved with a smirk as the annoying brats paled and hurried off to the relative safety of Madam Pince’s domain. On the bright side, the students were still afraid of him.

However, laughter continued to plague him on his way down to the dungeons and on the fifth occurrence, when he noticed a couple of his very own Slytherins sniggering, the tall dark wizard docked into an empty room, unnoticed, secured the door and conjured a mirror. No, his hair hadn’t been charmed pink - one of the student’s favourite, sorely lacking in originality. His nose was it’s usual hooked oversized appendix and his skin a familiar pasty colour. His clothes seemed hex-free too: black, billowing, and full of buttons, just as he liked them. So what had all the dunderheads in a titter?

He pondered this enigma for a few minutes, but for once, was at a loss of what to think. Worst case scenario, whatever spell had been used on him would wear off during the night, so he slipped out of the abandoned room and continued down the corridor at a brisk pace until he heard a very faint scuffle nearby. He doubted he would have heard it if he had not had all his senses on alert at that moment. The tall man stopped abruptly, without warning, and was rewarded with a small body colliding into his back. Whirling around, he found Miss Granger. Of course it would be her, he thought sarcastically. The woman had been disrupting his minutely organized life ever since he had first seen her in the Forbidden Forest. Not that he was complaining. The growing boredom would probably have led him to hex a student, just for the fun of it and damn the consequences. He had even made up a list in his mind of who deserved to be hexed more. A Gryffindor was in the lead, not that it would surprise anyone. And this particular Gryffindor witch might just take top place.

Miss Granger jumped back to her feet in one graceful motion. He had to admit she was at least in excellent physical condition and her bare feet explained why she had been so stealthy.

"How long have you been following me, I wonder..."

He didn't wonder, not really. He knew she had been following him all the way from the library and that a slip of a Hufflepuff shadowing the fierce potions master is what had amused the children. Unless...No, she hadn't...

As if to answer his silent question. Hermione gathered the trim of her black robes and flapped them up and down in her imitation of a giant flying bat.

Severus pinched the bridge of his nose again, closed his eyes and counted to ten. Very slowly.

Alright, so she had done the Unthinkable. Making a mockery of him in front of the entire school without him noticing, meant students would get bolder where he was concerned. The next days will probably be a living hell, as he should expect all kinds of pranks coming his way, and the worse part was that the witch hadn't even done it on purpose so he couldn't vent his fury on her.

He opened his eyes. Miss Granger was smiling candidly at him as if she expected a pat on the head. He shut his eyes tight and counted to ten again, in latin and backwards. When he opened his eyes this time, she wasn't smiling, but her look of concern wasn't much of an improvement. She just shouldn’t be looking at him like that. Or at all, for that matter.

"Come on, I'll take you back to the infirmary," Severus told her. "Everyone must be frantic with worry that you disappeared."

As he started to walk all the way back, Hermione fell in step behind him again, flapping her robes. That wouldn’t do, at all. So he took her elbow and gently guided her through the corridors, glaring at students who dared look his way. Him being kind to a student, or heavens forbid, gentlemanly, was just as rare as a student making a fool of him. If anyone thought he had become soft, they’d be sorely disappointed the next time he had them in detention.

 


 

The next morning, Severus was awakened by frantic banging at his door. Poppy almost fell head first when he yanked the door open. She looked very agitated as she wrung her hands frenetically.

“I-it’s Miss Granger. I can’t find her,” she moaned.

“You’re slipping, woman,” Severus answered, his voice still raspy from sleep. “Maybe it’s time you retired.”

He got the intended response when the nurse stopped shifting nervously, huffed and glowered at him, looking more like herself. Severus had no patience this early in the morning to deal with weepy women.

“Don’t be such a bastard, Severus. I’m worried. The poor girl is so defenseless.”

The tall wizard snorted derisively.

“You do know she knocked down a fully grown werewolf with a simple beater’s bat, don’t you? I’m sure she just wandered off for a walk, just like she did yesterday. We’ll search the castle and find her in no time, you’ll see. I imagine you already alerted the rest of the staff?”

Poppy nodded and excused herself, not wanting to waste another second to find her precious patient. Severus wouldn’t admit it, but he feared she had fled back to the forbidden forest. It had taken him so long to find her the first time, what if something did happen to her and they didn’t get to her in time? Throwing on his usual black robes, the Slytherin quickly crossed his rooms to exit through his office which would take him closer to a staff exit and onto the grounds. But he tripped midway, in front of his private library. Cursing, he turned to kick the pile of books he must have stumbled on, only to find a foot. A bare foot sticking out of a pile of books and parchments.

“Miss Granger,” he growled loudly, because he had no doubt it was her. Disturbingly enough, he recognized her foot. And honestly, who else could it be, barefoot in this freezing castle?

The pile of papers shifted and her head poked out. She smiled at him and yawned, stretching her arms in the air while her back arched in a beautiful curve, making her breast peak upwards- Severus squashed that line of thought as soon as he realized where it was headed.

“What are your doing here?” he snapped. “How did you even get in?”

He knew he was angry. He knew he was almost shouting and taking it all out on the poor witch, but only realized his mistake when she cowered back.

“I’m sorry,” he muttered, his anger having deflated as fast as it had risen. “I’m not used to having people in my quarters. You’re probably the first one in as long as I can remember.”

His inane chatter seemed to calm her down a little, now that she saw he wasn’t going to lash out at her.

“Everyone is looking for you, again. You shouldn’t worry Poppy so, she’s not that young anymore, you know,” he continued, beckoning her towards the chimney where he lit the fire with a flick of his wand.

Hermione looked awed by the display of magic and scuttled closer to the dancing flames, keeping a safe distance between the two of them all the while. Severus sighed, it was his own fault for frightening her. Reaching in the floo-pot on the chimney’s mantle, he threw a pinch in, waiting until the flames turned green to call the headmaster’s office and shoved his head in the magical fire.

“Severus? Any news?” Pomona asked.

“Yes, Granger is here. Where is Minerva?” He asked, trying to keep his head in the fire while he could feel the witch behind him frantically trying to pull him out.

The Hufflepuff Head of house looked embarrassed as she cast a furtive look behind her.

“Never mind. Send me Minerva when she’s calmed down, will you?”

Without waiting for an answer, he backed out of the sooty chimney and smirked at the woman still trying to pull him away from the flames by his legs. She blinked at his unburned face, and dropped his legs unceremoniously, pouting.

“Magic,” he said in answer, not able to keep the corners of his lips from curling upwards.

Just then green flames flared anew behind him and he had just enough time to leap out of the way for a procession of sooty witches to invade his private rooms. Minerva, Pomona as well as Poppy and Rolanda. Severus scowled.

“I clearly remember inviting only Minerva to see to Miss Granger.”

“And miss a chance to finally see your sinister abode?” Hooch smirked, peering through the bedroom door he had left ajar in his haste. “Not a chance. No coffins? No stuffed basilisks? Shame. I owe you a galleon Pomona.”

The Hufflepuff witch had the grace to look abashed, although it didn’t stop her from looking curiously at his private quarters as well. At least, the headmistress and nurse were taking the situation seriously as they smothered the poor amnesiac witch with their good intentions.

“You might want to lecture your cub on not wandering off too, so we can avoid such a situation. Again,” he sneered, trying to push the five women towards the exit.

“Yes,” Minerva said with a pinched expression, rounding on him. “Just how did Hermione end up spending the night here? In your private quarters?”

The innuendo was not lost on him. He would be hard pressed to have missed her narrowed eyes and suspicious tone.

“I hope you’re not implying that I have anything to do with it?” he replied dryly.

“I know very well your quarters are warded, and quite heavily so, against all intruders, me included, so I have a little difficulty in believing Hermione just waltzed in here on a whim. And even if she did, why here, of all places? Why you?”

“Damned if I know, woman!” Severus snarled, not liking what she was alluding to. “Now get out of here and take your precious witch with you! All of you! OUT!”

He slammed the door shut but could hear the women arguing on the other side. His colleagues did not all agree with the headmistress's accusations apparently.

“Coal!” He barked as he stomped back to the chimney and threw himself into his favourite armchair, kicking off his boots.

“Y-yes Potions Master, sir?” a dark skinned house-elf squeaked.

Severus liked calling on this particular Hogwarts-elf because it didn’t have too much of a ridiculous name compared to most - he’d be damned before he ever called on ‘Precious’, Pomona’s favourite elf - and it was not as nervous as most of the others were around him. But even Coal, seeing the dark mood the potions professor was in, hesitated.

“Coffee. Be quick about it,” he ordered.

Not a minute later a coffee pot, cream and sugar appeared with a side plate of buttered toasts. Coal had strategically chosen not to reappear. He was smart, for an elf. Severus breathed in the scent of the strong coffee, trying to calm the anger storming inside of him. Some mornings were not worth the effort of getting up and he was of half a mind of cancelling his classes today. Only the thought of the  students cheering at the news put a stop to that idea.

Why did Minerva have to be so stubborn. She should know by now he could never hurt a defenceless person, much less a woman, and certainly not in the way she suspected him of. Was she just incapable of seeing beyond the Slytherin? Beyond the ex-Death-Eater? She had always been overprotective of her cubs, especially because of their house-rivalry, but this was ridiculous.

Severus sighed and grabbed a toast to nibble on it, but he had no appetite and let it fall back in the plate.

But she had been right about a few things. How had Hermione gotten into his private quarters? And why? It was certainly not a place she had ever been familiar with in her past, although she had at least chosen his small library as a sleeping space, which could be a good sign towards her recovery. She had loved books more than anything.

“Women.” He concluded. There was just no understanding them, young or old, friend or foe,  amnesiac or senile… Gryffindors were still the worse of the lot, though, there was no denying that.




 

Severus used his classes that day as stress relief and was in a better mood by lunch time after assigning two detentions, taking off a total of one hundred and twenty five points and making a Ravenclaw NEWT student cry. He sat at the very end of the table in an effort to avoid a public confrontation with the headmistress, but could still hear his colleagues whispering excitedly about Harry Potter coming to school for a visit. They all knew why, of course, but that didn’t stop them from planning to see him too. The Boy-Who-Lived would get mobbed if the students ever got wind of his presence. Severus almost pitied him.

The potions Master, contrary to the rest of the staff, was careful to stay clear of the infirmary for the rest of the day, preferring to remain in his office until late afternoon instead, not knowing when the Golden Trio reunion was due exactly.

Near six o’clock, there was a sharp knock at his door.

“Enter,” he called sourly as he finished grading an essay, not looking forward to a moronic student presenting him with an even more idiotic question concerning his assignment.

“Hello, Professor Snape,” a deep male voice greeted him instead of the quivering teenager’s squeak he had been expecting to hear.

Severus dropped his quill and looked up, meeting sparkling emerald eyes.

“Potter,” he replied neutrally.

The ‘Boy-who-lived’ was in fact, not a boy at all anymore. He was still short for a grown-man, but muscular, and had gotten rid of his glasses somehow. He didn’t look as much as his father now except for the mop of messy dark hair, he had to admit, but it was still painful to look right into Lily’s eyes, the guilt still gnawing at him after all these years. Potter seemed unaware of his scrutiny as he perused the office leisurely.

“It hasn’t changed much here,” the Gryffindor said, turning a pickled jar of salamander’s eyes in his hands before placing it back in the shelf.

“Is there a purpose to your visit aside from idle chit-chat, Potter. I wouldn’t want to keep you from your horde of fans.”

“I’m not in a hurry, actually. Everyone thinks I’ve left, but I wanted to see you before I did.”

“Whatever for?” Severus replied disdainfully.

“I heard you were the one who found Hermione,” Potter answered, his voice choking on his friend’s name. “I wanted to thank you.”

“Coincidence,” he answered, hoping that would satisfy the man so he would just leave.

Potter hummed noncommittally and sat on a corner of his desk. The nerve of him. Severus sat back in his own chair and glared at him.

“Yes, that’s what I heard. Still, it’s thanks to you we got her back… Poppy said you’ve helped with her recovery since then, too.”

“Hardly,” he answered, but was glad to know Poppy had not sided with Minerva and her ludicrous assumptions.

“Madam Pomfrey said you’d say that.” Potter smiled. “Well, as nice as this is, I’d better get back to the Weasley’s before Ron starts ranting about Hermione. You know how he is. But I’ll be back to visit as soon as I can, so please continue to take care of her for me.”

With that, he pushed himself off the desk and was almost at the door when Severus burst out with the question that he was burning to ask.

“Wait, Potter. You’re not taking Miss Granger back with you?”

Severus scowled when he saw a satisfied smile spread across the Gryffindor’s face. This is exactly where Potter had wanted to take the conversation, he realized, and he had done so in a very Slytherin fashion, getting Severus to ask the question himself, knowing perfectly well that if the man he hated so much had brought up the conversation, Severus would have just scoffed his disinterest and sent him on his way.

“No,” was Potter’s only answer.

Severus debated whether to hex him and ask someone else how the meeting between the amnesic witch and her two best-friends had gone, or to swallow his pride for once and just ask the annoying Gryffindor outright.

“Care to elaborate?” he growled. That was as outright as he was willing to go. Seeing Potter’s cocky smile, he added: “I’ll hex you if you answer in the monosyllabic again, savior of the wizarding world or not.”

Potter chuckled, clearly not believing him, but answered anyway.

“Since it interests you so much, Professor. The meeting did not go so well. Not only did Hermione not recognize us, but she attacked Ron too.”

Severus’ mouth hung open. He certainly had not been expecting this.

 

Chapter Text

"Sir? Are you alright?" Potter asked, waving a hand before his face.

Severus quickly arranged his features into a blank mask, thanking his occlumency for coming to his rescue once more. As an afterthought, he added a scowl to look more natural.

"Of course I am, you daft boy," he snapped, slapping the other's hand away.

"Good. You seemed a little gobsmacked just then. Or maybe I was mistaken? My bad," the Gryffindor added after hearing the dour professor growl.

"Tell me what happened," Severus ordered.

"It would be quicker if you just looked. I had actually expected to see you in the infirmary when we visited, which would have saved us all this hassle."

"If I had wanted to be at your … moving little reunion, I would have been there. And why ever would you think I'd want to be ferreting around in your head, Potter?"

The green-eyed man scoffed.

"You didn't seem to mind when I was a student, I just thought I'd save us time."

Severus sneered and stalked over to a cabinet near the entrance to retrieve the pensieve he'd inherited from Dumbledore, levitating the heavy artefact to his desk.

"Hum, right," Potter said. "I'd forgotten you had that."

Not needing to be asked, the Gryffindor put the tip of his wand to his temple and retrieved a silvery thread that he dropped into the stone basin.

"No need to accompany me," he sneered when he saw Potter approach, and bent over the pensieve.

The memory was clear so at least the Boy-Who-Lived was not totally worthless. Severus' eyes were immediately drawn to Hermione, sitting on the infirmary bed, still dressed in her Hufflepuff school clothes, when Potter and Weasley entered. She looked apprehensive, even with Madam Pomfrey and Minerva right next to her, patting her hands and whispering comforting words. Maybe he sould have been there for her too after all.

Potter was positively glowing with happiness and he almost ran the rest of the way to the wide-eyed girl. Idiot. Severus approached too and noticed the amnesic witch had adopted a defensive stance. Potter noticed too, apparently, because he suddenly stopped and raised his hands in an appeasing gesture.

"Hermione? It's me. It's just Harry," he said, his voice breaking.

Severus rolled his eyes. Hermione looked him over from head to feet, seemingly unimpressed, then glanced at Poppy, who smiled encouragingly at her. However, Hermione only looked bored now, and started twisting her curls around her index finger, giggling every time the locks bounced away.

Potter looked stricken and just stood there, not knowing what to say or do. Severus agreed that there was little he could do anyway. If Hermione Granger had not recognized her best friend at first glance, there was little chance she ever would.

Severus turned around, searching for the other idiot who had come in with Potter but he was still hovering near the door. That was strange. He would have thought the bumbling baboon would have run in and smothered the poor girl in a crushing hug - the way most Weasleys seemed to behave.

The Slytherin narrowed his eyes at the figure lurking in the shadows. Why was he behaving like this?

"Come on, Ron!" Potter bellowed, earning him a slap on the head from the medi-witch.

The redhead took a deep breath and approached slowly, looking at his feet rather than his long lost friend. Severus recognized that walk from years of experience as a teacher: the walk of guilt. It was the same hesitant shuffle and downcast eyes the students sported when they approached him to say their familiar had eaten their homework or that they had no idea why their cauldron had exploded all over the classroom.

Ronald Weasley was hiding something. Something vital that concerned Miss Granger. The idiot! What if it was important to her recovery? Another, darker idea, sprang to his mind: what if he had something to do with her disappearance? It seemed ludicrous. Weasleys were known for being a light family for generations back, so above suspicion that even the suspicious Slytherin that he was had trouble wrapping his mind around it. But war changed people, and if there was the slightest chance the Weasley boy had harmed Hermione, he would find out.

The last member of the Golden trio was finally close enough, but Hermione was now busy trying to pull Minerva's hair out of her tight bun to pay him any mind.

"Hi 'Mione," the redhead mumbled, unheard.

Harry elbowed his friend in the side.

"Hermione?" Ron called, louder this time.

The witch turned and glanced lazily at the new visitor, but in an instant, her whole demeanour changed. She snarled and jumped on the bed in a stance Severus recognized as the one she had adopted when he had first found her in the Quidditch stand, just before she jumped on him, knocking him over - which is exactly what she did with the ginger wizard.

"Hermione!" Minerva cried out while Poppy gasped in surprise.

Potter and Weasley were too stunned to do anything but gape at their former friend. Taking advantage of the lack of response, Hermione kicked the downed Weasley in the face, breaking his nose if the noise was any indication.

"Hermione! No!" Poppy ordered, approaching the wild girl slowly and gesturing for her to come closer. The witch growled once more at Ron, making sure he stayed down and retreated towards the nurse, nestling into the woman's open arms, burrying her nose in her bosom.

The memory became fuzzy, signaling the end, and Severus pulled out of the pensieve. He sat back in his desk chair and stared off into space as he thought the memory over again, trying to look at it with a more unbiased view, but still coming to the same conclusions.

"That bad, eh?" Potter finally interrupted his brooding. To be honest, Severus had forgotten he was even there, so focused was he on uncovering this mystery. He wondered how to best approach the subject without making the righteous Gryffindor take offence and jump to his best friend's defense.

"It was… surprising," He stated matter of factly. "I expected Miss Granger to recognize you at the very least."

"Actually, Hermione was closer to Ron. They always had a thing for each other. They probably would have dated after the war, maybe even gotten engaged later on…"

"Really?" Severus drawled, truly surprised. "Is that why Mr Weasley seemed so - how should I put it? - hesitant?"

"You noticed, then? I thought maybe I had imagined it. I hoped I had, actually."

"And why do you think he was in such a state? I imagine you've thought about it."

"It was only an hour ago," Potter defended himself.

"Nevertheless. Something must have crossed your mind."

"Well…"

Severus could see he was hesitant to spill the beans about his best friend.

"Potter! You came here, seeking me out, for this very purpose. So say whatever you have to say and be done with it."

Severus was satisfied to see the young man blush to the roots of his hair and he smirked at his nemesis' anger. He was surprised however to see Potter shake the anger off just as quickly.

"Yeah, I suppose I did," Potter said dropping into the visitor's chair. "You wouldn't happen to have something to drink?"

Severus opened his bottom-most desk drawer and pulled out a bottle of brandy and two chipped tumblers. After all, alcohol had the power to free the tongue, and if he had to make the man drink to learn his secrets, he would do just that, for Hermione's sake.

"Ron was the last to see Hermione," Potter said with a somber expression. "But that's all he would ever say about it. One minute he was with Hermione, running across the battlefield to join me, the next she was gone. Just gone. No other explanations."

Green eyes looked at him beseechingly, but Severus had no clue of what he was expected to say, so he refilled the man's empty cup.

"I badgered Ron on and on for weeks after the battle, even when they stopped searching for her. I wanted, needed, to know. To understand what had happened to Hermione, but he got angry and wouldn't talk to me any more," he paused and slumped a little more on the chair. "I stopped when Mrs Weasley stepped in, but I don't think insisting would have changed anything anyway."

"But you're still friends, you and Weasley?" Severus asked, remembering them coming together to the infirmary. "So you still trust him?"

"Well, yeah. I mean, you were there, at the battle. You saw how crazy it was on the battlefield. It was chaos! Worse, even. Death-Eaters, giants, werewolfs, snatchers, vampires and Merlin knows what else I hadn't seen, crawling all over the place. Shacklebolt saw Ron and Hermione ducking a giant's mace several times. That's why everyone thought she had been smashed to pieces in the first place. It would explain why Ron lost sight of her so suddenly too."

"Then why didn't you just believe that version and let it go?" Severus asked in puzzlement.

"Because Ron refused to talk about it!" Potter said, exasperated, as if it was so obvious. "He never said a word about Hermione after she went missing. We always told each other everything. His silence… it just wasn't normal. I even begged him to talk to me, but he wouldn't."

Interesting. Severus wondered if Weasley had been hit, at least partially by the same spell Hermione had. Maybe he had really forgotten what had happened to his friend. But why, then, had he looked so suspicious in the infirmary when he had to face her once more? That's what brought the unlikely pair together tonight: Potter wanted him to investigate.

"You want me to question Weasley, don't you?"

"I don't know anybody else who could. Someone who is in the know for Hermione, yet won't coddle Ron…"

Severus sneered, served another round of brandy and downed his own, setting his tumbler back on his desk so hard he winced.

"What do I have to gain from this nonsense?"

"For one," Potter answered promptly, with a smile returning to his annoying face. "You may learn something that could help Hermione recover so she can be out of here sooner. I've heard she's been quite mischievous with you."

"Wipe that stupid grin off your stupid face, Potter," Severus barked as the amount of alcohol ingested finally kicked in.

"I can't. I think that story will be used to fuel my patronus from now on. Do you think my patronus will change to a bat?" The young man giggled.

"That's the most unmanly laugh I have ever had the misfortune of hearing, Potter. Except for your stupid father's, of course."

"Uh, oh. If we're already into the whole insulting fathers stage, I think I'd better get going. But do think about it, Professor. For 'Mione, if nothing else."

"As if I'd do it for you," Severus spat. "Out, now, Potter. I've had enough of your ugly mug for a lifetime."

Potter waved at him cheerily as he left and Severus charmed the door to slam in his face for good measure. He dearly hoped he would forget to use his invisibility cloak and run into a hoard of drooling fangirls on his way out.

Sitting back in his chair and balancing precariously on the two hind legs, Severus committed to mind everything he had heard: Ron Weasley was the last to have seen Hermione, they had had romantic feelings for one another, he refused to give details of her disappearance to anyone and last but not least, he had performed the walk of guilt to her sick-bed. No. Things did not look good for the youngest Weasley son and Severus made a solemn oath to get to the bottom of this and find the culprit of Hermione's disappearance. Magic swirled around him as the magical oath sealed its promise to the wizard.

"OH! NO! GODAMNIT! NO!" Severus bellowed, remembering too late never to make stupid promises while drinking. His magic always took his words way too literally.

 


 

Severus had no idea where Ron Weasley lived and he'd be damned before he called on blasted Harry Potter, the-man-with-whom-he'd-never-drink-again, for the information. Instead, he found himself knocking on the Burrow's door the next week-end.

He was already in a foul mood because he had to sacrifice his free time with the Weasleys when he'd rather spend it elucidating how Hermione had trespassed into his quarters. He still had no clue about that and the invasive witch had managed to pull the same stunt again, right under his nose.

The Weasley matriarch pulled the door open, wiping her hands on a washed-out flowery apron.

"Severus? Oh! My! What a surprise! Come in, come in! I was just getting a batch of scones out of the oven. How about I dish you out a couple with some strawberry jam and a nice cup of tea? You look like you could do with a few more pounds. Don't the elves feed you at Hogwarts? Really, you should come over more often for dinner. You're always welcome here, Severus dear," Molly said without giving him the smallest opportunity to ask about her son. It's as if the woman didn't need to breath and she had effortlessly forced him into one of the dingy chairs cluttering the very large, very long table that took most of the place in the kitchen.

"That won't be-" Severus started, but it was already too late at two steamy jam-covered scones were thrust under his large nose, soon followed by a fragrant cup of tea. "Thank you, Molly."

"So what brings you here?" the bustling witch asked, turning back to scrub savagely at the backside of some greasy pans.

Now she asks... Severus took a bite of the hot delicacy and had to admit it helped settle his stomach.

"I came to inquire after Ronald. Could you tell me where I might find him?"

"Ron? He should still be at Lavender's at this time. He won't be going to the joke shop for a couple of hours."

"Lavender?" The silly name rang a bell.

"Yes, Lavender Brown! She was one of your students too, same year as Ron. A Gryffindor too, of course."

Of course. Severus rolled his eyes at the woman's back. Merlin forbid her precious offspring date a Slytherin.

"His girlfriend, I gather?"

"Fiancée, actually. She's a sweet girl. Not as bright as…" Molly's voice trailed off and the Slytherin could imagine very well who she had been comparing the girl to. The Weasley matriarch had probably had her son's wedding to the brightest witch of the age all planned out years ago, before her unfortunate disappearance. "But a very pretty girl," Molly concluded as if that was somehow relevant.

"He must be so happy," Severus sneered, oozing sarcasm to the point he felt slimy just saying it.

Molly hummed non-committally, sending cleaned knives to fly to their drawer.

"Is- Is this about the boys' visit to Hogwarts?" the witch asked.

"It is," he drawled out, observing the woman's back. She looked very tense and the flying knives had picked up in speed.

"Ron's a good boy, you know. He'd never hurt Hermione."

"Why do you say that?"

"Why else would you be here looking for him?" she countered, turning around to frown at him. "I know how Ron may have appeared to you, when he visited Hermione."

Severus arched an eyebrow.

"I'm not sure you realize just how guilty he looked, Molly. Even Potter, his best friend, is suspicious of him."

"He's my child, Severus. Of course I saw the guilt crushing him ever since the end of the war, as if he could hide it from his own mother. But it's just survivor's guilt. I'm sure of it."

"Would you bet your magic on that?"

"Yes," she answered determinedly, her chin jutting up as if daring him to say otherwise.

"I hope you're right, Molly. I hope you're right."

 


 

Severus decided to catch Ronald Weasley at the joke shop. He'd rather not deal with a half-asleep grumpy Gryffindor if he could help it.

"Snape," the red-headed young man greeted him as soon as he saw the black-clad wizard waiting in front of his shop, leaning casually against its bright red wall. "Mom said you were asking after me."

"Is that all she said?" Severus asked.

"No," Ron answered sullenly. "She told me to be polite. Sir."

Severus smirked. He quite liked the Weasley matriarch despite her being a goody goody Gryffindor through and through.

"Can we talk somewhere quiet?"

The ginger wizard shrugged.

"I came early to finish the yearly inventory anyway, so the shop is empty."

Ron opened the door with the weirdest key Severus had ever seen, made of so many bits and bobs, he couldn't fathom how the device worked, or even fit in the keyhole for that matter. Ron entered and set about his business, letting Severus to his own means. The Slytherin leaned against the counter to observe the younger man for a while. Just like his mother had done earlier that morning, Ronald Weasley was trying to keep his hands and mind occupied, knowing the discussion to follow was not going to be pleasant.

"So your mother did not tell you what I want to discuss with you?"

"No. But it's not very hard to figure out. It's about Hermione, right?"

Severus nodded before realizing the man wouldn't see him, being so engrossed in his counting.

"Mr Weasley, would you please sit for a few minutes so we can get this over with as soon as possible?"

Ron turned around, his clipboard shaking noticeably in his hand. He threw it on the counter and sat on a nearby crate, bursting with colourful balls that probably did something evil despite their non-threatening appearance.

"I'm concerned about the attitude you displayed in the infirmary yesterday," he said, looking him straight in the eyes.

"You weren't even there!" Ron blurted out, a tinge of colour returning to his cheeks.

"Yet, I saw what happened."

"Harry?" he asked after a lengthy pause.

Severus hesitated, before nodding imperceptibly, causing Weasley to sigh.

"Never gives up, that one," he muttered. "Never forgets."

Severus could just see the young man was going to be as pig-headed as he could about this whole affair and hold onto his secrets as much as he could.

"Your mother doesn't believe you are guilty of anything," he offered, trying to tackle the problem from another angle. "And neither do I," he lied smoothly.

Ron's face went from sullen, to relieved, to surprised in the space of a few seconds, but he still kept silent.

"I'm not trying to cause problems, or lay blame on anyone, as hard as that is to believe," he continued with a self-deprecating smirk. "My only goal here is to gather as much information as possible in order to help Miss Granger. That's all."

Weasley bit his lip, the heated debate raging inside his thick skull playing across his features.

"You promise you won't tell anyone?" the ginger wizard pleaded, guilt pouring off of him in waves.

If he had never spoken a word of this to anyone before, he was probably bursting at the seams with the need to confide in someone, anyone, even the greasy git, as long as they in turn kept the secret. Severus frowned at the prospect, but if it was the only way to obtain the information he needed, so be it.

"I give you my word," Severus said, thinking he could always backpedal if the man before him had done something despicable.

Ron cleared his throat, seemed about to talk before suddenly standing up and asking him to follow. Severus found himself in a windowless, cluttered office at the far end of the shop. Two identical desks took up most of the room and the redhead took a seat at one of them, rummaging around the parchments and junk heaped upon it until he triumphantly held out a half empty bottle of firewhisky. What was it with Gryffindors and alcohol?

"It's not even eight o'clock, Mr Weasley." He stated.

The other wizard shrugged. "Done worse," and drank a swig right from the bottle.

"I'll be needing a precise account, Weasley, not a drunkard's mumblings of how he kissed his cousin by mistake," Severus sneered.

By the flush that coloured his cheeks, Severus judged it had probably happened too, but in the wizarding world, that wasn't such a rare occurrence. Muggleborns excepted, everyone was somehow related to everyone else, you just needed to look a few generations back.

"I- I'm not sure where to start," Ron said, his hands playing with the bottle of firewhisky.

"I heard the last anyone saw of you and Miss Granger, you were dodging a giant's mace on the battlefield?" Severus prompted.

"Yeah," the other man answered with a lopsided smile. "That was pretty crazy. And it wasn't so much a mace as a tree-trunk. It still had leaves attached to it, if you can believe that. Anyway, we managed to duck the attacks pretty easily. Giants are strong but not that fast. The hardest part was to shake him off our trail, we couldn't do much against a giant and we were trying to catch up to Harry," he stopped, looking uneasy, but Severus waited him out, letting the Gryffindor gather his courage. "We decided to avoid the thick of the battle by skirting around, following the edge of the Forbidden Forest, which turned out to be a very bad idea."

Ron gulped, looking down at his feet.

"Spiders," he squeaked.

"Spiders?" Severus echoed. That wasn't what he had been expecting.

"Not normal spiders, but those huge things Hagrid is friends with... Accio-something."

"Accromantulas?" Severus asked.

"Yeah, those..." Ron agreed, a little green in the face. "I hate normal-sized spiders, I still do. But when I saw those things creeping out of the trees again, I just froze, I couldn't even remember the spell Harry used in our second year. I was just so bloody useless."

"Is that when-"

"No! No. You know Hermione... When she couldn't get me to move, she used this brilliant spell that made a huge snake appear, might even have been a basilisk for all I know, although I think it was all just an illusion. But it freaked the acciomantles out and they scattered like crazy. That's where I lost Hermione. I was holding her hand, but one of the spiders bowled us over and we got separated. I- I couldn't find her after that… the herd of spiders just kept pushing us apart. I tried looking for her, I really did. I called for her, I ran around the whole bloody place in circles looking for her and then…"

A shudder ran through the Gryffindor.

"I heard her screams," he whispered.

Severus paled, completely entranced by the tale. How had Weasley never told anyone about this? Keeping it to himself must have been like a poison, eaten slowly at his innards until it physically hurt.

"But I still couldn't find her!" A sob wracked his body. "The screams seemed to come from everywhere at once. It was horrible. For all I know, she could have been right next to me! Maybe I could have saved her!"

"No, Mr Weasley," Severus sneered despite himself at the man's dramatics. "I don't think you could have. Best case scenario, you would have suffered the same fate."

A sad chuckle escaped Ron's mouth.

"But don't you see? It's all my fault! If I hadn't been afraid of spiders… Spiders! It's so stupid. It's all my fault. I wish it had been me instead."

Severus chose to ignore that purely Gryffindor sentiment: contrary to his own House, the lions had no sense of self-preservation, but he now understood why Weasley felt so very guilty.

"What can you tell me about Miss Granger's screams? Was she calling for help? Are you certain she was still in the forest? Could it have been someone else you heard? About what time did it happen?" Severus' rapid-fire questions seemed to daze the young man for an instant and he wondered if he'd gone too far when Ron closed his eyes and let his head fall in his hands.

"I can still hear her screams, sometimes, at night. I'm sure it was Hermione, I'd recognize her voice anywhere. I don't know how Harry manages to cope with the nightmares but I'm a real wreck the next day. Her screams…" he paused to think for a bit. "I never tried to think too much about them before, but I can tell you Hermione wasn't calling for help, just screaming her head off. Not like when she was under the crucio though, not in pain. It was more like she was… terrified of something. It's how I imagine she'd scream if she was handed only Trolls on her OWL and NEWT results."

Severus had heard the witch's boggart in her third year was of Minerva telling the silly girl she had failed all her exams, so Weasley was probably correct in his description, but what could have terrorized her so much in the middle of a war when she had already witnessed and experienced all kinds of horrors?

"And then her screams stopped. Just like that. So I thought… I thought she was… and I was wrong. But when I still couldn't find her, I left the Forest and saw the battle was over and people were starting to help the wounded, so I asked for help to search for Hermione. The rest you probably know."

Severus nodded. He hadn't been there when the redhead had come screaming for help but he had heard about it as soon as he had woken up in the hospital ward and asked about Potter. Unfortunately, discussing Hermione's disappearance with Ronald Weasley had not given him as much clues as he had hoped, except dismissing the ginger wizard as a possible suspect. If he was lying, he was very talented at it but Severus didn't believe him capable of such treachery. You just had to look at the pathetic lies Weasley and Potter tried to feed him when they continuously broke rules at Hogwarts.

However, it still left the mystery of why the amnesic witch had attacked him in the infirmary. Did she subconsciously blame him for having abandoned her in the Forest? It seemed unlikely since she didn't remember anything else.

Severus sighed and thanked Weasley for his cooperation, before vanishing the bottle of firewhisky before the other man's disbelieving eyes, giving him a last piece of advice:

"You should tell Potter."

Severus then apparated to Hogwarts and hurried up the path. He had a meeting with Ollivander and Hermione.

Chapter Text

Severus arrived before Ollivander, as he hoped he would, so he waited for the old wandmaker in front of the infirmary doors, pacing back and forth. Several students had come, and then hastly gone upon seeing the irate professor guarding the door, preferring to seek the nurse later on.

Severus wanted to make Ollivander swear to keep Hermione's not-so-dead-after-all status a secret from the world at large until she was either cured or well enough to handle strangers crowding around her whenever she went out. He had no doubt she would be a celebrity, what with her being Potter's best friend, having played a very important role to bring down the Dark Lord and being mysteriously resurrected to top it off. Not to mention the news was kind of slow in the wizarding world in these peaceful times. Potter was going to have some serious competition for the Prophet's headline.

Severus would obtain Ollivander's silence, he vowed, one way or another. He wasn't averse to using a Confondus here and there, or even an Obliviate if necessary, to protect Hermione... Only so he could fulfil his accidental oath to protect her, of course. Not because he had grown inexplicably fond of his bare-foot, no. She actually annoyed him greatly most of the time: invading his private quarters at night, bat-shadowing him in the corridors during the day... But then, she always gave him this bright, dazzling smile whenever she saw him...

The Slytherin had talked to Hermione already, explaining to her that a man would be coming that day to examine the strange pattern embedded in her hand. Of course she hadn't understood a word he said and had even thought he wanted to hold hands when he pointed at hers in an effort to make his meaning clearer. A good thing Minerva hadn't been around or he would have earned himself another baleful look from the old witch. More so because Severus had been unable to prevent a smile from touching his thin lips when she tried wrapping her little hand around his large callused ones.

The Headmistress had come to him during the week and grudgingly apologized for her reaction the morning she had retrieved Hermione from his quarters, but he could see she was still suspicious of him when he was only trying to help the amnesic witch.

"Professor Snape, good day," the wandmaker greeted him, seemingly coming out of nowhere. He was probably using one of Albus' old, annoying tricks. At least this old codger didn't twinkle at him like a bloody loon.

"Good day, Mr Ollivander, and thank you for agreeing to come all the way to Hogwarts," he replied smoothly.

"Your letter was quite intriguing. I've never been asked for my opinion on a wand injury before. The healers at St Mungos think they know everything," the old man rolled his eyes and Severus hummed as he was expected to.

"St Mungos might have been able to heal our guest, but I'm afraid I need your discretion as much as your expertise in this case," the Slytherin said diplomatically.

Ollivander studied him for a minute, his eyes glowing strangely in the castle's shadowy corridor.

"All right," the wandmaker finally agreed, opposing surprisingly little reluctance.

"Will you swear on your magic?" the Slytherin insisted.

"That important, eh? Oh, very well. Albus had asked me to trust you after all. He must have had his reasons."

Severus sneered at his inane reasoning but accepted the man's word nonetheless. Pushing the heavy double doors open, he waited for the old man to shuffle in and sealed the entrance closed once more against whiny students and nosy staff. The nurse frowned in disapproval.

"I'm sure the dunderheads' little scrapes and bruises can wait for awhile, Poppy."

The woman sighed dramatically but followed the two men nonetheless.

Hermione waited for the new stranger to approach with a guarded look. Despite the many visitors she had had these last days, she was still wary of new faces since meeting Ron Weasley. Severus wondered if seeing him had triggered a memory of her last moments as Hermione Granger to resurface.

After a few minutes of tense silence, the witch relaxed, having lost interest as she decided such an old wrinkly man was no threat to her, the formidable werewolf-basher that she was.

"By Merlin's knobbly staff!" Ollivander exclaimed, freezing where he stood. "Is that... Who I think it is? I never forget a face, but I never expected to see this one again."

"If you are speaking about Miss Granger, you are quite correct in your assumption, Mr Ollivander" Severus replied tersely, hating to speak in riddles with a passion. "So I trust you understand the need for discretion in this matter?"

"Oh, I do. I most certainly do," Ollivander said, nodding his head eagerly, as he dropped his bag and travelling cloak on a bed.

He approached the witch calmly as if sensing there was something dangerous and wild about her.

"Miss Granger, may I?" He asked in a soft voice, extending his own hand, palm up.

Hermione looked at the old wizard quizzically, before turning towards Severus. The Slytherin nodded encouragingly and she squeezed Ollivander's hand with her own. The wandmaker chuckled and gently turned her hand around, peering closely at the star-burst pattern, visible just under the skin's surface.

"Just as you said in your letter, Professor Snape. Oh, it's beautiful and rather unique, isn't it?"

Severus sneered. Trust a barmy wandmaker to find a wand wound anything but ghastly.

"Have you ever treated such an injury before?" he asked instead.

"As a matter of fact, yes, I have. It is a common occurrence amongst us wandmakers. As you probably know, we test the wands we create before leaving them in the hands of our customers. Most of them are children, after all. It would be very irresponsible not to guarantee their safety. For those of us who like to experiment the more unstable cores and...unusual combinations of materials, it is not so rare that the wand will explode in just this manner, right in our hand."

Severus' eyes widened. He had never heard of this and had so many questions now.

"Does it work as a magical conduct? Like having a wand then?" The Slytherin had a nagging suspicion this was how the witch had been breaking into his quarters.

"Not for everyone or I'm sure it would somehow become a fad, and not a very good one at that." The old man chuckled. "I'm sure you can guess one of the major drawbacks yourself."

Severus thought about this. If it was like wandless magic, the big advantage was that you couldn't be disarmed. Except it wasn't truly wandless magic because you had a wand, only it was hidden...

"Disarming spells, summoning charms and most any spells targeting a wand would be painful." He stated with certainty, remembering then his second encounter with the bare-foot on the Quidditch pitch, where he had used expelliarmus on her. She had even cried out in pain.

"Exactly! Even a simple polishing charm would be excruciating, as a matter of fact."

Severus grimaced. An embedded wand had more drawbacks than benefits, and if Hermione was concerned, it would have to be remedied. But first, he had to be sure:

"What kind of people would be able to use an embedded wand like this?" He asked with narrowed eyes, daring the nosy wizard to ask for details.

"Oh, so she has used magic, then? Thought so. To answer your question, as far as the Guild of Wandmakers has been able to make out, only those with a predisposition to wandless magic - real wandless magic, that is - and recluse hermits who are closer to nature than their fellow humans. There are quite a few of those in our profession."

Severus blinked in surprise. Hermione undoubtedly fit the second category, but she had also been a very talented witch and could very well fit the first too.

"So you reckon this is what happened to Miss Granger? Her wand exploded in her hand?"

Ollivander rubbed his chin as he pondered this.

"The similarities are too great for it to have been anything else. But did her own wand explode in her hand? And why? Or had she "borrowed" another's wand? It happened more often than not during the war, I know… But in either case, she would have been using a stabilized wand, so I'm afraid that to answer any of these questions, I will need to carefully retrieve all these fragments by hand. Without magic," the wandmaker added unnecessarily.

Severus grimaced, imagining the pain such a muggle-like procedure would procure.

"A sleeping draught would be agreeable for this?" he asked.

"It would be preferable, yes." Ollivander answered, reaching for his bag and meticulously setting out sharp tools on a tray next to the witch's bed while Poppy coaxed her into drinking the sour potion. As she lay there, waiting for sleep to take her, Severus moved to leave when Hermione tugged at the edge of his billowing robe, forcing him to stop dead in his tracks and choke on his own collar. Merlin, she was strong. She wouldn't relinquish her grip even when he tugged the cloth back. Severus was fully aware of Ollivander and Poppy's amused gazes, and made a show of grumbling unhappily before taking a seat next to her bed. As soon as the two busy-bodies returned to their business, the raven-haired wizard murmured soothing words to his bare-foot, until her eyes fluttered closed.

Severus stayed by Hermione's side, holding the hand Ollivander was not operating on, and two hours later, the wandmaker declared himself satisfied he had managed to extract every last bit of wood and less savoury fossilized fragments that had been stuck in her hand for so long. Severus looked over his handiwork and discovered dozens of shards neatly laid on a tray in the same star-burst pattern they had originally been in. Well, that explained why he had retrieved them by hand so carefully.

Poppy then applied some essence of dittany and a mild healing spell for the deeper gouges, making her hand as good as new in no time.

Ollivander secured the fragments almost lovingly, which Severus found disturbing, and he promised to analyse the fragments to have a clearer idea of what had happened to the young woman as soon as he could.

"But whatever happened," the wandmaker concluded. "A wand exploding never affected anyone's mind... as far as the Guild of Wandmakers can tell."

With that, Ollivander left, humming an odd little tune out of key.

"Completely barmy," Severus muttered under his breath as he reclaimed the chair next to Hermione's bed, waiting for the potion's effect to dissipate. But at least, it was a valuable piece of information. Another cause of the witch's amnesia he could cross off his mental list.

"Isn't she awake yet?" the nurse asked, coming to check on her favourite patient for the umpteenth time.

"She's probably pretending to sleep just to avoid your hovering," he grumbled in reply, not low enough unfortunately, as the medi-witch whacked him behind the head, before checking Hermione's vitals once more.

"What's wrong?" he asked, alarmed, when the nurse grimaced.

"Well… She looks a bit peaky. I think it's staying cooped up in the castle. She can't be used to it after living so long in the wild."

"Take her out, then," Severus dead-panned.

"Oh, I'd love to," Poppy answered so sweetly his teeth ached. "But maybe you've noticed I'm the only healer in a school full of hormonal teenagers waving wands around?"

Severus nodded grimly. Theirs was a dangerous profession indeed.

"And I can't ask Minerva to do it. She would, of course, but she needs a cane for long-distances. Hagrid wouldn't mind either but if Hermione made a run for it into the Forest, there is no way he could stop her or catch up to her…"

"So you want me to -what?- take her out for a walk?" he deduced.

"I don't see who else could. Unless… I guess I could floo Harry Potter. He wouldn't mind."

"Oh, very well, you perfidious woman."

"I'll take that as a compliment coming from you," Poppy smirked, pinching his cheek as she left for her office again.


A while later, Hermione woke up with a strangled scream, fighting against her sheets, getting more and more tangled as she thrashed about. Without hesitation, Severus gathered her in his arms, trying to calm her down.

"A nightmare. It was only a nightmare, Hermione. Don't worry. You're safe, you're in the castle, with Minerva, Poppy… and me. Don't worry, Hermione, I've got you, I'm here…"

All the while wondering what someone who was amnesic could have nightmares about. He rocked her back and forth, patting her back until her breathing steadied.

"What happened?" Poppy whispered, so close to his ear, Severus thanked the nerves of steel he had refined over the years as a spy, allowing him not to flinch and startle Hermione.

"A nightmare," he replied softly. "Has she had any before?"

"Yes," The nurse answered hesitantly. "The night after she saw Ronald Weasley, but it could be just a coincidence…"

"Don't be daft, woman. Of course it is no coincidence," Severus snapped.

He was angry Poppy had not told him about this before, although he knew she had no reason to. He wasn't a member of her family, nor her guardian, not even her friend or her former Head of House, but he had found her, goddamnit, he had brought her back to where she belonged! Wasn't he entitled to be kept informed of her health, at the very least?

"The nightmare, I think it might be about her very last memory. The only one she seems to have left." He told the nurse, because she was her caregiver and might need the information. She nodded in understanding.

"Hermione? Are you feeling better?" He asked the witch still huddled in his arms. Her face was tucked into the crook of his arm and completely covered by her hair, as if she was trying to make herself invisible.

At the concerned tone of his voice though, Hermione pulled back to look into his dark eyes and gave a weak smile, squeezing his arm as if thanking him. Sometimes, she looked so normal, as if Hermione Granger, the Gryffindor know-it-all, was just lurking under the surface of his wild bare-foot. This situation was all so fucked up. Should they even be calling her Hermione? Should they even bother talking to her when she didn't seem to understand anything?

"Let's go for a walk," he said abruptly. Some fresh air would do him good too, and maybe it would clear his mind. "But first, some warm clothes. And boots." He stated, looking critically at her naked feet dangling from the bed.

Severus did some foolish wand waving, transfiguring some extra blankets into a heavy greyish cloak and a pair of fur-lined boots. They looked dull but warm enough for the season. Transfiguration had never been his strong suit anyway, nor fashion, and Hermione looked delighted to see objects transform into other objects right before her eyes. She clapped her hands enthusiastically and he mock-bowed in appreciation. The tall wizard then wrapped the cloak around her, making sure it was a snug fit and magically adding a hood as an afterthought so she wasn't so recognizable, before helping her into her boots. She still hated wearing shoes although she at least walked normally with them now.

Once on the castle's front steps, Severus blinked in the bright outside light, waiting for a few seconds to get used to it. There weren't too many dunderheads on the grounds despite the sun, since the air was still chilly, but the few that were there soon noticed his presence and started pointing fingers and sniggering. They probably wondered what poor soul had to suffer his company, or if he was, Merlin forbid, on a date. Severus rolled his eyes, he often wondered why he was still working in a school. He looked at Hermione whose cheeks had quickly reddened as she ran around like an eager puppy around him. She sometimes went a little farther ahead and Severus tensed, fearing she'd leave, but she would always come running right back. Maybe she liked being a resident of the castle, after all. Maybe she liked having company, even if it was just a few members of the staff.

Severus panicked when he saw Hermione run straight into a tree. Except that instead of crashing painfully against the hard trunk as he had expected, she continued her run up the tree, using her speed and agility to push herself effortlessly onto the lower branch, and then the next and the next until she was completely out of view. He was wondering how to get her down without losing too much of his dignity when she somersaulted off another low branch and landed neatly beside him.

"Show-off," he muttered.

Well, at least he could cross out the physical trauma in the list of causes for her memory loss. The woman's motor skills were not affected at all, and, if anything, they were better than before. She had no cognitive disability either. She had proven she could learn, quite easily in fact, just like her old self could. There was only the almost total memory loss, but it appeared glaringly obvious it had not been caused by a mere blow to the head.

Ronald Weasley had said she had been screaming. Being exposed too long to a crucio would explain her screams as well as the memory loss, like the unfortunate Longbottoms, but Poppy had found no major nerve damage on Hermione, nor the brain lesions that affected the two former Longbottom aurors, so he could rule out that possibility too. Ollivander had even ruled out the exploding wand as a probable cause.

Now that he was more certain, by a simple process of elimination, that it was just a bloody memory charm of some sort that had robbed Hermione of her memories, he felt he could actually do something to help her recover them. However, there were so many memory charms that could account for her state, he wasn't sure where to start, except...He was after all a master legilimens, probably the best in all of Britain since Dumbledore and Voldemort's demises. If there was the slightest trace left of the spell that had been cast on her in her pretty little head, he would find it, and reverse it - or destroy it. But to do something so extreme, he would have to get Poppy and Minerva's permission.


"I don't think it can hurt to try," the school nurse answered after Severus had submitted his idea to the two witches in an emergency meeting.

Severus winced.

"Actually, it can," he retorted, glancing at Hermione who was playing with a bowl of rainbow goldfish Minerva had created for her. "I'm not talking about a surface scan of her mind, which is what I used to do daily as a spy and is hardly felt by anyone. I'm talking about the more elaborate branch of Legilimency, which is very invasive and can be quite painful, especially if the subject tries to fight my presence within his mind."

The two witches considered this for a few minutes, shifting uneasily in their chairs.

"Besides the pain, can it cause damage to her mind? Is there the slightest risk she will be worse off than she already is?" Minerva asked, clearly not liking the idea of dismissing pain as something acceptable. She would never have been able to take the kind of decisions Dumbledore had during the war. The old coot would have agreed without second thoughts about his idea.

"If I was anything but a master-legilimens, maybe. As it is, I can guarantee you I will not mess up Miss Granger's mind any more than it already is. However, I can't guarantee you I'll succeed, but I have good hope I will."

Both women looked satisfied by his explanation and agreed, on one condition.

"I think we should ask Mister Potter to witness the procedure, as a family member, since he's the closest thing we have to it," Minerva said.

Severus snorted, but could see how that could be necessary. What they were attempting was a bit on the experimental side after all.

"If he agrees, that is," he replied.

"I'm sure he will. We all have Hermione's best interest at heart," Poppy said, winking at him.

Severus scowled and left before his "friends" asked him to contact Potter, too. It was bad enough having to see the aggravating man again.


Precious Potter couldn't free his time for two days because he was on some kind of secret mission for the auror department, but at least Ollivander was taking this situation seriously and had sent him an owl the very next day. He had probably spent the whole night analysing all the tiny bits of shattered wand, but he could feel the wand-maker's giddiness over his discovery through his missive.

Severus admitted his findings were very interesting. The fragments found under Hermione's skin were walnut shards and traces of dragon heartstring and, according to the Golden Trio's heroic tale that everyone in wizarding Britain knew, Hermione had been using Bellatrix Lestrange's wand during the final battle at Hogwarts, even when she duelled its former owner. As Ollivander pointed out, the crazy Lestrange witch's wand had been a 12 ¾ inches walnut and dragon heartstring wand. That was no coincidence, especially because that wand had never been recovered after the war, although Hermione's original one had, which meant the wand Hermione had been using somehow exploded in her own hand.

As for what caused the explosion, Ollivander could only point out some of the piece seemed to have been partially singed, but it could be due to the explosion itself and not the cause of the explosion.

Severus sighed. They uncovered some mysteries, only to have more questions crop up in its wake. But it did remind him to inquire about Hermione's original wand as he had no idea himself where it was kept. He supposed Saint Harry Potter must know and made a mental note to ask him about it when he finally decided to grace them with his presence. Although, whether having her wand would help the amnesic witch or not was yet another mystery. She certainly hadn't seemed to need one to get through his wards.

Severus cried out in frustration when he realized he had spent yet another morning thinking about her. Sure, it was only because he was trying to figure out the complex puzzle that she was... But he was still thinking about her again, and he found that very disturbing. Shoving Ollivander's letter in his desk's topmost drawer, he went in search of a house-elf to order about and a first year to bully into tears. Two things he knew with certainty Hermione would hate.


"So?" Potter asked impatiently.

Severus had broken eye-contact with Hermione literally a second ago, so he made a show of taking ample time to make sure she wasn't suffering from after-effects of his prolonged legilimency, making sure she was comfortably seated, picked imaginary lint off his impeccable black robes and served himself from the steaming pot of tea before finally taking a seat right next to Hermione. The Slytherin could see Potter's left eye twitch.

"Well? What did you find?" Minerva asked, frowning at his childish behaviour.

"As I feared, nothing," he answered.

"Nothing?" the three spectators all squeaked at the same time. Potter fell back in the chair he had vacated when Severus had began investigating his friend's mind to pace nervously around the office.

"I can't explain it myself," Severus confessed. "I've never seen a mind so completely picked clean before. Even that idiot Lockheart who was hit with a full blast of obliviate retained most of his early memories and his personality."

"What do you mean? Is her head just... empty?" Potter cut in.

"Not as such. Surely, even a dunderhead such as you would have guessed she has intact memories of her time alone in the forbidden forest."

Severus paused, the images of a wild and beautiful savage woman running after small prey in the dangerous woods for sustenance, and jumping from tree to tree to evade becoming prey herself from the larger predators, assaulted his mind. It was breath-taking and heart-stopping.

"Those memories are intact, as well as those since I brought her back to the castle," Severus smirked at the knowledge that he occupied a much more important part of her life than Potter now. "Which is good news, of a sort," he concluded.

"How can that be good news?" Minerva moaned.

"Simply put, it's not a degenerative form of memory loss," Severus answered, but had to elaborate upon seeing their perplexed expressions. "The curse that was used on her has no long term effects. She won't lose new memories because of it."

"But you don't know what that curse is?" Minerva asked hopefully.

"It's nothing I've ever seen or read about, that's for sure. It's as if her memories have been violently snatched away, one after another, leaving blank patches with the odd colour, sound or smell lingering behind. It's like..." he paused, searching for words that would best describe the strange swirl of sensations he had witnessed. "It's like looking at a photo album where all the picture have been ripped off. You can see some of the torn corners, discolouration around the missing pictures, a forlorn description to a blank space..."

Potter's brow was furrowed. No doubt he was imagining his own bloody happy-family photo album ripped of its contents.

"Yeah, I see what you mean," Potter said. "But why did she attack Ron then if she has no memories left prior to the attack?"

"I couldn't reach the memory of the attack, not without hurting her, but I think there's something left of it. However, Miss Granger has buried that memory so deeply in the recesses of her mind that I could only catch a glimpse of it before her terror shut me out completely. I don't think she'll be willing to try again," Severus said with a frustrated sigh.

He ran his slender fingers through his long dark hair, cursing when they snagged on a knot, took a minute to regain his composure before looking each of the witnesses in turn and announcing:

"All I managed to see through the blur were flaming orange hair and blood-red eyes."

Chapter Text

Of course the red eyes had immediately made Severus think of his former master, the now defeated Lord Voldemort. But imagining him with ginger hair - or just with hair for that matter - just gave him a bad case of the giggles and that was unacceptable. What if someone saw him? His reputation had already taken a blow because of Hermione's antics. He had somehow become the unwilling recipient of her annoying puppy-like behaviour, and the female inhabitants of the castle found it "cute" while the males openly snickered at him. He wasn't sure which was worse.

In fact, the more he recalled the red-eyed attacker, the more he wondered if the memory hadn't been tampered with, because the blurry being he had glimpsed didn't look like anyone he knew of who had been fighting on the dark side. Granted, the Dark Lord's paranoia had been at its height and he may have had allies known only to him… Severus scratched his five o'clock shadow and sank deeper into his armchair, relishing in the warmth of the fireplace's dying embers.

Unfortunately, if he couldn't totally exclude the possibility of the red-eyed ginger monster being one of Voldemort's recruits, then he had to investigate this lead by any means possible. The only problem being most of the Death-Eaters had either died in battle or at the hands of angry mobs after their capture, or had been executed by the Ministry after a trial. Not Lucius Malfoy, however. No, never a Malfoy. Count on him to worm his way out of fighting for Voldemort, without even joining Potter's side in Battle, and still walk free today, albeit with a tarnished reputation. But he was the only other inner-circle Death-Eater left whose brains he could pick though, so it would have to suffice.


Severus hadn't waited for long to storm Malfoy Manor. At the first opportunity, he had apparated right in front of the heavy metal gates embossed with a stylized M. Both the gate and the wards accepted his intrusion and he wondered if the Malfoy patriarch had forgotten to update them since the war. Surely not, or anyone with a Dark Mark would be able to waltz in here and get revenge for his last-minute defection. Not that there should be any more Death-Eaters roaming the British country-side, except if they successfully faked their death or had been so freshly recruited nobody knew about them, but you couldn't be too prudent where your family was concerned. He was well into the center of the huge manor when an apologetic house-elf popped into existence right in front of him, and he cursed as he almost stumbled on it.

"How can Winny help Sir Visitor, sir?" the house-elf asked.

"Just tell me where I can find your master," Severus sighed, annoyed he had lost the element of surprise. The elf would warn Lucius of his arrival as soon as he turned his back.

"Master is in the blue study, Sir Visitor. That way, sir," Winny answered, pointing a stubby finger down the side corridor he had just walked past, before disappearing with a soft pop.

The study in question wasn't hard to find as it was the only open door and the light from inside poured into the dimly-lit hallway. The set-up screamed "trap" at him, but only because his spy-habits were hard to let go of, so instead, he strolled right into the middle of the room as if he owned the place, stopping a few feet away from Lucius Malfoy.

"You could at least have the courtesy of owling a note, you know. Dropping by unannounced is so uncouth," Lucius drawled from his ornate chair, his silk adorned chest puffing out like the ridiculous peacocks he kept all over his manicured gardens.

Severus raised a sardonic eyebrow and both chuckled, letting their dour, better-than-thee facades fall. They had been friends for decades, or as close as Slytherins got to friendship, and could afford to drop the act behind closed doors.

They eyed each other critically. Lucius seeming surprised for some reason. Did he expect to see a drunk or worse, a potions-addict. Well, if he had to be honest, he had gone through that after Voldemort's first fall, and Lucius had helped him out, but he had been young and stupid then. Severus took his time to scrutinize the blond wizard too. He was groomed to perfection, as always, but Severus sensed he lacked the arrogant fire that had made him such a formidable man before. If you scratched the shiny, pretty surface today, Severus was certain he would only find a shadow of what the man had once been, but, considering he had been an arrogant ruthless bastard before, he wasn't sure that was such a bad change. Finally, his host gestured him to the seat next to his.

"Good to see you, Severus. Although I don't quite understand the purpose of your visit as you seem to have been avoiding me since the war ended," Lucius said with a sad smile.

"I thought it better two reformed Death-Eaters weren't seen meeting one another. Merlin knows what drivel the Prophet would spew about that," Severus replied gravely.

"Probably that we're trying to bring him back," Lucius replied scornfully, his pointy nose twitching in disgust.

"And in no time, mobs would be at our doors, with pitchforks and torches," Severus quipped, trying to make light of a situation he knew very well could happen.

They remained silent while the same house-elf that had intercepted him hurriedly set out a tea tray. Severus glared at it and was rewarded with a panicked squeak when the creature glanced up at him. He smiled inwardly, he still had it. Besides, he liked doing what Hermione would hate, it made him feel less dependent on the woman. Blast her for haunting his thoughts as well as his castle.

"So what does bring you here. Not that I mind. People don't fall over themselves to socialize with our family," Lucius said.

"It's a sensitive matter and I can't tell you everything," Severus warned. "But I need to find someone who may or may not have been amongst his army at the Battle of Hogwarts."

"Hum…" Lucius hummed thoughtfully. "That entails a whole lot of witches and wizards, and not only British at that. Not to mention all the dark creatures: hags, werewolves, vampires, dementors, rogue goblins, giants... You name them, he had them. To be frank, I'm not sure I could even give you an exhaustive tally. Especially after I… fell out of favour, to put it mildly."

Severus nodded gravely.

"It should be fairly easy for you to answer though. The person I'm looking for has a rather unique appearance."

Severus smirked as he saw a spark of interest ignite the other man's eyes.

"How so?"

"Blood red eyes and fiery orange hair."

"You're kidding me, Sev." Lucius said aghast, either horrified at the reminder of Voldemort's unique eyes or at their atrocious combination with ginger hair.

"I wish. So, anyone - or anything - fit that description?"

Lucius did not even need a second to think on it.

"Absolutely not. Really, I'm still not sure you're serious. But, as I said, I was hardly in the Dark Lord's confidence in the end. Bella would have known -may her soul rot forever."

The crazy witch probably would have known at that, she was more of a consort to the Dark Lord than a proper wife to her own husband. It was sickening. Severus was disappointed but not overly so. He knew it had been a long shot and he pondered what to do next.

"You could always go through her vault, mind you. Maybe she left some information in there. I know for a fact she kept all the paperwork she deemed important in there," Lucius offered after a moment's silence.

"You'd give me the key to her vault? Just like that?" Severus asked in disbelief.

"Of course not," his host smirked, like the cat that got the cream. "Don't think I've gone all soft, Sev. Just because I don't go out in the world anymore doesn't mean I've gone off my rocker."

Severus sighed. Maybe Lucius should take his place as Head of Slytherin. He was such the consummate Slytherin, even his friends weren't safe. Was the information he may find in Bellatrix's vault worth whatever Lucius was planning to ask of him? Probably not, and chances were he wouldn't find anything, but Severus did not know where to investigate next in any case. He scowled because he hated gambling, and doing so with Lucius guaranteed you would lose.

"What is it you want, then?" he finally asked, defeated.

"Don't be so melodramatic, Severus. I'm only worried about you."

Severus snorted, earning him a scowl from his old friend.

"I am worried about you, and so is Cissy. I only want to know why you're doing this. If you're going on a wild man-hunt for the wrong reasons, I won't help you, because nothing good will come out of it for you. So, tell me what this is all about and you will have my full support - not that it means as much as it once did, but I will do my best."

To say Severus was surprised by his friend's concern would be the understatement of the century. As it was, he was struggling not to appear too surprised so as not to insult Lucius. But he was still hesitant to confide anything about Hermione.

"That is quite the Hufflepuff sentiment, Lucius. But I can assure you I'm only attempting to help a… friend," he said instead.

"A friend? I always thought I was your only friend. You wound me, Sev," Lucius replied, affecting a hurt look. "And just who is this friend? I wasn't aware many of our old circle of friends made it out alive."

Severus scowled at him and slowly finished sipping his tea. Maybe if he extracted a wizard's oath of secrecy from him... It wasn't as if Lucius could do anything with the information in any case as he was cooped up in his big empty manor most of the time. A gamble. Life was always a gamble.

"Take out your wand," Severus brusquely instructed. "Vow you'll keep what I'm about to tell you secret and I will satisfy your curiosity."

"Drama-queen," Lucius muttered but he wielded his wand nonetheless.

"Gossip-monger," Severus retorted, and waited for his host to perform the required oath before resuming. "You'll understand the need for secrecy once I'm finished, Lucius. I found a person everyone thought had died during the Battle of Hogwarts, but this person has had their memories erased by the red-eyed ginger you're so worried I'm hunting down. I need to find who it is and what he has done so I can restore the memories."

"It's… It's not one of…"

"One of our former brethren? No," Severus scoffed. "I'm not sure a single one of them was redeemable anyway and I certainly wouldn't go through all this trouble if it was."

"No. I'm actually relieved. You and my family would be prime targets, just as much as Potter. So who is it then? Anyone I know?"

Severus nodded, everyone knew who she was.

"Hermione Granger," he answered, still hating giving her name to Lucius despite extracting an oath of secrecy from him.

The blond man choked on his tea before turning white as a sheet. Severus narrowed his eyes at the guilt clearly displayed there.

"Lucius," he warned. "If you're hiding something from me concerning Miss Granger, you'd better tell me now. And if you did anything to her, so Merlin help me, I swear I'll-"

"No! It's not what you think, Severus," Lucius said hurriedly. "Rather, it's what I didn't do. You see, Potter didn't let it be widely known because he had enough difficulties as it was to get my family off the hook, but when Potter and his friends were captured by snatchers and brought here... Bella singled out Miss Granger and tortured her in the worst ways possible."

Lucius gulped, his hands trembling.

"It was really sickening and she was just... just a child then, too, but... I didn't stop Bella, I didn't dare. I just stood there and watched."

Severus scowled, he was furious but reigned in his desire to lash out at him. Lucius had been in no position at the time to do anything, he didn't even have a wand back then, for Merlin's sake. If he had intervened, he would only have been punished, or worse, for his trouble. That's how it worked amongst the Death-Eaters. Severus let out the breath he hadn't realized he was holding.

"She just has the worse luck imaginable, that one" he muttered under his breath, and, thinking back, she really had: attacked by a troll in her first year, petrified in her second, attacked by a werewolf in the third, the fourth wasn't so bad if you discounted the Daily Prophet's slander and being drugged, then dragged underwater for a ridiculous task, the fifth had been the debacle at the Ministry of Magic where she almost died and the sixth she fought the Death-Eaters who had infiltrated the school. He abruptly stopped mulling about her unbelievable bad luck when he felt his friend's eyes boring into him.

"What?" he snapped.

"Nothing," Lucius answered, all too innocently. "I was just thinking her family must be so happy to have her back."

"She has no family," he deadpanned. "She obliviated them and hid them Merlin knows where before running off with Potter. It's too late for them now, too many years since the memory charm was applied to reverse it. She only has Potter, and the Weasley sidekick I suppose, although I haven't seen him visiting her all that much."

"Yes, I seem to recall you've always hated Potter and his two sidekicks, which begs the question of why you are doing this? Why go through so much trouble to help the little chit? You've always ranted about how much she annoyed you and I don't think that was part of your little deception. She really did grate on your nerves. So why bother at all?"

"It's not... I..." Severus' mouth opened and closed a couple more times before he realized he didn't know why he had wanted to help her so much in the first place. Sure he had accidentally made a stupid drunken oath to do so since then, but he wasn't about to confess that to Lucius, and it didn't explain why he was so willing to do as much as he had for her since he found her. Gods! He was even patient with her. Maybe he was sick and had come down with a bad case of Gryffindor nobility and chivalry. Severus almost gagged on the thought but it did come as a good excuse and he served it right to the other wizard.

"It's the right thing to do. And I can't trust Potter to do it correctly," he spat, and that much, at least, was true.

"I see..." Lucius drawled. That you're lying to me, hung in the air, unsaid but understood by both men. "Here," he added, tossing a heavy black key in the air.

Severus caught it easily, looking thoughtfully at the twisted piece of metal. A wrought iron gobelin key from Gringotts, twisted, just like it's former mistress.

"You'll help me then?" he asked.

"Obviously. I'll clear it with the goblins so they allow you free passage, but they probably won't care since all the gold and artefacts in her vault have been seized by the Ministry for reparation. On the bright side, it will make your search much easier."

"Thank you," Severus said, preparing to leave.

"It's the least I can do. And Severus? Don't be a stranger," Lucius added with an overly flashy smile that would have put Gilderoy Lockheart to shame. "I'll be contacting you if I find anything on my side in any case."


The Lestrange vault was one of the ancient ones found far underground with so many security measures to bypass, Severus wondered how Potter had managed it. Of course, it may be that the goblins had had to improve their security tenfold after Potter pulled that little stunt during the war, because he couldn't help noticing the lack of dragons. Once the Goblin had opened the vault and departed on his damnable cart, Severus observed Bella's vault was indeed very empty, so much so that his footsteps echoed loudly as he walked to the far side where books, parchments and musty tapestries were stacked. It was soon obvious the items had been thrown haphazardly out of the way because they had no monetary value to the ministry employees who had come to seize the vault's riches, although Severus begged to differ where the books were concerned. At first glance, he estimated a dozen of them at least to be invaluable rare tomes.

"Idiots," he muttered, reluctantly returning his attention to the stack of papers.

Most of them were only property deeds, business deals, marriage plans for the eventual Lestrange heir, that, fortunately, never came to be... But he soon recognized Bellatrix' handwriting covering parchment after parchment with her surprisingly elegant handwriting. She must have used a charm to keep the ink from fading over time. The green ink glittered as if it had been applied that very day. A terrifying though in itself. Unfortunately, the contents were little better than the ramblings of a mad woman, which she had been even before Azkaban. Still, Severus persisted in reading every tiny scrap of parchment, going so far as to conjure a chair to make the process less annoying. He did eventually find scraps of information, but nothing he didn't already know. Maybe Bellatrix wasn't as close to her dear Dark Lord as she liked to boast.

Severus flung the last parchment he had been perusing with a sneer. It had contained petty information to blackmail various people at key positions in the Ministry and he felt sullied just having read all the muck the Death-Eaters had managed to rack up.

Defeated, he slumped back in his chair and sighed loudly. Another dead end, then. Casting the tempus charm to check the time, he noted he still had half an hour before the goblin was due back for the ride back up to the surface so he peered at the books. Thinking he might as well keep himself occupied, he reached out for the closest one and let it flip open on his lap to where a bookmark had last been placed. How long ago? he wondered idly.

The book was, unsurprisingly, one on dark magic. Dark curses that had ran out of fashion sometime around the middle-ages because they had no other use than to hurt, maim and kill in a messy fashion. However, Bellatrix had clearly been studying it, as the same fresh-looking glittering green ink could attest. She had scrawled annotations in the margins, apparently meaning to use them on specific people or teaching them to other followers of the Dark Lord. He flipped through the pages, most of them were effectively heavily annotated. His hands froze when he thought he glimpsed his name and he quickly turned back to the last few pages, scanning them carefully.

Yes, there, right next to a hex to make the brain melt through someone's nose, was his name with the mention "ideal for the traitor and his large beak of a nose". Severus barked a laugh. Really, she was such an unimaginative witch. He closed the book and threw it back on the pile of parchments. He'd rather destroy it as it didn't even contain counter-curses, but he was only a guest here and Lucius might not approve.

A shame none of the books were on wizarding families or family trees. If Bellatrix had annotated them as she had the dark arts book, he may have found some clue as to who had hurt Hermione but her collection of books might as well have been called 1001 Fun Ways to Torture, Maim and Kill. One of the books stood out from the rest, however, and he would probably have dismissed it if it wasn't a cooking book. Of all the ridiculous things to find in the infamous Lestrange's very secure vault. Opening it quickly, his heart raced as he saw it for what it was: an exhaustive encyclopedia of mythical dark creatures and at the bottom of each page, a footnote mentioning in Bellatrix's or her husband's handwriting whether the creature had been found, exterminated, captured or recruited. Recruited? They had actually found and recruited some of these monsters? They were even mythical by wizarding standards, mostly because they were heavily protected or very good at hiding themselves. Had they really found Carnivorous Heliopaths? Demonic Bicorns? Giant Redcaps? Merlin's beard, he didn't even know some of these things existed. It certainly could explain some things he had seen at the final battle. A polite cough sounded from behind him, the goblin was impatiently tapping his foot. Snapping the book shut, Severus tucked it into his cloak's inside pocket and followed the scowling little creature. He couldn't wait to study it in more details. He could feel in his bones that he would find some answers in it.

Chapter Text

Dinner in the Great Hall had come and gone by the time Severus made it back to the castle, and, although Minerva would be berating him for not attending it as a Head of House should, he was glad he didn't have to suffer through it before being able to study the book he had borrowed from the Lestrange vault. He did make a detour to the Slytherin common room on his way down though, but the prefects still lounging about assured him nothing out of the ordinary had happened during his absence. He always chose his prefects very carefully as it made his own job of Head of House a lot easier. Satisfied, he resumed his walk to his own quarters.

The book felt heavy with promise in his pocket and his fingers twitched in anticipation the closer he got to his destination, so he was a little peeved when he noticed a bundle abandoned in front of his door. Giving it an experimental nudge with his foot, the layers of cloth shifted with a groan and Hermione Granger's face peeked out of a cloak. She had, by the looks of it, fallen asleep, curled on herself like a cat, right there on his doorstep. Severus smirked. He was certain she had tried to break into his quarters again but had failed since her embedded wand had been removed. She must have been unknowingly slipping by his wards using her wand before, but couldn't do it any more without a wand to channel the magic. Still, it proved that her magic still worked, and that she was intuitively connected to it, despite her propensity when she had been a student to rely solely on the knowledge of books. Eventually, he stopped gloating about having thwarted the witch's invasions of his private rooms and wondered what he should do with her.

"So much trouble for such a little thing," he muttered as he picked her up easily from the ground.

He decided he would just let her in for now as he wasn't about to carry her all the way back up to the infirmary. Poppy could probably guess where she was anyway. The nurse seemed to have accepted that Hermione sometimes ran off for hours at a time now, usually to annoy him or Minerva.

But it was lucky people rarely came this far down in the dungeons, and, for once, he was more concerned for the witch's security than for his reputation. Some of the younger students stumbling upon a Hufflepuff sleeping in the corridors might have pulled some harmless pranks on her, some of the older ones… Let's just say not every witch or wizard attending the school were saints as Dumbledore had liked to think they were.

"Wiggenweld," he whispered to the carved snake that doubled as a knocker. It hissed, accepting the password, and swung the door open for him.

But Severus stood there, frozen for a minute, with the sleeping witch snuggled in his arms, as a blush crept up his cheeks. He didn't believe in coincidences, so it was with dawning horror he realized he had chosen such a password only to find himself in such a situation.

Indeed, the Wiggenweld potion was used to revive someone from the Draught of the Living-Dead, but what popped into his mind was the infamous tale of Sleeping Beauty that was associated with it. Once upon a time, an unscrupulous wizard tainted a spindle with the draught of the living-dead to trap a muggle princess into a near-death sleep, then promised the king to revive her in exchange for her hand, smearing his lips with the Wiggenweld potion to do so with a "miraculous" kiss.

And Severus did, by some strange twist of fate, have a sleeping beauty in his arms.

For the life of him, he couldn't remember why he had picked that particular password last week, except that it was obscure enough that the students wouldn't think to try it to break into his quarters or say it by mistake while walking by his door.

Shaking off his stunned bewilderment, he stepped in his rooms and couldn't get Hermione fast enough out of his arms and onto the couch. It's not that she wasn't kissable, he thought despite himself, staring at her delicate lips, parted in sleep, because she most certainly was, but it felt so wrong to even think of it. It would be like taking advantage of a very drunk witch, or well… an amnesic one, he supposed. She just wouldn't know any better.

So it was in a foul, self-deprecating mood that he settled himself in his favourite armchair in front of the fireplace to study the book, looking pointedly away from the couch.

First, he tapped his wand to the cover, muttering "Revelio" under his breath to get rid of the ludicrous cooking-book disguise and found out the title was actually Dark Mythical Beasts and Where to Avoid Them by Barnabold Stump.

Wait a minute… That name rings a bell... Someone I met, maybe? A Student? No… Oh right, Stump, Grogan Stump. He had been a Minister of Magic. The one who created the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures if I'm not mistaken. So, dark creatures is an interest that runs in the family, then? Strange hobby but good to know since I would otherwise question the author's credibility - Merlin forbid he was another Lockheart fraud.

Still, as he opened to the first page, Severus was having difficulties believing weeping angels actually existed. They didn't even sound all that Dark, or so he thought before he read the passage where they would relentlessly hunt their prey in packs and sometimes snap your neck or rip you to pieces instead of merely sending you back in time. That last part at least explained why people didn't seek theses creatures out in order to be sent into the past to change events to their liking. Merlin knows he would be tempted to try otherwise. Severus thought of having a second chance to stand up to his father, to protect his mother, to refuse the Dark Mark, to save Lily… Aah, so many regrets! On second thought, I'm probably exactly the kind of person these angels would kill on sight.

Severus made a mental note of where to avoid these creatures and his eyes lingered on the sleeping witch. At least, he had done one thing right in his life.

Scolding himself for daydreaming like a dunderhead, Severus turned the next page, and the next, carefully reading the descriptions of the creature each time or studying the few that were illustrated, until he was already halfway through the book without having found a match to the thing that had attacked Hermione. Exasperated and his eyes burning with fatigue, he finally decided to call it a night. He would simply set the next morning's class to reading a chapter ahead instead of brewing and be done with it. Hermione was still sleeping soundly, emitting a soft snore from time to time, but he felt bad about waking her up now, only to throw her out, so he modified his wards, allowing her to leave whenever it was she woke, and he went in search of his own bed. Unfortunately, it wasn't the peaceful slumber he had hoped for but a restless night full of terrible creatures hunting him mercilessly. It was when he felt like a troll was sitting on his chest to choke him to death that he awoke with a start, only to be faced with a flash of white teeth. Hermione was kneeling on his chest and looking at him curiously, giving him that dazzling smile that annoyed him so much. He wasn't even surprised to see her where she shouldn't be. Worse, he should have expected it. Fate seemed to take a sadistic pleasure of throwing the poor thing at him.

"Get off of me, witch, before I hang you upside down by the ankle." He growled, a Levicorpus already at the tip of his tongue.

Hermione looked nonplussed but seemed to get the meaning, because she jumped off his torso with the agility of a cat, forcing all the air out of his lung with a loud "Oof!".

Severus grumbled as he was forced to lie in his bed to catch his breath. I should've thrown her out last night... He thought, searching where she had fled to, only to find her curled up at the foot of his bed like an obedient little puppy. Definitely should have thrown her out.

Being the kind of person to believe a day could only go from bad to worse, he waited expectantly for another catastrophe to come, like Minerva bursting into his quarters and finding him in bed with her precious Gryffindor cub. It might even be worth it to see the look on her face, but he wasn't that suicidal. After the longest minute of his life had ticked by with no disaster in sight, he decided nothing would happen just yet, so he prepared for his day, glowering only a couple of times at Hermione.

Five minutes later, he snatched Stump's book, opened his door and, feeling like a teenager up to some mischief, glanced into the corridor to make sure there would be no witnesses of Hermione exiting his chambers in the small hours of the morning.

Fortunately, it was early enough that the hallway appeared empty all the way to the first flight of stairs. His Slytherins preferred to go down fashionably late, not that the other Houses noticed, or even cared. He pulled Hermione out by the arm and lead her at a brisk pace to the upper floors and was relieved to bump into Poppy near the great hall.

"Oh, hello Severus! Hello Hermione!" he greeted them, too cheerily in his opinion. "I thought she might be with you. She wakes even earlier than I do and that's saying a lot. I hope she wasn't too much of a bother."

He snorted. He wasn't about to correct her false assumptions about when exactly Hermione had seeked him out, and gently pushed Hermione towards the nurse.

"Just take her off my hands, would you?" he said.

"Actually, she is due to start taking her meals in the hall with us."

"Whatever for? With that many people around? What if somebody recognizes her?" he objected immediately.

"We can't keep her away from crowds forever, you know? It's not healthy to keep her isolated any longer than she has already been. Besides, Minerva agreed to this," the nurse said crossly. "As for being recognized... Well, she hasn't been so far. Everyone thinks she's... passed on a long time ago, and she doesn't exactly look like the pictures of her you find in books now, does she?"

Severus had to admit she didn't. The books she figured in were mostly history books and unofficial biographies, but every single last one of them used the picture of her at the Yule Ball, no doubt because it was more selling than the usual bushy-haired bookworm image she presented. Today, however, she was an athletic looking woman with striking features highlighted by impressive scars. She looked more like a fierce dragon-handler or an auror of Mad-Eye Moody's calibre to be honest

"I suppose not," He agreed reluctantly, still uneasy at the idea of all the students' eyes on her. "But, just in case..." he added, with a flourish of his wand.

And before either woman could react, he had changed her fake Hufflepuff robes into flowing ordinary black ones, and darkened Hermione's eyes until they were almost black while lightening her hair to a golden blond. He thought she looked horrendous like that, although he guessed she was very much to the taste of a majority of the schoolboys if the dumbstruck stares she was receiving as they crossed the hall was anything to go by. He guided her gently by the arm to the staff's table, careful of steering her away from any redheads in attendance just in case she reacted violently like she had with Weasley. Really, they should have consulted him instead of rushing head first with this half-baked plan.

Hermione waved cheerily at a wide-eyed Minerva and patted Filius head affectionately before taking a seat next to Poppy and eating voraciously everything she managed to get her hands on. After an awkward silence, the headmistress cleared her throat.

"What's the meaning of... this?" she asked, waving with a disapproving gesture at Hermione's appearance.

"Precaution," Severus grunted after a sip of his burning black coffee, strong and bitter, just the way he liked it. "And before you start criticizing my poor performance at human transfiguration, which, as you very well know, is not my speciality, might I point out you could have thought of such a subterfuge yourself before sending the poor girl out in this… Hellion's pit," he finished, glaring at the assembled and noisy students.

Minerva huffed.

"You make it sound as if I was sacrificing her to a pack of rabid hippogryphs. She's just having meals with us. For her own good, might I add."

"And what about the other students' well-being, then? Or should I specify, our ginger students? Seeing how she reacted to Weasley, you and I both know Hermione can be the rabid hippogryph herself if something triggers her memory."

He watched with satisfaction as the headmistress opened and closed her mouth without being able to come up with a valid retort. She glanced nervously at Hermione, but the young woman only had eyes for the juicy bangers and fat strips of bacon. Although there weren't as many red-heads as before, what with the Weasleys all having graduated until the next batch came along, this was still the main school for students from Ireland and Scotland to attend, and, as such, had a fair number of gingers in every house.

"Right then, Severus. I'll admit you're right and that I hadn't considered this all the way through. As such, you'll be responsible for Hermione's meals in the Great Hall from now on," Minerva said curtly, but he could see the corners of her mouth twitching upwards ever so slightly. She'd better not dare smirk at him or he'd be out of here before she could say Quidditch. Old biddy, thinking she outsmarted him.

As retaliation, he opened the book on mythical dark creatures and began reading where he took off last night, sipping his coffee and nibbling on a piece of toast.

Minerva managed to restrain herself for five full minutes before asking:

"What's that?"

"It's a book, Minerva. Surely you've heard about them by now. Useful little things, books."

"Don't be such a snark, Severus. I meant," she replied more tersely. "Does this have anything to do with... You know..." she indicated Hermione who was trying to sneak eggs off Hagrid's plate without the half-giant catching her.

"Maybe. I won't know until I find a clue and I won't find it if I keep being interrupted."

The headmistress rolled her eyes but left him in peace for the rest of the meal.

Severus still had his nose in his book when he entered his classroom. He didn't need to look where he was walking because he knew every stone in the castle by heart and the students always gave him a wide berth, no matter how crowded the hallways were. Without bothering to look up from the page he was perusing, he lazily flipped his wand at the blackboard with instructions to read the chapter on nourishing potions and choose which, in their opinion, was the best. It was a trick question of course, but a good way to separate those students who had a real affinity to potions from the rest. He was satisfied to hear the rustle of pages and then blessed silence.

He had ruled out several other mythical creatures as possible from the book when he heard a polite cough.

Scowling, he abandoned his reading and looked up, scanning the class to find most eyes on him and one hand up in the air.

"Yes, Miss Harvey? I trust you have a very important contribution to share with us to deem it necessary to interrupt the whole class."

"Erm... Yes? I think so, sir?" the Gryffindor answered, glancing at her classmates who were obviously egging her on.

"Well? Out with it, girl! Or do you expect me to guess?" he snapped.

"Yes, sir! I mean no, sir. I don't expect you to guess, sir," she babbled while several students tried to stiffle their laughter.

The professor rolled his eyes. Gryffindors sure were brave, but not the most articulate of people. The girl took a deep breath and continued.

"It's about your... Erm… guest? We were wondering if she was going to teach us or something? You haven't… Err… introduced her," she finished, and glad her mission was finally complete, hurriedly sat back on her stool.

Severus stared at her and then whipped his head to the spot several students, mostly boys, were sneaking glances at. Drat! Hermione must have followed him after breakfast and he never even noticed, but there she was, sitting on a side table next to his desk, smiling at the class as her feet dangled in the air. He supposed she did look like a teacher in learning or even an apprentice, especially with the black robes he had hurriedly transfigured for her and were unwittingly similar to his own.

"That is none of your concern," he evaded. "She is only here to observe so do not interact unnecessarily with her. Now, go back to your reading."

All eyes darted back to their page, although some of the boys still stole covert glances at Hermione. Severus had to restrain himself from scolding her, all the while knowing she wouldn't understand why he was so angry anyway. Besides she was behaving herself, for once, so he just ignored her and returned to his desk.

His next class was comprised of those few who attempted their NEWT Potions, six in total that year, but he couldn't just tell them to read ahead, that would be just plain cruel, even for him. The NEWTs for his subject were famous for being the most gruesome of all and it would be irresponsible of him not to prepare them. So he had sent for Minerva to retrieve Hermione.

At lunch, he still had his nose stuck in the bloody book and Minerva threatened to make him Head of Ravenclaw if he didn't take his breaks seriously.

"You know how cranky you get when you don't take enough time to meditate," she chided.

"It's not meditation, woman. I'm not a pansy. I clear my mind, it's occlumency, not sodding meditation," he growled over the edge of the book.

"Always thought it sounded a lot like meditation myself," the legless DADA professor piped in. "Failed it in Auror training, of course, which explains why I was always in Operations instead of Infiltration or Intelligence."

"Yes, thank you for your... insight, Baylee. Now, ladies, if you don't mind keeping the chit-chat to a minimum," Severus said, taking another bite of his shepherd's pie and turning another page.

The two women shared a significant look but were promptly startled when they heard the potions professor stand up abruptly, knocking his chair over backwards. In fact, the entire room heard the loud clatter and turned to look in amusement as their most loathed teacher almost ran out of the great hall clutching a book in one hand and the arm of the strange new woman who now sat at the staff table in the other. A few of the older Gryffindors were thinking of coming to the witch's rescue but the headmistress advised the students to get on with their lunch with her stern no-nonsense voice that had them reluctantly sit back down.

In an unused classroom, Severus sat Hermione on a desk and opened the book to the illustration that had startled him, watching her reaction carefully.

It represented a woman with bright red hair, leathery sunken skin and closed eyes, which frustrated Severus quite a bit. According to the description, it was once a human, but sacrificed to the Gods in an ancient ritual to become one of the God's eternal servants on Earth. They were called the bog people, as the muddy pit was where the once human body was stowed away after the rituals. Bog people were said to have magical abilities although it wasn't specified of what sort, but it certainly seemed to be a good lead to check out, especially because their were several bogs to be found all over England and Scotland.

However, Hermione only narrowed her eyes at the picture, snarled once and lost all interest in it. Was it because it was an illustration and not the real thing?

Severus couldn't help but be disappointed. He had hoped this was the solution and that he could finally cure Hermione, but that prospect looked more uncertain, now.

"I'll try anyway," he promised glumly. "Come. Next class is first years. I'll even allow you to frighten them a little."

She hung on to his proffered arm like a hinkypuff on a sugar quill, but he didn't mind for once, as he felt obliged to make her feel better for having cut short her meal-time for nothing. As expected the first years were twice as jittery in Hermione's presence. She was unknown quantity, had a fearsome appearance and seemed completely at ease in their most feared teacher's company, which was more than enough reasons for them to be wary. Severus bit back a chuckle when Billy Watson dropped his mandrake root whole in his cauldron when Hermione merely looked his way. It also gave him a good excuse to deduct points from Gryffindor.

When the little brats filed out of their double-potions period with loud groans and complaints about the load of homework they had been given and how unfair the world was, signalling the end of the day, Severus was surprised to find Lucius waiting just outside the door. He stared at the man who was as usual groomed to perfection, and invited him in when he realized how rude he was being.

The blond man greeted him warmly and hesitated upon seeing the witch who was inching closer to Severus' back. His eyes narrowed as he scrutinized her from head to toe, his arrogant demeanour fading to shock when he understood. He glanced at Severus who nodded once.

"But," He warned. "If you cross paths with Minerva, you don't know who she is, you haven't recognized her, or better yet, you haven't even seen her. She'll bite my head off and toss it to the giant squid if she knew I told you about Hermione and her special condition."

"Fear not." His friend answered, tearing his eyes away from the young woman with difficulty. "There are some dragons in this world even I won't tickle. Although… you might want to find her a better disguise. Did you ask for a first year to charm her eyes and hair or are you still that bad at transfiguration?"

The potions master glowered at the other man, while Hermione who had become bored with the exchange decided to poke the new-comer with the longest wooden ladle she managed to find on his workbench.

"And she really doesn't recognize me, or you... or anyone?" Lucius asked, ignoring the insistent poking while trying to catch her eye.

"If she did, she would probably have stabbed you with that ladle by now," Severus replied, snatching the oversized spoon out of the girl's hands to put it back in its rightful place. "I have to admit I'm surprised Lucius, that you would come all the way out here, in public, no less. I thought you hadn't set foot out of your manor for the last five years."

"Ridiculous. Of course I go out. I'm just more discreet about it than I used to. Most everyone doesn't approve me being alive, free and filthy rich," Lucius answered, polishing his cane's silver snake head.

"You know, I do kind of understand their point. Minerva still rants fairly often about you still being on the school's board of governors."

"Tell her to blame Potter for doing an admirable job of clearing my name, then."

"That'll go over well." Severus muttered. "Hermione?"

The witch looked at him, having gotten used to her name over time, and trotted closer.

"This is going to be boring so why don't you go see Hagrid?" he said, motioning something big and round with his arms. "You can wrestle with Fang for a while before dinner."

The woman beamed and sprinted off without a backwards glance.

"Such a waste," Lucius commented. "Draco often complained about her being the smartest student in school."

"She's still smart, in a different kind of way. She did survive in the forbidden forest, alone, for five years after all."

"Did you find anything in the Lestrange vault?" Malfoy asked, tackling to the purpose of his visit.

"Only this," Severus answered pushing the copy of Dark Mythical Beasts and Where to Avoid Them towards him.

His friend flipped through it, eyebrows raised as he read some of the annotations.

"Well, that certainly explains where the Lestrange trio disappeared to so often. Not that I was complaining, uncivilized bunch they were. Did you find a match?"

Severus flipped to the page concerning bog people.

"I wouldn't bother with that if I were you," Lucius said after scanning the contents carefully.

"Why not? It's the closest match I have so far."

"For one, there are no notes by either the Dark Lord or the Lestranges in the margin to indicate they had any interest in such creatures. Secondly, I have come across references to bog people in my readings before but they are usually only regarded as nothing more than Inferis wielding magic so they wouldn't have been able to do something as finicky as affecting Miss Granger's memory in any way. And finally, I may have found something interesting."

Severus looked at Malfoy expectantly. If his smug look was anything to go by, he was more certain about this information than he was letting on.

"Tell me, Severus, have you ever heard of the albinos vampires?"

Chapter Text

Severus looked at Malfoy expectantly. If his smug look was anything to go by, he was more certain about this information than he was letting on.

"Tell me, Severus, have you ever heard of the albinos vampires?"

Severus' eyebrows knitted together. Vampires? Sure. Albinos? Sure. Albinos vampires? That just sounded ridiculous. Why not sparkling fairy vampires while he was at it? But his eyes strayed to the book of mythical creatures and he made a grab for it, searching frantically in the last pages he hadn't yet read. There was no entry about albinos vampires, although there was one about the Deleo vampires. Unfortunately, there was no illustration of the dark creature and it's description was very succinct and worthless:

The Deleo vampires have all the attributes of a regular vampire, except for the fact that they are usually smaller in size and have the particularity of being albinos.

Completely and utterly useless. If this was a student's essay, he would have graded it with a solid, red T, along with a scathing remark questioning his intelligence and that of his ancestors. He looked back at the blond man who had waited patiently for him to finish perusing the book.

"What do you know?" Severus asked.

"Funny story, really." Lucius answered, leaning against his desk. "I asked Cissy in passing if her dear sister had babbled about any ginger recruits joining the Dark Lord after we were -How should I put it?- set aside. Of course she laughed the idea off, mentioning the Weasleys, but then she came back to me a couple of days later. She remembered her sister taunting her about having a useless husband and… Well, here is her memory of it, I'll let you make your own opinion of it. I still have more research to do to verify if it's even remotely a possibility. I'll see you around, Sev."

With that parting remark, the elder Malfoy strutted out of the stuffy classroom with a casual wave of the hand and the clicking sound of his cane against the stone hallways. It was amusing to witness how much the man had changed on the inside and how little on the outside. No wonder so many people hated him and his family today: they couldn't see that they were really trying to redeem themselves. That might explain why Draco had gone into a healer's apprenticeship of all things. At least, he was aiming to be a doctor and not a nurse, or he might very well have been disowned.

Severus looked at the small crystal phial that had been left on his desk. He now understood why Lucius had come all the way to the castle to give it in person, knowing the contents could incriminate his wife once more for consorting and plotting with Death-Eater if it fell in the wrong hands. A good show of faith on Lucius' part to trust him with it.

Pocketing the silvery memory and the book, he made his way to his rooms where his pensieve was stored. Between the two items, he might just be able to tell if he was on the right track or not.

Once in front of his door, the word Wiggenweld on the tip of his tongue, he hesitated and scowled, before brandishing his wand out and hastily setting another password to his wards, something totally innocuous and boring that would never ever remind him of his perverted thoughts about a certain witch. A miraculous kiss indeed... The potions master snorted derisively and decided on leech bile, perfectly disgusting, perfect.

He noticed he hadn't keyed out Hermione from his wards. It was like his subconscious was trying to invite trouble. He wasn't usually so forgetful. But should he really ban her from his quarters? What if she slept on his doorstep again and someone with malicious intent happened upon her… It would be his fault if anything happened to her then.

With a heavy sigh that echoed in the small corridor, he left his wards untouched, granting Hermione her status as a guest and knowing without a doubt he would come to regret it.

The pensieve Dumbledore had left him would have been gathering dust if the house-elves weren't so damn thorough in their maniacal cleaning sprees he authorized twice a year. He hadn't needed to use it since the end of the war so it was with a little trepidation that he unscrewed the small vial and poured its silvery contents into the stone basin. His nose touched the surface and with a last breath, he dived in, the cackling voice of Bellatrix Lestrange greeting him immediately.

"Poor little Cissy! I told you you shouldn't have married such a pansy-boy as Lucius. Precious, pretty, pansy boy... I warned you! Now you're stuck with a whiny, worthless, wandless excuse of a man to warm your bed."

The crazy witch snickered gleefully when she saw her sister's stricken expression.

"Or maybe not even that!"

She circled her sister, pulling playfully at strands of the blond hair that had come loose from her usually impeccable chignon and leaned towards her ear, whispering:

"You should have married a strong man like mine. See how resourceful and indispensable he is to our Lord?"

"But… You don't even love him, Bella. You never have, and I dare say you never will."

"I find satisfaction… elsewhere" the brunette answered with a high-pitched laugh, and Severus' expressions mirrored Narcissa's grimace of disgust. "And the Dark Lord will soon reward me again."

Narcissa eyes became wary as her sister's giggles turned into hiccups of glee and she felt obliged to ask:

"How so?"

"I brought back a gift from my trip to Romania for our Lord," Bellatrix whispered conspiratorially, her eyes sparkling. "Hard to find the little bugger, but powerless against a talented occlumens like me. The Dark Lord taught me well. Oh, I can't wait to test him on Snape! Our very own greasy black bat against the little white bat. Yes! That should be so very entertaining! We should invite everyone to see Snape's downfall!"

The mad witch cackled again, caressing her fair sister's face adoringly, before the memory faded away. Severus was ejected from the pensieve, the tang of Narcissa's dread still clutching his senses, but he ignored it as best he could and picked out the important information from the disturbing memory: Bellatrix had brought back an albinos vampire, and only one, it seemed. The creature came from Romania and was easily subdued by an occlumens. But why an occlumens if not because the creature's attacks are centered on the mind? Oh, this was good! This could be it!

A predatory smile almost ghosted his lips and he clapped his hands, ready to take on the next task with more enthusiasm than he had felt in a long time. He opened the book back to the page describing the Deleo vampires, reading very carefully this time to comb out all the details he needed from it. First, he learned there was no illustration of the beast because it was, as the title clearly stated, mythical, and the author couldn't find it, but he did manage to pinpoint the origin of the rumoured creature: Romania.

Perfect! This confirms Cissy's memory.

The rest of the text dealt with sightings and witness accounts, but most importantly the vampire's modus-operandi and prefered victims which Severus read avidly:

Although the traditional vampire every little witch and wizard learns about in school has a clear preference for young and pure women with large bosoms clad in white nightgowns, the vampires of the Deleo clan seem, at first glance, to have no preference whatsoever where their prey is concerned: men, women, young, old, pretty, ugly, even the sickly… No one seems to be safe from this particular creature. However, there is a significant common factor between their victims if you know where to look. Indeed, they are all said to have been brilliant: professors, promising students and apprentices, masters of their art, researchers, inventors… And, after a preliminary search into similar occurrences in the muggle world, we can attest this creature is not limited to our magical community and pries on the bright minds of defenseless muggles as well.

But just what does the albinos vampire do to these poor people, and why? Unfortunately, this will remain a mystery as we have not been able to make contact with either the creature or its victims.

Severus snapped the book shut, muttering curses under his breath. It had not been as useful as he had at first thought. He would have to find other sources of information, just like Lucius had told him he would be doing too, but at least, the Malfoy family had a vast and ancient private library as well as many contacts. And what did he have? Mme Pince and a school's library… Even the Restricted Section was not going to be of much help, he knew every book it contained and none of them came close to the subject. Damnit! Why did he have to hit a wall every time he took a step in the right direction? It was beyond frustrating.

Fuming on his misfortune, the potions professor made his way to the great hall for a much deserved meal, wondering if Minerva would notice if he used ear-plugs to shut out the noisy brats.

"Severus!" He heard a cheery voice call far behind him.

The dark-clad man quickened his pace, his robes billowing wildly behind him as students scattered to make room for the oncoming storm.

"Severus! Wait up!"

People were beginning to stare so he stopped abruptly and whirled around, sneering.

"Potter. Could you please refrain from acting like an excitable schoolboy. Merlin knows I have enough of those around here."

"Yeah, sorry about that. I thought you hadn't heard me. And please call me Harry."

The potions master stared blankly at the twinkling emerald eyes before snorting.

"Don't hold your breath, Potter. What is it you want?"

"I finally managed to get…" Potter paused, looked around and cast a muffliato.

"I really wish you'd stop using my spells," Severus grumbled.

"Don't see why,. They're brilliant! Well, maybe not all of them…" Potter grimaced at some memory and Severus had a pretty good idea which one it was. "But Langlock and Muffliato are used all the time by the aurors. They're dead useful."

"Just splendid. My life-long dream has been fulfilled," Severus answered in a monotone. "Now, tell me what you want so I can get rid of you."

Potter chuckled and brandished a pale wand carved with acorns.

"It's Hermione's. I finally managed to get my hands on it. Wasn't easy, mind you. It was exposed in the Museum of war heroes."

"Surely it wasn't a problem for the Boy-Who-Lived-Twice. They must have been bending over backwards to accommodate their hero."

"Ah… well. I didn't really ask. I mean, they would have asked some awkward questions and I didn't want Hermione's name to come up when it needs to be kept in the shadows now more than ever."

"You stole it?" Severus exclaimed, stopping in his tracks to stare in bewilderment at Potter.

"No..." Potter drawled out. "I replaced it with a perfect copy. No one will be the wiser. It was only gathering dust anyway and its rightful owner has returned."

"Never knew you to be such a Slytherin, Potter. You might not be a total waste of space yet."

"Thanks, Severus," he replied, pocketing the wand again. "I'll leave the wand with Poppy just in case Hermione has an accident trying it out. I just thought you ought to know, and I wanted to ask you if you found anything new concerning Hermione's attacker."

"Maybe..."

Potter was waiting for more information, the foolish boy, but finally understood it wouldn't be forthcoming.

"Okay... That was helpful. I'll just ask Minerva then."

"You do that, Potter," Severus answered, smirking, as the Slayer-Of-He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named tried to push his way through a throng of awestruck children. He hadn't gone far when the Slytherin thought better of it though: he might still be of some use.

"Potter?"

"Yes?"

"I- That is, she, needs to find specific information about a specific creature, and I believe Black has left everything to you, including their extensive library?"

"Yes, he did. So you want me to do some research or something?"

"Don't be ridiculous. I want you to give me access to the Black library."

Potter shrugged.

"Fine by me. I left everything in Grimmauld Place and haven't returned there since the end of the war. You know how to get there, so be my guest."

Severus nodded. He wasn't looking forward to returning to the former headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix, but the place was filled with dark arts books of every kind. At least one of them should mention the Deleo vampires.

"You know, the Potter library is quite impressive too. Not as dark, of course, but I discovered great-grandpa Marvin was a collector of rare texts. I could go through them and send you those that might be interesting… if you tell me what you're looking for."

Severus scowled, but the truth was he would already have his hands full going through the Black library.

"Fine. I need any piece of information that relates to specific vampires called Deleo or albinos."

"And this has to do with Hermione's condition?" Potter asked dubiously.

"As I said before: maybe. But don't get your hopes up, I only just started investigating this lead."

"Must be a pretty good one for you to ask me a favour," Potter said cheekily.

"I'm not, Hermione is."

"Right," the other man chuckled. "Since it's for the good cause, I'll just pop in to see Poppy and start looking through my library then. Thanks, Severus, for working so hard for Hermione's sake. Merlin knows you don't have to do any more than you already have."

With that parting remark, the Boy-Who-Lived took advantage of the cleared passageway the potions professor's presence had created and was off before he could deny being nice in any way to the witch. He was, he wasn't blind, he knew he was, but he didn't want it broadcasted to the whole school and beyond.


Two weeks later, an exhausted potions master overlooked the Slytherin-Gryffindor class full of boiling cauldrons with bleary eyes. Even the potential danger of a good chunk of the dungeons blowing up wasn't enough to keep him alert. He'd stretched himself too thin between researching the Black library, upholding his duties as Head of House and potions professor, as well as encouraging Hermione to use her wand while discouraging her to follow him around all the time like a faithful puppy. She had even followed him into the men's bathroom for crying out loud.

At least she split her nights equally between Poppy, Minerva and, to the latter's horror, Fang and himself. Not that Minerva could do anything about it. Hermione was a free spirit and, short of having her tied up and in a cage, she would do whatever caught her fancy, like braiding Hagrid's hair and beard or belching loudly after stuffing herself at the head-table. So, Severus accepted the fact that he was doomed to be stared into sudden wakefulness by the witch in the mornings she sneaked into his bedroom. He didn't even consider the alternative of shutting her out, to avoid leading her into harm's way if she slept on his doorstep again.

But it was not Hermione who awoke him with a start that morning, although it was something equally unsettling. The headmistress' stern voice echoed throughout the whole castle, repeating her message:

"All students remain in your respective dormitories under authority of your prefects for lockdown! All staff, Head Boy and Girl, please report to the great hall immediately!"

The message hadn't ended that Severus was already dressed and through the door, wand at the ready. This was the emergency protocol in case of a breach in security. They were just lucky it happened so early in the morning because the students weren't scattered throughout the castle and grounds. But where is Hermione? His leg's muscles and lungs burned as he ran as fast as he could up several flights of stairs and through a veritable labyrinth of corridors, skidding to a halt under the rising sun of the charmed ceiling in the Great Hall. He wasn't surprised to see almost everyone had arrived before him, except for the Head Boy and Girl, simply because there were no short-cuts to take advantage of. Salazar Slytherin had apparently liked to stroll leisurely around the damn place. Huffing and puffing like the damn Hogwarts Express, Severus glared at the assembled staff, daring them to make a comment.

He was reassured to see Hermione was there, clutching Minerva's sleeve and probably worried at all the commotion, but she was there, safe and sound. For some reason, he had immediately thought she was the cause of the alert, although he hadn't wanted to admit it as he ran all the way here like some reckless Gryffindor.

"Is this... About... Miss... Granger?" he managed to get out between pants, taking advantage of the Head students late arrival to speak bluntly.

"Not that I know of. Ah, Good! Everyone is here," she exclaimed more loudly as Olivia Ogden, the Slytherin Head Girl, and Billy Kent, the Hufflepuff Head Boy hurried in, looking alert despite being pulled out of bed so early.

The pair greeted everyone quickly and all eyes turned to the headmistress expectantly.

"I was alerted of a breach in the ward by someone in animagus form. No visitor was expected today, or the rest of the week for that matter, and the fact they entered at this hour and concealed themselves… I can only imagine they don't have the best of intentions."

Everyone nodded, except Hermione. The children's security was taken very seriously today, especially after the abysmal loss of lives during the war.

"But, Headmistress?" Billy Kent asked with a puzzled look. "Some of us are training for our animagi form as our transfiguration graduation project… Don't you think it's one of us maybe that completed their form and crossed the wards by mistake?"

"A possibility, however slight," Minerva acknowledged.

"There aren't that many animagi in the wizarding world, it's a very rare skill, so isn't that our best bet?" the Defense professor inquired.

"There aren't that many registered animagi, Baylee," Minerva corrected, sending a glare in Severus' direction. Headmasters and headmistresses of this school had the annoying habit of knowing everything. "As far as I'm concerned it could be anyone, even one of the Most-Wanted."

The two students paled.

"Don't worry, the aurors should arrive shortly," she reassured them before taking the situation well in hand. "We'll divide in groups of three. I will go to the gates to meet the aurors with Hagrid and Rolanda. Severus, you will secure the dungeons with Olivia and Septima. Baylee, I want you to patrol Gryffindor tower with Rolanda and Bathsheba. Filius, secure Ravenclaw tower with Aurora and Dexter. Pomona, you keep the Hufflepuff's corridor safe with Stanis and Angus. Billy I want you in the Infirmary with the rest of the staff, you'll prepare a list of the students who have started their animagus training. Poppy, be prepared… just in case. Watch each others back, and be careful!"

The groups parted ways, everyone with their wands out and eyes darting every which way. Severus was relieved when Hermione meekly followed Poppy. He could concentrate on the task at hand without having to worry about her. His group patrolled the dungeons in silence, lingering most often in front of the Slytherin common room, but since they didn't know whether to keep their eyes open for a fly, a bear, a stranger or a known criminal, Miss Ogden and Septima began to get jumpy with every flicker of a shadow.

"You shouldn't worry so much," he told them in what he thought was a soothing voice, but they jumped back in fright anyway. "The culprit probably fled as soon as Minerva made her announcement."

"Or maybe, that's what this person thought everyone would think and hid somewhere in the school until the heat blows over," Miss Ogden countered.

"You Slytherins have really twisty mind. You know that, right?" Septima said.

"Yes, Ma'am. The best kind of minds to have, Ma'am," the student replied cheekily and Severus smirked at his colleague.

"Aren't you worried for your, erm... sister, Professor Snape?" the Head Girl then asked him.

Severus hid his surprise well, merely lifting a questioning eyebrow.

"My… sister, Miss Ogden?"

"Uhm- Well… The lady that sometimes sits through your classes, sir. Rumour has it she's your sister because, you know… She has black eyes and black robes like yours." The girl stuttered, looking at her feet now.

"Rumours, Miss Ogden? How disappointing. I never figured you out for a gossip-monger and, as a Slytherin, you know better than most that rumours are always erroneous."

"Yes, sir. I'm sorry, sir."

"Now that's cleared up, tell me of the other rumours about her," Severus demanded, causing the two women to gasp.

"I-I can't do that!" the Head Girl exclaimed, a blush colouring her cheeks.

"I can," the arithmancy professor volunteered with a sly smile that frightened him a little. "Severus Snape asking to hear the rumour-mill? It's a one in a life-time chance!"

He scowled at her silly enthusiasm but nodded nonetheless. Septima knew who Hermione was, the witch had been her star student after all, so she would be careful not to divulge anything of a delicate nature in front of Miss Ogden.

"So, the sister theory is the most widespread, I don't know why, but students always come up with the most outlandish ideas," Septima babbled happily, the dark mood that had settled over them since the intrusion finally lifting. "The Ravenclaws think she's a ministry education inspector that wants to have you fired and the Hufflepuffs believe she was poisoned and you're looking for a cure to save her life. Of course, the Gryffindors think you washed her brain to make her fall in love with you and they're plotting to save her from your evil self. I'd watch out for pranks if I were you."

Severus scowled. It was pathetic that it was the Hufflepuffs who were closer to the mark, but then again, they saw good in everyone, him included. But at least, Hermione's identity was still safe, no one was even close to the truth.

"Ridiculous, not that I was expecting-" he cut himself off, he could hear something.

Footsteps were echoing against the stones, making it hard to pinpoint how close or where they were coming from. The two witches quickly hid on either side of the corridor, behind two suits of armour, while he stepped in the shadows of an alcove nearer the Slytherin common room. If an intruder came all the way down here, they would be coming for the students, there was nothing else of value around here.

He could hear his companions shuffling behind him, his own breathing seemed too loud. He aimed his wand in the direction the sound seemed to be coming from but he could hear several sets of footsteps now and then voices. Surely there couldn't have been more than one intruder? Minerva would have warned them, sent a patronus… They were very close now, and suddenly, a group of wizards and witches appeared around the corner, all wearing dark red robes. Aurors.

Severus stepped out of the shadows, smirking when he startled several of them.

"Severus, just the man I was looking for," one of them said, wiping the smile off the professor's face.

"Potter, why are you here?"

"I'm an auror, remember?"

"Yes, but why you? Of all the aurors out there, why does it have to be you?"

"I volunteered. I have something useful for this kind of mission," Potter said, showing off some kind of map. "Beside, I was worried about… you know."

Severus grunted and made way for the aurors who were following Potter's lead. His ears perked upon hearing the Gryffindor's orders:

"She should be just around here. Use the Homorphus charm as soon as you spot her."

A minute later three different beams of bluish light hit the same spot, very close to where his group had been -Salazar forgive him- gossiping. Severus couldn't see what they had been aiming at, but soon, a blond woman with pale skin and green eyes appeared.

"Rita!" The Boy-Who-Lived greeted her with his annoyingly cheery voice, not surprised at all to see the woman apparently.

"You can't arrest me! I'm just doing my job! What about the freedom of the press? I'll have your reputation in tatters, Potter! Let! Me! Go!" the witch shrieked, while two aurors were restraining her and a third was trying to tell her her rights.

Severus sneered at the woman making a spectacle of herself. He knew very well who she was, although they'd never met before: she was Rita Skeeter, a reporter without a smudge of integrity who wrote for news rags like The Prophet and Witch Weekly. Now he knew how she got her information. But why had she been skulking in the dungeons? Even as a very small animagus she wouldn't have been able to sneak into the Slytherin dormitories, and articles about Death-Eaters' children had long since ceased to interest the public, thank Merlin. He decided it was best to ask Potter, who was talking to the pseudo-journalist like an old friend, and called him over.

"Do you know who she was after? I only have a Mulciber and a Rosier still attending school but I'd rather they didn't know about this. The last time it happened, my students failed their end of term tests because of that damn woman," he said angrily.

As their Head of House, he had had to deal with tears, snot and incessant wailing and he wasn't looking forward to another such episode.

"From what she was more than willing to tell, she was after you actually," Potter said gravely. "She was 'tipped off' that you were molesting women in front of the whole school and that she was only doing her duty by reporting you."

"WHAT?" he bellowed.

Potter wiped his face clean of the spittle.

"Calm down, Severus. It's not as if I'd believe her, I'm just glad to have a good reason to lock her up for a while again. That woman is a menace. It's almost a shame we don't have dementors in Azkaban anymore, she certainly deserves them."

Severus recalled the rumour the Gryffindors were spreading.

"I think she was talking about Her… erm, Miss Granger," he offered and explained what the rumour-mill had brewing this season.

"Maybe we should think about moving Hermione to a more secluded location then," Potter said after a thoughtful pause.

Severus' stomach clenched at the very notion, but it was logical and he would be free of her overbearing presence. Everything would be nice, quiet and organized to the minute like it used to.

Boring. It had been boring.

"Probably, yes," Severus answered instead and whirled around, heading for the Slytherin common room. His snakes would be writhing with anxiety by now and he needed to free them before he could start thinking out a way to keep Hermione close by.

Chapter Text

 

The Heads of Houses were in the midst of having a heated discussion in the headmistress' office, far from prying ears, soon after the intruder had been arrested.

"But Hogwarts is the safest place for the poor girl!" Pomona was arguing and Severus mentally applauded while maintaining a disinterested mask.

"What happened this morning proved that is not so. We all know, despite our best efforts and centuries-old wards, that it is not the case. And to be honest, it never will be. There simply is not a fail-proof way to insure the security of the whole school short of putting it under the Fidelius Charm, and we all know even that has its limits." Filius argued with Minerva's reluctant approval.

"What happened this morning proves it is safe. No one was harmed, the intruder never even saw a student and certainly not Miss Granger." The Hufflepuff insisted, surprising Severus with her tenacity. She was usually much more mellow.

"We were lucky all the students were still in their dormitories this morning. If it had been a dangerous individual in the middle if the day, I can't guarantee it would have gone over so well." Minerva said, her hands fidgeting with a quill. "And if a parent asks me so, that is exactly what I will answer. I will not lie or... manipulate the truth," she added with a sideways glance at Dumbledore's painting.

Severus glowered as the situation turned to his disadvantage again.

"What do you think, Baylee?" he asked the Defense professor, who, being also a Head of House, was made aware of Hermione's identity.

She seemed surprised she was being asked her opinion, maybe because, contrary to the others, she had never known the famous witch. However, it was a founding tradition at Hogwarts that important decision be ruled by the four Houses and the headmaster. Not that Dumbledore had used that tradition much.

"I'm sorry, but I have to agree with Pomona," she declared to everyone's surprise and Severus' secret delight. "Unless you already have a very secure safe house handy and someone trustful to guard her around the clock, Hogwarts remains the safest place for her. It's already more secure than most wizarding dwellings and she's always with one of the staff. Or that giant dog. Besides, would you really take her away from the only place she knows?"

The Head of Slytherin nodded at all the excellent points she raised and thought it was about time he intervened to settle this nonsense.

"I, too, think Baylee and Pomona are right. We can't unsettle Miss Granger so much for such a small incident. Besides, need I remind you school ends only a month from now?"

He paused, trying not to smile victoriously. They were now three against two for spiriting Hermione away, and Minerva and Filius seemed less sure of themselves with every argument they raised. Time to drive his point home, then.

"Besides, I fully intend to hunt down Miss Granger's attacker as soon as summer break starts and have her memories restored before next school term even begins."

"You do?"

"You know who did this to her?"

"Why didn't you tell us?"

"That's wonderful!" gushed Baylee Finkle, the only one not to reprimand him on secrecy but congratulate him for his hard work. He was starting to really appreciate the witch despite her obvious flaw of being a Gryffindor through and through, as her lack of legs could attest.

"I'm still researching the matter," he explained with an icy stare directed at his three older colleagues. "Which is why I haven't divulged any of it before now. But it seems to be a solid lead."

Of course, the headmistress then demanded a full report of Severus' discoveries which he gave reluctantly. He disliked having to give a lecture when he didn't have all the facts, it made him sound like an incompetent idiot. Gods, it made him sound like Lockheart.

"It sounds promising, although I'm surprised I've never heard of these Deleo vampires before," Minerva agreed, one of her rare smiles wrinkling her face.

"I think..." The charms professor started, frowning in concentration. "It was a really long time ago, but I think I've heard of that story before. When I was a child maybe..."

The small teacher held up his hands to demand silence when he saw everyone was about to verbally assault him. He did a series of complex wand movements, chanting in what Severus could swear was gobbledigook, before pointing the tip of it to his forehead, and smiled.

"Ah, yes!" he squeaked. "I thought so!"

Severus was restraining himself from shaking the answers out of his colleague, as were the others judging by their restlessness.

"There is a story goblins tell their children..." Filius started. He never liked talking of his goblin heritage, even to them and it was showing in his reluctance. "It's the equivalent of the wizarding bed-time stories of Merlin the dragon-slayer or Harry Potter the Boy-Who-Lived, which is why I had difficulties recalling it, but the gist of it is there exists a rare kind of vampires that goblins abhor above all else, above stealers, cheaters, cowards and, yes, even above wizardkind, because they are the only species that can rob a goblin of its knowledge. And, as you know, goblins special knowledge is the only thing that allows them to run their banks and keep them safe, thus allowing them to be a part of the magical world while remaining independent from wizards. Their knowledge is treasured more than their gold in the end, so, if a goblin ever crosses paths with one if those vampires, it will strike swiftly and without warning, or die trying."

The Ravenclaw cleared his throat and added sheepishly:

"Those are the main ideas behind the story of Giddy the Gutless Goblin. If those vampires are really the creatures you're looking for Severus, I'll try to contact a few of my goblin friends who are not too averse of speaking to a half-wizard. If nothing else, they'll know if one of them is in this country at the moment."

Severus nodded gracefully in thanks while his colleagues looked about to award the little man an Order of Merlin.

"So that just leaves us in a pickle for this summer since the school is usually empty," Pomona resumed their primary concern.

Everyone agreed to give up their summer-break to stay in school and look after Hermione while he went vampire-hunting. Satisfied he had gotten his way without revealing his hand, Severus didn't take a single point from Gryffindor as he made his way back to his dungeons. A new stack of thick books and dusty parchments were waiting for him in his office, courtesy of the Potter and Malfoy libraries. He groaned, grabbed what he needed for the day's classes and dropped by the kitchen to request an elf be on hand to refill his coffee mug all day.

oOo

Severus woke up with a stiff neck and a paper stuck to his cheek. He hadn't read half as much as he had hoped to despite having drunk enough coffee to drown a mermaid. He wasn't sure what had awoken him although he had a pretty good guess seeing Hermione was crouched on his desk, an arm's length away from him, hissing and clawing at a squealing House-Elf every time it tried to refill his coffee mug.

"Hermione." he intervened, his voice gruff from sleep. "Leave Sal alone, he's only trying to do his job."

She cocked her head as if to ask him if he was sure, then looked properly chastised and jumped gracefully off his desk to the relief of the trembling elf who hastily filled his coffee stained mug and popped away.

It was too late for him to gather his wits and explain to the amnesic witch what house-elves were and that she shouldn't toy with them. Maybe he should tell her they weren't edible either. Tomorrow, he amended rubbing his temples as a headache crept up on him.

That night he dreamt of Hermione for the first time. Only because you saw her just before going to bed, the rational part of his brain argued. In it, she was standing between him and an unseen ominous danger, like she had with the werewolf... Like she had with the coffee-wielding house-elf too. She protected him and he felt safe. Never had he slept better before.

oOo

The next week-end, Severus was pacing back and forth in front of the castle's main entrance, making the students reconsider going out on the grounds despite the glorious sun beckoning them to. He was waiting for Filius to return from his visit to his goblin acquaintances. His colleague was bound to have valuable information, the answers to all the question he had futilely tried to find in old dusty tomes. Severus had scraped a few odd bits here and there, but nothing solid or complete enough to enable him to see the big picture, so to speak. Finally, he saw the half-goblin slowly ambling his way up the trail to the castle and stopped his incessant pacing, rocking on the balls of his feet instead as he eyed the wizard's progress.

"Ah, Severus. Nice of you to wait for me. Saves me the trouble of seeking you out. Care for a cup of tea in my office?" Filius asked, a little out of breath.

It wasn't a place Hermione usually sneaked into so he acquiesced and adapted his pace to the tiny man as best he could.

"I have so much to tell you, Severus!" Filius gushed as soon as they were settled down with a steaming, fragrant cup of tea. "My friends were very forthcoming, thankfully. I barely had to prod them for information."

Severus raised an inquisitive eyebrow. That was strange behaviour coming from goblins.

"You see," Filius chattered excitedly, his tea forgotten for now. "They were only too happy to be able to tell their tale to an 'outsider'. Goblins don't often get a chance to boast, it's all back to business once the trouble has been dealt with."

"Ah, ego-flattering. That, I understand," Severus answered, an image of the Malfoys coming to mind.

"That and a few bottle of elf-made wine," the Ravenclaw chuckled wickedly, causing Severus to wonder how drunk his 'friends' were right now, and then launched into the tale of the Deleo vampires.

Once upon a time, vampires roamed across all of the central european countries, believing they were invincible and better than any other species and creatures. They lived liked kings, gorged themselves on the blood of young virgins until there wasn't a drop to be left, caused chaos and even wars between humans just to distract themselves in their eternally long lives.

One such vampire pried on a beautiful young girl, leaving behind her bloodless body for her mother to find in the morning, gloating as he imagined her despair and anguish, even going so far as to plan a visit the next night to enjoy the spectacle.

However the girl's mother was a witch, and a powerful one at that. She called her covent for revenge and so they did. They found the vampire who had unwittingly come to gloat and together, cursed him and his own to be unable to feed on blood for all eternity. Being cursed by a witch is one thing, being cursed by a whole covent is quite another and to this day, that curse still holds.

It is rumoured Dracula himself, the first of their kind, refused to intervene to lift the curse. Apparently, the Count had grown tired of his "children's" arrogance and decadence, and used the Deleo clan as an example, instauring the Great Masquerade in the process, the equivalent of wizardkind's Statute of Secrecy.

"And this is the interesting part, Severus." Filius concluded. "Many vampires of the cursed clan died, a few killed themselves, crazed by the frustration of not being able to feed on the blood they craved and that was right in front of them, but a handful bypassed the curse, finding another way to feed themselves by feeding on memories."

This was it! But Severus was both elated at finding the pieces of the puzzle coming together and horrified by what it meant. Feeding on memories? Did that mean they were... digested? Lost? That would mean he had no ways of making Hermione Granger whole again. He asked the Ravenclaw's opinion, who scratched his mostly-bald scalp.

"I'm not sure anyone knows but the Deleo vampires themselves. All the goblins know is that the lack of blood turned them into small albinos creatures. But we know as much about their feeding habits as we do those of dementors: do they digest immediately or does it sustain them for several years? I trust you'll be the first to know, Severus."

"Your vote of confidence is... appreciated," Severus drawled.

He'll be damned before he admitted it pleased him. Before being a colleague and an acquaintance, Filius had been his teacher and he respected him, so yes, his confidence in his talents did warm his heart. Just a little.

"I do have one piece of bad news though, but it will still help point you in the right direction for your quest," the half-goblin said with an amused chuckle.

Severus frowned but invited him to continue.

"The goblins realized a Deleo vampire was lurking around Britain and sent a squad to dispose of it."

"Did they?" he blurted out with an edge of panic but knew they hadn't as soon as he asked, or Filius would have told him first thing.

"No, no, my boy. Don't worry. It slipped through their axes and made for the continent. No doubt returning to its own home, so that's where you'll need to look first."

Severus nodded, muttering:

"Romania, Transylvania."

He shuddered. That country was rife with not only vampires but werewolves too. His own personal nightmare and he was going there voluntarily for his summer holidays. Damn it all if he hadn't gone crazy!

"So when did the vampire cross over?" He muttered, his mood getting fouler by the second.

"Surprisingly, not so long ago, six months or so."

"What? Why so long after the war?" And curse his bad luck for just missing the little bugger. "Shouldn't the goblins have found him sooner? I thought they had a holy crusade going on against the things?"

"Quite so, quite so. My friends were a bit put out by that too, it cost me another bottle to open them up. From what I understood, it hid in the muggle world, which proves how smart it is. It only got found out because it ventured too close to a goblin gallery under Notting Hill and the resident goblin got a whiff of it."

"And the muggles weren't suspicious with all the amnesic people turning up? I mean, I know there are a lot of muggles, but still..."

Filius shook his head.

"I'm not sure. I seem to recall there is a part in the story of Giddy the Gutless Goblin that says the albinos vampire can nitpick just a memory here and there and nobody is ever the wiser he fed on them."

"But Hermione... I mean, Miss Granger..."

Filius gave him a knowing look, amused at Severus' sudden efforts to find the cracks in the ceiling so very interesting.

"Well, when a Deleo vampire crosses paths with a particularly brilliant mind and that it is particularly hungry..." The Ravenclaw took a deep breath. "It becomes crazed and picks the mind clean. I'm sorry, Severus."

The Slytherin looked blank as he adjusted this latest bit of theory to what had happened. Of course, there was no doubt Hermione was -is- brilliant, and it was not surprising she did not have Occlumency shields as it was a very rare and difficult art, one of the few things she couldn't have learned alone or with just the help of a book. Yes, that made sense. But her mind wasn't a blank slate either. There were those fleeting sounds, odors, colours or feelings left behind, not to mention her very last whole memory of her attacker. Had the vampire been in too much of a hurry? Because he was in a crazed state, or because he had been interrupted? By Ronald Weasley maybe?

Severus had a pretty clear picture of what had happened that night now. The Dark Lord had struck the castle with all of his rag-tag army, the sole albinos vampire included. But it was a small creature without much physical strength and only a pair of useless fangs, so it lurked in the shadows of the forbidden forest for prey to come by. Unfortunately, Hermione happened to be skirting the woods at that moment, hoping to join Potter's side for his last stand-off, but she was attacked by the accromantulas and separated from Weasley... The perfect opportunity for the vampire to strike at the lone and distraught witch.

Then what? Severus mulled the possibilities over in his head, unaware of Filius observing him expectantly. Weasley had said he could not find her although her screams seemed to be nearby and echoed everywhere. Up, then? That was the only logical explanation as there weren't that many places to hide efficiently in a forest and humans always forgot to watch up, except when checking the weather. So the vampire dragged her up a tree, so he wasn't as strong as a full-fledged vampire but still stronger than an underfed witch, and he started... feeding, for lack of a better word. Hermione probably tried defending herself as she still had a wand. If Severus had been in her place, he knew he would have instinctively thrown up a magical, as well as a physical shield, the latter of which was not taught at Hogwarts, and he couldn't remember any of the DA members using it either... So probably a simple Protego then, that seemed reasonable. Then... Here Severus could only throw wild suppositions, but the vampire had the power to make Hermione's borrowed wand explode, maybe by overheating, like two wands did when battling for domination when two spell-beams met head on...

Severus grunted in annoyance at the piece of the puzzle still missing, then resumed his train of thought.

So Hermione is stuck in a tree with a mind-sucking vampire and no wand. Of course she's going to be screaming her head off, and then maybe Ron came too close to its hiding spot for his comfort and the vampire ran off, leaving an almost empty shell of a witch behind.

After that, Hermione had no clue who, or even what, she was so she relies solely on her instincts and when she hears the search party sent after her, no doubts screaming her name, her fight or flight instinct kicks in and with no idea how to fight at that moment, she hides deeper into the forest.

The rest he had seen fleetingly in her memory while he performed legilimency on her: learning by trial and error what she could and couldn't eat, finding safe hiding places, spying on the school and the students, snatching useful things from the Quidditch pitch without being seen - until she was accidentally hit by an out of control bludger, then she stayed far away from the grounds and it's students. She avoided accromantulas and centaurs like the plague but occasionally played with the small herds of unicorns and thestrals. She crossed paths with stray werewolves from time to time, far at the other end of the forest usually, but didn't hurt them if she could help it, observing them from tall trees and seeing them out safe when they woke up as humans again in the mornings. It was as if she understood, or maybe remembered vaguely, that they weren't monsters outside of the full-moon...

Severus sighed. There were so many things he didn't know about Hermione and wondered if he ever would. When she… If she regained her memories, would she remember her life as a wildling living in the forest? If not, would she even want to speak to him, the evil, old, git of the dungeons? For all he knew, the last she would remember of him was as the traitorous Death-Eater who had murdered Dumbledore. She would never want to be around him anymore...

Severus thanked Filius as profusely as his dour demeanour allowed him and went stalking around the forbidden forest to think. He needed a place dark enough to reflect his mood.

oOo

At dinner, Minerva waved him over to sit next to her. He groaned internally because not only did it make her look like a very wrinkly schoolgirl saving a seat for her best friend, but it meant she needed to tell him something unpleasant and did it in public to avoid any outbursts on his part. She could be sly for a Gryffindor, he'd give her that.

"What do you want Minerva?" he asked sharply, hoping she wouldn't beat around the bush. "Do you need me to give a passing grade to another of your abysmal Gryffindors?"

The old witch's face pinched as if she had sucked on a sour lemon drop.

"No," she answered primly. "I think I learned my lesson from Mr Addenworth's accident."

"Yes, I never saw the potions classroom blow up in quite that fashion before." Severus mused. It had taken him a couple of years to get over his anger but he now thought of it with some kind of fondness, as the new pinnacle of stupidity of his long career. "If Mr Addenworth had indeed become a healer, he would no doubt have been a real danger to society. There is a reason for me holding up such high standards, you know?"

Minerva sighed.

"Yes, Severus. I'm not here to override your authority, nor will I ever try to again, believe me. No, I wanted to ask you about your plans concerning your trip to Romania."

"Ah. You talked to Filius, then?"

"Of course. I admit I hoped you wouldn't have to leave the country. It would have made the whole business much easier, but as it is… How do you intend to proceed?" She asked with the bluntness all Gryffindors were cursed with.

"Well…" Severus hesitated, taken aback by her inquiry. "Portkey there, find and capture the foe and… Oh…"

"You see the problem too, then?" Minerva inquired.

"Yes. I somehow doubt international authorities will just let me waltz across their borders with a prisoner in tow without giving much explainations, proof and documentation. Especially seeing as we are not on such friendly terms with some of those countries. Actually, they will probably make the whole process as difficult as possible, not that I blame them. The Dark Lord sure made a right mess of things with our neighbours."

"And the goblins," Minerva added somberly.

"Ha, yes! I'd almost forgotten," he sneered, imagining how close they had been to an open war with Goblins after having barely survived a Dark Lord.

Severus pondered for a moment, considering his options, but couldn't see how to smuggle a dangerous dark creature from Romania to Scotland without risking a stay in Azkaban.

"I hate to say this," the headmistress said with a frown. "But you'll have to take her with you. To Romania."

"What?" he exclaimed. "You can't be serious. It will already be dangerous as it is! That country has dragons and werewolves, as well as vampires and I heard they have native lethifolds too, and that's not to mention the memory-sucking monsters I'm going after. Hell! There may even be some of the Most-Wanted hiding there for all I know."

Severus stopped his tirade to draw a much needed breath and his eyes narrowed suddenly in suspicion.

"Wait a minute, Minnie," he drawled. "Why are you, of all people, willing to let me take your precious Gryffindor princess with me, alone, to a foreign country? Unless…"

The Slytherin's eyes widened at his colleague's sheepish look.

"Oh, no! Tell me you didn't, you perfidious woman," he had to hiss the last as they were starting to gather curious eyes from staff and students alike. Severus tried schooling his features back to neutral indifference. "You did, didn't you?"

Minerva nodded.

"You can't hunt the vampire and protect Hermione all by yourself Severus, and Harry was more than willing to help."

Severus groaned at the aggravating man's name .

"I bet he was," he muttered. This was turning into his worst nightmare.

"Come on, Severus. Don't be such a grouch. Harry is a very talented auror from what I've heard. You'll see he'll come in useful and you'll be glad to have him with you."

"I highly doubt that," he muttered, but the witch ignored him.

"Speaking of, he mentioned contacting Viktor Krum -you remember Krum?- who has a residence in Romania so you can have a safe base of operations there as soon as you arrive."

Severus frowned at the foreign name. He'd been one of the Triwizard champions, of course, as a student from Durmstrang, he remembered that much. But wasn't he also a Quidditch player? A famous Quidditch player? Oh goody! He was going to have to share his time and space -and Hermione- with two fat-headed internationally famous wizards. Just brilliant.

Chapter Text

A few hours after the whole student-body had boarded the Hogwarts Express to return to their families for two blessed months, a motley group was loitering beneath the benevolent stares of the winged boars that guarded the castle grounds. Severus stood rigidly in a corner, leaning against one of the pillars and glowering, while everybody else seemed to thrive on teary-eyed goodbyes. A very pregnant Ginny Potter was kissing her husband for what was probably the tenth time. Severus shuddered at the sight, the couple reminded him eerily of Lily and James Potter. Meanwhile, Minerva and Poppy were hugging Hermione who was squirming and giggling as she tried to escape them. Hagrid blew his nose loudly and his freakishly big dog whined in unison. The impatient Slytherin huffed in annoyance, they had a pre-set Portkey to catch after all.

"Give the ladies a few more minutes, Severus," Filius, the only other person with a shred of self-restraint, said softly. He had drifted closer to the island of shade provided by the pillar and wiped his head with a handkerchief. Goblins really didn't do well in the heat and sun. "You won't have to put up with their moping for the next few days."

Severus smirked.

"The end-of-year staff meetings promise to be even more aggravating than usual then," he said, taunting the small man.

"There's still time to trade…" Filius offered hopefully.

"Not that I thought I'd ever say this, but I think I'd rather stick with Potter this time."

Filius affected a shocked expression before winking at him.

"Do be careful, won't you?"

Severus scoffed, as if he needed to be reminded. A few minutes later, Harry approached him and the two older witches reluctantly let go of Hermione who immediately linked arms with the glowering wizard. The two of them had practiced apparition together so the amnesic witch would get the hang of it, and after numerous episodes of refusals, sickness and stumblings, she seemed to not mind this way of travelling too much. The Slytherin in him was convinced apparition would be needed once they began vampire-hunting too so he wasn't above killing two birds with one stone. Especially when his side-along partner was such a lovely witch. He patted the small hand resting in the crook of his arm affectionately knowing it would reassure her, then nodded to Potter and with a final smirk at Minerva, they apparated to the very South of England.

They were high up on a white cliff overlooking a restless sea, the wind whipping at their cloaks and long hair. Hermione looked awed by the view and it was no wonder, it certainly was very different from the gnarly and dark Forbidden Forest or Hogwarts' ancient castle.

Potter shuffled around, kicking the high grass aside as he looked for the Portkey that was to take them all the way to Romania. He'd better find it fast.

From what Severus had gathered, Potter had pulled a few strings and gathered more than one favour to obtain a personal portkey, "no questions asked", so Hermione's identity wouldn't be leaked in the ministry's paper-trail, because then, it would only be a question of hours before it was leaked to the Daily Prophet. It was too juicy a piece of gossip to remain secret after all. However, that had to be avoided at all costs because it could not only have reporters trailing after them, but also warn their target of their arrival. Severus wasn't sure which was worst. He absolutely abhorred journalists, who were, in his opinion, nothing more than professional gossip-mongers, and that was not a flattering distinction by any stretch of the mind..

"Aha!" Potter exclaimed triumphantly, holding up a piece of thick rope stiffened by age.

Hermione looked at him quizzically, picked up a long twig and held it up for all to see.

"Aha!" She proclaimed, daring them to contradict her as she looked them in the eye, and they didn't.

"Almost time." Potter said, taking Hermione's hand and clasping it around the portkey, entwined in his own.

Severus frowned but took hold of the rope too and slipped his arm around Hermione's waist so she wouldn't panic. They were taking a gamble, using a portkey with someone who didn't understand how it worked but had argued that between the two of them, they should be able to keep her safe. The alternative of travelling the muggle way so far away was unthinkable with Hermione since she would draw too much attention, not to mention how bloody long it would take. They would need fake muggle papers and more obliviations than he cared to use on hapless muggles, not to mention he really -really- didn't want to go on an airplane… Sitting on tons of metal shooting at impossible speeds through the sky? No thank you, not in this life-time, nor the next. But apparating as South as they possibly could before using a portkey would at least make the trip that bit shorter and more comfortable.

"Here we go!" Potter commented unnecessarily as Severus felt a familiar hook tug sharply at his navel to whisk him away.

Soon after they were standing in a dark street of an obviously wizarding village if the improbable architecture was anything to go by. Well, he was standing at least, and was holding Hermione up against him because her legs had buckled under her, understandable when you weren't used to Portkey-travel. However, Potter had face-planted in the dirt road and Severus was hard-pressed not to laugh at the absurdity of it: the saviour of the wizarding world defeated by a Portkey. What he wouldn't give for a camera right now.

"Really, Potter?" he sneered instead.

The Gryffindor dusted himself off and shrugged. Annoying brat.

"Never got the hang of it," he confessed with a lopsided grin.

They took a minute to look around, neither of them had ever visited Romania and everything was so… foreign. The houses were all three or four stories high and… pointy. The facades adorned with dark carved wood displaying plants and wildlife in the best of cases, grinning twisted creatures in others. It gave an oppressive feel to the place, especially because they couldn't see the sky. The whole village was hidden in a dark pine forest, the thin trees towering high above them and creaking as they swayed in the light breeze. At least, Hermione should feel at home, although she would have trouble climbing these branchless twigs

"About time you got here," a familiar voice drawled lazily, startling them enough that the two wizards had their wands out and pointed in his general direction.

Even Hermione crouched a little, looking ready to leap on the newcomer if need be. Unfortunately, she hadn't drawn her wand, still neatly holstered to her forearm where Severus had strapped it. That knowledge,that instinct, had been stripped from her too.

The trio's eyes settled on a dark form that detached itself from the wall it had been leaning against while pushing back the dark green cloak shrouding him.

"Malfoy! What are you doing here?" Potter barked in typical Gryffindor fashion, hurriedly stepping in front of Hermione.

"Draco," Severus interrupted sternly before the two old school rivals could start going at each other with Sectumsempra again. He stood tall in front of the pale young man and glared down his crooked nose at him for all he was worth as he cast a discreet Muffliato around them.

"You have some explaining to do, and be convincing about it, unless you want me to thoroughly obliviate you and leave you to rot in this muddy gutter."

Draco gulped but otherwise managed not to look too cowed.

"Father… suggested I be here to assist you before I start 'my silly little hobby' at St Mungos," he explained, craning his neck to peer at the person hiding behind Potter.

"Is that all he said?"

"Yes."

"And you obeyed?"

"I don't have much of a choice, do I? He is my father and the Head of the family, whether I like it or not," Draco grumbled, kicking a pebble into a moldy wall. "He did mention it would be for the good of the Malfoy name."

"I see," Severus replied dryly, cursing his meddling friend.

However, Lucius was cunning. He had not broken his promise to keep Hermione's existence a secret, technically. He had just pointed in the right direction for Draco to unravel the secret by himself. Severus just hoped he only intended to have his name associated in some way with the rescue of the war-heroine Hermione Granger so it wasn't dragged in the mud as much as it currently was. However, Severus had to admit that Draco was a fully qualified healer now and he could indeed come in quite useful on their perilous mission, but he was going to keep a very close eye on the lad. If Lucius had hoped to link his name more 'permanently' to Granger's by sending his son to snatch her away, bridal style, right from under his nose, he would be in for a surprise. He was certain that if Draco had been a girl, his dear father would have married her off to Potter by now, or even to one of the Weasleys, to gain a one way ticket back to fame and power. Lucius… such a sneaky little snake.

"I imagine your father still has a few toadies in the ministry whispering little secrets in his ear, since you found us so easily?. The right place, the right time... it must have cost him a nifty little pouch of galleons," Severus said acidly, angry that the secret may have been leaked to other, less friendly parties.

"Of course he still has 'friends' within the ministry. He's not entirely destitute, you know, and he's been keeping tabs on you, Potter and the Weasel… amongst others. You can't expect him to give up his little games altogether. He'd die of boredom."

"Very well," Severus huffed, annoyed at Lucius playing puppet-master from the comfort of his manor. "You might as well assist us."

"What?!" Potter yelled. "No! I don't trust him, I don't want him near… I don't want him here."

"Potter, don't be stupid. Draco is a healer and we'll probably need him at some point," he said patiently with a small nod at the witch who was peeking over his shoulder, or trying to at least. "You should know I wouldn't take the risk if I didn't trust him."

Potter's face shifted from a defiant snarl to his usual idiotic expression, he seemed mollified by Severus' explanation for some unfathomable reason, because he nodded sharply and turned to glare at Draco who was still fidgeting as he still attempted to take a look at the third member of their group. Potter reluctantly stepped aside and Severus watched with some amusement as the pale grey eyes widened comically and his whole body stiffened.

Ah! So he did recognize her. Severus mused.

"Reckon she stunned him?" Potter asked, finally cracking up at his rival's utter stillness, but the jibe seemed to finally break the spell and Draco sneered.

"Shut your gob, Potter," he gazed at Hermione again. "Is that really... Is it really Granger? I thought she-"

He stopped talking and froze again when the witch in question suddenly decided to approach him. She cocked her head, looking at him curiously, before circling him slowly as if she was inspecting a piece of art. Severus imagined Hermione was probably intrigued by the young man's appearance with his pale skin, pale eyes and pale hair, or she was making the link between him and the one time she had seen Lucius. The Malfoys were another kind of species altogether, after all. Severus only hoped she didn't become fascinated or -Merlin forbid- enamoured by the bloke... that just wouldn't be right.

"Granger?" Draco croaked, taking one step back from the witch.

Hermione grinned and started playing with his silver-blond hair he now wore long like his father, causing Severus to bark a deep laugh.

"What's so funny?" the younger man snapped, trying to ignore the witch's odd behaviour that so obviously unnerved him.

"I think she's adopted you… as one of her girlfriends," he choked out, thinking of how she had done this to numerous witches at Hogwarts, including Minerva and Poppy despite them keeping their hair in tight buns. It was true she had seemed interested in Lucius' hair too, now that he thought about it, but Draco was definitely her favourite.

"What's wrong with her anyway?" Draco asked, darting a nervous glance at the woman hovering around him.

"That's a long story, but you are right: it is Miss Granger. However, I'd rather we met with our host so I don't have to repeat myself and your tagging along has already delayed us enough as it is," Severus answered, taking Hermione's arm and leading the small group to the better-lit center of the small town where a carriage was supposed to wait for them to take them to Krum's residence.

oOo

The carriage, that looked for all intents and purposes like a pumpkin, took them quite a ways away from the little wizarding town that Severus couldn't pronounce the name of even if he cared to try.

Surprisingly enough, Krum's dwellings were not as extravagant as he had feared, coming from such a famous and rich man, and he felt a little more at ease, that is, until he saw the man himself.

"Hermy-own-ninny!" The tall, dark man greeted enthusiastically from the front steps as soon as they descended the carriage.

Completely ignoring his three other guests, he strode forward to meet the witch with open arms.

"Erm, Viktor?" Potter stopped the man mid-stride before he could reach her. "Remember what I said?"

"Ah, you are quite right, Arry." Krum said with what could pass for a blush on the man's sallow skin. "I vos just so happy to see Hermy-own-ninny! I never thought I vould see her again…"

Severus didn't understand. Sure Potter and Krum knew each other as both had been Triwizard champions, but why was he being so familiar to Hermione? He turned to Draco when he felt a nudge of the younger man's elbow, apparently he had caught his puzzled expression.

"They dated, Severus," Draco whispered, glancing at the others to be sure he wasn't overheard. "During the Triwizard Tournament? She was her date at the Yule Ball? They made front page of the Prophet?"

He stared at Draco with a blank expression.

"Honestly!" Draco huffed. "And you called yourself a spy?"

Well, he wasn't about to tell Draco he had spent the Yule Ball in the rose garden out back, giving detentions to all the couples who were behaving inappropriately. Not deigning to give Draco an answer, he turned his attention back to their host and couldn't miss the longing looks he sent Hermione's way. Great, now he had two young men to look out for. He was just glad Potter was married, maybe he'd consent to help him keep the other two at bay.

He then caught Hermione glancing at him and then at Krum, again and again, with a puzzled expression. What… Severus took in Krum's appearance while he was still talking animatedly to Potter: he was tall, lean, with dark hair and dark eyes set in a sallow skinned-face that was dominated by a large hooked nose… Oh… Oh! They did look somewhat alike if you looked only at specific features, but whereas Krum looked fit, Severus just looked skinny and while the Quidditch player walked like he still had a broom stuck between his legs, Severus had always moved with an easy grace, and, of course, Severus realized he was much older himself, but he could understand why Hermione was intrigued by the resemblance.

He cleared his throat.

"Maybe we could talk in a more private setting?" he asked, waving in the direction of the house.

"Certainly. Professor Snape," he said, extending a hand. "It is a pleasure to see you again."

Severus scoffed but shook the wizard's hand nonetheless.

"And you are?" Krum asked Draco, although they had probably met at Hogwarts during the Triwizard tournament.

"Malfoy," Draco answered sullenly, shaking Krum's hand. "Draco Malfoy."

"Ah, yes. The ferret-boy. I remember now," Krum said with a smirk, turning his attention back to Hermione before Draco, who was flushing in anger or embarrassement, could reply.

Krum then bowed to the only woman and offered his arm that she accepted after only a second's hesitation, looking back at Severus from time to time as if to make sure he wasn't abandoning her. He would have found it cute, if he used such despicable words as 'cute'.

Once they were all settled in a room that seemed to serve as a study, library and tea-room all at once, it was left to Severus to explain to Draco and Krum what had happened to Hermione during the final battle and how he intended to return her memories to her. Even Potter learned a few facts that he had not been made aware of. Hermione wasn't so interested in her own story though and stole the platter of muffins that had been laid out, eating them with relish if the sounds were anything to go by.

"Did you even think of taking Granger to a real mind-healer?" Draco asked angrily when Severus had finished.

"Well, she saw Poppy, and I'm a master-legilimens," Severus said defensively.

"Hardly the same thing," Draco snapped, surprising everyone. "Do you think I've studied this hard for five years for something a school-nurse and a mind-reader can do?"

"You're a mind-healer?" Potter blurted out, mirroring Severus' surprise perfectly.

Lucius hadn't said as much. In fact, listening to him, Severus had almost believed Draco was a second-rate healer. Mind-healer was the most difficult speciality in the wizarding medical profession and few even attempted it, not only because the studies were so demanding but also because the job in itself was not rewarding in the least as you could almost never heal damage to the mind completely, and some, not at all. The permanent ward at Saint Mungos was a testimony of that, full of people who had lost their minds, some like the Longbottoms, decades ago.

"What, Potter? You think only Auror-training is worth anything?" he sneered.

"No! No, it's just… I just didn't picture you doing something so… so…" he gave up, apparently at a loss for words and looked at Severus for help.

"Draco, do you really think you can do something for Hermione based on the information I gave you? It's not a common occurrence, you'll have to admit, and probably nothing you've studied before." Draco, in healer-mode, nodded thoughtfully. "Also, you have to understand I couldn't exactly bring Miss Granger to such a public place, nor kidnap a mind-healer to diagnose her at Hogwarts."

"But I…" Draco interrupted.

Severus raised a hand to stop him.

"Your father has not been very forth-coming with what speciality you were following at Saint Mungos. Needless to say I would have contacted you otherwise."

The blond wizard harrumphed.

"Could you take a look at Hermione?" Potter asked, looking at Draco with something other than stale hatred for once.

"You couldn't stop me if you wanted to, Potter. It should really have been done before," Draco replied. "I'll see to it once she's settled in her room. The spells I use tend to make the patients dizzy or sleepy, ar best."

Potter and Krum were grinning like two idiots.

"I'm not saying it will change anything," Draco told them sternly. "In fact, I can tell you it won't cure Granger, given her memories have been stolen, but it won't hurt to have a look... a second opinion, if you will."

Severus had to admire the way Draco handled himself as a healer, he was clear and to the point and had managed to keep in check the two oafs he was explaining things to. They were nodding to Draco like two eager puppies as he tried explaining to them the basics of how the brain worked, a hopeless endeavour, really.

"I have to admit there's something I don't understand," Draco said when there was a lull in conversation as he looked at their host. "Aren't you Bulgarian?"

Krum grinned widely and puffed out his chest.

"My father is Bulgarian, yes. But my mother from Romania, vitch from strong covenant. This vos her home and I come here to help Hermy-own-ninny."

"Have you heard of these Deleo vampires before, then? I thought they were rather thought of as myths," Severus asked.

"Most nobody believes in vhite vampires, no. They are like your nargles, yes?" he answered, raising an eyebrow.

"What in the seven hells are nargles?" Severus replied, wondering if the Quidditch star hadn't botched one too many Wronksy Feints.

"Nargles?" Potter repeated, chuckling. "Viktor, have you been speaking to Luna by any chance?"

"Luna Lovegood, yes. I see her for interview, she has strange questions about Rotfang conspiracy in professional Quidditch leagues... but she gives me free subscription to the Quibbler as thank you for my time, yes? I read them alvays. Good practice for english."

"I see," Potter said, stifling a laugh while Severus rolled his eyes. "Maybe you shouldn't take the Quibbler articles too seriously, although I'll admit your english has improved since the Tournament."

Annoyed at their lack of focus, Severus finally cleared his throat.

"So what can you tell us about these vampires then, Mister Krum."

"Vell, mother told me bed-time stories of brain-sucking vampires vhen I vos a little boy. I never believed them…" He looked over at Hermione, looking very upset. "Mother say her covenant had fought vhite vampires many times over the centuries, easy to kill but hard to find, very hard. But she show me places vhen ve come here for holidays. I still remember places, ve can go look them out. Maybe ve can find clues, yes? Find the bastard and kill it vith fire!"

"Uhm, no, Viktor." Potter intervened. "We want it alive, remember? But I guess you can barbecue it when we're finished with it?"

Potter looked questioningly at the two Slytherins. Draco's mouth made a grimace and Severus shrugged, feigning disinterest, although he would have enjoyed, no, relished, torching the thing himself, not that he'd admit it out loud.

"Shall we start our search today?" Severus asked their host-turned-guide.

"No, night is coming," Krum answered with a frown. "Full moon tonight, dangerous, even for me."

Werewolves...right. Definitely not going out for a night stroll then.

The unlikely group ended up bickering for over an hour around dinner to split up into teams for the next few days but trying to get a bull-headed Gryffindor, a reckless Durmstrang alumni, the Head of Slytherin House and an angry healer to agree was like trying to douse Fiendfyre with Aguamenti. Everyone seemed to want to be the knight in shining armour who slew the dragon and saved the princess, even if it was for different reasons: There was Potter who wanted to be on the front line as her oldest friend, but Severus suspected he just like playing the hero. Then there was Krum, who was her former boyfriend... probably the only one she ever had, now that he thought about it, and judging by how he looked at her, he probably hoped to rekindle their relationship. And there was Draco, her old school-rival who had called her Mudblood more times than was forgivable. Severus wasn't entirely sure of his motives but he had to assume he only considered himself her personal healer for now, although it was for purely political reasons and not out of the selfless generosity of his probably non-existent heart. Finally, there was himself… the man who had found her and brought her back amongst her kind, but he was in this mess only because he had made a drunken solemn magical oath himself to cure the witch. All of these conflicting interests did not help matters, and they bickered themselves hoarse.

The men finally decided to bunk down for the night when Hermione yawned loudly in the middle of their heated conversation. It was a good idea anyway as they preferred to get an early start the next day for 'their hunt', as they had taken to calling it.

Of course, another argument had to be settled when time came to assign rooms, but a surly Krum relented into giving a bedroom to Hermione with connecting doors to Severus' and Potter's own rooms on either side since she knew them better. Krum and Draco weren't far however. In fact, they took the bedrooms just across the corridor. Severus still made it a point of putting trip-alarms on all the doors leading to Hermione's room, just in case.

Unfortunately, despite feeling quite sleepy himself, his ears picked up the blood-curdling howl of werewolves every time he was about to nod off. Bloody monsters, it was as if they were taunting him and he imagined the creatures lurking just out of his window.

Shaking his head at his irrational fear, he told himself to trust the wards of his host and used his Occlumency to calm his restless mind and send him into a dreamless stupor. That was all Occlumency was good for anyway, now that the war was over.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Severus was being rudely awakened by snickering. He'd curse the moron that thought he'd get away with it. It was probably Draco, now that he thought about it. He had been way too lenient on the boy because of his friendship with Lucius and now the dunderhead thought he could laugh at him and not deal with any unpleasant consequences. Well, we'll see about that. However, he would check it wasn't Hermione, just in case, since she had the annoying habit of lurking in his bedroom at Hogwarts, but he usually caught her peculiar scent which was enough to identify her by, but there was definitely a whiff of cologne permeating the air right now.

He cracked open an eyelid and immediately glimpsed a mocking pale face. No, it was definitely Draco, pointy face and all.

Severus closed his eyes and silently sent a wandless stinging hex in his general direction.

"Ow! What the hell!" the blond wizard yelped a few octaves higher than any self-respecting man should.

Severus frowned when it was followed by more snickering. What was this? An impromptu meet-up in his bedroom? He gave up on trying to catch any more sleep, although he doubted it was later than six o'clock in the bloody morning judging by the chilly air and overabundance of enthusiastic bird chirping, so he reluctantly opened his eyes, sitting up.

"Hello, Severus!" Potter said in a chipper voice, no doubt enjoying seeing his old school rival getting cursed first thing in the morning, and by his former Head of House, no less.

"I take it you slept well," Draco added more sullenly, rubbing his left shoulder where the hex had clipped him. It appeared Severus had almost been off target, he would have to resume his training of spell-casting blindfolded. It appeared he was becoming soft in these times of peace.

"Explain." Krum then demanded, pointing a calloused finger at his bed.

The accusing man was glowering so fiercely, his eyebrows knit together over his hooked nose, and he looked very much like a giant bird of prey sizing up his next meal. Severus scowled back, two could play at this game and he was usually the winner.

However, his curiosity won out when the meaning of Krum's words caught up with his sleep-addled brain: Explain what, exactly? He doubted his host was getting all high and mighty because he was having a lie in, if you could call it that this early in the morning. A cursory glance at his side confirmed the reason of his ire: yes, Hermione was sleeping rolled up in a ball as she usually did, and she had somehow managed to avoid the trip-alarm he had set up between their doors. He guessed he was to blame for having underestimated her once more.

The witch was just waking up herself, what with the trio of dunderheads mistaking his bedroom for a tea-shop parlour, and she graced each of them with her disturbingly dazzling smile before her little nose crinkled as she sniffed the air and rose to find out the source of the breakfast smells that were just now reaching him. She seemed to have developed a better sense of smell than even a potions master with an overly large nose. Interesting.

"Krum, if you have house-elves preparing breakfast, you had better stop Miss Granger from reaching the kitchen. She tends to be a bit grumpy if they don't let her in," he said offhandedly, completely ignoring the man's demand and why the tiring trio had come here in the first place.

Krum cast him an evil look but eventually ran out after the witch.

"Out with you," he ordered the other two with a dismissive gesture of his hand. "I'd like a modicum of privacy to get dressed if that's not too much to ask."

"Oh, sure! Now he wants privacy," Draco grumbled, to which Potter chuckled.

Merlin! Give those two another week and they'd be best-mates. It was probably a sign of impending doom.

oOo

That day, in accordance to the teams they had decided on at breakfast, Krum was to show the closest vampire haunts to Severus. The Bulgarian was practically certain they had all been abandoned for decades and had remained that way ever since, but he thought they might at least help in giving a feel of the kind of places they preferred to hide in.

On the second team, Draco was to diagnose Hermione as best he could with Potter overlooking the procedure because he didn't trust the Slytherin entirely yet. Severus was torn between the hope that Draco would find something that would help Hermione and the fear that he had missed something important when he had used legilimency on the witch. Fortunately, he would not have time to dwell on it as he hunted for mythical vampires with his surly companion.

They visited the first place by foot. It was surprisingly close and he wondered if any of his mother's family had been attacked by the blood or mind-sucking monsters before they had been chased off or burnt to a crisp, as seemed to be the custom here when dealing with the creatures. All that was left of the lair were large slabs of blackened stones scattered over a large surface making it impossible to actually know what the place had looked like before.

The two men had barely started scouting the area when a naked man jumped out of a bush and sprinted off in the opposite direction without a backwards glance.

"Werewolf?" Severus asked, not hiding his disgust.

Krum shrugged.

"Probably. That, or absynth."

Severus held back a chuckle. He didn't know the surly Bulgarian had a sense of humour. Or was it?

In the end, the spells Severus used to scout out the place revealed absolutely nothing, it was a lost cause.

"My mother told me this vos a chapel. The first to be built on these lands." Krum explained as he kicked aside a moss-covered rock that tumbled slowly down the hill before gathering speed and disappearing in a bush. "A very long time ago, you vouldn't know seeing these rubbles. Funny, a vampire hiding in a chapel, no?"

Despite his words, Krum really didn't seem to find it any more humorous than Severus did.

"As funny as finding Hermy-own-ninny in your bed this morning," Krum added, his fists balled at his side.

Severus sighed and sat on a boulder, indicating for the younger man to take a seat for himself on the closest of the rocks dotting the small clearing. He knew this confrontation would take place eventually so he might as well get it over with so they could get on with their mission.

"Hermione… She's not the witch you used to know," he said as diplomatically as he could muster. "Right now, she's barely a witch at all. You can't be angry at her, and even less so at me, for actions she doesn't understand."

Krum was still glowering, his arms crossed on his chest.

"For her, joining me in my bed...on my bed," he amended quickly. "Is as innocent as sitting next to someone on the couch, she means nothing by it."

"For her, yes," Krum accused.

"You're sorely mistaken, Mister Krum, if you think I would take advantage of her in any way. I am not that kind of man," Severus articulated so sourly, Dumbledore's blasted lemon drops would taste sweet in comparison.

But the Bulgarian merely raised an eyebrow and looked pointedly at his left forearm where everybody knew lay the faded outline of a dark mark.

"I am not that kind of man," the former Death-Eater repeated with conviction, and it was true. Sure he had done some despicable things, you literally had to when you were in service to a Dark Lord, but he had never defiled a woman. He would have rather been punished by his 'master' than force himself on someone and everyone knew that. The Death-Eaters, his supposedly brethren, mocked him for it, but if he had one positive thing to say about old Voldemort, it's that he never held it against him or took it as a sign of weakness, but then again, Severus suspected it was because the bastard had become some kind of eunuch in his search for immortality.

"Besides, you needn't worry," Severus added with a bitter smile. "I fully suspect Miss Granger, when her memories are returned to her, will be her old self again and see you as the... friend you are, and me, nothing more than an eyesore. As it should. All will be as it was before, I'm sure."

Severus chuckled darkly, laughing at himself for the glimmer of hope he had been unconsciously nourishing that the witch would be even remotely as close to him when they healed her as she was right now. He'd gotten used to having someone seeking out his company and who didn't cringe whenever he opened his mouth. He'd enjoyed it even. It made him feel more human, like he belonged somewhere. He crushed that thought with all his might. Krum narrowed his eyes at him but had no more to say. Severus wondered if he had finally managed to get through that thick-headed Quidditch-player's skull of his.

"Next place is underground, maybe less damaged," Krum told him, offering his arm. "I vill apparate the both of us."

Taking this as a truce offering, Severus reluctantly grabbed the younger man's arm and soon found himself staring cross-eyed at an enormous rock, that looked disturbingly like an Egyptian Sphinx.

"The Bucegi Sphinx," Krum said with a touch of reverence colouring his voice.

Severus could now see the resemblance to a sphinx, minus the nose, but those were always the first thing to fall off with the ravages of time. It was in fact very similar in size and looks to the famous Sphinx of Gizeh.

"I take it there's a story?" he asked, genuinely curious.

Krum nodded, looking up at the rock.

"Indeed, Professor. You British have your famous Merlin vizard, Romania has its Ruxandra vitch," he told him proudly but only received a blank look in exchange. "Ah, you British people are so insular, no curiosity at all for other cultures."

Severus couldn't really argue with that so he said nothing.

"In the dark ages, the Carpathian mountains vere rife vith dark vitches and vizards, necromancers and invocators too. Ruxandra created a spell to summon all their dark knowledge into a book, plucking their spells straight out of their minds and leaving them powerless, at the mercy of the people they had abused."

Severus doubted anyone could have that much power, but then again, Merlin too had supposedly done impossible deeds.

"But Ruxandra had to spend the rest of her life protecting the dangerous book from those who sought more power, and so, she created this," Krum finished pointing at the Sphinx.

"A pretty rock?" Severus drawled.

"That is vhat muggles see, yes," the Bulgarian smirked. "But the sphinx used to be living rock, the first guardian. It vould smash your limbs into a bloody pulp. Come, it is sleeping now. Ve vill enter Ruxandra's Refuge."

They apparated to the top of the Sphinx's head and Severus followed the younger man down a side slope that lead to a hidden alcove. Pulling on a small, golden chain that protruded from the rock, Krum disappeared suddenly and, disliking not knowing where he was heading, Severus closed his eyes and pulled the same chain… and reopened them when he felt the air change.

They were now in a cave. The inside of the Sphinx's skull, he imagined and followed his guide across the cave, slowing to a halt when he saw skeletons lying against the tall vaulted walls.

"Are those… Were those giants?" He asked in disbelief.

"Yes." Krum said unconcernedly. "Second guardians. They must have been locked in vhen the living rock fell asleep. Come."

The took a tunnel winding down and down and down until he was sure they must be beneath ground but finally came out into… nothing much, a smaller cave but nothing of interest really. He looked at Krum.

"Is this all?" he asked.

"No. But this is vhere you help. It is said Ruxandra hid the book in a chamber of secrets."

Severus snorted.

"And it's guarded by a giant basilisk, I suppose?"

"Who knows? Maybe that, maybe fangators, maybe bone dragons..."

"I don't even know what those are. No, I don't even want to know," Severus grumbled. "Why would you think I can find this chamber? I presume it has never been found before."

"It hasn't." Krum chuckled. "Ruxandra better than Merlin, no?"

Severus glowered at the other man.

"Vhite vampires have not found the chamber, or ve vould know. But they have tried, I have no doubt about that. Many must have come here, still do maybe, looking for the book. Good hideout for them, too."

Severus pondered this. It was possible. Anyone would be interested in such a source of power and knowledge…

"Krum?" he mused. "Do the Deleo vampires think they can find a counter-curse to their… affliction in Ruxandra's book?"

"Ten points to Slytherin." Krum replied with a grin.

Severus snorted and began pacing around the cave which was, thankfully, much smaller than the one above, but stopped to cast a Lumos Maxima to hover above them. He resumed his pacing, chanting spells under his breath in the hopes of discovering any trails, magical or physical, as well as detections spells, just in case he did discover the chamber of secrets.

Halfway around the cave, he stopped again. Slumped against the wall were two human remains, mummified because of the excellent conditions the cave offered for preservation. They were wearing the kind of clothes that were undoubtedly muggle and they seemed to be embracing each other. Poor sods must have wandered into this place, never finding the way out.

Severus returned to Krum's side when he had finished his rounds.

"There have been vampires here, although I cannot tell if they were the kind we're looking for, but it was too long ago. We won't find our vampire this way."

"Worth the shot," Krum replied and started his way back up.

Severus grunted his agreement and followed suit, wondering what were really their chances of stumbling across their target. One in a million, his pessimistic inner voice told him.

"Where to now?" Severus asked his guide once they were back in the sun.

Krum offered his arm for the side along apparition and grinned toothily again. He seemed to be having way too much fun trying to impress the usually stoic Head of Slytherin.

"The Cave of Bones."

Severus didn't like the sound of that but gripped his companion's arm and gritted his teeth as he was squeezed through a tube, soon reappearing with a loud crack still echoing around them.

"Goddamn caves," Severus muttered as he took in the gaping black hole in front of him.

Losing no time, the two men walked right in while casting Lumos. It wasn't so much a cave as several connecting alcoves that created a winding tunnel but after the first three caves, the name of the place became pretty self-explanatory with the many skeletons they came across, some of them seeming so old he half-expected the glare of his light to turn them to dust. Eventually, they both came to the conclusion that this place had not been visited recently. Krum looked about ready to pout.

"Night is coming soon. Ve should return."

They apparated right where the pumpkin-coach had left them the previous day and immediately spotted Harry Potter pacing back and forth on the front steps. Severus' guts turned to lead at the sight. His fear that he had missed something vital for Hermione's health resurfacing with a vengeance.

Then, Potter grinned, the idiot, and ran to meet them, almost tripping in his haste.

"Severus! Viktor! You're not going to believe this!" And he stopped there, panting to catch his breath. Severus had never felt like hexing a Potter more than now, which was saying a lot. "Malfoy, he did something to Hermione."

The two men who had just arrived made to bolt passed Potter with murder written all over their faces.

"Wait! No! I meant something good!" Potter exclaimed, catching both their arms.

He was dragged for a couple of steps before the two men stopped to scowl at him.

Severus was about to berate Potter for his lack of wits, but thought better of it. He needed answers.

"Explain." Krum ordered sternly, just like he had that morning to Severus.

"Erm... Well, I don't rightly know... Malfoy kicked me out."

"Let me guess," Severys drawled. "You couldn't keep your mouth shut while Draco was trying to concentrate on his work."

Potter at least had the decency to blush, although he didn't acknowledge his mistake. Typical.

"Well, anyway, Malfoy did something and Hermione spoke! A real word by herself, not just repeating after us. She can talk!" Potter said triumphantly, his grin plastered on his face.

But he was then assaulted by several questions from both men, which he should have expected given his piss-poor explanation.

"Wait, wait, wait!" Potter exclaimed waving both his hands in an attempt to stop the flow of questions. "I don't know if that means she's cured. Like I said, Malfoy threw me out of the room when I tried asking him."

Severus snorted.

"But she said... She just said-"

"What?"

"Vat?"

The two men were getting impatient judging by their nervous twitches.

"Severus..." Potter said, grimacing a bit.

"What?" The Slytherin bit out. "Would you get on with it, Potter? What did she say?"

"That is what she said: your name. I think she was asking for you."

Severus' breath hitched and he could feel a blush burning his cheeks as he was submerged by different emotions: surprise, embarrassment, fear too, but above all, hope.

Had Draco cured her? Had this whole mission been a fool's errand from the start? Did she really want to see him of all people? Even if she was cured? Maybe she wanted to berate him for his inappropriate behaviour towards a former female student... After all, he had combed her hair, carried her in his arms and worse of all, let her sleep in his bed. On his bed, he mentally corrected, as if that made a whole world of difference.

Severus felt his mouth had become too dry to retort with a scathing comment, although he had one ready on the tip of his tongue, so he brushed passed Potter instead and hurried up the steps, hurrying towards Hermione's bedroom where he supposed Draco had chosen to auscult her.

He knocked sharply twice so Draco would know it wasn't the dunderhead come to bother him again and the door swung open. Draco was still hovering over Hermione and he pointed with his off hand towards a chair without bothering to look back. Severus sat quietly and observed the young Malfoy. He had never seen him so focused before, even in Potions which had been his favourite class. Maybe he had really found his calling.

"Alright, you can come now. I think I've done all I can anyway," Draco said, sitting heavily on the end of the bed and wiping the fine sheet of sweat that had formed on his forehead with a delicate handkerchief.

Hermione was rubbing her eyes as if she had just woken up from a nap but shot him her damnable smile as soon as their eyes locked.

"Severus!" she exclaimed, pointing at him.

He didn't recognize her voice, or at least, he didn't associate it to the shrill voice of the annoying know-it-all she had been at school. Her voice was now husky, probably from disuse, or maybe even injury, and her high-pitched tones that had once annoyed him so much had given way to a throaty resonance that was most seductive. It complimented her wild appearance too.

He knew he had been gaping for quite a while when Draco thought it necessary to clear his throat to gain his attention, just in time too, since the two other wizards had caught up to him and were standing right behind him.

"So… She's healed?" Potter asked, almost jumping up and down in excitement.

"Hardly," Draco scoffed, as if the very notion was ridiculous, but judging by the twin sighs of his companions, they had hoped just for that as much as he did himself. "I only noticed that the bastard who tore through her mind had physically damaged her inferior frontal operculum, maybe by applying too much pressure through some kind of Legilimency. That's a possibility, Severus, isn't it?"

Severus, who had finished Draco's Occlumency training that her dear Aunt Bella had begun, nodded once.

"Yes, but it usually only results in long-term migraines in the worse case," he answered, trying not to look too smug while Potter was probably glaring at him. The same Occlumency lessons he had given the Boy-Who-Lived seemed to be the only thing he could not forgive the ex-Death-Eater. Gryffindor logic was as good as no logic at all. "For the migraines to become a permanent brain injury such as you describe, the strain applied by the legilimens would have to be painfully long."

"I imagine Hermy-own-ninny fought back to protect her mind," Krum said. "She vould, but it vould only make the attack last longer, and the pain vorse."

"She would at that," Potter agreed.

"Stubborn Gryffindors," Severus muttered. "Never know when to give in."

Draco coughed and he looked like he was trying to hide a smile, but he became all business-like once more as he waved a hand around a part of Hermione's head.

"I healed what I could of the area here, repairing connections, creating bypasses, but it's still a bit bruised so she'll probably be a bit dazed for a few days. She might be subject to headaches too. Do you have ample stock of pain-relievers, Krum?"

"Of course. I stock up on potions for your arrival. Vampire-hunting through Romania is no picnic. Do you take me for a dunderhead?"

"Wouldn't dream of it," Draco muttered while he helped Hermione lie down on her bed.

She did look a bit dizzy and she was rarely so obedient, but she didn't look in pain, which was a relief. She'd had enough pain to last her a life-time. Hermione stroked Draco's long hair affectionately.

"Pretty," she said, which made all but a blushing Draco snicker. "Thanks pretty."

Draco smiled warmly at Hermione before turning back towards the others as if daring them to comment and by the time they looked at Hermione again, she was snoring lightly so Draco corralled her visitors out of her room, closing the door behind him with a soft click.

"Supper," Draco sighed. "I'm exhausted."

"Sure, Pretty. Whatever you want," Potter chuckled, leading the way towards the dining-room.

"I'm never going to live that down, am I?" Draco groused tiredly.

"Nope," Potter laughed. "But come on, even you have to admit it's better than ferret."

The two former rivals bantered back and forth for the rest of the evening. Even the toast Potter insisted on giving in honour of Draco was full of friendly quips and light teasing. Severus found it amazing that two men who had such a profound distaste for one another during their childhood could get on so well now and he wondered idly if he himself could have become friendly with either James Potter or Sirius Black, but it just didn't seem possible. He was glad for Draco, however. Being friends with the famous Harry Potter would help him in the future, make it easier to bear the name of Malfoy. Had Lucius planned all this? Severus would have to visit his friend again and pry the answers out of him one way or another, if only to make sure he wasn't trying to take over the world again, one small step at a time.

Chapter Text

 

Severus sometimes despaired that they would find such a small vampire in such a huge, not to mention wild, country. They usually separated into two teams so Hermione always had at least two protectors, not that she necessarily needed them, as an ill-advised brown bear had learned at its own expense. They had searched all the major wizarding villages, asking their inhabitants if they knew about their vampire or the people who had come looking for it a few years ago, but they were either met with stony silence or were laughed off as silly adventurous tourists.

All the vampire haunts Krum knew about had been long abandoned too: the Turda salt mine, the tunnels running under the city of Bucharest, the various old castles, fortresses and churches that dotted the country but all to no avail.

The Hoai Baciu Forest, better known as the Romanian Bermuda Triangle, had been hell to investigate and wholly deserved its name. It was a veritable maze that made the one built for the Triwizard Tournament look like a cute little flowerbed. It was haunted and rife with all the beasts Severus hated so much and then some he didn’t even know existed outside of nightmares. They had found vampires for once, but just the regular sort unfortunately, and being on their own turf, they had slipped between their fingers without much effort. Their group had also found several muggles that had gotten utterly lost and were completely befuddled by the fact that their precious electronic equipment, and even their compasses, had failed them as soon as they had wandered a bit too far into the forest. They had escorted the hapless muggles back out, advising them never to return, and Severus had grumbled the whole while about the precious time they were losing because of those nitwits.

It had been two whole weeks since their arrival in this godforsaken place and they had made absolutely no progress in finding the albinos vampire that had attacked Hermione. It was unbelievably frustrating.

 

However, Hermione was having a grand time of it. She was enjoying her newfound ability to speak. Not that she chatted their ears off as Severus had feared. She was rather quiet in fact, and her vocabulary lacking, but she clearly liked being able to communicate with the people around her, if only to ask them for food, for a hug or to play. She had made some progress in her use of the wand too, now that she could actually speak, but she still seemed disinterested by it.

Severus liked hearing her say his name most of all. She said it like it was something sweet and warm. He’d never heard his name said quite that way before. Not by his own mother, not even by his only childhood friend, and those were pretty much the only people who would have cared to try. What was even more enjoyable was that she still insisted on calling Draco “Pretty” or a variation thereof such as “Pretty Boy” despite Draco trying to teach her his name. He got so embarrassed that he sometimes disappeared to sulk in his room for hours at a time.

 

“Draco!” Potter called from outside.

He’d gone off into the woods with Hermione for the afternoon, hoping to find some cool air under the shade of the tall trees while the day’s heat wave steamrolled over the countryside.

“Pretty!” Hermione called and the slight note of urgency in her voice was enough for Severus to shoot out of the armchair he’d been reading in and run outside into the searing heat, fearing Hermione had hurt herself.

Draco had evidently had the same worry. Severus heard the younger man clatter down the stairs at full tilt and join him on the porch, panting to catch his breath. But Hermione looked fine as far as they could tell so they waited for the two Gryffindors to join them under the shade of the porch.

“What is she carrying?” Draco asked, peering at the approaching figures.

“I hope she didn’t hunt for dinner again. That wolf was absolutely disgusting.” Severus replied.

“No, it’s smaller than a wolf, but definitely furry,” Draco said. “But why are they calling for me. I hope they’re not expecting me to cook it.”

“Merlin preserve us,” Severus muttered. Draco had probably never cooked anything other than potions in his whole life. Severus doubted he even knew where the kitchens were in his own home.

It turned out Hermione was carrying some kind of dog. It was an ugly thing with a torn ear and a forked tail, but it looked in all other aspect like a Jack Russell terrier with black spots here and there. She extended it pleadingly towards Draco.

“Heal? Please?” she begged.

Draco let out a long sigh and Severus sympathized. How were you supposed to resist that? Draco extended his own arms and took the whining creature from her, returning inside where he set the strange animal on a table.

“I don’t even know what this thing is,” Draco muttered out of the corner of his mouth.

Severus shrugged.

“Just heal it like a dog, I suppose. We’ll ask Krum when he gets back from his mission, just in case that thing is actually dangerous. I have yet to meet a creature in Romania that doesn’t want to eat you.”

“Yeah, the only country in the world where the local cuisine is the tourists visiting it,” Potter joked which surprised a snort out of Severus.

Potter smiled victoriously at him but did not try to rub it in, thankfully, and they looked at Draco as he did his best to heal the wounds of the...dog?

“He has a gash in the posterior left leg and a cracked rib. Nothing too serious. Where did you find it?”

“Hermione found it in a small devil’s snare nearby and tore it out of there with her bare hands before I could stop her. She’s got a few scratches if you can look at those next Draco.”

Draco nodded after giving her hands a cursory glance and judging there was nothing serious.

“I’m not really up to date with care of magical creatures. I’m not even sure this thing is one so we’d better avoid potions, but I’m going to have to bind it to use healing spells, just in case it lashes out.”

Potter agreed and used one of the spells aurors had at their disposal to bind without injuring, kind of like a padded incarcerem. Severus watched as Draco went to work, hoping his spells would work as well on the strange animal as it did on humans, but Draco didn’t seem worried so he left him to it. The beast yelped sharply and struggled against its binds, causing Hermione to growl at Draco but she did not intervene.

“There,” Draco said a short while later, patting the maybe-dog on the head. “As good as new.”

Potter unrestrained it and it immediately jumped off the table and rushed towards Hermione, jumping and yipping as it bounded in circles around her while she laughed and clapped her hands.

“Pretty Boy! Thank you!” she exclaimed, squeezing Draco into a tight hug before he realized her intentions. He stiffened in her embrace and then blushed crimson to the roots of his platinum hair, which was quite an ugly combination. Potter was sniggering at his discomfort but Severus was barely restraining himself from pulling her away. Draco finally managed to extricate himself from the happy witch’s arms and looked like he was in shock.

“Gods! I’m never going to get used to Hermione like that,” he muttered. “She’ll probably punch me in the nose again for it when we get her back to normal and it’s not even my fault this time.”

“Again?” Severus asked curiously. “Meaning she punched you before?”

Draco was saved from answering because of Hermione’s new pet running wildly around the living room where they had assembled and wreaking havoc as it skittered on carpets and knocked over furniture. It was surprisingly strong given its small size, and damn fast too. The three men found themselves whipping levitation charms left and right to catch the vases, picture frames and other knick-knacks before they hit the ground while Hermione tried tackling the little monster. Which is exactly how Krum found them when he came back.

“Vhy is there a crup running vild in my home?” he asked, not seeming to mind the chaos he’d returned to.

“Gotcha!” Hermione shouted victoriously, holding up the beast against her while it licked her face and wagged its two tails furiously.

“Hermione found it in the forest,” Potter explained. “What’s a crup?”

Severus was glad he’s asked the question so he was saved the disgrace of showing his ignorance.

“Hermy-own-ninny have Kneazle before, right? Vell, kneazle is to cat vhat crup is to dog. Very loyal to vizards and vitches but hates everything else, muggles included. Can be a right vicious bastard too.”

Severus laughed at that description, to everyone’s surprise.

“What?” he asked defensively. “Oh, come on. Don’t tell me that doesn’t remind you of someone?”

The three dunderheads looked at him owlishly before Potter finally caught on and he too chuckled, looking at the ugly animal in a new light.

“Oh,” he cooed, petting the crup who yipped happily at being the center of attention. “Who’s a nice little Voldy, then? Yes you are, Voldy, yes you are.”

“You’re not seriously going to call it that?” Draco asked aghast and paler than usual.

“I don’t see vhy not,” Krum argued. “Ugly, prejudiced little monster vith a bad temper. It is quite fitting, yes?”

“What do you think, Hermione?” Severus asked the witch because it was her animal after all.

“Oh, come on!” Draco exclaimed. “That’s not fair, she doesn’t remember him.”

“It’s just a name,” Potter told him. “Fear of the name and all that rot, remember?”

“Voldy?” Hermione asked, pointing at the crup still squirming in her arms.

“If you want,” Severus said.

“Voldy,” she confirmed with a nod of her head and she put the crup down. “Come, Voldy! Eat house-elves!”

The witch waltzed out of the room with the ugly mutt following her excitedly, hopefully to eat the food offered by the house-elves and not the poor creatures themselves. Severus turned to Krum now that a semblance of order had returned to the room.

“So how did your mission go? Any luck at the vampire embassy?”

Krum scowled and let himself fall back in the sofa.

Having searched the country in all the places they could think off, they had decided to give the official channels a try. The wizard ministry had shot them down, not wanting to get involved in what they considered was a feud with the vampire society and had directed them towards the vampire embassy where such complaints were dealt with. Presumably. The vampires held much more power in this country than they could ever hope for in Britain and their group had unanimously decided to make contact with them, sending only Krum so they wouldn’t feel threatened by the prospect of an international dispute.

“Vampires very tiring, very traditional, especially those old ones. I make lots of polite and empty vords before they even listen to our request for information, but they just send me avay like an annoying bludger. Rude.”

“We had to try, at least,” Severus rationalized. “Now we can concentrate on other leads.”

“Ve have no other leads,” Krum growled.

“On the contrary, Mister Krum. While you were stuck at the embassy all day, Potter and I spent our morning doing some digging in the muggle world. We know that our vampire had been hiding out in the muggle world in London after the Battle. I thought it would return to the magical world once it was back in its own territory, but maybe he is hiding out in his own country too, for some reason.”

Draco and Hermione had wanted to investigate the muggle world too, but there was no way those two would be able to blend in. They both stuck out like sore thumbs, not only because of their striking appearances,  but also because of their utter lack of knowledge of the muggle world.

Severus and Potter had both found, through different sources that in the last six months, a series of unexplained partial amnesias had hit a few imminent members of the Bucharest faculty and students that caused the authorities to launch a thorough investigation to find the source of such a strange occurrence by testing the water, the air, the soil, the food… all to no avail, of course. But for Severus and Potter who knew what to look for, it was a clear sign an albinos vampire had been using the place as a pantry. Whether he would return there was anyone’s guess, but it was worth investigating.

 


 

 

They were still in the midst of dinner, getting some strength before they left that night for a little night-time investigation of the universities around Bucharest when Voldy abandoned the bloody steak the house-elves had served him in a silver platter and inexplicably started growling, the whole of his fur standing on edge, puffing him up to twice its size.

What had been a lively meal filled with conversation and laughter just a second ago became as silent as a graveyard, and, like a well-oiled machine, Krum extinguished all the lights and drew the curtains close with a few flicks of his wand, and Draco stood protectively in front of Hermione while Potter and Severus crept towards the windows with their wands drawn out. It couldn’t have gone smoother if they had repeated the whole operation.

“What is that?” Potter hissed over Voldy’s growls as he peeked between the drawn curtains.

“Vampires, obviously,” Severus drawled as he watched the two pale creatures standing just a few feet away from their front door.

“I know that, you git,” Potter sniped back. “I meant what is that thing they’re holding up.”

One of the two vampires was holding a pole mounted by a plain silver flag that glittered slightly as it moved in the feeble breeze. Severus drew a blank, he had never seen such a thing before although it obviously held some sort of meaning to the two vampires who were waiting patiently in front of Krum’s front door but watching intently towards the window they were spying from. They knew exactly where they were.

“That’s a vhite flag,” Krum, who had joined them at the window, whispered.

“It’s silver, though,” Potter pointed out.

“Yes, vell, vampires can’t really vave a vhite flag around vhen they still carry their veapons on them, can they? A plain silver flag is their way of showing they mean no harm.”

Of course, their fangs, it’s not like they could spit them out on demand for the duration of a truce and then stick them back in their mouth. Not to mention their strength, speed and near invulnerability. And he seemed to recall some of them could fly or have other unusual tricks.

“So we’re not under attack, then?” Potter asked, seeming a bit disappointed. Such a Gryffindor through and through.

“Krum, as the host, maybe you should invite them in?” Severus asked, not entirely sure of the protocol with vampires, but the other man nodded and lit the house again before he strolled out through the front door without any trace of fear. Severus reluctantly admired the younger man’s strength and determination.

A minute later, the two vampires were standing in front of their group, their tall flag left at the door.

The smallest of the two bowed graciously, introducing himself as Darius. He was pale with dark red eyes and chestnut hair he wore in a long elaborate braid. He could almost pass of for a woman because of his small size and delicate feature. His companion was introduced as Decebal and he gave a slight incline of  his head, not breaking eye contact with their group. He obviously didn’t trust them, and Severus had the impression he served as a bodyguard to the smaller vampire, not only because of his impressive built but also because of the thick leather armour he wore and which was a clashing contrast to the other’s silky garment.

They all greeted them as warmly as they felt capable off, Krum taking care of the introductions for them, but you didn’t cross paths with vampires all that often in Britain and they all felt like fish out of water with such a surprising delegation. Only Hermione and her crup were staying way back, growling at the two pale visitors who didn’t seem to take offense. They were, on the contrary, a bit too interested in the witch.

“So, it is true, then,” the smaller vampire said in flawless English. “Our cursed cousin has been causing a lot vexation to our people lately. Bad publicity, if you will, that needs more than a little damage control. This is...ah… the straw that breaks the camel’s back, as one might say.”

Severus scowled. Hermione certainly had more cause than the vampires for being vexed. What did they care about the vampires losing status or political influence because one their own was  wreaking havoc on the population?

“Our father is most displeased, of course,” Darius continued, flashing his fangs at them in what must pass as a grin.

Krum sucked in a breath and his voice was a bit shaky when he addressed them.

“You are from Bran Castle?”

Severus blanched too then. In his readings, he had learned that that place was the ancestral dwelling of the father of all vampires, better known as Dracul or Dracula and who still ruled over his kind to this very day. That he had sent ambassadors himself to their little party was nothing short of terrifying.

Darius nodded, filling the ominous silence with the speech he had no doubt been sent to deliver.

“There are very few left of our cursed kin, as you probably know. They are not welcome amongst us, but they are, despite their… handicap, still vampires and are, as such, protected by our laws: we cannot sell them out to wizards, especially not of a foreign country. We do hope you understand our position?”

“You’re Switzerland. Neutral. Yeah, got it,” Potter muttered. “So why did you bother coming  here if you’re not going to help?”

“The Count felt it was his duty to warn such highly esteemed visitors as yourselves about Grigore-”

“Grigore?” Severus snapped.

“Oh, dear. A slip of the tongue which will have me most severely punished, I assure you. Grigore is the one you are looking for, and he is much fiercer than you are probably counting on. He has been gorging himself on the non-magical folk since his return here. He must have know he would be pursued all the way here for what he has done,” Darius said with a nod towards Hermione.

Severus shifted slightly so he blocked his view of her, although there was nothing to be done about the other silent vampire who towered above everyone else.

“The Count hopes to avoid a diplomatic incident, you see.”

Severus nodded tersely. He didn’t like it, but he could understand the sentiment. This ambassador was merely a messenger anyway. It was no good lashing out at him.

“Thank you for your warning in that case, but we will do anything to capture him. I trust The Count will not hold it against us?” Severus asked. God he hated politics. Empty words with too much meaning.

“On the contrary. I wish you a successful cruise against Grigore. He has always been such a despicable creature. He would deserve being locked up for all eternity,” Darius laughed, his pointy teeth catching the light once more and sending shivers down Severus’ spine. “He must be going absolutely mental knowing such warriors are after him.”

With that Darius took his leave, followed closely by Decebal who only inclined his head once more and grabbed the silver flag on his way out. They looked as the two figures walked into the trees of the nearby forest. Severus wondered how they were returning to Bran Castle from there.

“Well, that was…” Potter said as he holstered his wand once more.

“...bloody terrifying,” Draco finished, visibly shivering.

Severus rolled his eyes. He couldn’t believe those two were already finishing each other’s sentences. If Potter wasn’t so obviously straight and married, he’d have to wonder about them. But instead of entertaining such idle, and frankly disturbing thoughts, he went to Hermione’s side. She hadn’t moved since their guests had departed but threw herself in his arms and clinged to him when he called to her.

“They dead,” she said, pointing towards the door where she had last seen the vampires. “Bad dead. Bad smell.”

“Yes,” Severus told her, patting her back in what he hoped was a soothing gesture. “But they were here to help. Sometimes, all is not as it seems at first glance.”

“How was that helping, it felt more like threats,” Potter muttered.

“That’s because you don’t care to use whatever passes as a brain for a Potter,” Severus said. “We have a name, so we’ll know when we have the right one, we know he is hiding amongst the muggles, and we have Count Dracula’s permission to hunt this vampire, but this one alone. It’s better than we should have hoped for, I suppose.”

“I don’t know…” Draco muttered. “There’s something… not quite right.”

He’d been pacing restlessly from the entry to the dining room where the remains of their dinner had turned cold, his face tense and pale.

“What do you mean?” Severus asked, motioning for everyone to regroup around the table and forcing Draco down in a chair too. He looked seconds away from collapsing.

“I’m not sure. It’s just that vampire, Darius, he speaks our tongue really well.”

“It is normal for vampires to educate themselves abroad. Eternity can be very boring, I imagine,” Krum replied offhandedly.

“Exactly, so why were his parting words so imperfect and cryptic? It’s like he was speaking... not so well on purpose. I may just be barking up the wrong tree here, especially since I got used to a more than approximate use of the English language with you and Hermione around.”

Severus decided to follow Draco’s intuition and wrote down Darius’ last words:

 

I wish you a successful cruise against Grigore.

He has always been such a despicable creature.

He would deserve being locked up for all eternity.

He must be going absolutely mental knowing such warriors are after him.

 

It did seem poorly phrased when you had it written down in front of you very eyes. Especially considering the vampire had been so flawless in his speech before that.

“Is he giving us some bloody riddle to find Grigore?” Potter asked, aghast. “I hate riddles.”

“No kidding,” Krum said. “Planning on blasting this one to smithereens, too?”

“I did no such thing! That was greatly exaggerated! But I’m really no good at riddles. Why is there never a Ravenclaw around when you need one?”

“Ravenclaw’s so-called riddles are nothing more than childish puns,” Severus scoffed. “And if Darius wanted to give us a clue about Grigore, it would be about his whereabouts, that’s all we’re interested in after all, and they know it.”

“Vell, he says Grigore deserves to be locked up, so maybe he is hiding in a prison? Or… a bank?” Krum pointed out.

Severus nodded thoughtfully. It could be, but how to be sure with only that to go on. And surely there were many prisons. Banks didn’t seem likely, not enough people to eat in a bank.

“What about his ‘mistake’, you don’t go on a cruise against someone,” Draco said, before frowning uncertainly. “Do you?”

Severus shook his head this time.

“If that is a clue, it is not one I understand. It’s vague at best. Cruise could point us to a boat or a river. The former has nothing to do with prisons and the second is too vague. I have no doubt many prisons are built near rivers. Unless there’s a prison that is very conveniently named river?” he asked looking at Krum.

“Not that I know of, but I do not know the muggle vorld that vell, except for Bucharest and the castles...Oh!” Krum exclaimed, startling them all. “Yes!”

The Bulgarian then disappeared in the next room, coming back with a very thick book about the history of Romania, both muggle and magical from the days of Ruxandra to modern times. Severus raised an inquiring eyebrow at the Quidditch star, who took offense.

“Vhat? I like to read,” he then flipped through the pages feverishly. “Ah, here, look! The fortress of Jilava is near Bucharest, near a river even, and it has been converted into a prison.”

“Yeah, but so are many others, I bet,” Potter muttered.

“Ah, yes. But unlike others, Jilava mean ‘humid place’,” Krum countered with a smirk.

Severus snatched, or rather, heaved, the heavy book towards himself to read more about the place as he became almost as optimistic as the other two fools. He made a choking sound when he found a particularly interesting tidbit of information and everyone crowded around him.

“That prison has the only high-security psychiatric ward in Romania,” he explained.

“Oh, right! ‘Going mental’, Darius said. Good one,” Potter chuckled.

“This is it, then?” Draco asked, nervously raking a hand through his hair. “Darius just pointed us straight at Grigore? It seems a bit too easy.”

“You’re the one who caught on,” Potter snarked back with a snicker. “And it wasn’t that easy, we needed four brains to solve it.”

“Three. You’ve been completely useless, Potter,” Draco pointed out, to which Potter only shrugged good naturedly. “It might be a trap, though,” Draco warned and Severus wondered if he was just afraid of being responsible for the whole venture if it turned sour. Merlin knows he would feel guilty if anything happened to Hermione.

“Why would they set a trap in an occupied muggle prison? They could have just slaughtered us right here if they’d really wanted to,” Potter replied.

“Blunt, but true,” Severus agreed, before eyeing each of his unlikely companions in arms. “So… tonight?”

One by one, they nodded their agreement. Potter and Krum eagerly, then Draco a bit more reluctantly. There was no sense in waiting any longer. Darius had done them the favour of giving his hated cousin’s location and they should take advantage of it before the monster decided to move the location of his hidey-hole. They had been planning on stalking the faculty grounds anyway, so they were ready to go, except this time, they might actually find what they’d come all this way for. Severus felt his heart beat increase. They were so very close to their goal, he could feel it.



Chapter Text

 

Severus hated the very sight of the muggle prison. It was old, grey, grim and was, in fact, a humid place, deserving its name wholeheartedly. It reminded him too much of Azkaban if he had to be honest, especially drowned as it was in a sea of mist as night settled around them. Only the thought of catching the creature who’d harmed Hermione prevented him from turning tail and running off far, far away, to a place where there were no werewolves, no vampires and no shadow of Azkaban and its dementors. Yet, here he was, pretending he wasn’t bothered.

Severus had let Potter organize their infiltration of the prison. It was more his resort if he had to be honest, seeing as he probably did this on a regular basis in the auror force. Potter had teamed Hermione up with him too, so he wasn’t about to complain. Then he had partnered himself off with Draco since he, despite being the saviour of the wizarding world, was still as terrible at occlumency as he’d been as a student. Since that ability was their only way to counter whatever mental prowess Grigore possessed, there wasn’t much of a choice anyway. Draco wasn’t happy about it, but Krum had it even worse since he was paired off with Voldy. However, Potter had managed to convince him the crup would be a formidable ally in sniffing out the albinos vampire seeing as the beast had known about the vampire delegation standing at their door long before any them. Severus wasn’t even sure whether Potter was being serious or not, but he’d almost managed to convince Severus of holding onto the creature himself, and Krum had finally, grudgingly,  accepted to be teamed up with the ugly little beast.

Frankly, they were very lucky to have so many occlumens in their small group that they could even afford to separate into three teams. That would certainly surprise Grigore.

The difficulty of their mission resided in not raising suspicion from the muggles, finding the albinos vampire, but most of all, of preventing it from fleeing. If they lost track of him, there was no telling if they’d ever find it again, and Severus doubted Darius, or rather Count Dracul, would go to the trouble of pointing them in the right direction once more. This was their one and only chance.

With a resolute nod to each other, the three groups turned invisible using a disillusionment charm and headed each for a different entrance, hoping to all meet again in the psychiatric ward where Darius said they’d find Grigore. But if a group got stuck, lost, or intercepted by the muggles, the others were to continue the mission.

Severus held Hermione’s hand tightly in his own. Now wasn’t the time to lose her in this maze of a fortress turned prison, especially invisible as she was. Who knows what kind of mischief she’d get herself into. They made their way around to the other side of the prison, to the base of a thick wall that had an opening secured by a grate of large metal bars. He couldn’t see beyond the dark entrance, but Krum assured him it should lead to a corridor that passed under the courtyard and most of the fortress. They only had to find the right exit up into the kitchen that should be deserted at this hour, late-night snack from one of the guards notwithstanding, and from there the psychiatric ward.

No muggle could get past this first obstacle however, not without drawing a lot of attention, but simple metal bars were no obstacle for a wizard and Severus simply tapped two of them with his wand, watching with mild interest as they melted away, leaving enough room for him and Hermione to squeeze through. It was so dark, Severus opted to light his wand with a feeble lumos. He doubted the guards bothered to make their rounds all the way down here anyway. Hermione was still gripping his hand but she now held his arm with her other hand too. She didn’t seem to enjoy sneaking into unknown buildings at night. Spooky forests full of lethal monsters? Sure. Tame muggle buildings? Hell, no. Severus smirked. She was so full of contradictions, but he was enjoying her warm, silent presence at his side, even now as they headed into the unknown.

The place was much, much vaster than he’d realized and it took them a couple of tries before they found the right exit into the large kitchen, the stainless steel and tiles it was covered in reflecting their small wand-light, so he snuffed it out. They weren’t underground anymore and there was just enough light to go by.

Severus made to pull them towards the kitchen doors and out into the large corridor outside, but Hermione wouldn’t budge.

“Hermione?” he whispered, but she didn’t answer.

She was making… sniffing sounds. Not crying, it was too deliberate. Severus smelled the kitchen air, wondering what had caught her interest, but all he could make out was an overwhelming scent of bleach and other cleaning products, grease and… vegetables that were past their prime.

“Do you smell him? The vampire?” he asked.

“Dead people, yes. Not here. Somewhere,” she replied, pausing every time as she looked for the right words to convey her ideas.

Her speech was improving every day, which was encouraging. She squeezed his hand then and pulled him towards the door. Severus wasn’t sure how it had happened but in just a few seconds, he had been relegated from leader to follower. Hermione had turned into a bloodhound hot on a trail: she’d pause here and there, sniffing around and pulling him along through the winding corridors. It would have been a nightmare to find their way back out again if they hadn’t agreed to apparate out of the prison as soon as they’d secured their target. The muggles would be startled but they might think it was thunder. They rounded another meeting of hallways when they bumped into an invisible wall.

Hermione fell on him and an “oomph” escaped him along with his air supply while the invisible wall fell too with a couple of groans.

“Harry! Gets your hands off...there!”

“Ha! Sorry ‘bout that. What happened?”

“Could you two be any louder?” Severus hissed.

Sweet Salazar! Why did he have to be saddled with such dolts. It was a miracle they hadn’t raised an alarm yet.

“Sorry Sev,” the two men said in unison and Severus was seriously considering throttling them now. He’d never felt this annoyed since Neville Longbottom and his merry parade of melting cauldrons.

“Just… just shut up and follow us. Hermione caught his scent,” he muttered.

“Right,” Potter said. “And where is she?”

Severus felt his blood run cold. He called her name as loudly as he dared and felt around, but no Hermione. Damnit! This was not going the way they’d planned. He quickly released the disillusionment spell and just caught the tail of her long locks going through a door and ran after her.

They’d lost the advantage of stealth and surprise now. Not to mention Hermione was alone and defenseless. It couldn’t possibly get any worse! He vaguely saw a sign on the swinging doors he was passing that he thought meant “Psychiatric Unit” in Romanian, thanks to Krum’s five minute lesson, but he was too intent on catching up with Hermione to care.

Cells on either side of a corridor, narrower than those they had just taken. Individual rooms, he supposed. They all looked closed, undisturbed but he looked through the open slits in the doors of a few of them as he hurried past, not that he could see much, but he noticed neither Hermione nor a small albinos vampire. He extended an ear… footsteps further ahead? Who? Hermione or a muggle guard? A prisoner pacing in his room? Grigore? He was breathing hard, too hard for the short distance he had run. He was panicking. If anything happened to Hermione, he’d never forgive himself.

Think! Think!

The next moment, Severus was plucking one of Hermione’s long hairs from his robe, clingy tentacular things that they were, and he wrapped it around his wand, murmuring an incantation.

“Point me,” he then ordered and his wand spun on itself once in the palm of his hand before it pointed resolutely forward. Severus ran, following his wand’s instructions until he skidded to a halt in a larger room with a vaulted ceiling, filled with tables and chairs, a sorry excuse for a piano in a corner and stacks of old books and game boards that probably missed half their pieces. And Hermione. Unharmed but as wild as he’d ever seen her, snarling, running and jumping around the furniture and walls after a smaller form. He could have mistaken it for a child if it weren’t for it’s paleness and the flash of its fiery orange hair.

It was him! It had to be! But how was Hermione the one hunting him? Was the albinos vampire just toying with her or was there a reason he was not attacking? In any case, he was moving much too fast for him to take a shot without risking touching Hermione instead and she wouldn’t answer his calls to stand down.

“What the ruddy hell!” Potter exclaimed as he and Draco burst in through the doors, snapping him out of his own stupor. “How is she-”

“Quickly! It’s him! Seal all the exits! Doors and windows!” Severus ordered, pushing them towards the door they had just come through..

“What about Viktor?” Potter asked.

“Too late, hurry!” Severus barked.

They couldn’t afford to let the monster escape. Grigore must have realized what was about to happen because he dove straight at him and the window he was sealing.

Perfect, a clear shot!

Severus’ expression must have given him away. The vampire suddenly changed direction and went straight for Potter instead. Potter who had absolutely no occlumency to defend himself. Severus shouted a warning but Potter had barely made eye-contact with his attacker that he was down on his knees screaming. Potter, who managed to withstand the excruciating pain of the crucio was crying out in terror. It sent a shiver down his spine which veered his relashio spell off course. It hit a chair instead, sending it flying against the wall in a loud clatter.

Draco was closer and managed to physically insert himself between Potter and the vampire, cutting off eye contact. Potter fell down in a heap, breathing heavily while Draco was fighting off whatever influence Grigore was attempting to take on him, beads of sweat rolling down his face. Darius hadn’t lied. Grigore was very strong.

Then Hermione was hitting the vampire in the back with a solid kick right between his shoulder blades, sending him flying into Draco and Potter. That’s when Severus realized Hermione was fighting with her eyes closed and he felt his jaw drop. How in the world…

Grigore was scrambling to his feet, his blood red eyes watching them with a hatred so strong it was palpable, rolling over them in molten waves of anger… quite literally. It was scorching hot, he couldn’t breathe anymore. Or could he? Severus was confused, his mind and senses feeding him contradictory information.

Eye contact. That was it, he had to break eye contact with those two red furnaces burning a hole into him.. With more deliberation than should have been necessary, and fighting every instinct he had that screamed at him that you shouldn’t, under any circumstances, close your eyes while facing the enemy, Severus did just that. The feeling of being smothered by the molten heat disappeared immediately. Just an illusion, mental manipulation… It was terrifying being in the dark, but he tried to concentrate on his hearing instead: panting breaths, it had to be Potter and Draco, a snarl, Hermione’s, he’d recognize it anywhere and then a commotion, the fracas of furniture being thrown around. If the vampire was distracted, he should be able to open his eyes safely. He certainly couldn’t pull off fighting blind like Hermione.

Hermione and Grigore were locked in what looked like a graceful, yet lethal ballet. Legs, elbows, fists and teeth swinging around, jabbing viciously at the other. He couldn’t help but stare awestruck at the woman, so strong and beautiful and dangerous, but he quickly snapped out of it. He’d have time later to waste his time being all star-struck. He checked on the boys. They had only passed out by the looks of it. All the exits were thankfully sealed and the vampire seemed incapable of breaking the spell. Movement behind the small window in the door. Krum, demanding to be let in by the looks of it, but there was no time. It was down to him and Hermione. He disillusioned himself again, unsure how useful it was against the vampire and started weaving a spell that was used to capture dark creatures. It wasn’t a combat spell because it took too long to put in place, but Hermione was still holding up. He would have to trust her to gain him some time.

A few minutes later, the trap was set and he reappeared from his invisibility spell, but he needed to get Hermione well away from his adversary so she wasn’t caught in it. He could only think of one solution, but to do so, he might hurt her and he couldn’t abide that thought. As if she hadn’t been hurt enough already. But then, she screamed. Grigore had managed to land a hit. His dithering had gotten her hurt in the end.

“Accio Hermione’s wand!” Severus bellowed, his voice echoing around the cavernous space.

The witch let out another howl of pain and flew through the air towards him, pulled forward by the wand strapped to her forearm. Severus steeled himself to catch her in his open arms and as soon as she had crushed against him, he held her tight with one arm and with the other, completed a complicated movement of his wand, before setting off the trap with a simple word:

“Laqueum!”

Wisps of pure golden light sprouted from the stone floor in four different corners and immediately homed in on the albinos vampire. He let out a strangled cry, sounding almost fearful, and tried to flee across the room. Straight at them, of course. Even Severus’ raised wand wasn’t enough to deflect his course this time. Grigore was trapped and condemned, and he knew it. It was never a good idea to face a desperate wild animal, Hagrid had always told him, and now he knew exactly why: it had nothing to lose.

“Clostrum!” Severus cried out and instead of being mowed down by the vampire and his  golden pursuants, the creature rebounded off the magical barrier he’d just summoned and was sent flying back into the golden wisps. They curled around his body, wrapping him up tightly like a fly in a cobweb. Vampires didn’t actually need to breathe, right? They did need him somewhat alive, or rather not terminally dead-again, to heal Hermione.

Severus finally dropped his wand arm. Setting the trap had taken a lot out of him but he still needed to secure their prize and check on everyone. He looked down at Hermione in his arms, expecting her to look angry since he had probably broken her wand arm when he’d summoned her. He certainly hadn’t been expecting her wide-eyed expression of… was that awe? Admiration? He wasn’t sure because he couldn’t recall anyone having ever looked at him like that.

His heart suddenly felt like it had doubled in size while his chest cavity remained the same, and it hurt. It was hard to breathe. His heart had probably trampled his lungs. He took a deep breath, blinked and managed to smile, and on impulse, he kissed her forehead.

Everything was okay. She was okay.

He walked Hermione over to the two men still lying in a heap of limbs he couldn’t make head nor tails of, and helped her to sit down, careful about not touching either of her arms. Grigore had hurt the other one apparently and it was bleeding profusely.

“Renervate,” Severus muttered, flicking his wand, first at Draco’s head, then at Potter’s.

It took the two bumbling idiots so long to get themselves disentangled from one another that he could have sworn they were doing it on purpose.

“Enough bickering,” he ordered. “Draco, heal Hermione. Potter, you’re sure you’re okay?”

Potter nodded, surprised.

“Unseal the room. Start with the door. Krum will help you. Then set the room straight so we can leave.”

“So-” Potter started.

“Of course, we got him, you dolt. Move!”

Severus moved towards the cocoon containing their vampire. The threads still pulsed with a feeble golden halo, but he knew that would disintegrate sooner or later. They’d better hurry back to headquarters.

“No bickering!” Severus growled again as he swung the cocoon over his back.

Really, couldn’t they just keep quiet for five minutes? Thank Merlin Hermione was being reasonable, even though she was the only one who’d been seriously injured in the end. Draco needed his potions so she wasn’t even entirely healed yet, but she didn’t so much as whimper.

“Ready?” he asked, and everyone nodded. “Draco, you apparate with Hermione. Krum Take Voldy and Potter.”

Potter protested like a sullen teenager. Of course he did.

“You were attacked by the vampire, Potter. I’m having your head checked out before you do something as serious and potentially lethal as apparating,” Severus said as patiently as he could muster.

Draco snorted and disappeared with a crack before Potter could retaliate.

Kids. They were back to behaving like kids.

Severus and Krum followed suit, the twin cracks resonating in the prison, waking the prisoners who’d still been sleeping, but barely registering with the guards and few inmates Krum had had to confund while he was stuck behind the sealed doors, missing in on the battle.

 


 

 

The cocoon was starting to come undone, one thread at a time, when they made it into the cottage and Krum quickly directed Severus down a flight of stairs that did not lead to a cellar as he would have thought, but to a dungeon, complete with holding cells.

Severus raised an eyebrow.

“Vhat? It is quite standard here.”

Severus shrugged. He supposed this country did have more monsters than potatoes, it was only logical therefore that it should have more dungeons than cellars. He couldn’t wait to get back to Scotland. Plenty of potatoes and pumpkins in Scotland.

The two men made sure the prison was airtight. A fly couldn’t get through their security by the time they were done and they headed back upstairs where the others were waiting. It was very late by then, and they should  be going up to bed to try and get some rest, but everyone was still too high on the adrenaline of battle and the giddiness that always followed a victory.

Draco had finished healing Hermione. No lasting damage, fortunately and only the bruising would take some time to resorb with the application of a salve.

As for Potter, Draco couldn’t find anything amiss and Potter himself insisted that he was fine, although he could not explain what had happened when Grigore had attacked him. It had clearly been a mental attack, though, no doubt about that, but Potter did seem his usual bumbling self, loud and sporting that goofy grin which was eerily reminiscent of Albus’ twinkling eyes. Merlin, he hoped Harry Potter was not headed that way or he might have to flee the country after all..

“So what held you up, Viktor?” Potter asked their host.

Krum sniffed. He had been sullen, more so than usual, since the battle at Jilava.

“I blame you, Harry. Voldy couldn’t sniff his vay out of a paper bag if his life depended on it. He vas taking me all over the place like a crazy hippogryph on pepper-up. I finally had to petrify him and tuck him under my arm to find my own vay to the psych vard. Really, this is all your fault.”

Potter was hiding his laughter and not doing a very good job of it. He had been bluffing about Voldy’s abilities after all. He should have known better than to trust a Potter.

“So, what’s the next step?” Potter finally asked. “I mean, we got him. We never really planned anything after that.”

Because the chances we’d find the right vampire were so very remote? They all knew that and they might have never found him without Darius either, but no one was going to voice that aloud.

“I thought I would be extracting Hermione’s memories from the vampire, if there are even some left. Or at least the memory he has of her memories. It’s not as good of course, she’ll miss the emotions attached to them but at least she’ll know who she was. We can do it forcefully if necessary, I really couldn’t give a rat’s ass whether he survives the process or not. And once they’re all collected, just place them back into Hermione’s mind,” Severus answered with a shrug. “But now that we have an actual mind-healer, and a good one at that, I think Draco should do it.”

Draco looked gobsmacked by both the praise and the proposal, but he soon glanced warily towards Potter, Hermione’s life-long friend, and Krum, her former boyfriend, expecting them to refuse outright. But they didn’t, both nodding after due consideration, and that only surprised Draco more. His eyeballs were sure to pop out if he kept this up.

“But don’t mess it up, Draco,” Potter warned. “Or we’ll hunt you down and kill you.”

“Yes,” Krum concurred gravely. “Kill you vith fire.”

Severus wondered if it had not been a good thing that Krum had been locked out during the battle against Grigore after all. He seemed inordinately fond of fire, and that wasn’t good when you were trying to capture rather than kill.

“The extraction shouldn’t be a problem,” Draco said. “Grigore hadn’t even managed to break my occlumency shields. Well, before he did that weird ‘I’m going to burn you’ thing, but I think that was a sensory attack rather than one focused on the mind. Now that I know he can do it, I should be able to counter it though. However, I don’t think giving the whole of Hermione’s memories back in one go is a good idea. It might be too much of a shock, too much information to digest all at once.”

Oh. Severus had not even considered that, to be honest. Thank Merlin, Lucius had sent Draco, even if his intentions had not been entirely altruistic at the time. Or not at all.

“That may be wise,” Severus conceded. “Do what you think is best. We all trust you here.”

Potter nodded at once. Draco had saved his skinny arse after all. Krum narrowed his eyes at the pale blond but gave a curt nod too.

“I like Pretty Boy, too,” Hermione supplied and… Severus turned to look at Draco.

Yes, Draco was blushing that awful crimson shade once more.

“Tomorrow, then,” Draco decided. “Will the cocoon have dissolved by then?”

“Undoubtedly. The process has started already. I think we could all use some rest now.”

 


 

 

Severus woke up much too soon. His eyelids felt so heavy, he almost dropped off to sleep again. But what had stirred him from his much needed sleep, then? Nightmare? No. Oh, the tripwire between the bedrooms, right. Hermione must have joined him in his bed once more. ON his bed, he corrected himself for the umpteenth time. He felt around, trying to locate Hermione, his arm draping around her sleeping form on his right. She was curled into a ball once more. Voldy was there too, by the sound of it. He let his hand linger on her shoulder for only a moment longer. No one would know.

Wait a second! Severus shot up in his bed. Hermione never tripped the wire! She was too smart for that and if Hermione was already in his bed (on his bed, dammit!), then why had he only just heard the trip-alarm. And Voldy wasn’t snoring, he was snarling. He had no choice but to get up and investigate.

“Come, Voldy,” he ordered, and the mutt trotted after him.

Krum and Draco were fast asleep, Hermione and Voldy already accounted for, only Potter was missing. Severus had a very bad feeling about this. He wasn’t the sort to get up in the middle of the night for a glass of water or the bathroom. Severus grabbed one of Potter’s shirts off the floor. Gods, he was messy. He then shoved it under Voldy’s nose.

“Find Potter, Voldy!” he urged. “Go on!”

Voldy yipped happily and barreled down the stairs, his claws scrabbling on the polished wood and his two tails wagging furiously. Severus almost collided against a couple of walls as he tried to keep up with the beast which was taking him… down to the dungeon. Uh-oh. Severus used his wand to set off an alarm to wake up his sleeping companions. If they had to take on not only Grigore, but, Salazar forbid, Harry Bloody Potter, they were in for a world of hurt.

Potter was standing in his pajamas in front of Grigore’s cell. The vampire was staring into Potter’s glazed eyes. He didn’t even have his glasses. Was that a good or a bad thing? Maybe it made eye contact less efficient if he couldn’t even see the eyes. Potter was shaking, his wand held tight in his hand. Mental control? Was he trying to fight it off? Potter was good against the imperius and there was a chance he could shake off whatever hold the vampire had over him.

Grigore and Potter were both completely oblivious that he was there, so Severus walked up to the cell and blasted the vampire with an overpowered relashio, satisfied when the dark creature landed against the wall and fell back down. A few more spells insured he wouldn’t be moving so much as his little finger anytime soon. Severus heard the others clambering down the stairs to the dungeon and he held a hand up to stave off their questioning and returned his attention to Potter. The man’s eyes were still glazed over and he was still shaking. He hadn’t moved even after incapacitating Grigore, so it was an internal struggle. This was Draco’s area once more. He must have missed something after his brief check up of Potter’s mind. Severus walked over to the healer, but before he could begin explaining the problem, Voldy ran between his legs, jumped as high as his tiny legs would allow and bit Potter right in the arse.

The scream of agony was unlike anything he’d ever heard before.

They all watched with baited breath as Potter blinked and rubbed his backside.

“Oi! What was that for?” Back to normal, then. “Erm...What am I doing here?”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Severus didn’t envy Draco one bit. Being a healer was tedious, demanded a lot of hands on work at all hours of the day, and night, as it turned out, but on top of all that, he had to deal with the whiny patients. The worse of them being Potter, of course. After all he went through during the war, how could he be such a crybaby about a mere bite, even if it was in a rather sensible area.

Severus certainly hadn’t been this whiny when he’d been bitten by Voldemort’s bloody snake. And the fact that half his vocal cords had been chewed out had nothing to with with it. No, nothing at all.

“Is his highness finally settled?” Severus asked when Draco had returned from Potter’s bedroom and wandered back down into the living room cradling a steaming cup of coffee.

“Yes. He’s really suggestible for someone so powerful, it’s a bit worrying. Grigore had only planted the merest of suggestion in the back of his mind that came to the front in his dreams, so I missed it completely. But I healed both his body and mind, and he’s sleeping now...with his bum up in the air,” Draco replied and smirked. “Voldy really did a number on Potter’s arse.”

“You were just dying to say that, weren’t you?” Severus asked, amused.

Naming that crup Voldy seemed to be making it easier for Draco to deal with his past and the dread that always washed over him at the mere mention of the late Dark Lord’s name. Fear of the name indeed.

Draco chuckled, not the least bit abashed that he had been caught out and sat down with him, but his expression rapidly became preoccupied. He stared into space more than he drank his much deserved coffee, and Severus wondered if he was thinking about the vampire downstairs, about Hermione who was sitting in front of the door to the donjon, glaring at it, or if he was, Merlin forbid, dwelling on Potter’s naked arse.

“I know you all want me to do this,” Draco started. Ah, this was about healing Hermione’s mind, then. Not surprising, it was quite a lot of pressure they were putting on his shoulders. “And I want to help, I really do. But I don’t know if I can, in truth. What if I make it worse? What if I fail?”

Severus set his now empty cup of coffee down on the table and steepled his fingers together, observing Draco. He was paler than usual, and scowling fiercely into his own cup, as if it might hold some answer. Slytherins loathed failure. It meant you weren’t cunning enough to find a means to your goal, which was a disgrace to Salazar himself. But Draco was more sensible to failure than your average Slytherin because of what it had cost him during the war. Failure always came at too high a price for him. He must have been thinking that the consequences of failing Hermione, a celebrated war hero beloved by all, would be astronomical, more than he could afford this time.

Severus had to nip that idea in the bud, because as much as Draco was a talented mind healer, he also did not work well under pressure. He could even break under the strain of it.

“Draco,” he said softly, calling him back to the present. Draco blinked and looked up at him, his pale eyes pleading. “No one is expecting a miracle. We’re treading murky waters here. In fact, to the best of our knowledge, no one has ever attempted something like this before and  there might even be nothing we can do, but if there is, we’ll be doing it one step at a time, like you said, and I’ll be right beside you if you need me. You won’t be doing this alone.”

Draco’s face was blank for a few minutes. He was dissecting his little speech, Severus knew, but that’s what Slytherins did or they didn’t survive long.

“Thank you, Severus,” he said after a while, taking a deep breath and nodding to himself, the expected effects of a good pep talk. “That’s...appreciated.”

Severus gave a tight-lipped smile, hoping the maudling episode was now over and done with.

“It’s also the most Hufflepuff thing you’ve ever said,” Draco added, his lips twitching.

“Brat,” Severus replied coolly, flicking his hand to send a small burst of magic so Draco’s cup upended itself and spilled all over his lap.

He chuckled looking at the younger man do the hot-coffee-in-lap dance that’s famous  worldwide. That’ll teach him to tease the Head of Slytherin House. Some kids never learned.

 


 

 

They had brought the vampire up in the living room so it was easier to work. The cells downstairs were just too small to accommodate for a prisoner and two wizards. The creature was tied to a chair, the binds, both physical and magical, were so tightly wound around him that he kept squirming and moaning in discomfort. No one cared. What counted was that it was impossible for him to escape.

Severus had aligned a dozen vials on a table nearby for Draco, ready to use in case he found a memory of Hermione’s, but they had no idea what to expect since the creature had been so uncooperative. He’d refused to tell them how his feeding process worked, if there were intact memories left or only copies of those he’d stolen, or if even those had disappeared. In fact, he had not uttered one word, ever. Severus wasn’t even sure he could speak. They really were groping in the dark here.

He looked at Draco’s back. Tense but determined. He’d told him what he would attempt and Severus thought it was brilliant, if it worked, but he had no idea what was going on for now. All he could see were the two men staring unblinkingly at one another.

Severus had decided to keep Voldy in the room with them, just in case. He’d proved useful breaking the trance Potter had been in so if the vampire somehow managed to overpower Draco and take control of his mind, then, they would be ready. Draco was willing to sacrifice his bum for the greater good. Fancy that.

Draco was breaking a sweat now and there was a slight tremor in his wand hand, but was that a good thing or not? Did it mean he was making progress or that he was losing ground? Severus took out his own wand, ready to intervene and glad they had both decided to send Potter, Krum and Hermione away on a wild goose chase. Those three were way too impulsive and this situation required finesse.

Suddenly, Draco staggered back a couple of steps, he was fighting to keep control of a silver memory strand. It was like watching a surreal tug-of-war between the vampire and the wizard. Draco’s hand reached back and Severus thrust one of the vial into his hand, relieved he had thought to make them unbreakable. The memory snapped away from the vampire, as if he had suddenly decided it wasn’t worth fighting over and it was safely slipped into the vial. Draco handed it to Severus who corked it shut and numbered it as the first. Had Draco actually done it? Was it an actual memory, a copy of it? Was it intact or worn over time? Would it help Hermione?

But Draco was already fighting the next round against Grigore. There seemed to be an urgency to his actions now. Had something gone wrong? Evidently, Draco’s bright idea of hypnotizing the vampire to get him to cooperate into retrieving the memories only worked up to a certain point since the creature had been fighting back for the memory by the end. Maybe Draco couldn’t focus on both the hypnosis and the extraction of the memory at the same time. They should have thought of that… but Draco did not have a better solution or he would have stopped to change tactics.

Severus could only watch, a silent vigil looking over the healer and their prisoner. Draco fought relentlessly, filling vial after vial. Severus conjured more. Fifteen had already been filled to the brim and they were quite large but no one had ever tried to experiment on how many vials were needed to contain an entire life. Would they know by the end?

Draco handed him number sixteen and he swayed on the spot, almost dropping it to the floor.

“Draco, maybe you should take a break,” Severus told him.

He was very pale, Severus could see the blue of his veins standing out under his pale skin, running under his eyes, on his temples, over the bridge of his nose and up his forehead. He wouldn’t be surprised if he fainted on the spot.

“Can’t,” he grunted. “He knows now, he’s destroying them. If he can’t have them, no one will.”

“Fuck,” Severus growled and pushed Draco to the side, taking his place. “Legilimency.”

Resistance. It was strong... and vile. No occlumency barrier he had ever encountered before, not even from the Dark Lord. It was sticky, trying to draw him in and choke him, drown him, it was like falling in a pit of tar. How in Merlin’s name had Draco gotten past it?

But he could do it. He would do it for Hermione even if it killed him. It was suddenly easy to break through, like a ray of sunlight piercing through a thick blanket of dark stormy clouds. Severus snorted as he could hear old Dumbledore’s voice at the back of his mind chanting “the power of love”, but he rather thought it was because Draco had weakened the creature to breaking point. Then, he was assaulted by memories. Hermione was everywhere. In most of them. He flicked through his mind rapidly to get an understanding of them. It looked like this sick creature had built a shrine inside his twisted mind to… to savour her. Keeping the best bits for last while nibbling at the fringes. Gone were the everyday little things that no one ever paid attention to: the way she liked her tea, the weight of the books she always carried around and the hours she spent in the library, the way she fought against her hair and the incessant waving of her hand in the air when she’d been a student. It was a whole portion of her personality that was lost forever.

What remained were the highlights of her life, what you would find in a photo album: the first time she’d gotten a perfect score in school, the first time she’d been bullied, a birthday party with just her parents, receiving her Hogwarts letter, hiding from a troll in a bathroom, seeing a Basilisk, flying on a hippogryph’s back with Harry Potter and Sirius Black, dancing at the Tri-wizard Tournament with Krum, her first kiss with him, conjuring a patronus charm, fighting against Death-Eaters, riding a dragon out of Gringotts, watching him die… No, that wasn’t right... he didn’t die.

Focus.

There were so many memories left, he concentrated on one, the one where she received the letter to Hogwarts, and he tugged experimentally, feeling resistance. It really was nothing more than a tug of war, but a mental one. No wonder Draco was completely washed out, but maybe they could relay one another now that Draco had figuratively kicked the door to Grigore’s mind open. He reached behind him and felt the cool sensation of a glass vial pressed into his hand. He soon retreated completely from the vampire’s mind to tuck the memory safely away, before diving right in again, having to wade through the tar again.

There must be memories missing, even amongst the important ones. Once they had extracted all those available in that parody of a shrine to Hermione, they moved to the other parts of his mind, ransacking the darkest corners in the hopes of finding something else but as far as they could tell, once the vampire had digested a memory, it was forever gone and they should actually be grateful that the creature had developed such an obsession for Hermione. Or for the ‘taste’ of her memories? It was difficult to understand how he functioned. Even as they relayed each other to relentlessly rip his mind to shreds, he didn’t say a word but he never stopped resisting either. Severus and Draco had both lost some memories the more exhausted they got, but there was nothing to be done about it. They had seen the memory and could give Hermione an imperfect copy of it. It wouldn’t be the same but… they had done their best, he thought… he hoped.

It was dark outside by the time they considered the job done. Severus checked the clock: ten hours since they had started. No wonder he was completely knackered. Draco was sprawled across the sofa, he’d never seen him look so undignified and not caring a whit about it either. As a last ditch effort, Severus secured the memories in a small padded trunk and locked it before falling over in an armchair, closing his eyes against the splitting headache pounding against his temples.

“How did it go?” came Potter’s unmistakeable voice not one minute later. Nosy bugger, but at least he hadn’t interrupted the proceedings.

Severus grunted, not even making an effort to form a real word. Maybe he’d take the hint and go away. But then he felt a hand caress his forehead, trying to rub away the deep lines of his scowl. Hermione. He opened his eyes. She had perched herself on the armrest, perfectly at ease, and was trying to get his face back to normal, as if she could just smooth it out like a sculptor would with a lump of clay. He smiled at the absurdity of it but leaned into her touch, and looked towards the sofa to see Draco was snoring lightly with Potter and Krum whispering to each other and pointing at him.

“Let him sleep, you dolts,” he told them sternly. “You have no idea what he just achieved. Why don’t you make yourselves useful and get our guest here back to his room. Don’t bother untying him.”

He watched with some satisfaction as Krum levitated the chair and left with the vile creature, knocking his head on the corner of the table as he floated him out, and on the doorframe, and the door… all right, those boys were having way too much fun with this. Good thing he hadn’t asked them to put Draco to bed. He’d just have to sleep on the sofa for tonight.

 


 

 

Severus woke with a painful crick in his neck. Sleeping in an armchair… definitely getting too old for that. Draco didn’t look much better, but that might have to do with the witch who had decided against all logic that there was enough room on the sofa for two people, and that if there wasn’t, she just had to sleep on him.

“A little help here?” Draco muttered, scowling at him.

“Annoying, isn’t it?” he asked condescendingly because Draco had teased him more than once about Hermione sneaking into his bedroom.

“Yes... No… It’s kinda nice,” he admitted. “Oh, don’t look at me like that, Severus. I have no designs on her. Don’t worry. But seriously, I need to get up now or my bladder is going to implode.”

Severus chuckled and lazily waved his wand to levitate Hermione long enough for the younger man to slip out from under her and shuffle away to the bathroom. Severus watched the sleeping witch, wondering what would happen next. He knew what they would be doing, returning her memories one at a time, he just didn’t know what the effects would be on her. Would she be her former self? No, he seriously doubted that, there were too many missing memories, most of her childhood memories before Hogwarts were completely obliterated and there was no one left in the world to get them from. In fact, they only had three memories of her with her parents, which was really sad because she had been lucky enough to have a loving family. And how would she be around them after the restitution of her memories? Her best friend? Her former boyfriend? Her school rival? How would she react to him? That’s what he really wanted to know…

Hermione growled in her sleep, which made him smile despite the dark path his thoughts had taken. He wondered idly if she was dreaming of running in the Forbidden Forest with the werewolves when Krum walked into the room, his face softening when he saw Hermione. Severus took the opportunity to leave, heading for the bathroom too. He hadn’t wanted to leave her alone… He really was turning into a Hufflepuff.

 


 

They had decided to give only one memory back to Hermione to start with so they could gauge how she reacted to it, like testing for an allergic reaction. The debate over which memory should be used had taken over an hour while they ate breakfast all together around Krum’s long dining room table, passing around the list of memories they had retrieved from the vampire and discussing the pros and cons of each. They had ultimately agreed on the memory of when she had first met Potter and Weasley on the Hogwart’s express. It was innocuous enough, just children introducing themselves to each other, Weasley making a fool of himself and Potter being his usual vacant, friendly self.

Potter being here would be a good indication as to whether she had the capacity to link the memories of past people with their present selves, and of how she would react to them once she associated additional knowledge and feelings to them. Severus had to admit he was not looking forward to adding the few memories where he appeared because she would surely hate him after that.

 


 

 

“Are you ready?” Draco asked Hermione again.

Hermione nodded eagerly but they all had doubts as to whether she understood the concept of memories, or even if she knew what all the fuss was about.

“All right. Don’t move,” Draco warned holding his index in front of her and she became as still as a statue while he carefully replaced her memory in its rightful place.

He retreated and everyone held their breath, watching Hermione sitting very still and now very stiffly in the armchair. Severus noticed her brows furrowing more and more.

“You can move now, Hermione,” Draco said belatedly.

She opened her eyes and immediately searched the room for Potter, jumping up to join him.

“Harry Potter,” she declared, waving a finger between the two of them. “Pack.”

“Pack?” Potter asked. “What? Do you want to leave or something?”

Severus rolled his eyes. If Potter could just pull his two brain cells together for once and think before blurting out every little thing he didn’t understand.

“Pack,” Hermione repeated then screwed her face up in concentration and added: “Family.”

Potter’s eyes went wide, and then misty, causing Severus to groan at such a display of blatant  sentimentality in public. But at least, it was going well. Hermione had assimilated and understood the memory. Good, that was good. Except that now, he had to suffer through the look of adoration on Hermione for the Potter brat.

“Maybe we could add a memory?” he suggested.

Preferably one without Potter, but this took another long stretch of arguing between the wizards. Krum was pushing for the Yule Ball, of course, and Potter for that time Hermione slugged Draco. As her healer, Draco was being more serious and thought an earlier memory of her with her parents might help her understand she didn’t come from the Forbidden Forest nor did she belong there. Severus had to admit the idea had merit, but…

“Wouldn’t it be cruel to show her her parents only to have to explain to her that they are no more?” he asked, glancing warily at Hermione who’d gotten bored with their arguing and was throwing a knife at a knot in the chimney’s woodwork. She hit the bullseye every time too, which was just as impressive as it was scary. “How about…” Severus scanned the list again, searching for the most boring memory there. Some memories, he had no idea what they even referred to since it looked like Draco had been intentionally vague. He seriously doubted she had set fire to a teacher for example or stolen anything from one. It just didn't stick with her image of the perfect little Gryffindor.

"Here," he said tapping one line to show the others. "First casting of the Patronus. Maybe it'll get her more interested in her magic."

Potter and Weasley were in that memory too, damn them, but they were a sort of background blur, so focused had she been on her casting and the shiny otter she had conjured that swam around her. She’d looked so happy then… he wondered what memory she’d used. Maybe she would remember and tell him one day. Everyone agreed on it, Krum somewhat reluctantly and Hermione readily returned to her armchair, concentrating on Draco now that she knew what he was doing.

She closed her eyes once Draco had finished, like she had the first time, as if she was sorting out her own mind with each new addition… maybe she was, who knew? But she didn’t look as tense as the first time, on the contrary, her mouth had fallen into a perfect oval O of slack-jawed surprise before she opened her eyes again. She wasn’t seeking anyone out this time though, just sitting there looking thoughtful, which was very unlike her. Well, unlike the Hermione he had found in the Forest, it was very like the Hermione he’d seen before that.

Before he knew it... before he’d even given his body permission to do it, he was kneeling in front of her armchair, not touching her so as not to startle her, but trying to make eye contact. She did look at him eventually but only gave him a sad smile and returned to her brooding.

Severus turned to Potter.

“Do you know what her happy thought is? The one she used to cast her patronus that first time?” he asked in hushed tones, throwing a worried glance back at her.

“I’m not sure. Hermione always had trouble with that spell.”

Severus found that quite strange. She was quite adept at learning everything so fast, and he wouldn’t have thought she would have any trouble with this spell either. Did she have trouble finding a strong happy thought? That seemed unlikely since she appeared to have led a normal enough life, with loving parents, friends and… well, maybe she had lacked in the romantic department but who was he to judge? And maybe she didn’t have a passion that claimed her body and soul, but that was the drawback of being good at everything. He’d had his potions, Potter had Defense Against the Dark Arts, Krum had Quidditch and even Weasley had chess. Draco had needed time to find his own path to healing  but once he’d found it, that same passion animated him. Maybe if she’d had more time… If he had known, he wouldn’t have suggested this memory.

He sighed. Even with the best of intentions, things could go wrong.

“Maybe we should just give her her memories back in chronological order from now on. She seems to be responding as well as we could hope for. Draco?”

The healer looked pensively at Hermione before agreeing to the plan and was about to ask something when they were interrupted by Voldy. The crup had been sleeping peacefully on the couch up until now, but he suddenly jumped on all fours and kept a steady growl directed at the window. They all knew what that meant: the vampire ambassadors sent by Count Dracul were back.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Their group found themselves falling into the same formation as the last time they had visitors: Draco standing back protectively in front of Hermione while the three others peered  out through the drawn curtains. Severus caught sight of the silver flag first, glinting under the moonlight. He hadn’t even realized how late it was, so engrossed was he, and everyone else, in the changes they could observe in Hermione after only a couple of memories were returned to her.

“It’s Darius and Decebal again,” Potter said squinting through the darkness. “Urgh. I don’t like it when they smile. I don’t know if that means they’re happy to see us or just hungry.”

“Probably both,” Krum replied, nonplussed and he went to the front door to let them in. The man was a good host, if nothing else, and Severus had to wonder if he would let a dragon into his home if it bothered to knock politely and promised not to burn anything down.

Darius was the first to saunter in and he bowed graciously, just as he had the last time. The creep was smiling, and Potter had been right, it was terrifying. Severus couldn’t help but notice how sharp and shiny his fangs were. He much prefered his looming bodyguard, who was just as sullen as the last time and merely gave them a nod of greeting.

“I knew you would find Grigore!” Darius gushed. “And well done on not losing one of your numbers, or one of your limbs. Very well done indeed, but I was almost certain this would be the outcome, with such a formidable group of warriors as you.”

All the wizard’s eyes instinctively drifted towards Hermione, who had been the only one to actually fight the albinos vampire in the end, but they wisely said nothing. Darius had already seemed a bit too interested in Hermione on his last visit.

“How can we help you, Darius?” Severus asked since he doubted this was a social call. He wasn’t even sure vampires did such a mundane thing.

“We’ve come to collect our cousin, if you’re quite finished with him,” Darius replied, his smile dimming.

Potter and Krum protested noisily while Severus narrowed his eyes at the vampire, trying to guess his motives, or rather Count Dracul’s motives, which was as useless as peering into a crystal ball.

“What will be his fate?” Severus asked, interrupting Krum’s vocal desire to barbecue the beast for what he’d done to his “Her-my-own-ninny”. It seemed his accent grew steadily worse the angrier he got.

“Our father will punish him for having so thoroughly broken the masquerade in the non-magical world, as well as for having allied himself with Voldemort when he had ordered his fold otherwise, but also for having attacked such a public figure as your friend. The Count has always been careful about keeping secrecy and avoiding bad publicity at all cost, not to mention international diplomatic incidents. Grigore’s little stunts have set us back several decades, at the very least.”

“And his punishment?”

“Very painful, I assure you. The Count will want to prolong it as much as vampirically possible, since Grigore will be made an example of, for those few fools who still think they can defy our father’s commands. You have cordially been invited to assist, if you so wish.”

Krum grinned, satisfied that their idea of a death penalty for the undead culprit seemed even more atrocious than what he’d planned himself. Severus worried for the boy sometimes. It seemed the summer break in Quidditch season was starting to takes its toll on Krum’s need for adrenaline and violence. However, he politely declined the invitation and they all followed suit with similar sighs of relief. The last thing Severus wanted was to be anywhere near Count Dracul himself and a castle-full of his children. You never know when they might fancy a snack.

On the bright side, it meant the vampires were serious about ending Grigore’s feeding spree. Darius even gave them his word when he sensed they were still a bit reticent about letting go of their prisoner. But there was little sense in going against the vampires’ demand, it would be suicidal given the country they were in, so they relented and Krum led Decebal down to the cellar so he could take charge of their cursed cousin.

“How is your fair friend recovering?” Darius asked, looking curiously towards Hermione who had gone back to brooding in her armchair.

“Slowly,” Severus answered since neither Draco nor Potter seemed inclined to chitchat with the vampire now that he had reversed to his manic grinning. “I doubt it will be sufficient for a full recovery, to be honest, but it will help.”

“I’m sorry to hear that... I truly am!” Darius insisted indignantly when he saw Severus’ eyebrows twitch in disbelief. “Times are changing. Vampire society is changing. There is no need for murder  and mayhem for us to feed and live amongst the other magical races. Change, evolution is almost always a good thing,” he added, glancing at Hermione once more, but he was interrupted from saying more by the whining and hissing drifting out of the cellar.

Decebal had slung Grigore, still tied to the chair, over his back as if it weighed nothing and he was completely ignoring the pitiful sobs of his cousin. Severus couldn’t understand what Grigore was blabbering about but it clearly sounded like he was begging for mercy. If any of them still had any doubt as to their prisoner’s fate at the hands of his family, those had been definitely squashed seeing the monster’s distress. Severus would almost feel sorry for the wailing creature if he hadn’t attacked Hermione. Darius, for his part, only rolled his eyes at the spectacle, seeming annoyed.

“I don’t suppose you could…” Darius made a movement with his hand that involved way too much flourish to be a real wand movement, but Severus got the gist of it and stupefied the albinos vampire a couple of times, relaxing when the pathetic noises he’d been making came to a sudden halt.

“It will only hold for about twenty minutes,” he warned, putting his wand away.

“Then we shall make haste. Thank you all for your assistance, Mr Krum, Mr Potter, Mr Malfoy, Professor Snape, Miss Hermione,” he said with a bow to each of them, but purring Hermione’s name.

Severus wondered if the rather small and effeminate vampire was trying to seduce her, but Hermione barely glanced up at him when she heard her name and Severus could see her face morph into a snarl so he hurriedly nudged their unwanted guests towards the front door with Krum’s help, and he breathed out in relief once the door had closed behind them, feeling like they’d just avoided another diplomatic incident.

“No, I don’t think they’ll be visiting again,” he heard Draco tell her as he returned to the living room. “You’re not… scared of them, are you?”

Hermione scoffed haughtily and Severus recognized the shadow of the snotty know-it-all she had been as a student, especially in her first year.

“I’m not scared of anything,” she said firmly and Severus had still to get used to her vocabulary growing by leaps and bounds, another side effect of reinserting memories. “They just smell bad. Dead. I don’t like it.”

Severus hadn’t noticed a particular smell to the vampires, and neither had Draco judging by the way his eyebrows were crawling up his forehead, but she had said something along those lines the first time Darius and Decebal had dropped by. She had developed an amazing sense of smell during her stay in the Forbidden Forest and Severus hoped it wouldn’t be impacted by the return of her memories.

Smells were important triggers to memory, or so he’d read somewhere, so maybe her overdeveloped sense would actually help her, boost her memories, connect them together, maybe stir other memories. Even Draco who was a mind healer had confessed that there was a lot no one understood about the workings of the human mind.

 


 

 

They had not given any more memories back to Hermione that night. It was already late and Severus had had quite enough excitement in the last two days to last him the rest of his lifetime.

Potter had tucked Hermione into her own bed, in her own room after a late supper, with Voldy curled at her side. Severus was knackered, he really was, but sleep would not visit him. He was doomed to glower at the wooden ceiling, counting the knots, for the rest of the night, listening to the tiniest of sounds drifting out of the bedroom next door, but, except for the growls that he hoped were coming from Voldy, he heard nothing and he hated himself for expecting the soft pitter patter of Hermione's naked feet as she left her bed and joined him in his own bed. On his bed. Just...on it, at his side. He’d gotten used to her presence, it was a small comfort, that was all.

Severus realized that she would grow distant with the return of her memories, that they might make her more self conscious, more aware of social etiquettes and conventions… less savage and spontaneous. He dreaded tomorrow when they would start introducing the few memories of her parents, and then, they would begin those of Hogwarts and her time there as a student. Hermione would finally know what a horrible person he had been... and still was, if he had to be honest. He still enjoyed terrorizing the students, painting their essays with red scathing remarks about their idiocy, thinking up the most disgusting detentions imaginable, blowing up the Valentine and Christmas decorations meant to liven up the school every year… Gods, but he was a miserable old git, wasn’t he?

And Hermione would know. Soon. Meaning he would lose the only truly sincere human warmth he’d received in… well… decades. He couldn’t imagine her holding his hand again, hugging him just because she felt like it, or cuddling up next to him, but that was a selfish thought and he shoved it to the back of his mind. All that mattered was that Hermione was healed and reclaimed her place in the wizarding world, where she belonged, not alone and forgotten in a dark forest. He wasn’t that much of a bastard to wish her ill after all she’d gone through.

Severus was still mulling over the what-ifs and maybes to come when he felt the mattress dip on his left and Hermione curled up against him. He didn’t say anything, but sought out her hand and gave it a squeeze that she promptly returned. She could give it any meaning she wanted, but for him, it just meant he was glad she was there with him.

 


 

 

The next morning, Hermione had gone from giddy happiness to deep-seated sadness in a matter of minutes after Draco reinserted the memories of her parents and they’d had to explain that those two loving people who were her only family had not been found after the war.

“I want a break now,” she told them. “I don't think I like getting my memories back. Even if they’re nice, if they make me happy, they're sad too in the end. I don't like it. I don't like being sad."

Her eyes were still red and puffy from when she'd cried earlier. Potter was still hovering around her, trying to comfort her without much success. They really should have thought of bringing another witch along because as four grown men, they were completely useless in dealing with a sobbing witch.

Severus could sympathize with her though, since he’d often contemplated getting rid of some of his more unsavoury memories himself, especially those that still gave him nightmares, but he'd never gone through with it. Those memories had cost him in pain and blood, in tears and loss. He'd paid the price, however unwillingly, and it didn't seem right to erase them. It would be as if he had paid that hefty price for nothing. Besides, they were a part of him now, they’d molded him into the man he was today. He wasn’t perfect, far from it, but if he got rid of those unsavoury painful memories, he might change to the point of becoming some cheery idiot who enjoys knitting, wearing pink robes and twinkling his eyes at everyone for no reason... Severus couldn't abide the thought.

Hermione was still looking at them pleadingly while the other three wizards were all being completely useless and looking at him, of all people, for an answer. Damn them. It's not like he had a solution to every problem. Wherever had they gotten that idea from? Severus huffed in their direction and went to kneel in front of Hermione who had once more curled up in the armchair, her feet tucked underneath her. That was new, something she'd started doing a few hours ago, but never before that.

“Hermione,” he said softly, realizing he was talking to her like he would one of his crying first year Slytherins who tended to get homesick on their first night in the dungeons dormitories. But Hermione had as good as reverted to an odd mixture of child and woman, which  he found very disturbing. "I know memories are not always good, but they're a part of you. Would you rather have never remembered your parents? That you have your father’s eyes and your mother’s hair, that they loved you so much they wore those ridiculous paper hats for your birthday and took you on those godawful rides even though it made them sick every single time.”

Hermione agreed with every point he made and chuckled at that last one. It had been amusing, watching those two supposedly intelligent adults, looking so green and barely holding up on their two legs but doing their best to smile and follow their daughter on the rides she wanted to do.

“Besides, Draco will give you the memories of your time at school next. You’ll see Harry, Minerva, Hagrid and Fang, and Poppy… you were in the infirmary more than I would have liked,” Severus said, glaring at Potter.

“Me too, Hermy-own-nee,” Krum supplied with a grin.

“Uhm, we have time before that,” Severus said dismissively, wondering if he could get away with accidentally dropping those memory vials of the Yule Ball and the entire Triwizard Tournament while he was at it.

The look on Draco’s face made Severus think the younger man was himself weighing the pros and cons of getting rid of the memories of his younger poncy self, but the droop of his shoulders told him the healer in him was winning out. Severus knew he would not get rid of any of her memories either, however unpleasant they were, and some of them were very, very, unpleasant. But they were a part of her, they illustrated perfectly how brave, selfless, loyal, intelligent and stubborn she was. Damn reckless Gryffindor.

“And Pretty too?” she asked.

“Yes, yes. Me too,” Draco grumbled, but managed a sad smile when Hermione clapped her hands excitedly.

Draco, much like himself, probably wouldn’t be as much liked by the recovering witch once she got all the data on them.

“I want to see everyone,” she decided with a firm nod of her head.

“It’s not all good memories,” Potter warned her. He would know since they were inseparable since their first year. “Nobody has just good memories, you know, but happiness can be found even in the darkest of times.”

Severus frowned. That had sounded familiar... eerily similar to some of the nonsense that Dumbledore used to say, in fact.

“Isn’t there a second part to that sentence, Potter?”

“Yeah, but I never understood it,” he replied with a sheepish grin.

“Just like you to be half-arsed about everything,” Severus grumbled which made the others laugh because of it was such an understatement.

“So,” Draco started once everyone had settled down once more, sitting in the various chairs and sofas of the living room but all facing Hermione’s armchair. “You’ve already assimilated the memory of receiving your Hogwart’s letter and the train ride where you met Harry and Ron…”

He waited until Hermione nodded and continued.

“Now you will see you arrival at the school and your sorting. You will see everyone there for the first time.”

A cough interrupted him and Draco rolled his eyes.

“Except for Victor. He will come later.”

Hermione nodded again and was fairly jumping with excitement on her seat, until Draco started replacing her memory where it belonged and she became, as usual, still as death. It took longer than usual but they all watched with interest as she soaked up this new piece of her past, emotions flickering across her open face: awe, confusion, fear, relief, with happiness being most prevalent.

Then, she blinked and smiled knowingly at them, glossing over Krum, Severus’ inner self rubbing his hands in jubilation at the slight.

“How do you feel?” Draco asked after he took a precautionary step back from her.

“Good. It was a nice memory. I’m a Gryffindor!” she announced and high-fived Potter which made the boy-wonder happier than he’d seen him before. Bloody House pride.

“And Pretty! You’re so small! Still pretty, but not very nice with Harry,” she scolded.

“Erm...yeah. I was a bit of a prat at school,” Draco admitted and elbowed Potter when he snorted derisively. “We weren’t friends back then.”

“But we’re friends now,” she said. It wasn’t a question.

“Yes, we’re friends now. As long as you want to be, but you might change your mind later, after I give you other memories.”

“No. We’re friends,” she decided and finally turned to Severus.

He felt his heart drop into the pit of his stomach and drown in the bile there, not sure what to expect, but doubting it would be anything good.

“You’re...ooooooold,” she said, stretching out the word as if to make her point, which made him wince all that much more.

“Quite,” he replied smoothly, ignoring the snickers the other wizards were vainly attempting to muffle, or not at all in Krum’s case.

There was no use denying it and it was merely the first wedge in what would ultimately make her drift apart from him. Potter was already telling her about all her long lost friends who would be so happy to see her again: Ron, Neville and the twins who she’d seen at the Gryffindor table, which only made her ask for more memories. Draco complied easily enough but hesitated after he had introduced four more memories of her first year, afraid he might overwhelm her, or at least put a strain on her mind, because she seemed perfectly happy to continue.

Draco also seemed very reluctant to introduce the next memory for some reason, biting his lip as he looked between him and Hermione. Severus frowned, trying to remember if he had insulted the witch in her first year. Not any more than every other student, he decided, and she hadn’t seemed to hold it against him… Well, no, that wasn’t exact: she had scolded him as she had Draco for not being very nice with Harry, to which he apologized, not meaning it in the least, but she seemed oblivious to the fact. However, she wasn’t horrified by his decidedly foul temper, contrary to what he had feared, so he was surprised when Hermione watched him with wide-eyed horror after absorbing that last memory.

“What-” he started to ask, but Hermione shot out of her seat and was out of the room before he could even grasp what was going on.

Severus walked over to Draco and snatched the bottle out of his hand where he read the number and matched it to the number in the list: Set fire to a teacher. He still thought that had been a joke on Draco’s part, not that he understood the humour, but you never knew with Malfoys. He raked his brain, trying to think of a teacher who’d been set on fire, but except for Quirrel who had been turned into a pile of ash…

“I thought Hermione wasn’t there when Quirrel was… disposed of?” he asked Potter, trying for diplomacy, because it had been murder, plain and simple.

“She wasn’t,” he replied before looking at what the vial had contained. “Oh… You mean you didn’t know?”

“Know what, Potter?” he snapped.

“Well...remember that first Quidditch match where Quirrel was cursing my broom to make me fall and your robes suddenly caught fire?”

Severus nodded dumbly. The flames hadn’t burned, but the scare had been real.

“That was Hermione?” he asked, completely confounded.

He’d always blamed Quirrel for that little stunt since he’d been sitting right behind him. He’d thought the DADA teacher had realized Severus was casting the counter-jinx and so, had set fire to him.

Potter nodded.

“She thought-”

“Yes, yes,” Severus muttered. “She thought I was an evil bastard trying to kill her best friend. I get it.”

“She was really sorry about that, and for suspecting you, but in her defense, casting a jinx and a counter-jinx looks exactly the same. Maybe that’s why she ran off.”

Severus harrumphed and went after Hermione. She was easy to find because she had left the front door open and Voldy was yipping up a tree. It’s like she had wanted to be found.

“Hermione?” he called up the tree.

He couldn’t see her behind all the leaves but knew she had to be there.

“Hermione, come down. I’m not angry.”

But he would be if she didn’t stop dropping out of trees without warning. He put a hand over his racing heart but tried not to glower at her since he’d just told her he wasn’t angry.

“I hurt you,” she mumbled, looking down at her naked feet.

“You didn’t.”

“I set fire to you.”

“No, you didn’t. You set fire to my robes,” he pointed out. “And the spelled fire you used didn’t burn like normal fire.”

She still didn’t seem convinced so he reluctantly pulled his sleeve up to show his skin didn’t show any old burns. Hermione leaned over his pasty skin, her fingers trailing over his forearm, sending a shiver down his spine. Then she looked into his eyes and down his left leg at the exact spot where the flames had started crawling up his robes.

“No,” Severus warned, taking a step back from the witch. She had the same look Voldy got when presented with the carcass of a chicken. “I wasn’t burned, Hermione. I promise.”

But she pounced, quick as a cat, and was wrestling his trousers up his leg, making him lose his balance and topple over in the lush grass behind him. Satisfied he wasn’t injured there, it seemed she wouldn’t be content until she had inspected all of his left side and was starting to pull his robes open whilst straddling him. To think he had worried that Hermione would start respecting social conventions…

“I didn’t know you had it in you, Uncle Sev,” Draco drawled, looming over them.

“Maybe we should come back later,” Potter added.

“Hermy-own-ninny!” Krum whined.

“Could all of stop being such a daft batch of dunderheads and keep Hermione from molesting me further.”

Potter sniggered and helped Krum pick her off him while Draco gave him a hand up, raising a brow at his ruffled appearance.

“You look-” Draco started.

“Shut it, Draco, or nobody will ever find your mangled body,” he warned, not in the mood for his lewd humour. “Your fire didn’t burn me, Hermione. Potter, do you know the spell for the fire she used?”

Potter nodded and conjured a glass jar and then little blue flames, before showing his friend the flames were warm, but did not burn the skin when he plunged his bare hand into the jar. She played with the fire for a while and wouldn’t leave the jar after that. Fantastic, as easy as that, he had been replaced by a pot of flames.

 


 

 

Hermione pouted when the memories of her first year at Hogwart’s ran out, but Potter happily filled her in on the missing pieces. Some of which even Severus had never heard about. The trouble the three Gryffindors ran into all year long was quite astonishing and Severus couldn’t fathom how Dumbledore could have said to all and sundry that Hogwart’s was the safest place in the wizarding world with a straight face.

“Of course it wasn’t Severus,” Hermione snapped when Potter told her he’d been expecting to find him in the final room in front of the Mirror of Erised.

Severus wasn’t surprised. As the Dark Lord had said, why would Potter suspect poor stuttering Quirrel when Snape looked and acted like the perfect villain, but Hermione, both versions of her, the first year and the woman she was today, had faith, which cheered him up a bit.

“Well, he looked guilty,” Potter mumbled.

“People who look nice can be very bad,” she replied in a rare moment of wisdom, another side effect of the returning memories maybe. “Like… Darius. He looks nice, and acts nice, but he’s dead and wants blood… no... more than that…” she scratched her head, visibly looking for a way to convey her meaning. “Bloodlust! Yes, that’s it. You can see it in his eyes, you can’t trust the rest. Severus is the opposite: he doesn’t look nice but he is the kindest person I know.”

Well… that was blunt, Severus thought, unsure whether he should feel relieved or insulted, but thankfully, Hermione had decided to embarrass everyone else and their attention shifted to Draco.

“But Pretty is both, he’s very pretty and he’s very nice.”

Draco sputtered and blushed an unseemly red again.

“And Vikky is like Severus.”

“Vikky?” Harry snorted. “I didn’t know she called you Vikky.”

“I vas hoping to keep that secret. Vhat about Harry, Hermy-own-ninny?” he asked with a grin.

Hermione just shrugged as she looked at her fellow Gryffindor.

“Harry is just Harry.”

Potter laughed which puzzled them all.

“I used to say that all the time! Especially when I got annoyed at everyone staring at me. Do you remember that, Hermione? It wasn’t in one of your memories.”

Hermione’s face contorted in thought, making the scar across her face stand out that much more, while everyone looked intently at her. It would be amazing if other memories were resurfacing somehow.

“No, I don’t remember that,” she said, slouching back in her armchair. “But it’s...obvious. Yes. Like the sky is blue.”

Hermione looked at them imploringly, probably hoping they would understand because she was still struggling with words. Maybe Potter had repeated so often that he was “just Harry” that it had been seared into her mind as a fact, like the colour of the sky, or maybe it had become a habit, something she said herself, like the fact she had started to tuck her feet under her as she sat on the armchair or started biting her bottom lip when she was thinking - which was quite distracting. One way or the other, there was something more going on in Hermione’s mind than they had expected.

 

 

Chapter Text

Draco had decreed Hermione take a full-day break from the memory restoration process, arguing that such a procedure had never been undertaken before, and he’d be damned if he botched it up because she had the patience of a sullen hippogryph. In between medical check-ups, Severus noticed how  closely Draco observed her as well as the absurd amount of notes he was taking. He had no doubt that Draco would soon become a figurehead in his line of work with such ground-breaking research, but he was also certain that it was not the reason he was being so diligent. Not only was he trying to pay back his debt to society after his role in the war, but Hermione had a way of wrapping around her little finger anyone who crossed her path. Severus knew that was not something she’d been a natural at before. She had been much more like him: a solitary bookworm who took pride in his knowledge and rubbed people’s noses in it. He hoped this new charisma of hers, or whatever it was, was something she would keep out of this whole ordeal. It would surely come in handy when she made her big comeback into the wizarding world. She could charm her way into the reporters’ good papers and become the new darling of all the wizards and witches out there, instead of falling victim to their vile gossip. However, Hermione was changing with every new memory, with every passing day and Severus feared he’d lose the carefree, wild and strong creature he had found in the Forbidden Forest, what seemed like ages ago now.

 


 

 

When Draco deemed it safe, new memories were reinserted and soon, the few second year memories were crammed back into Hermione's mind. It felt a bit like force feeding her from his point of view, but Hermione was just so eager to know more about herself and her friends, her “pack” in her own words, that she refused to wait more than necessary and drove them mad until they caved in to her demands. What could it hurt anyway? She was just as much a sponge now as she had been before, and digested the memories easily. Draco thought it was because they were her own memories and thus, slotted easily into their rightful place, but suspected that if they tried inserting second hand memories as they had considered doing for the missing ones, those Grigore had destroyed, the process wouldn’t go so smoothly. He wasn’t positive though. Mind-healing seemed to involve a lot of maybes and prodding, making it almost as nebulous as Divination, and wasn't that a scary thought.

Severus observed Hermione, waiting on her reactions: amused but nonplussed. Second year had been a bit short from her perspective given she had been petrified for most of it. In fact, it took a lot longer for Potter to tell her about the rest of the events that had followed than for her to process her memories.

Potter's description of the basilisk was ridiculous. Fifty feet? Surely, he had to be exaggerating. How could a snake that gigantic move around the school without anyone the wiser? Without Dumbledore, even suspecting? Or had he? Safest place in the wizarding world, my arse. Severus was starting to wonder how Dumbledore had managed to get away with all his shenanigans. Maybe Malfoys weren’t the only ones who resorted to bribery and blackmail to get out of a tight spot. Dumbledore certainly had had the money, influence and knowledge to do such a thing, as well as the lack of scrupules.

Potter leaped on the chair next to his. He was making a spectacle of himself in his lively reenactment of his duel against Slytherin’s monster in true Gryffindor style, starring a scrawny twelve year old sword fighting a giant basilisk with the help of a phoenix while the Dark Lord resurrected in the middle of it all. Come on... No one was that gullible. But Hermione was enthralled, eyes wide as she jumped on the edge of her seat and clapped in encouragement until the act was over. Potter bowed deeply before her with a grin that could only be described as goofy. No need to say, Severus did not applaud. Potter’s ego was already inflated enough as it was. Draco caught his eye, eyebrows raised high as if demanding if what they had just witnessed was true, to which Severus gave a small shrug. The school’s rumour mill had said as much, but when asked, Dumbledore did that annoying twinkle and shuffled away.

“I’d certainly like to see that memory some day,” Draco told Potter, ever the consummate Slytherin who laid out his disbelief without actually spelling it out.

However, Potter accepted readily enough to make his doubts have doubts. A copy of that memory would have to make its way to him through Draco, because he'd rather eat flobberworms than ask the man himself for such a favour. Not because Potter would refuse, or ask for a favour in return, as any self-respecting Slytherin would, but because he’d give it freely, and gladly . With a smile. A shudder ran through him at the mere thought of such sappiness.

After that, Hermione proceeded to annoy them into giving her the third year memories, going so far as to use emotional blackmail, which surprised Severus, although he was secretly a touch proud too. Her fake tears needed some practice to be credible though, and she still had the habit of cocking her head to the side like a sad puppy, which gave the game away. Even Potter hadn't been duped, but that may be because he had children of his own and was attuned to the deceptiveness of such a technique from his little hellions. Severus just had to ask if she had ever used such a ruse before her amnesia or if she had picked it up along the way.

“You’d be surprised,” Potter answered with a fond smile. “Remember that troll story she spun in first year to get me and Ron out of trouble, and there was that time she faked tears to get the attention off me... And who do you think led Umbridge into the Forbidden Forest to get carted away by centaurs? Or cursed the whole DA into silence? You must have seen Marietta Edgecombe. That was Hermione’s handywork...”

Severus snapped his mouth shut as Potter rattled on the borderline evil deeds the Gryffindor goody two shoes had done over the years, both in school and during their horcrux-hunt. The woman was ruthless and could certainly hold a grudge. No wonder Potter had survived the war with such an ally at his side. He looked to Hermione who was listening with interest.

“I'm not very nice, am I?” she asked.

“Well… put like that… But you have to remember events at the time were difficult to deal with, even during our school years, so unpleasant things had to be done even by the good guys. Desperate times call for desperate measures, right?”

She pondered over this with a perplexed scowl and Severus wondered if the concept was a bit difficult to grasp with only her second year memories accessible to put shades of grey into her mostly black and white world.

“She told me once the sorting hat had hesitated where to put her, but I’d always assumed it had been a tie between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw,” Potter confided. “When we were on the run, though… Well, I started suspecting it may have been a tie with Slytherin. She’s not only book smart. She saved us several time just because she was quick to think on her feet in a disturbingly underhanded way.”

“In Slytherin? Merlin’s beard! She would have been murdered in her sleep if she’d been put in my House,” Severus said.

There hadn’t been a muggle-born placed in Slytherin in over a century, and that one hadn’t lasted long. Barmy old hat.

“Of course, it may have been a tie with Hufflepuff. She’s hard-working to a fault and she loves helping others. I don’t even need to mention her loyalty: she went through hell for me. Come to think of it,  Hermione is one of the only people I could easily picture in all four houses.”

Severus pondered that and had to admit the damn brat was right. Every person he conjured in his mind would inevitably fall short for at least one of the Houses. He would have to ask Minerva’s opinion on the matter, and maybe Hermione herself when she was being less of a tyrant. But for now, Draco was having a hard time warding off her sneak attacks and pleas for more memories. She looked a bit like a potions-addict. It might be a side effect of memory consumption and he would have asked their resident expert on the matter, but he had a feeling Draco’s answer would be just as vague as usual.

“Maybe ve should go out for a bit? Ve have been stuck in this house for so long, I think it vould do Hermi-own-knee some good, yes?”

“What are you suggesting?” Severus asked, fingers steepled under his chin as he peered suspiciously at their host who had been rather quiet until then.

“Dinner, in town. I know a nice restaurant in the muggle district. I thought it might help Hermi-own-knee to familiarise herself with her world a bit more now that…” Krum searched for a polite way to phrase the problem. There wasn’t one.

“She won't bite the waiter?” Draco sighed.

“Or steal raw meat from the kitchens?” Potter added.

Krum nodded and their collective gazes landed on Hermione who was poking Draco relentlessly in the ribs where he was apparently ticklish. She was more civilised than before. She even wore shoes and ate with cutlery when they asked her to, which was the pinnacle of civilization. They could probably pull it off. In fact, Draco might be the one who would have the most difficulties blending into a muggle environment, but  he had already agreed to go, along with Potter. Without any options left, Severus muttered about being outvoted by a bunch of brainless stomachs on feet and agreed to come along to keep them out of trouble. In truth, a change of scenery appealed to him just as much as it did the others, but he had a certain image to maintain.

 


 

 

“I like these clothes a lot more,” Hermione said as she careened down the stairs in a simple muggle outfit consisting of jeans, a lumpy jumper and sneakers. “Much better to climb trees.”

“You do realize we’re not going tree climbing?” Severus teased, finding it absurdly difficult to keep a smile off his face.

“You never know,” she deadpanned, quite seriously.

Severus wondered if she had really understood the concept of a restaurant and the difference between the muggle and wizarding world. The chances of them getting attacked by a vampire, werewolf or such other dark creatures out in the open, amongst muggles, was slim to none. His explanations would have to wait however, because the bickering between Potter and Draco was approaching like a dark stormcloud.

“Muggles don’t wear those anymore,” Potter snapped from upstairs.

“I have it on good authority this is perfectly acceptable.”

“Whose authority? A pureblood who’s never set foot in a Gap?”

“Set foot in a gap? Is that a muggle expression? You’re not making any sense.”

“Just take it off already!”

Potter’s whine grew louder as they met in the entrance, and Severus looked over his godson, then sighed.

“Take it off, Draco. As much as I hate to say it, Potter is right. Bow ties haven’t been in fashion since the nineteenth century.”

“I don’t care. Bowties are cool,” Draco sniffed and strode out of the house, only to show off the two long pointed tails of his suit coat that had been out of fashion since the eighteenth century.

Maybe they could pass him off as a theatre performer who hadn’t had time to change. Acting the  drama queen as he was right now, it should be easy enough. Severus congratulated himself for finding a satisfactory explanation and ushered everyone out for what promised to be an entertaining evening. Unfortunately, he got more than he bargained for as was attested by their loud arrival an hour later in  the once peaceful cottage.

“I should have guessed you would be the problematic one, Potter,” Severus drawled, calling for tea from one of Krum's house-elves.

“You can't seriously blame me for the paparazzis! I didn't invite them!”

“No. They're like flies attracted to dung,” Severus snapped while Krum explained to Draco what paparazzi meant. “But I'd wager you love the attention. Hermione is the one who is going to suffer from all this.”

“She might not be recognised,” Krum cut in. “Her-my-own-ninny has changed a lot.”

Severus snorted.

“In a muggle get-up and sitting next to Potter? Fat chance. We have to prepare for the worse. Security first: Krum, are you sure we weren't followed?”

Their host nodded emphatically, then grimaced.

“But they vill find this place sooner or later. It is not a secret and they recognized me as vell.”

“Well damn you for being bloody famous too! You're as much to blame as Potter!”

“This is not the time to lay blame or go into hysterics, uncle,” Draco said.

“ I'm not-” Severus cleared his throat and pitched his voice down to a baritone, where it belonged. “I'm concerned. That's all.”

They hadn't been the ones who'd had to pull Hermione off the moronic photographer who'd cornered her in the restaurant's bathroom of all places, looking for a scoop. The idiot was already sporting a vicious black eye and had almost had his nose bitten off by the time Severus got there, which would have been very bad publicity for Hermione once she returned. The relief he had thought to destroy the camera’s film before leaving with a snarling witch under his arm was the only silver lining in their otherwise disastrous evening. He would have liked to use one of his little known hexes on the man himself. He'd been so furious anyone would dare sneak up on Hermione. It was little more than an ambush, and Hermione had treated it as such. Severus had literally been seeing red when he took stock of the situation. But as it was, he hadn’t even had time to wipe the man’s memory clean of the attack as a rather large group of people had already come to investigate the ruckus and they’d all had to leave in a hurry under the flashbulbs of several other cameras. How the hell had they found them? Had they been following them since their apparition in the wizarding district. Who were they really after? Potter? Krum? Or just any “celebrity” who happened to appear there? No… they had been too many of them. It couldn’t just be a coincidence, someone had to have tipped them off. The answer would be found in tomorrow’s headlines, he supposed.

“If it's me or Viktor they want, we should lure them away, make a spectacle of ourselves elsewhere,” Potter said.

“I think I have just the thing. I vas invited to appear at the junior Quidditch summer camp. It vould explain vhy you vere seen vith me in this country, Harry. You vere an exceptional player in school.”

“Can we make an appearance tomorrow?”

Krum nodded and the two started to plan their day. Severus wasn't sure that would be enough. After all, Draco, while not a celebrity, had a distinctive appearance and notoriety for his role in the war, and he himself was not exempt of that. All of that was bound to bring the press's attention on the lone stranger in their midst,  which is exactly why one of those vultures had stalked her to the bathroom and ended up being molested by his prey.

“We need a decoy,” Severus said, thinking fast. “A fake Hermione the press can feed on so they don't actually find out what's going on.”

“Do you really think that's necessary?” Draco asked. “It seems a bit extreme.”

“And how could they possibly know about Hermione? There aren't that many people who are in the know.”

“More than I'd like,” Severus muttered. “And at least a couple of outsiders, one of which I don't entirely trust.”

He looked pointedly at Draco. His father was always juggling conflicting agendas and it was just a question of opportunity from there on.

“It's going to come out sooner or later anyvay,” Krum added. “Vhy not now?”

“Because she isn't ready. As should be evident from her reaction to having a camera shoved under her nose. We can't have a repeat of that. Besides, if word gets out that the celebrated Hermione Granger has come back from the dead, so to speak, what do you think will happen?”

“Media circus, rumours,” Draco said with a sigh.

“Invasive fans, obsessive stalkers,” Krum added.

“Ministry involvement,” Potter growled.

“All of that and probably more. We’ve all been through that shite to some degree and it was difficult enough to deal with with our faculties intact, so imagine having to deal with that while not even knowing who you are. Hermione needs the recovery time before she’s thrown to the wolves.”

They all nodded in agreement, except Hermione who was still seething in a corner of the room and looked about to start throwing some of Viktor’s fragile knick knacks at the walls.

“I have a friend who has a strong resemblance to Her-my-own-ninny,” Krum said, probably trying to look nonchalant, but coming off as shifty.

“Oh, you do, do you? How… fortunate,” Severus replied, a curl of contempt gracing his lips.

If the man had that level of obsession with Hermione, maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to be the better man and let him reconnect with her. Not without a chaperone anyway. Krum ignored his innuendo and ploughed on.

“She vill come vith Harry and me if I ask her, no questions asked.”

“Does she like Quidditch at least?” Harry asked.

“She is a broom designer who vorks for Alto Brooms. It vill not be strange that she is there for field research, especially vith us there.”

“Okay, we’ll keep her out of the loop concerning Hermione, let the press jump to their own conclusions that she is the same woman as the one in the restaurant. I think that’s all we can do for now. Severus?”

Severus nodded. It was no use panicking, but he would be strengthening privacy charms around the cottage, just in case and think on a location to fall back on if the press did manage to invade their little island of tranquility.

 


 

 

Hermione refused to go to sleep. She didn’t understand why she’d been attacked, or why they’d had to flee and it was making her restless. She paced like a caged animal with Voldy at her heels, who yipped  happily and tried his best to make her trip every time she turned around and paced the other way. Good thing she still had the equilibrium of a cat. Not so good that she seemed to have adopted a cat’s temper as well, since she all but hissed at anyone who dared approach her.

One after the other, the boys had all left for some much needed rest, but Severus knew he wouldn’t be able to catch a wink of sleep knowing Hermione was still distraught over the night’s incident. The sofa was comfortable enough to rest, he decided, and he could keep an eye on Hermione that way. Or so he thought before he startled awake sometime later with her snuggling against him, head on his chest and arms around his waist as if he was a squishy teddy bear, fast asleep in the not so dark hours of early morning. He debated whether to carry her upstairs to her own bed, but chances were she’d wake up before he got her there, so he settled back more comfortably and just enjoyed the snuggle while it lasted. At the moment, he couldn’t care less whether to feel guilty about the situation, but since it couldn’t possibly be worse than sharing a bed, he felt justified in his decision.

The next time he awoke, it was to the smell of freshly ground coffee and melted butter on slightly burnt toast. Sure enough, Potter and Krum were already at the breakfast table, muttering at over the newspaper splayed between them. Severus reluctantly exfiltrated Hermione’s snuggly arms and joined them at the table, pouring himself a generous mug of the tar-like coffee.

“So?” he asked with a twirl of his spoon directed at the newspaper.

It was written in Bulgarian so he couldn’t understand the headline, but the picture on the frontpage left no doubt that their little excursion was the topic at hand. There was Potter, Krum and Hermione laughing raucously at something, while Draco was more subdued in his amusement, although he clearly belonged to the group too. Severus had simply been cut out of the picture, only his shoulder and crooked nose making an appearance now and then as the image looped itself back to the beginning. Not that he minded. It was actually a relief. One less clue for the few investigative journalists out there to connect the dots.

“I have sent one of the houselves out to vait on the foreign newspapers,” Krum said, which at least explained the pitiful state of the toast and coffee. “The Bulgarian Bugle here does not speculate much, speaks of the reunion of old Trivizard rivals, vhat Harry Potter is doing in the country, if there is a danger ve need to be saved from…”

“It’s like I’m the harbinger of doom now,” Potter groused and chomped down aggressively on his piece of toast.

“Ve vill give them a better story soon, Harry, do not worry,” Krum said in an attempt to diffuse the famous Potter sulk.

“Yes, and while you go and play ball, we will be taking care of reinserting Hermione’s third year memories.”

“I liked third year,” Potter said wistfully.

Wasn’t that the year he was being hounded by dementors? Having spent some time in Azkaban, Severus was fairly familiar with dementors and their effect so he couldn’t understand how that year could be qualified as anything but nightmarish. His expression had apparently broadcasted his thoughts loud and clear.

“What? No Voldemort,” Potter said defensively.

Alright, yes. That was worse than dementors, he supposed. Less likely to torture or kill you anyway.

“How vas Her-my-ow-knee?” Krum asked with a glance at the back of the sofa.

“Agitated. I think it went against her instincts to flee when she knew she had the upper hand. It's going to be difficult to explain why we had to, so hopefully, she will have lost interest when she wakes up.”

She hadn't. The first thing she asked when she joined him and Draco after the others had left for the Quidditch decoy mission was if they would be hunting those flashing men. But it was easy enough to distract her with the promise of new memories. Severus prepared them in a neat chronological row for Draco, before the mind-healer that he was decided it might be easier to regroup them by theme. Someone had had the inane idea to give a thirteen year old a time-turner and her whole year was a timeline clusterfuck. There were quite a few memories too, and their labels seemed interesting enough: train attack, hippogryph attack, dementor attack, grim attack, werewolf attack… there was definitely a theme he was seeing here, but they were thankfully peppered with saving Ron, saving Sirius, saving Buckbeak, or it would have been a terrible, terrible year, whatever Potter said about it. Severus would be in those memories too, he knew, both in good and not so good roles. He wondered what Hermione would make of it, when she would finally start to shift into uneasiness or loathing towards him. He was constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop and he walked a fine line between wariness and just taking advantage of her affection while it lasted.

 


 

 

“We really weren’t friends,” Hermione muttered once she had ingested the Buckbeak incident and the time she had slugged Draco so hard he’d fallen back on his arse.

“I did warn you we weren’t,” Draco replied, taking a step back and looking a bit apprehensive, as if she might strike him anew now that she remembered their past.

Severus observed with interest since it would give him insight into how she would deal with their own relationship. Surprisingly, she asked for a break, even though there were still quite a few memories to go through. It was a first. She was usually so eager to have as many of her memories back as they were willing to give. It was worrying too, but they agreed. They couldn’t very well force feed them, even for her own good.

“Are her emotions starting to connect with those of her former self?” he asked Draco in a murmur but keeping a keen eye on Hermione who was brooding in her armchair and stroking Voldy’s patchy fur absent-mindedly.

“They did strengthen towards Potter. Had you noticed?”

Severus made a noncommittal sound. It hadn't been very obvious and it could have a simple consequence of the time they spent together in close quarters. Besides those were positive emotions: strengthening what already existed instead of conflicting with them. Draco agreed and took out his notepad, his neat, loopy writing darkening the pages with new data under Severus’ approving gaze. St Mungos could count themselves lucky Draco had taken such a keen interest in the subject and he wouldn’t be surprised if he made ground-breaking discoveries in the field that had been all but abandoned in the last decades, patients in need of a cure left to waste away in depressing wards. Severus was mentally listing the people he knew of that Draco might help when the peace and quiet was suddenly disrupted, Draco’s chair toppling over when Hermione leaped at him across the table and pinned him to the ground, snarling in his face.




Chapter Text

For the first time in his life, Severus hesitated. His wand would normally already be in his hand and the situation dealt with. More so with his own Godson in the balance,  lying there helplessly on the hard floor, dishevelled and breathing hard, at the mercy of his attacker. But this wasn’t a normal situation by any stretch of the imagination. Diplomacy was key here. He couldn’t risk helping one at the detriment of the other. But, if he had to be honest, he couldn’t bring himself to raise his wand against Hermione or he would lose any trust she’d ever put into him.

“Hermione?” he called softly, his hands raised to show he wasn’t armed.

She didn’t so much as glance in his direction, her eyes fixed on her prey under her. Draco wasn’t even trying to defend himself. He was just sprawled there with wide eyes, like a volunteer waiting on the altar of his cruel Gods to be sacrificed: willing and resigned, but terrified nonetheless. Without warning, Hermione snapped her teeth just inches from Draco’s exposed throat and that idiot just squeezed his eyes shut. Severus was ready to simply pull her off and hold her until she came back to her senses, but, without warning, she leaped off Draco of her own accord and offered him a hand up.

“What-” Draco blurted out from the floor where he was still lying. “What the hell-”

His thoughts exactly.

“A test,” Hermione said with an impatient flick of her hand.

Draco took it and let himself be pulled upright, standing inches from Hermione and staring uncomprehendingly into her eyes.

“I don’t understand,” he admitted.

“I needed to test your loyalty to the pack. You passed the test,” she explained and threw herself back into her armchair with a satisfied smirk. “I’m the Alpha. It’s my duty.”

Severus chuckled, both relieved and amused.

You’re the Alpha?” he asked, unable to suppress the note of derision, because he had always pictured the Alpha of a pack of wolves, or even werewolves, to be the biggest and strongest of the lot, which in their case would be… Krum, he realized with disgust. At least physically. He was a professional Quidditch player after all. He himself was taller, but all skin and bones. In term of raw magical power, it would be Potter though, but Severus would win in terms of knowledge and experience. So it was amusing to think of Hermione as the Alpha of their little group since she didn’t really fit the bill.

“Of course,” she replied, eyes narrowed. “Do you challenge me?”

Ah. Severus saw the problem now: neither he, nor any of the others would dare raise a hand or wand against her, so she won by default. She was such a Slytherin.

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” he said with a small bow.

She smiled at him. One of those bright smiles that lit up the whole room but had become rarer by the day, now that he thought about it. Guilt rushed through him anew. What if they were wrong? If by healing her, they were just making her miserable? His face fell from whatever sappy expression it had adopted without his consent and he approached her armchair, grasping her hand and looking at her in earnest.

“You know you don't have to do this, right? If you're happier without your memories, it's your choice. We didn't actually… We didn't even ask you what you really wanted. Just trampled over your free will and took decisions in your best interests, or so we thought. But you don't have to, I want you to know that.”

Hermione squeezed his hand and nodded.

“I know. Maybe not at first, not completely… what it meant. But now I do, and I want to continue, learn who I am and who you are. I'm not… less happy. I'm very happy with all of you, and the others at the castle… But I want to know, I need to know who I was. I feel like… I owe it to her.”

Hermione tilted her head to the side, looking unsure of her own words.

“Do you feel like you are not the same person?” Draco asked softly.

He had recovered his notebook and quill and it looked like he had added a lot of loopy writing to his previous entry while he and Hermione had been talking. Hermione bit her lip and looked up at him before returning her gaze to Draco.

“I know we are. I know those are my memories. I can feel it. But I’m afraid I won’t be like her in the end, even if I have all the memories. I’m afraid… I’m afraid I won’t be like her and that you won’t like me anymore.”

“That won’t happen, Hermione,” Severus promised.

“Maybe not you,” she replied. “Or you,” she told Draco who’d been about to speak. “But what about Minny? The Weasleys? Even Vikky wants the Hermione from before back.”

Severus did his best not to let his emotions seep through but Hermione had the bull’s eye with those people: they would be most disappointed if Hermione was not as she had been before, and they might even tell her so, not out of malice, just sharing their thoughts on the matter, speaking out as if Hermione was not a real person since she wasn’t ‘their’ Hermione, but it would hurt her nonetheless. Severus racked his brain for something reassuring to say and was coming up empty handed when Draco spoke up again.

“It’s not that they won’t love or accept you, Hermione, because they will. It’s just that they will remember the girl they knew from before and they will need time to adjust to the new person you’ve become.”

Hermione tensed and Draco hurried to add:

“It’s not a bad thing. You know I changed, right? And I’m glad I did. I used to be a right ponce before, as you’ve seen in your memories, but time and experience molded me into who I am today. Everyone changes, all the time. It’s normal.”

Hermione bit her lip, looking at them in turn as if trying to decide if they were having her on. They waited patiently, letting her digest Draco’s words.

“Does all that-” Severus bit his tongue as he was about to say bullshit, which wouldn’t do in front of Hermione. “ wisdom come from your medical training?”

“No, surprisingly, but one of my mentors offered me a bunch of muggle books when he learned I wanted to go into mind-healing. He said they were a lot more advanced in that area than we were. Turns out he was right. They have at least three professions derived from mind healing where we’re still muddling about.”

Severus nodded, being somewhat familiar with muggle medicine, then shared a victorious look with Draco when Hermione demanded they give her the next memories. She didn’t need Potter to fill in the holes this time around, which was just their luck since he wasn’t there and Severus was able to answer the few question she had and which usually had to do with the wonky timeline. She seemed satisfied until she suddenly started scolding him.

“I know you think you were being brave, but you don’t just stand in front of a werewolf. That’s the second time I’ve caught you doing such a thing. It’s completely useless, or did you think they don’t attack if you don’t move? Even normal wolves will attack you regardless, you know?”

“I-”

“If I catch you doing that again, I’ll feed you to the werewolves myself, is that understood?”

Severus promised to run next time around, hoping to Gods there never was such an occasion again, but Hermione said that was useless too and promised to teach him to climb trees. An activity he was not looking forward to either, but he just nodded agreeably until she was satisfied.”

“You are so whipped,” Draco whispered when Hermione had gone in search of the cake she seemed to have detected in the air.

“I seem to recall you weren’t so brave either earlier,” Severus groused.

“Let’s not mention any of this to the others. Agreed?”

“Agreed,” Severus answered just as Hermione ran back into the living room with a cake in her arms and two angry house-elves chasing her with frosting-covered spatulas.

 


 

 

The next day, the newspapers were more to their liking. Krum and Potter’s faces plastered across the front page with headlines ranging from the innocent Quidditch mumbo-jumbo to the more ludicrous Krum-Potter and their secret love-affair that had Mrs Ginny Potter send a very unamused howler about what the hell he thought he was doing. But it seemed that once the journalists had identified, or thought they’d identified, the mysterious witch, they’d dismissed her as irrelevant, which she was, to be honest. Severus couldn’t even be bothered to learn her name.

“So… fourth year, isn’t it?” Krum asked, knowing very well the answer.

“No. We thought we’d skip it entirely as it is so irrelevant and go straight to fifth year,” Severus snarked with a roll of his eyes.

Honestly, that man just couldn’t wait to be the centre of attention. He was even worse than Potter.

“He’s just kidding,” Draco was telling Hermione. “Of course, we’re giving your fourth year today. You’ll like it. From the list, it doesn’t seem too terrible for once.”

Despite his better judgement, Severus took a backseat on this one. He wasn’t even sure he’d seen much of Hermione in her fourth year, but he’d been otherwise preoccupied at the time and it was several years back already. He got a glimpse of everyone staring at him once, so he must have done something unforgivable after all, but Hermione only tutted and asked for the next memory. Severus wasn’t sure what to make of that. Did she simply not expect any better from him? After that he had to suffer through the whole romance with Krum reigniting: she was complimenting him about something or other while he was making puppy eyes at her. It was nauseating. He decided to call it a night and left for his room. Potter and Draco should be enough to look after Hermione, even with Krum prowling around her.

Severus got lost in his mind while catching up on some Potion Periodicals he’d put aside in the last few weeks in favour of searching, and then caring for Hermione. When he finally snapped out of it, thanks to a hilarious mistake on some scholar’s part about the use of mandragore in wit potions, the eery quiet and stillness of the usually bustling house was like a slap to the face. His papers scattered to the floor as he leaped to his feet and hurried into Hermione’s bedroom. She wasn’t there. Her bed hadn’t even been disturbed from the perfect alignment of the sheets the house-elves had left it in that morning. Maybe she’d joined one of the others? Maybe Krum? His nose wrinkled in distaste but it seemed a logical leap to make and he checked his room next but he was alone, sprawled on his stomach and snoring into his pillow. Potter and Draco’s bed were similarly devoid of a witch, and he paused on the landing to check the time: almost two in the morning and it was very dark with only a slither of moon to light his way tonight. They must have eaten dinner. Had they fetched for him? He didn’t remember, but he sometimes shut out the rest of the world completely when he was focused on his potions, so he couldn’t be sure none had come by. Anyway, that didn’t answer the more pressing matter of Hermione’s whereabouts? Or even Voldy’s? Severus made his way downstairs, containing the urge to run down, throw open every door and switch on every light in search of the missing witch. But it turned out to be unnecessary, he found her easily enough once he was downstairs as he only had to follow the wavering glow of a candle. Her back was to him but she didn't whirl around as she usually would so either she wasn't on her guard, which would be a first, or she was too focused on whatever it was she was doing. From the entrance to the living room, all he could see was that she was touching her face. Did she get hurt? Was she crying? He made a point to make as much noise as possible as he approached so as not to startle her, or, more likely, get attacked.

“Severus?” she called without turning around.

Was it his footsteps that gave him away? The swish of his robes? His scent? Severus gave himself an experimental sniff but doubted it could be that. Did she think only he would come and seek her out in the middle of the night and not one of the others? As he approached, Severus caught the candlelight reflecting on a mirror's surface. A mirror… So simple, he felt like slapping his forehead.

“And why aren't you sleeping tonight?” he asked in a low voice, taking a seat next to her on the sofa, because this hour of the night invited closeness and confidences.

“Because of this,” she answered and thrust the hand mirror she'd been using into his hands.

Severus peered into it, afraid for a moment it was an enchanted mirror. Those things only ever brought trouble. But it seemed perfectly ordinary, it didn't even have the ability to talk. He looked back at Hermione, uncertain. If the mirror wasn't the problem, then it must be her reflection that bothered her.

“I’ve never known you to be vain,” he said as neutrally as he could.

“I enjoyed being pretty at the Ball. I saw that in my memory, so I know it's important for girls.”

“For girls,” he agreed. “I doubt it matters as much for grown witches.”

And you’re more beautiful than any other witch I know, he’d wanted to add but knew this wasn’t the time for such sentimental drivel, if there ever was such a time.

“It seems important. I’m changed, not only inside but outside too. How… How did you recognize me? In the forest.”

Severus smiled at the memory.

“I didn’t,” he answered honestly, enjoying Hermione’s puzzled frown before he continued. “I thought you were an imbecilic student who’d sneaked into the forest after curfew on a full moon. I had Minerva do a full head count of the castle once I got back. I thought she was going to hex my hide when everyone was accounted for. I only recognized you in the Infirmary, to be honest. Do you remember? It was when Poppy was cleaning you up.”

Hermione nodded.

“I remember. My new memories do not erase my other ones.”

He should have known that, but she was so much different than the bare-foot he’d brought to the castle… Wait... Didn’t that mean that she remembered every silly little thing she’d done? Like stalking him around school as she waved her arms like a giant bat? Breaking into his personal quarters and watching him sleep? Flashing her panties at him? A blush heated his sallow cheeks and he thanked his good fate for the dimness of the room.

“Anyway… You haven’t changed that much, and when you disappeared, you were still at an age people change, but see, you have the same eyes, all that hair,” he tugged at one of her curls that was beginning to frizz again now that the silkening balm was a distant memory. “And…” his eyes darted down her pouty bottom lip but there lay a dangerous path, so he traced her scar instead. “This doesn’t make you less pretty, or less recognizable, it’s just a reminder to everyone of how brave you are.”

Hermione’s own hand slipped passed his stiff collar, her fingers running over the scarred patch of skin  at his throat. Like the scar she had running across her face, and which was probably the work of a werewolf, his own scars were cursed and couldn’t be done away with using magic. But were his scars a mark of bravery, like hers? Admittedly, he’d gotten them facing Voldemort as the Order’s spy, but he’d found himself there due to his own folly in the first place, not by choice like she had. He shook his head, catching her hand and holding it against his cheek. It was so soft and warm, more comfort than he deserved.

“Severus?”

He shook his head again and relinquished her hand, realizing he hadn’t given her a straight answer yet.

“You will see soon, in some of your memories. Harry knows the whole story and will be able to answer any questions you have.”

“Can’t I ask you?”

“Of course you can. You can ask me anything, but I’m not sure you’ll want to speak to me once you know the truth.”

She scoffed and drew nearer to him, as if to make a point: that nothing could keep her away. She had no idea, the things he’d done...

“What-”

“No, Hermione, one thing at a time. Your memories first and then we can talk about it, if you still want to.”

She sighed and leaned heavily against him, but she was still fidgeting with the mirror, so Severus tried to tackle the problem from another angle.

“You know who else has cursed scars like us?”

Hermione bit her lip, her brow furrowing then her whole face lit up.

“Harry!” she exclaimed, drawing the lightning bolt symbol on her own forehead.

“That’s correct, but the real answer is almost everyone who was of age during the war, even some who weren’t.”

“Pretty doesn’t,” Hermione objected.

“Not that you can see, no. But they are there nonetheless.” He wasn’t going to mention all the scars he bore on his chest were Potter’s handywork though. “You’ve seen Remus Lupin in your third year memories and Mad-Eye Moody in the fourth year, those are the most obvious examples because you can’t hide your face the way you can the rest of your body. But you recall Bill Weasley and your room-mate Lavender? They have scars much like yours today, as well as a fondness for rare meat. You shouldn’t worry about having one of your own, if anything, it’ll help you blend in.”

To test his theory, Hermione threw him one name after another to know if they had a curse scar too. Severus was glad she couldn’t yet recall all the people she had ever met, because of course not everyone bore a cursed scar, but she seemed satisfied enough when she ran out of names.

 


 

 

The cottage woke up to the sound of shrill screaming the next morning. Severus knew instantly they were coming from Draco and had a sneaking suspicion of what had happened, so he wasn’t in such a hurry when he reluctantly left his bed and walked to the next bedroom over, pushing Potter and Krum aside to see Hermione molesting Draco in his bed. At least, he was putting up a fight this time.

“Hermione,” Severus sighed and her head snapped up to give him a sheepish smile.

“Get her off, Sev! Get her off!” Draco squealed.

“Where’s your wand, Draco?” he asked and shook his head in disappointment when his godson  pointed at his discarded robes, much too far away to be of any use if he’d been attacked by a real foe.

Draco ducked his head, and hopefully that would be enough of a reminder for now that, as a Malfoy, he should always be on his guards. His family had too many enemies for him to be so careless.

“Hermione,” he chided gently. “It’s not polite to strip people so you can look at their scars. You should know that by now.”

“Pretty is not people, Pretty is pack,” she pouted, not relinquishing her grip on Draco’s nightshirt.

“You should ask anyway, Hermione. Out of respect, if nothing else.”

“Oh, alright. Can I see your scar, Pretty?”

Draco glared at him and then at the rest of his audience, his angry flush turning embarrassed when he met Potter’s eyes. Potter was shifting uneasily in the doorway so he must know what scars they were talking about. Severus would bet those two had never talked about that incident in the bathroom since it had happened, not even after they’d become such good ‘buddies’ under this roof. Maybe they would after today, though. It might help the both of them put their past behind them and solidify their friendship.

Lucius would be so proud , Severus thought sarcastically. What better way to reestablish the Malfoy name than to befriend the hero of the wizarding world?

“Alright,” Draco told Hermione, either unable to refuse her anything, or, more likely, understanding why she wanted to look at them. “But the lot of you can go bugger off. It’s not a damn freak show.”

 


 

 

After breakfast, Severus considered the next memories to be replaced in Hermione's mind. Fifth year had been a year with a peculiar atmosphere to the school. It was the year Umbridge came to lord over them with all her ridiculous educational decrees and her blasted inquisitorial squad that were nothing more than a bunch of bullies. That its members were recruited solely amongst his Slytherins was one of his greatest disappointments. Draco in particular. He would have thought his own godson trusted him enough to at least ask his opinion on the matter. Sixth year had proven that false however, and they had drifted further apart than ever… But they still had time before they had to deal with those  memories. For today, it would be Umbridge-bashing mostly. He could get behind that. He’d loathed that ministry toad just as much as everyone else.

By then end, even Hermione didn’t feel bad at all for having abandoned Umbridge to the merciless hands of the centaurs and, having lived alongside them for so long in the Forbidden Forest, she knew exactly how their prisoners would be treated.

“She deserved worse,” she concluded to everyone’s assent. “I'm surprised no one got back at her before me.”

“The twins did. A shame we couldn't get that memory back. It was epic,” Harry answered.

Severus knew where this was headed even before Hermione asked if there was a way she could see his memory of it. Harry shrugged and looked to Draco for an answer.

“We haven't shared a second hand memory with you yet, Hermione. I'd rather wait until all your own have been replaced and settled before we try anything new. You have been blessed with a sponge-like, elastic mind, but let's not be greedy here, okay?”

Hermione nodded in understanding, even though she didn't look happy about it, and Severus had to marvel at the way he'd handled that, circumventing her bout of poking-until-you-do-it with ease. She asked for Potter to reenact the events instead, the way he had with the basilisk, and Severus had to found himself laughing at his imitation of Dolores Umbridge running away from the firework-dragon. Hermione was laughing herself silly and asking for it again and again until even Potter had to call for a break.

The next memories weren't so good though. Potter called it the Battle of the Ministry of Magic. Severus called it the Department of Mysteries Debacle. What Hermione saw of it was limited too, since she'd almost died there at the wand of Dolohov. She must have known it, because she touched her clavicle where a starburst scar remained from the misadventure and demanded to know if that man was still alive, sniffing with disdain when they answered by the negative. No doubt she would have wanted to seek revenge, and as she was now, Severus would bet on her if she faced Dolohov again. Who needed a wand when you could just jump your opponent and unscrew their head with your bare hands?

Potter told her about the rest of the Battle and the duel with Voldemort, then how Dumbledore had saved the day, but he was much more subdued this time, had been since mentioning his godfather, in fact. And no, Severus was not such a bastard that he'd said anything derogatory about his old nemesis. He'd carefully kept quiet during the whole ordeal. So had Draco. He probably felt some amount of guilt for his association with the pink toad. Krum was sullen and quiet too, had been all day. Severus was itching to throw a legilimency his way, but he'd gone to Durmstrang where learning Occlumency was on the curriculum and Severus knew there was no way he'd get away with it, but he could deduce Krum wasn't happy that despite having her Fourth Year memories returned, Hermione did not seem any more interested in him, not in a romantic way in any case. What were his intentions now? For all they knew, she might not have any romantic inclinations ever again. For all they knew, those two had planned to get married once the war was over. But it didn’t look like he was going to court her. He was just… sulking.

Then he came to the unfortunate decision that the best way to know more about Krum’s intentions was to ask Potter to suss him out. Krum still resented Severus for being close to Hermione, and he didn’t seem to trust Draco as far as he could throw him, so that only left Potter, whom he seemed to consider both a friend and an equal. Severus would have to do what he’d strived to avoid for so long: asking a Potter for a favour.

Chapter Text

 

Severus cornered Harry outside by the end of the day. The dolt was staring vacantly at the stars, but, however hard Severus tried to squint at them, all he saw were a bunch of twinkling lights hanging in the midnight blue sky. Fine, it was ‘pretty’, but nothing worth sporting Potter’s dumbstruck expression.

“Haven't you stared at stars enough during your astronomy lessons?” he drawled.

“I suppose, but I never really looked at them, you know?  Too busy trying to remember their names and place them on those blasted star charts.”

Severus hummed in agreement. For once, the nitwit made perfect sense. Maybe letting slip to Sinistra that giving her students a chance to stare at the things for a while before starting her lessons would help them take a real interest in them. In any case, such a suggestion was bound to get a rise out of her and that was always fun. Personally, star-gazing only ever managed to make him feel cold and small.

“I doubt you came to chit chat, Severus, so what can I do for you?”

That obvious, eh?

“It's about Viktor,” Severus said, testing the waters.

Potter blinked then frowned.

“What about him?”

“Well… I know he had his heart set on Hermione… He told me as much,” Severus added when he saw Potter about to interject. “I thought, as did he, that once her Fourth year memories were returned, she might take an interest in him.”

“But she hasn't,” Potter observed.

“No.” Severus paused to savour that small victory. “But I don't know what his intentions are now…”

“And you're worried.”

Severus nodded, relieved he didn't have to spell it out for once.

“You want me to…  what? Investigate? I don't think Hermione would like that very much. It feels like meddling.”

“Are you trying to weasel some form of payment out of me, Potter?” Severus snarled.

“Nope. I know I can just annoy a favour out of you whenever I want one.” Severus snorted at his optimism. “But I’ll do it. I’d be doing it for Hermione, mind you.”

Severus waited for the other shoe to drop. It did.

“And I'll even tell you what I find out if you tell me what your intentions are.”

“I don't have any,” he deadpanned, the delivery swift and assured to deflect suspicion.

It was mildly true anyway. He did have feelings for Hermione, and how that could have happened was still a mystery. Although… how could it not have happened would have been equally as  baffling. However, it was nothing he intended to act on. He'd be content to keep it to himself and just know she was happy. But not with Krum.

“I don't believe you,” Potter replied after he'd studied him for a moment. Severus knew he hadn't let his blank expression slip, but that didn't stop the other man's accusations flying. “I've seen the way you look at her. You get all soft around the edges. She even makes you smile, and laugh. I never thought I'd see the day. And you're always so bloody worried for her. If that’s not love-”

“Stop!” Severus ordered, pinching the bridge of his nose and closing his eyes. “I am not having this discussion with you.”

“Oh, but you are,” Potter shot back with a fierce scowl. “Hermione is like my sister, and I intend to protect her as such. Just because you found her, and even though I’ll always be grateful for that, it does not give you any rights on her.”

Severus gritted his teeth. How dare he accuse him of such things, and how dare he speak to him in such a way?

“As I said, I have no designs on her,” Severus ground out, controlling his urge to throttle the little twit. “Just because I may have developed some ill-advised form of attachment to Hermione over the weeks, it does not mean I intend to act on it. Believe it or not, Potter, but I do realize I’m not the best of choice for her.”

Severus crossed his arms over his chest, recognized it as the defense mechanism it was, and forced himself into a more relaxed position, glaring at Potter in a dare to mock him. Surprisingly, he did no such thing, and instead, seemed to relax too, the threat and authority he’s summoned just seconds ago evaporating like fumes over a cauldron.

“You might just be,” Potter said with a shrug. “I know she’s very attached to you for some unfathomable reason, and not only because you brought her back from the Forest. It’s her choice to make anyway. I’m just the big brother who’ll hex into oblivion whoever breaks her heart.”

Severus blinked owlishly at him. Had he heard that right? Did Potter actually give his benediction? Or was he just hallucinating what he wanted to hear.

“Surely, you wouldn’t want me to court Hermione?”

“If Hermione doesn’t object, why should I?”

“But… I’m… me. You hate me!”

“Not really,” Potter answered with another shrug that was starting to grate on Severus’ nerves. How could Potter be so nonchalant about this.

“I’m too old for her. Surely, you've noticed?”

“Who are you trying to convince here? Me? Or yourself?”

Severus scowled at the cheeky bastard. True, such an age gap wasn’t uncommon in the wizarding world, but it still made him wary, and that wasn’t the only obstacle either. Everything about him seemed to scream that even contemplating to court Hermione was ludicrous and destined to fail: she was kind where he was foul-tempered, she was beautiful where he was frankly not much to look at, she was loved where he was hated… the list could go on and on, but he was already depressed enough as it was.

Severus grunted, threw a “I hope you’re satisfied” over his shoulder and left in as dignified a flight as he could muster.

 


 

 

His sleep was uneasy that night, although he couldn’t recall any nightmares in particular, so he woke up long before Hermione did and spent more time than he should just watching her sleep, curled up on her side next to him. Her own dreams seemed to be more agreeable because a silly smile appeared on her face now and then. Did she dream of the Forest? Of Hogwarts? Her friends? Her jaw moved as if she was eating and Severus choked off a laugh thinking she might simply be dreaming about some tasty treat from the kitchens.

Severus gave himself just a few more minutes to look down at her slumbering form before he tore himself away with great reluctance. His heart ached with fondness at the sight of her, but it ached just as painfully in her absence. He was doomed, he realised as he stomped down the stairs and made his own damn coffee in the kitchen since even the house elves weren't awake yet, interrupting the soothing routine only to stop the silly little creatures from stabbing their knobbly little hands with a fork for not having breakfast ready on the table for him. This cottage had become a mad-house and Severus  suddenly felt the urge to leave it, just for a small while. Maybe he could go get the newspapers himself today, that ought to be normal enough for a change. His absence would probably go unnoticed anyway with everyone still in Morpheus’ arms.

 


 

 

Severus apparated back into the sunlit clearing next to Krum’s cottage later than he had planned. In his defense, he'd gotten a bit sidetracked by the Bulgarian wizarding city whose name he couldn’t pronounce due to the ridiculous amount of consonants it contained. The city was so much bigger and livelier than the few wizarding districts they had back home. It was a lot more accepting too. Werewolves, vampires, hags, goblins and some creatures he wasn't even quite sure of what they were, mixed with ease on the streets with the wizarding folk and even quite a few muggles toting their magical children along. It seemed too good to be true. Business seemed to be thriving as well and Severus had felt a little lost looking for the newspaper kiosk until a helpful vampire offered him some directions, and even a tour of the city if he so wished, which Severus declined. It had been very suspicious. In fact, the only way it could have been any more suspicious would have been if Darius or Decebal themselves had appeared at his elbow to helpfully show him around. After that, his paranoia kicked up a notch and he felt as if he was being watched from everywhere. Every shadow was a threat, every loud sound a warning and every person a spy. He felt much like he had at the end of the war and all he wanted was to go back home. But where was that? He didn’t have a real home, and although the image of Hogwart’s popped up in his mind’s eye, it was quickly supplanted by the memory of Hermione snuggled against him that morning.

Back in the clearing, Severus blinked in the sunlight, catching sight of a glint of gold zooming past him before he was bowled over and landed flat on his arse in the high grass with the newspapers pages fluttering sadly around him as they joined him on the ground.

“I win!” came Hermione’s exultant voice from behind him.

“Are you alright?” Krum asked as he jumped off his broom and gave him a hand up.

“Just dainty,” Severus muttered and spelled the newspapers to reassemble themselves and float back to him.

“Severus!” Hermione shouted happily, giving him just enough warning to brace himself before she jumped on his back to dangle a golden snitch in front of his nose.

“Quidditch, Hermione?” Severus asked with a raised eyebrow. “Picking up a new hobby?”

“You were gone,” she pouted and let go of her snitch, both of them watching as it fluttered away and hid near a tree. “I'll catch it for you,” she whispered in his ear, then kissed his cheek and gracefully leaped from his back before running towards the edge of the clearing, giving the hiding Snitch a wide berth. His hand absently reached the spot her lips had been seconds before while he tried to calm his racing heart. So many shocks is such a short time couldn’t be good for anyone: that witch was going to be the end of him. Krum cleared his throat, prompting Severus to shake himself out of his stupor and consider his rival's unexpected diplomacy and lack of scowl.

“So...Is there a reason for this impromptu Quidditch session or are you just trying to bring her over to the dark side?”

Krum shook his head ruefully.

“No vorries there. Ve tried getting Her-my-own-ninny on a broomstick and she freaked out, just as she alvays did. She's a lost cause. No, ve had to distract her. She was inconsolable vhen she couldn't find you this morning.”

“Oh,” Severus let out before the meaning of the words caught up to him. Hermione had missed him, had been inconsolable because of his absence. He was fairly certain he shouldn’t feel so happy about that.

“Do not look so pleased. It is a disturbing sight,” Krum admonished, but he didn't look as angry as he would have expected. He even seemed less sullen than he'd been yesterday, but maybe that was just because he was high on adrenaline from playing Quidditch.

Krum hollered for Harry and Draco to get their arses back on their brooms so they weren't humiliated once more, before turning back to him.

“You have to see this,” Krum said, as jittery as he'd ever heard the man. “Ve thought ve'd vin easily since she insisted she could play vithout a broom if ve spelled the snitch to stay low.” Severus saw where this was headed but couldn't keep the look of disbelief from his face. “She's von half the matches. I know I'm no seeker but I thought I'd have the advantage of speed at least.”

Krum was grinning like a lunatic, not the least bit flustered to be beaten by a novice or a woman.

Soon after, the match began and Severus wasn't quite sure what he was witnessing, although, given her fight against Grigore, he should have expected such a spectacle. In his opinion, it was either an acrobatic ballet or the most graceful brawl he'd ever seen. Because if the others hadn’t yet caught on, Severus understood immediately how she outwon them so often: she wasn't so much seeking the Snitch as she was hunting it, and she was good at that after the years of practice she’d had in the Forbidden Forest. The other element that allowed her frequent victories was that her opponents got into each other’s way with their brooms, rendering their advantage of speed null, but, of course, they'd be too pigheaded to see that, or even think of abandoning their precious brooms. An understandable flaw coming from Potter or Krum, but he was frankly disappointed in Draco.

Catching sight of the Snitch coming right at him, Severus smartly apparated out of the way before he was mowed over again, then gawked as he witnessed Hermione catch up to Krum’s broom when he slowed to turn, then use him as a trampoline, making him lose control of the broom in the process, then hitch a ride by catching the tail end of Potter’s broom who had been flying higher up, sending him off-course too. Draco was glancing over his shoulder, sensing her approach and tried to veer off course but she landed just a few steps in front of him and stepped on the handle of his broom just as he passed low to the ground, sending it spinning handle over twigs several times over. Severus winced. Hermione wasn’t playing around, but real Quidditch wasn’t much better, so they knew what they had been getting into.

After that, it was only a matter of minutes before she cornered the snitch and pounced on it, holding it up triumphantly before either of the other players had gotten back on their brooms. Severus approached, clapping his hands slowly while not bothering to hide his amusement at the state the boys were in.

“Is it always like that?” he asked.

“I think she was showing off for you this time around, but yeah, pretty much,” Potter said, rubbing off the dirt-encrusted handle of his broom with his sleeve.

Hermione ran over to them, dishevelled and sweaty, but radiating happiness. She took his hand and opened it, dropping the little gold ball into it before closing his fingers over it again, her eyes twinkling with delight before she ran off towards the house with the battlecry of  “Lunch!”

Severus opened his palm to watch the sun reflect on the golden surface, feeling like he’d just received more than a simple snitch, but a gift, something Hermione was trying to convey in her own strange way... Potter patted him on the back while he stared in puzzlement at it.

“Come on or she won’t leave us anything to eat,” he teased.

“Oh, Potter. A word if you don’t mind first,” Severus said, remembering why he’d brought so many newspapers back with him.

Potter looked surprised but nodded and they stopped on the porch, sitting on the steps much as they had last night. Rather than bothering with explaining the situation, Severus dropped the newspapers on the other man’s lap, then watched as he unfolded one after the over, reading over the headline before discarding it, his expression becoming thunderous.

“I can’t believe they’re doing this,” he muttered when he was finished.

“It sells papers,” Severus shrugged. “I admit I did not see Krum’s plan backfiring this way. It’s so far-fetched, I’m surprised it spread over so many papers and countries.”

“But I’m not even gay! Or single! And not that I don’t like Viktor, he's a nice bloke, but-” Potter actually shuddered at the thought of him and Krum being a couple as depicted, very graphically, by the articles. “Ginny is going to kill me.”

“Weasley women are quite renowned for their temper, yes.”

“And their howlers. Thank Merlin I’m countries away,” Potter quipped but he looked pained at the very thought of so much distance between him and his family.

Severus remained silent. Potter might be used to press slander, but the Weasley girl had always been spared, protected by both her husband and her rather large family. Now however, pregnant and without Potter at her side, she was being stalked and shouted abuse at on her very doorstep. If Severus was angry such a thing could happen,  he could only imagine how furious Potter really was, although he was hiding it well. Subsequently, Potter’s next words were not a surprise. Severus knew he’d hear them as soon as he’d seen the papers.

“I have to go back.”

Severus nodded.

“We can take care of Hermione from here. You trust us with her, don’t you?”

“Yes. Even Draco, as hard as that is to believe. She’s in good hands,” His smile was forced. He’d obviously wanted to see this through to the end. “I’ll go pack and say my good-byes then.”

Potter stood and extended a hand. Severus considered it for only a heartbeat before he shook it. A truce finally reached between them, and he had the fleeting suspicion it was thanks to two witches who had absolutely no idea what sort of miracle they’d just achieved.

 


 

 

When Potter had left, Hermione became more clingy than usual despite their assurances no one else was leaving and that Harry wouldn’t have either if he hadn’t had to deal with an emergency. To be honest, Severus would have prefered Potter had remained here to help deal with the mess that was their sixth year, with everyone holding up the pretence everything was fine when they were on the very brink of war, Severus playing up his game of villain to strengthen his position as spy for the Dark Lord, Dumbledore’s death… He honestly didn’t know what to expect from Hermione. He had seen some of her memories as he’d retrieved them from Grigore’s mind but she seemed to never react the way he’d expect from her, or rather from Hermione Granger, former Gryffindor and Potter’s sidekick. He’d believed what he told her, that she was the same and yet changed, but he had a niggling suspicion his feelings towards her wouldn’t have been as strong if she hadn’t been such a different person.

Soft fingers smoothing out his scowl made him smile and relax into the touch.

“Hermione,” he whispered.

“You’re always so worried,” she replied.

“Someone needs to be,” he teased. “Are you ready? Sixth year is your last year at Hogwarts and we retrieved quite a lot of memories.”

She nodded.

“It might change your opinion on some things, on some people,” he warned.

Me in particular , but he couldn’t get the words out. She nodded solemnly and Draco soon beckoned her into her armchair so they could begin. She took it all in stride though and at first, only her relationship with Ronald Weasley seemed to puzzle her. She even laughed at herself for how she was obsessed about the book and wanting to be the best in potions just because she refused to accept that Harry could best her in that subject. She found Harry’s obsession with Draco just as ridiculous and wriggled her eyebrows at Draco during their breaks in between memories, which his Godson didn’t find amusing at all, but even Severus would have wondered if Potter wasn’t happily married.

However, the number of memories dwindled and they were left with only two: the short battle that took place at school between the staff and students against the little band of Death Eaters, and Dumbledore’s funeral. Severus couldn’t be more grateful Hermione had not been atop the astronomy tower to see him commit that most despicable act, using the killing curse on Dumbledore but the fallout was as bad as he’d suspected. She opened her eyes and searched his face, looking so sad and betrayed that Severus wanted to dig a hole and hide his unworthy self for all eternity. She stood from her chair on shaky legs, her eyes still locked on him. Her mouth opened but no sound came out and neither of them knew what to tell her. There was so much to say and yet, no words that came to mind seemed enough to fix the hurt she was going through and then she was gone, leaving as fast as she could.

“This is why we need Potter,” Draco concluded, safely putting away the last memory for later.

“Severus?” Krum asked, waving a hand at the door through which Hermione had disappeared. “Shouldn’t you…”

“She thinks I’m a cold-blooded murderer. Do you really think it’s a good idea I go after her?”

“I’m not much better in that aspect,” Draco cut in, tucking his wand back in his sleeve. “You’re the only neutral party here, Viktor. Can you try and explain the situation to her?”

Krum hesitated, but like any of their contemporaries, he knew every minute detail of that night and of the following year until Voldemort’s demise. It had been discussed in length in newspapers, public debates at the Wizengamot and was now the stuff of history books.

“I vill do my best,” Krum promised and called after Voldy who yipped excitedly from upstairs, giving away Hermione’s location.

The next couple of hours were pure torture, torn as he was between worry for Hermione, suspicion towards Krum and fear as to his future standing in her world. Draco threatened to shove a calming draught down his throat more than once if he didn’t calm down, so he wasn’t sure who was most relieved when Krum returned.

“Well?” Severus and Draco asked simultaneously.

“She says she understands,” Krum replied, taking a seat. “I explained to her vhat she did not see in her memories, but she says she needs time.”

Severus nodded. He hadn’t expected any less. He was mostly glad she hadn’t run off to disappear in the neighbouring forest.

“I think she is exhausted too,” Krum added. “I vouldn’t be surprised if she fell asleep already.”

“We did add quite a bit of memories today,” Draco agreed. “That, plus the shock she received, her reaction is actually quite mild all things considered.”

The atmosphere in the cottage was subdued for the rest of the day despite Krum’s assurances. Hermione or Potter usually provided entertainment, whether they meant to or not, but Slytherins didn’t have such a sunny disposition, and neither did those schooled at Durmstrang. Reminiscing on the past, the war, what they did or didn’t do, did not help either.

When they decided to call it a day, Severus almost panicked at not finding Hermione in her bed, but Krum pointed at the door further down that led to Potter’s former bedroom. He couldn’t resist taking a peak, finding Hermione curled up in his bed, face buried in Potter’s pillow with Voldy perched atop her hip like a gargoyle. The mutt turned his beady black eyes on him and let out a low growl, so Severus quickly closed the door lest he wake her, heading for his own room.

Maybe this was for the best. The bond he and Hermione had formed was bound to break sooner or later anyway, and no one would either understand or accept it, so it was better this way, especially if it was Hermione who pushed him away, because Merlin knows he hadn’t been capable of doing so himself.

The only reason Severus found sleep that night, he reasoned,  was because it had been so lacking the night before. Did that count as a silver lining? Because the situation certainly didn’t look any brighter this morning, not with Draco and Krum skidding to a halt at the foot of his bed and calling his name. He’d thought that sort of nonsense would have stopped with Potter gone.

“What now?” he muttered, expecting the worse.

“Hermione! She’s gone!” Draco blurted out.

“We can’t find her!” Krum added.

Severus wished he’d been wrong.



Chapter Text

Severus shushed Draco and Krum who were bickering over how to make a long-distance point me spell, which was a pointless endeavour anyway since they didn’t have any of Hermione’s blood and he wasn’t about to encourage them to dabble in such a grey area of magic.

“What?” Draco snapped when Severus hissed at them to shut the hell up.

Severus retaliated by hitting him with a silencing spell so he could focus on what he thought he’d heard, tip toeing to the front porch.

“Is that... thunder?” Severus asked with his gaze turned upwards when the sound manifested again.

“No, ven thunder rolls around here, you know it is. That is something else… Explosion?”

Severus nodded and motioned for the others to follow him. They trekked through a thick part of the forest for about a mile when they heard another detonation, followed by a crack and then… a tree fell, which caused a deep rumble and for the ground to shake. To be sure, they couldn’t be far from whatever was happening, and Severus began to run, giving up on stealth because he feared Hermione might be in trouble. If anyone could find a mountain troll in the middle of nowhere, it was Hermione.

He stopped abruptly when he came upon what must have once been a perfectly normal patch of forest, but now looked like a beaver’s playground… if said beaver was high on pepper up and about four feet tall. Branches, bark and chips of wood littered the forest ground while shredded leaves twirled sadly around, and in the centre of that carnage stood Hermione Granger, her wand pointed at him since he'd burst out of the undergrowth first, Draco and Krum only a few steps behind. So the good news was that the witch was using her wand again, and quite expertly too. The bad news was that she was obviously pissed and he was the most likely cause for that anger.

She pointed her wand back towards an innocent tree that must have stood there for decades, if not centuries, minding its own business, before a furious little witch had decided to use it as target practice. It had withheld a couple of her impacts already, the bombarda hex by the looks of it, but it would fold if she continued and Severus was oddly pained at the thought. Before he could try to reason with Hermione, she lowered her wand of her own accord but her face was still distorted by unimaginable fury.

“How could he?” she screamed at their little group. “Murder! Cold blooded murder! Killing is no little thing!”

Severus felt shame wash over him. He'd never forgiven himself, even though time would let him forget what he’d done from time to time, but having it thrown so bluntly in his face, and by someone he cared for… It hurt... deeply. He felt sick. He wanted to leave, but couldn’t. His feet were rooted to the spot and if she decided to turn against him, he wouldn’t be able to lift so much as his little finger to defend himself. He might not even try to because he did deserve such punishment after all, even if it had been a long time coming... Because everything she said was true: he was a murderer.

“That bastard!” she exclaimed and the poor tree trembled under another sudden assault. “I’d kill him if he wasn’t already dead.”

Severus’ mind went blank because that didn’t make sense… He was a bastard. No one would contest that, not even himself. But dead? Unless she was talking figuratively, and her progress with speech hadn't quite made it that far yet, then it didn’t make sense... so who was she talking about? He glanced at his two companions but Draco looked just as confused. Krum, though, was nodding like a wise old man who knew all the truths of the universe. All he was missing was a beard to stroke, and he’d be making a fair impression of Dumbledore.

Annoying git.

“Dumbledore,” Krum mouthed when he noticed Severus’ glare, as if echoing his thoughts and mocking him. But he nodded towards Hermione, repeating the old headmaster’s name, then pulled Draco away back the way they’d come.

Oh .

Hermione was furious at Dumbledore , not him, which still didn’t make all that much sense, but it was a preferable option. An excellent one, in fact, because Hermione didn’t hate him , so he closed the distance between them, no longer afraid she’d blast his head off as easily as she did centenarian trees.

“You’re using your wand again,” he said, trying for a lighter topic before they started on what had brought her there so early in the morning.

Hermione twirled her wand between her fingers then slid it down her sleeve as easily as if she’d not been forced apart from it for years. If it had been anyone else, Severus would have rolled his eyes at such an arrogant display, but she managed to make it seem natural.

“I needed to…” she bit her lip, motioning vaguely at the savaged trees.

“Blow off some steam?” Severus offered, keeping his smirk in check.

She nodded and an awkward silence fell between them again, but Severus was still reluctant to bring up the reason for her anger. In the end, he didn't have to.

“That old goat had no right to ask what he did of you. I bet he didn't even leave you a choice...”

Severus cringed, not used to hearing people speak ill of the dead, least of all Dumbledore, but he didn't correct her either. The old man had used the promises and unbreakable vows Severus had been foolish enough to make over the years against him, forcing him to commit that most despicable of acts against his will.

“It helped us win the war,” Severus replied bitterly.

“He had no right,” she repeated, her magic crackling around her and making her hair frizzier than ever. “No one can ask such a sacrifice of another. It is downright selfish and manipulative and inconsiderate and… he didn't even care of the consequences it might have on you, did he? That you’d have to live with the guilt, with other people’s rejection and fear. And what if you'd been sent to Azkaban?”

Hermione looked up at him with shrewd eyes and he was struck at how much more the last batch of memories seemed to have impacted her: her speech, the way she held herself, her confidence and mastery of her wand. She was more Hermione Granger now than she had ever been before, and yet… Yet, she was still the lost woman he'd brought back from the forest: surprisingly direct and loyal towards him.

“The situation was hopeless back then,” Severus said, sharing the only explanation he'd come up with over the years of mulling it over. “To be honest, I don't think Dumbledore expected me to have to live long with the consequences… and neither did I,” he added in a whisper, his hand rubbing absently at his ravaged throat where Nagini had bitten deep into his flesh.

“You were so brave,” Hermione said, her smaller hand tentatively pulling down his own.

Severus shook his head and grimaced, because murder wasn’t brave. If he'd been brave, he would have refused to play such a role and found another way, a better way, to both keep Dumbledore alive and strengthen his position as a trustworthy Death-Eater, but he’d bowed under Dumbledore’s command, just the way he’d bowed under Voldemort’s power. He was spineless, is what he was. Always a follower, a minion, a mere tool doing the bidding of  wizards more powerful than himself. He tried explaining as much to Hermione, but she refused to listen to reason, standing by her belief that he was brave and did a greater sacrifice than Dumbledore ever did. One thing her memories, or lack thereof, had not changed in the witch was her stubbornness. He wondered if that was her most defining feature. If so, he was in for a world of trouble, because she was standing by him even as all the chinks in his armour were exposed: his self-loathing, his doubts, his darker deeds and the crushing guilt. No one had ever seen him in such a vulnerable state before, and he wouldn’t have trusted anyone but her with such knowledge, so he found comfort in her anger at a man long dead for having pushed him down a path he had not wanted to walk.

“You did not deserve to be treated so poorly,” she concluded, cradling his face so she could stare right into the dark pits of his eyes, and in that moment, for the first time, he almost believed it.

He realized Hermione could make him or break him, if she so chose. He’d sworn after having miraculously survived the war never to find himself under anyone else’s rule ever again: he’d served two masters, the two most powerful wizards of this time and age, and survived them both. Yet, it was Hermione, small and broken herself, who could annihilate him with just a word, or maybe even just a look. He was completely hypnotized by her gaze and the emotions roiling in their depth: ice cold anger and  warm devotion battling for her attention until the latter won over.

“Severus?” she pleaded, his name sounding for the first time like a soft caress. “Please...”

Still bewitched by her beautiful eyes, Severus didn’t understand what she was asking before her lips were already on his,so soft, and by then, he was powerless to push her back. He didn’t want to. Simple as that. He should… maybe… No, he really should... but he couldn’t. He might as well try tearing out his own brain with his bare hands, not that the thing was working right now anyway. For once, he was content with letting go of sanity to enjoy Hermione’s warm lips, her arms thrown around his neck and the press of her body against his. But soon after, reason returned, because he’d never learned to just let go completely.

Severus leaned away and tilted her head up, not knowing what to expect but certainly not the goofy smile she was sporting. Trust a Gryffindor to ruin a perfectly good kiss.

“Are you sure about this?” he asked, forcing his attention back to the problem at hand, if you could even call it that. He had other words for it but they belonged more to the vocabulary of a witless teenager fumbling in a closet with a witch for the first time. Much too unbecoming for him.

“I knew you’d ask that.”

“Did you now?”

“So predictable. I guess you’re going to try and dissuade me by feeding me a bunch of inane reasons why I shouldn’t pursue you?” she asked with a pout.

“Well…”

She sighed, then turned mischievous, leaning into him again. But he had a good grip on his brain this time and wasn’t going to let the little minx manipulate him like some hormone-driven teenager.

“I...can’t,” Severus stated simply, hating that he had to even say those words.

Hermione raised a brow, looking unimpressed.

“I want to,” he confessed, hating how his voice rose in pitch out of sheer nervousness. He’d never had to talk about his damned feelings like this before and found he did not care for it one bit. Only this time, he knew he didn’t have a choice. He wanted to do this right for once and not come out on the other side as the villain of the story. “Trust me, I want to. I want...you. But-”

“Does there have to be a “but”? You’re making this so complicated when it could be so simple: I like you, you like me. Why not be together?”

Severus huffed, half amused, half-exasperated.

“Indeed… if it was only about how we feel for each other. Unfortunately, it is not. You’re not…” Severus searched for a way to say this tactfully and finding none, changed tack. “I’d feel as if I was taking advantage of you, Hermione.”

He paused but she only looked blankly at him, so he continued, hoping against hope she’d understand what he was trying to say and not storm off in anger like a typical Gryffindor.

“You’re under my care. You’re...wounded, in a way, and as long as all your memories have not been returned to you, as long as we haven’t done everything in our power to make you whole again, I don’t think I should… or anyone else for that matter… should try to push their feelings onto you. I don’t think you’re ready and I don’t think it’s right.”

Hermione’s eyes narrowed and Severus went still and stiff as a board, ready to accept whatever she’d throw at him, expecting harsh words or even a hex or two.

“You don’t think I know what I want? You don’t think I can decide for myself?”

Severus flinched at the low threatening tone of her husky voice but soldiered on.

“If you want to put it that way. I think you should at least wait until you have all the cards in your hand. There’s still much you don’t know.”

“About you?”

“Amongst other things.”

To his surprise, she laughed.

“Haven’t I seen the worse of you already in those memories? You punished and ridiculed me and my friends for years before being thought of as a murderer. What else should I expect in the next memories? Do you eat puppies for breakfast and hunt unicorns for sport?”

Severus seriously considered what memories were left of him and grimaced: he’d disfigured one of the twins and supposedly died rather messily right in front of her after grovelling at the Dark Lord’s feet. Not very flattering, to say the least. Before he could tell her as much, a loud grumble interrupted him. Hermione smiled sheepishly up at him, one hand patting her stomach.

“Come on, I missed dinner last night. I could eat a hippogryph.”

She grabbed his hand and pulled him towards the cottage, ever the eager puppy pulling on its leach. Their serious conversation all but forgotten it seemed, in favour of food. Maybe she hadn’t changed all that much after all. She would always have some of the wild bare-foot left in her, he hoped, even as the veneer of civilization returned to polish some of its rough edges away.

 

Their relieved expressions aside, neither Draco nor Krum commented upon seeing the two of them return hand in hand. It wasn’t the first time Hermione dragged one of them around in such a way, nor was it the worse she had ever done to their person, far from it. In fact, he wouldn’t be surprised if no one suspected what had happened between them, and maybe there would never be any reason to. Hermione hadn’t actually said what she wanted, if anything, and Severus was starting to doubt what he thought she’d meant by “being together”. Sometimes, a kiss was just a kiss, a spur of the moment action without meaning or consequence… and certainly not a relationship. Although that did not sound like something the old Hermione would do, the new Hermione had a more spur-of-the-moment attitude to most things, satisfying her basic instincts first, such as hunger.

He watched as she disappeared down the hallway leading to the kitchen and soon heard the poor house-elves’ squeaks of protest as she stole Merlin only knew what treat this time from under their noses.

“I vill have to make it up to those house-elves for putting up vith Her-my-own-ninny. They have become a bit skittish since her arrival.”

“And how do you do that?” Draco asked, sounding earnestly curious. “House-elves never want anything, except the… erm… stranger ones.”

Krum shrugged.

“Give them a lot of hard vork to do, I suppose. Maybe they vould enjoy sveeping the forest or something.”

Draco sniggered at the suggestion, which earned him a pat on the back from the Quidditch champion that almost sent him toppling forward. Severus sighed at seeing those two bonding now that Potter wasn’t there, although he should have expected it, what with them sharing a far more similar education and background than the Slytherin and Gryffindor ever had.

Around the breakfast table, they took advantage of Hermione’s temporary absence to discuss her angry outburst of that morning, her use of magic and if they should wait an extra day before continuing on with the insertion of the last of her memories, when the witch in question reappeared with an incriminating streak of icing sugar on her cheek.

“I don’t think cake is an appropriate breakfast, Hermione,” Severus couldn’t help but tease.

“Neither is smoked spider legs, but no one nagged me in the Forest. I have a lot of catching up to do where cake is concerned. I don’t have any memories of Hermione ever eating cake. Did she not like it?”

Severus had absolutely no idea. Students’ diets had never been a concern of his. Neither Draco nor Krum seemed to know either, although the former seemed more concerned with taking notes of what she’d just said than finding a suitable answer.

“Your parents were dentists. Maybe they didn’t allow you to eat cakes and sweets?” Severus offered when the silence dragged on.

Hermione wrinkled her brow in thought.

“Makes sense. Not that I’m going to deprive myself of cake for old time's sake. It’s delicious.”

“Tastes better than spider?” Krum asked.

“You have no idea.” She paused. “Shall I fetch you a spider for this evening?”

They all agreed they’d rather live in blissful ignorance, arguing the house-elves would balk at cooking something so… unusual. That disaster avoided, Hermione walked passed them to her appointed armchair and stared at them until they abandoned their breakfast with a collective sigh. They’d learned the hard way that when Hermione wanted something, she usually got it, and fast. Severus still shot Draco a questioning look that he returned with a shrug, so he didn’t think the little incident of that morning was enough to delay inserting the next batch of memories. However, when he approached with the last vial of her sixth year, Hermione squinted at it before baring her teeth, and not in a smiley way.

“I don’t want to see it,” she hissed.

Severus frowned. He knew Hermione was angry with Dumbledore, had seen it first hand just a couple of hours ago and the forest would bear the scars of her fury for the next few decades, but he hadn’t thought she would want to reject a part of herself over it. The memory of the headmaster’s funeral… Severus had been the one to retrieve it, thus witnessing that day “firsthand” for the first time since he couldn’t very well have been present to the funeral of the man he’d so publicly “murdered”. That would have been a bit awkward, not to mention dangerous for him since every single attendant would have happily murdered him back for it at the time.

“Draco, could you return only part of that memory?”

“It shouldn’t be a problem,” Draco replied, although he didn’t look any happier about than him.

“Do you trust me?” he asked Hermione who nodded.

He didn’t want to go against her wishes, although he’d rather she accepted all of her memories: the good, the bad and the unwanted. However, there was a discussion between the golden trio during the funeral that he thought was crucial to her understanding of the next memories. It would ease her into them if nothing else, because what glimpses he’d seen of their time on the run had seemed rather brutal and it was best she be as prepared as possible before they gave her those dark memories back.

Draco pinpointed what part of the memory to use without any difficulty and they all waited with baited breath on how this new and most important piece of information would trigger a new shift in the witch. Severus was still dreading the moment the Hermione he’d grown to know and love suddenly turned into the annoying Gryffindor know-it-all from the past. Apparently, that wasn’t yet to come.

“Well… fuck,” Hermione said.

“I don't think I've ever heard you swear before,” Draco replied after a while to dissipate the stunned silence.

“It sounds like I wasn't much fun,” she muttered, mostly to herself. “So did we really go hunting for pieces of Voldemort's soul?”

Draco shivered at the casual mention of the late-late dark wizard so Severus took it upon himself to answer.

“You did, for most of a year. And I dare say you being there is the only reason Potter and the Weasley brat weren’t captured time and again. I’d rather warn you that the next memories are not going to be pleasant.”

“It's war. I'm not expecting them to be.”

Severus looked to Draco, who checked the list of memories.

“We can start now. The next memory actually takes place not long after the funeral according to the list.”

Hermione’s nod was resolute and grim. There was no enjoyment in discovering who she really was anymore, or those around her. Her personality seemed to have settled halfway through the last batch of memories she was fed, and she already had a strong opinion of the people she'd met so far: meaning they belonged in her pack, or not. Minerva and Hagrid would probably make the cut, but he wondered what would become of the Weasley sidekick. From what he’d learned of their Horcrux hunting, he hadn't been quite the upstanding Gryffindor, what with abandoning his two friends halfway through their mission. He imagined how the neighbouring trees would suffer for such a display of cowardice before he was startled out of his thoughts by a feminine chuckle.

“Seven Harry Potters? Whoever came up with that idea? Magic is wonderful,” she added with a wistful sigh, not letting any of them answer before she continued. “Well, most of the time. The spells I remember aren’t very nice…”

“Like the Bombarda hex?” Draco asked. “So you can only recall those you’ve seen in memories?”

“Yes, and like I said, they’re not very nice spells. Except the Expecto Patronum. Do you think I can do it?”

“You can try,” Draco replied dubiously, “But that spell is focused on happy memories so…”

“I have happy memories,” Hermione snapped before smirking at him. “Like that time I braided your hair, remember?”

Draco blushed and hid behind his notes to better ignore his companion’s sniggers.

“But you told me you alvays had trouble vith that spell Her-my-own-knee. Maybe you should try easier spells first?” Krum said at last.

“Viktor has a point,” Severus said, ignoring the way Hermione’s lower lip jutted out when she pouted. “You will have to learn everything you’ve forgotten again.”

“You mean attending classes at Hogwarts? Won’t that be a bit...” Draco drifted off, making a vague gesture with his hand.

“Don’t be ridiculous. Hermione won’t have the patience to sit through classes and she’ll be terrifying the students. Private tutors should be manageable however.”

“Severus can teach me,” Hermione declared with a grin.

“Erm…” Not that Severus didn’t want to. It would be a perfect excuse to keep seeing her on a regular basis when they returned. “I could teach you potions, I suppose. And I’m sure Minerva and the other Professors would spare you some time to teach you their own subjects privately. And Potter would be...” Severus stopped as Hermione’s pout grew into a real grimace. “Something wrong, Hermione?”

“It’s just… Harry and Vicky, and even Pretty, they all cast spells like they’re poking a stick at a dead squirrel. But  when you do it, it’s like…” she made twirly motions with her empty hands while dancing gracefully from one foot to the other.

“I do no such thing,” Severus balked because he wasn't going to let anyone compared him to a fucking ballerina, not even Hermione.

“Actually, you kind of do,” Draco said, which Krum confirmed with an emphatic nod. “Even father is jealous of how you pull that off without, and I quote, ‘looking like a sissy’.”

Finally! He'd never thought he would see the day Lucius envied him something. The blond had always had the looks, the money, the status and friends, as well as the wife and kid. Of course, he  stumbled a bit with the whole Death-Eater disaster, but he still got out the worse for wear and still bested him in everything. Severus was so going to lord this tidbit of information over the man. Tactfully of course, as befit a Slytherin.

“Oh, all right,” Severus concerned, in much better disposition now. “But you’ll still have to take transfiguration lessons from Minerva because she’ll skin me alive if you can’t change a bloody teapot into a bloody tortoise. For all the good it’ll do you,” he muttered to himself.

In her excitement, Hermione jumped in the air with squeals of joy, and then stubbornly refused to continue with the memories because she wanted to see her patronus otter “for real” instead of the second-hand memory she felt she had. Saying that might take a while, Krum excused himself for the afternoon to do whatever famous Quidditch stars did in their free time. Draco stayed to look over his notes, or seemed to be, but every now and then, Severus spied his longing looks as he coached Hermione into the proper casting of the patronus.

“If you want to give it a try-” Severus began when Draco peeked from over his pile of parchments once more, only to be met with Severus’ amused smirk.

“I… No.”

“Aww. Come on, Pretty!” Hermione exclaimed when she caught on, already dragging him away from his notes. “It'll be fun. I bet yours is a ferret. It looks a bit like an otter too and we can make them play together.”

Draco looked dubious at that, although Severus knew he was more worried about not being able to cast the Patronus. Hardly any Slytherins were proficient with it because of the silly but deep-rooted belief Death-Eaters, being dark wizards, couldn't cast such a light spell. That Severus was such a glaringly obvious argument to the contrary didn't stop a whole generation of Slytherins to not even try their hand at it. Maybe if he started with Draco…

“Not like that,” Hermione said, correcting Draco’s last wand movement before Severus could. “Like this.”

They both did a double-take at seeing the know-it-all Hermione Granger resurface so suddenly from the past and Severus wondered once more if maybe she would become her old self again one day… and eventually return to her senses and shun him completely.

So he was secretly glad when he found out her patronus had changed.

Chapter Text

It took two days for some silver mist to gather at the tip of Hermione's wand and another day for her patronus to take form. By that point, everyone was getting impatient because she was only interested in mastering the spell, which pushed back to later the reinstatement of her memories, leaving them to wait with not much to do. Draco didn’t look to miffed at the delay though, busy as he was trying to  contain his smugness at successfully casting a corporeal patronus before her, and one that wasn't even a ferret. Severus personally thought a tiny scorpion patronus was nothing to gloat about, but wisely kept his opinion to himself as that would defeat the purpose of getting his Slytherins to cast the Patronus just as well as any other Gryffindor.

He wasn't prepared to see yet another new patronus come soaring up to him that morning while he was in the shower. He stared at it for an instant, watching its fluffy tail bounce around like a crazy puffskein on a pepper-up high, expecting a message and all the while wondering who the hell it could possibly belong to. He passed in review the Hogwart’s staff, then the Order of the Phoenix and even St Mungo’s healers who sometimes urgently needed an obscure potion, then, as a last resort, past students. He thought one of them might have a rabbit, it had the same twitchy nose and long teeth as this patronus, but that was about as far as the similarities went and for the life of him, he couldn't find out who this blasted squirrel belonged to. They stared at each other, but it wasn’t even there to deliver a message as far as he could see and it vanished as suddenly as it had come, just when a wave of shampoo bubbles assaulted his eyes, which gave him ample reason to curse his heart out.

Leaving the bathroom in a foul mood, he almost bowled Hermione over because she was sitting right there in the hallway, apparently waiting for him.

“Did you see it?” she asked, which is when he finally realized who the patronus belonged to. He was getting sloppy if he hadn’t figured that out on his own, but in his defense, he’d fully been expecting an otter.

“I did. It’s not an otter,” he pointed out, because he might as well pretend he’d known all along, while he led her down the stairs.

“No, but I like this one better. Draco thinks it’s because I’m not using the same memory as before.”

“And what was that?”

“When I was invited to the Burrow for the first time to see Harry and Ron. I'd never been invited to a friend’s home before so I felt I had real friends for the first time, and that house is magical and so much fun and the food is really delicious too… but it wasn’t working for me anymore. They don’t… mean the same thing to me, that they did to her. I like Harry. He’s nice and brave, and loyal,” Severus rolled his eyes at words he’d heard a thousand times before, usually from rabbid fangirls. “But I don’t… connect to him, not the way I used to. Not like I do with you.”

She tilted her head in thought, as if trying to sort out her own muddled feelings and Severus hummed in understanding, doing his best not to show how pleased he was, before asking the logical question:

“You used a more recent memory, then, I take it?”

“A very recent one,” she said with a broad grin. “A very, very recent one,” she added with a purr, her voice laden with meaning and he couldn’t help but blush when he finally got it.

“Oh,” he replied while his mind couldn’t help but add a disbelieving: Really? “But-”

“Yes, yes, I know. No kissing until I’m fully healed. It’s blackmail, you know? I hope you feel bad about it.”

“About you sexually harassing me? Terrible,” he said with a chuckle although that wasn't at all the protest he was about to make. However, he couldn’t help but be relieved she was so persistent about… whatever they had going on. It was nice to feel so wanted for once, even if he couldn’t quite fathom why , and he was still expecting the other shoe to drop.

At the breakfast table, Draco and Krum were both ensconced in books, so much so they didn’t even glance up at their arrival. Unusual, to say the least, but the book covers were enough of an explanation: Muggle and Magical Wildlife of the British Isles was propped open in front of Krum’s bowl of cereal, while Draco held a slimmer volume of Spirit Animals and How They Affect your Psyche in one hand and a spoon in the other. They had obviously both seen Hermione's new Patronus. Draco was studying it as her healer and judging by the impressive stack of notes next to him which kept growing by the day, chances were high he would want to publish his findings. Hermione was a goldmine for him in his field. So, just as Severus was waiting for Hermione to heal for his own selfish reasons, so was Draco…

“What?” Draco asked, sounding offended.

“What what?” Severus replied.

“You're glaring at me. The last time you did that, I was about to blow up my cauldron, and I have no cauldron, so…. What's up?”

“Nothing. Reading up on squirrels?”

Draco nodded, his shoulders relaxing a fraction.

“Fascinating little creatures,” Draco began before giving him a rundown on the furry little pest with enthusiastic prompting starting with “Did you know?”

Of course, Severus did not a single thing about squirrels. He'd never had a reason to take an interest in them before and listened with half an ear while serving himself a blueberry muffin that disappeared from his plate as soon as he took his eyes off it in search of coffee.

“Interesting fact,” Krum said after wiping his mouth on his sleeve. “Squirrels vill steal food from other animals vhenever they have the opportunity, vether they need to or not.”

“That explains a lot,” Severus muttered, looking at the incriminating crumbs on Hermione’s lips and sweater, recalling how she stole bacon from Hagrid’s plate every other morning at the castle.

“And did you know squirrels adapt easily to any environment and have quite the surviving skill set. They learn a lot through observation too, and you mentioned Hermione did just that in the forest, right?” Draco asked again. “It's really no wonder it became her patronus when you think about it. Are there a lot of squirrels in that forest?”

“I haven’t a clue. I don't use squirrels in potions,” Severus deadpanned. “I have rats for that.”

“I ate a squirrel once,” Hermione chipped in, just as matter of factly.

“Just once? I'm guessing it vas not very good?” Krum asked.

“No. Kinda...chewy,” she said, mimicking exaggerated chewing motions to get her point across. “Like snake. And snails. And-”

“Alright,” Draco cut in with a grimace, snapping his book close. “That's about as much weird conversation as I can take in one day. I suggest we start filling up that frizzy little head again. I do have a job waiting for me back home, you know.”

 

Hermione didn't need telling twice and followed Severus to the living-room while the boys retrieved their notes and the vials of memories, but she forwent her usual seat in favour of Severus’ lap. Not completely out of the ordinary, although the blush he felt creeping up his neck might give him away since he knew it was far from innocent now, and he simply had not been expecting it. He’d never quite gotten used to Hermione’s utter disregard for social conventions and thought he might never get over the surprise of having someone actually wanting to be close to him, to touch him so casually. Which she did, grabbing his hand and turning it this way and that, her tanned fingers ghosting over the numerous calluses, cuts and chemical stains he’d earned during his career as a Potions Master. Her own hands were riddles with thin lines of white scars she must have earned during her year on the run or in the forest. It was so mesmerising to watch the mingling of their hands that he didn’t even think of putting a stop to her exploration when they took her further up his wrists, but thankfully, she quickly gave up after fiddling with the row of buttons for a while without results, and furtively deposited a kiss where cuffs met skin instead. Unfortunately, the soft sound drew their companions attention away from their whispered conversation and back to them.

Severus tried his best to scowl their curious stares away, but it only raised their eyebrows and curiosity up a notch.

“Severus?” Draco drawled, taking a seat facing them. He was smirking, the little bastard. “Is there anything we should be made aware of?”

“Nothing that’s any of your business,” Severus muttered.

“Very well, I understand,” Draco replied, folding all too easily for a Slytherin and a Malfoy. Severus narrowed his eyes as the blonde shifted gracefully in his chair. “So, Hermione? Anything new with you?”

She grinned wolfishly.

“Why, Pretty? Don’t tell me you’re jealous?”

Draco turned an unsightly shade of crimson that clashed terribly with his blond white hair and made Severus bark out a laugh. Served him right for being so smug and nosy. Severus squeezed Hermione’s hand in thanks and she beamed up at him then turned to Krum who was still standing hesitantly in front of them, holding the little chest of memory vials against him.

“Vikky?”

“It is alright, Her-my-own-ninny. I understand.”

Krum did look resigned, but he gave them a nod and continued as if nothing was out of the ordinary, for which Severus was quite grateful. He hated being the center of attention, and as much as he enjoyed her attention, he resolved himself to dump Hermione off his lap and into her own chair so they could get on with business. Draco was right in that they were quickly running out of time.

“Vhat is planned for today? Vill ve finish vith all the memories at once?”

“There’s quite a lot from her year on the run,” Draco said, considering the list. “And they’re not very happy memories. We’ll see how you deal with them one at a time, Hermione. Alright with you?”

She shrugged, an impatient get-on-with-it look in her eyes.

And so it began: her flight from Bill and Fleur’s wedding, their first fight against Death-Eaters in the middle of muggle London, their camping trip all across the countryside, their uncertainty and doubts as to what they could and should do, breaking into the Ministry and dealing day to day with a Horcrux, but also with the cold and lack of food. But Hermione took it all in stride, as if she was assimilating her memories easier now that she was more herself. Draco compared it to fitting square pegs in a square hole where it had been round before. She even snorted at the memory where Ronald Weasley abandoned her and Potter, which wasn’t quite the reaction they’d been expecting.

“Can’t say I’m surprised,” Hermione shrugged off when they asked how she was feeling, as they did after every new memory they inserted. “You can’t trust a red-head.”

The three of them exchanged glances, wondering what to say to that. Grigore having been a red-head was surely a very important factor in that statement, but…

“I honestly have no counter-argument to that,” Severus finally replied, thinking of Dumbledore, Lily, the Weasley twins in particular, but most Weasleys in general, and coming to the conclusion that you really couldn’t, in fact, trust a red-head.

“Don’t look at me,” Draco said. “I never liked the Weasels. Long-standing feud between our families, remember?”

“I don’t know many red-heads,” Krum shrugged, “But I doubt hair colour reflects character.”

“Of course not,” Severus agreed politely while thinking what a bloody coincidence it was red-heads always made his life hell.

 

Once Hermione had had enough for the day, and Draco had nothing more to observe or  ask her for his ever-growing medical file, the other two wizards made themselves suspiciously scarce. Not that Severus was complaining. If he had to see Draco’s smug look and eyebrow wriggle one more time, he was going to hex his manhood off, the Malfoy line be damned. Looking at her closer though, Severus couldn’t note any glaringly obvious changes in the witch, nothing like the way she used to change after ingesting new memories. No, it was more subtle now. She expressed herself better mostly, as her vocabulary and grasp of abstract concepts expanded. On the other hand, she was less… exuberant, he supposed, more poised and mature. Like the old Hermione Granger would have been had she been given the chance to continue living amongst her kind after the war. She still didn’t reject him though, on the contrary. She cuddled against him even before the other two wizards had left and Severus had a sneaking suspicion she was making a statement, like… claiming him as hers. Was that something a pack Alpha would do? Was it something Hermione Granger would have done? In all honesty, he was too afraid to ask and preferred to ignore the whole issue altogether for now.

“What’s your patronus?” she asked suddenly while they watched the squirrel patronus she’d conjured to amuse Voldy bounce over the table. The two-tailed mutt was yipping excitedly after it, looking confused every time he lunged at it only to land flat on his muzzle as he went through the conjuration. Hermione found it hilarious, and even he had to admit it had entertainment value. Voldy was as rash and stubborn as any Gryffindor he’d ever met and he hoped his namesake was suitably horrified by it.

“It’s been years since I last cast it,” Severus sidestepped.

“That’s not an answer. Draco wouldn’t tell me either.”

“That’s because Draco doesn’t know.”

Or at least, he didn’t think so. It would be embarrassing if the young Malfoy realized his Patronus matched Potter’s. He might get the wrong idea.

“It’s not important,” he finally added when he saw Hermione about to ask him again. “Wouldn’t you rather I show you how to use your Patronus as a messenger?”

Her eyes lit up and for once, she forgot all about nagging him until she got her way. Or maybe she’d just changed in that too. Knowledge before gossip. Improvement, for sure.

 

At dinner, Krum looked all solemn when he stood at the head of the table with an announcement. Their host had been disappearing regularly in the last few days and Severus hadn’t figured out why yet. Not that he cared. Not really.

“I have bad news, badder news and good news. Vich vould you like me to start vith?”

Severus sighed because he had the feeling things had been going on too smoothly lately, so he braced himself for the worse.

“Just get on with it,” he grumbled.

“The bad news!” Hermione chirped as if it was a good thing and dissipated the tense mood without meaning to.

“Bring on the worse, Vikky!” Draco cheered. “Might as well start big.”

“That’s the spirit!” Hermione said with a grin and offered her hand for a high-five that puzzled Draco for a moment before he understood and tentatively clapped their hands together.

“Your press, and by that I mean Rita Skeeter and a couple of her minions, are sniffing around, looking for a scoop.”

“What? She should still be in Azkaban, or awaiting trial or... something!” Severus let go of his outrage in a sigh. “Our judiciary system is a joke.”

That vile woman had broken into a school full of children for fuck’s sake, using an illegal animagus form to top it off. How could that not be enough to keep her under lock and key for at least a little while?

“Yes, I vas getting to that. My sources say she blackmailed a few vell placed people and the charges vere mysteriously dropped.”

“You’d think a war would change how the system works,” Draco said under his breath.

“Not to vorry. I have taken the liberty to leave a false trail for her to follow,” Krum said with a truly Slytherin smirk.

“Which will lead her…?” Severus prompted.

“Oh, I’m not sure. Maybe to a castle in the mountains vhich may or may not belong to a certain hermit vith a bat fetish. But I really couldn’t be sure, of course. I vouldn’t voluntarily put anyone in danger.”

To Count Dracula it was, then. How he wished he could see Skeeter’s painted face when she realized where she had landed her pointy heels. He hoped she'd annoy the legendary Count into biting her, and then keep her in the larder for his guests. It was probably too much to ask that she would use the opportunity to learn from her mistakes and stop “embellishing” her stories, or at least choose weaker enemies than Krum. The man was ruthless and certainly knew how to keep a grudge since he didn’t think Skeeter had actually published anything about the Quidditch star since his exploits, or lack thereof, at the Triwizard Tournament.

“Yes. I thought that vould please you, Severus,” Krum added, trying and failing at not grinning. “The other bad news concerns Voldy. I looked into the regulations concerning the importation of vild magical creatures and it is next to impossible to accomplish.”

Severus frowned. Hermione protested that she wasn't going to abandon her pet, not that he'd ever expected her to, but he hadn't thought it would be such a problem either. Voldy was just a tiny mutt without much magic or usefulness. But to be honest, Severus hadn't given their return much consideration. It had always seemed so far away, but it wasn't, not anymore. Draco only needed a couple more days to restore the last of her memories and check she had assimilated everything and was still mentally stable and physically healthy, and… that was all. They didn't need to dwell any longer. In truth, they could have left sooner if they had really wanted to but being far from their homeland had seemed safer for Hermione.

“Not really surprising since half the magical population in these parts is made of magical creatures. It is normal they vould want to protect themselves from being treated like cattle.”

Krum’s explanation was followed by a collective “Oh...” of understanding. They really should have anticipated such a problem. They could probably call on the vampires for a favour so they could all leave the country without all the hassle of going through magical customs, but that would mean they would owe the vampires a favour and no one wanted to have that sort of debt hanging over their heads. There was only one thing vampires were interested in and Severus was rather fond of keeping his blood in his veins.

“So what’s the good news?” he asked.

“Isn’t him getting rid of Skeeter the good news?” Draco replied.

Severus glanced at Krum who still looked inordinately happy over sending the woman to her probable death and shook his head.

“No. Looks like that was personal. Well, Krum?” he prompted.

“Luckily, I have an old friend who is on his vay through here and due to travel North. He vas very understanding and happy to help arrange a vay out of the country for you. Nobody vill be the viser you vere here or that you are bringing back some “extra baggage”,” he said, eyeing Voldy dubiously as he tore into one of his cushions with delighted growls. “As long as it behaves.”

“And how trustworthy is this friend?” Severus demanded.

“As good as family,” Krum assured. “Vell, he is technically family since he is a distant cousin by alliance on my mother’s side and is married to my second cousin’ daughter on my father’s side… But you know how it is.”

Severus snorted. It seemed purebloods here were as inbred as they were back home.

“Can’t we just get a portkey back?” Draco whined, reverting for the first time in a long while to his spoiled brat persona. Severus had thought, had hoped , that particular personality flaw had been dead and buried for good, but it had probably been too ingrained in his childhood for it to disappear completely. Spoiled rotten indeed.

“Are you good buddies with the Romanian Minister of Magic, Draco? I had no idea. I'm impressed,” Severus answered, his tone becoming more sarcastic with every word. “I don't think you realized all the favours Potter called in to get our little group here incognito, and that was without illegal contraband.”

“No, not me , but Viktor-” Draco said only to be cut off by the latter’s chuckle.

“I am famous,” Krum acknowledged. “But not Harry Potter famous.”

“So that’s settled then. When is he due? And how will we travel?”

 

They only had three days left until Krum’s… cousin, or whatever he was, was due to pick them up. Krum was being unnecessarily secretive about the means of transport if you asked him, but Severus had a sneaking suspicion it had more to do with their host being under some magical oath not to reveal anything rather than just plain stubbornness. Made sense if his cousin was willing to circumvent several national and international laws just to help out a bunch of strangers. His business probably wasn't what you’d call legal.  

Unfortunately, they were now left with the worse of Hermione’s memories so he could only hope it was enough time to administer them all. He hated having to rush through something so important, but they didn't have much of a choice if they wanted to take Voldy back with them. Hermione didn't mind, or so she said, but Severus could see these darker memories were taking a toll on her.

“I'm fine ,” she insisted, and they might have believed her, if it wasn't for the nightmares.

They knew which memory was responsible of course. It was THAT one. The one they'd argued over non stop since Draco had rescued it from Grigore’s mind. The big question being what should be done with the horrific memory of her torture session with dear “Aunt Bella”. Draco’s opinion as a medical expert was that she should have it back, but his personal opinion was that he should have left it to rot in the vampire’s sick mind to be digested and forgotten by all. Krum was all for it and offered to simply throw the vial in the chimney and, you guessed it, “burn it vith fire” because nothing good would come out of giving it back to her. However, Severus thought she should have it back and embrace it. Hermione had been brave enough to endure the torture, all the while tricking Bellatrix into believing a big fat lie she'd made up on the spot. A Gryffindor outwitting a Slytherin was a feat in and of itself, not to mention under such conditions, so taking such accomplishments away from Hermione didn't seem fair. She'd owned those victories, those sacrifices. In the end, they agreed on only one point: Hermione should be the one to decide.

Severus knew she'd take the memory. The only one she'd rejected so far, she'd done so out of contempt for Dumbledore, but she wouldn't refuse a part of herself out of fear, not after she'd faced her worst fear in the flesh by duelling Grigore. Of course, that didn't mean Severus didn't feel guilty when Hermione woke up from a nightmare that night with a strangled scream and a sob. Severus was at her side in an instant, not because she was on his bed, she didn't do that anymore, sadly, but because he'd half been expecting it. As had Draco and Krum since they, like him, hadn't even bothered changing into their nightclothes. Instead, they made themselves comfortable on her bed or in the mismatched chairs furnishing her room and shared a hot chocolate, speaking in quiet tones of anything but the wicked witch of her nightmare until she fell asleep again. Draco too sometimes had nightmares of Bellatrix so he understood only too well what she was going through and he worried how such violent memories might affect her, not to mention tomorrow they would be returning memories of the Final Battle.

“We’ll just have to watched out for any sign of trauma,” Severus whispered in the hallway outside her room, keeping his voice down so as not to wake her.

“More than we already are?” Draco scoffed. “I don’t think that’s possible. I guess I’m just afraid we’ll be messing up everything after we obtained such good results.”

Severus pictured the Longbottoms and other people who’d lived through too much during the war and just broke down. After all, they didn’t know where her breaking point would be. He hated when Draco had a point.



Chapter Text

The next day, the three wizards had another argument about whether to give Hermione her memories of the final battle or not. They were even more violent than the memory of Bellatrix Lestrange which had given her nightmares the previous night, if less… up close and personal.

“I don't know why you even bother discussing what's better for me or not anymore,” Hermione said, putting a stop to their bickering. “It’s not like I'm going to let you decide for me. I know you did before, and I'm grateful, I really am, but I can take care of myself now.”

“But-” Draco tried.

“No,” Hermione said, her finger raised in warning.

“I am your healer,” Draco pouted, losing all credibility he might have had up to that point. “Unless… You're not going to consult another healer when we get back home, are you?” And this time, he whined like a spurned lover, and not at all like the medical expert he claimed to be.

“No, Pretty,” Hermione chuckled. “I promise not to medically cheat on you. But you still can't decide for me. I have and will continue to take your opinion into account though.”

“Oh,” Draco said. “So…”

“Yes, I want all the memories, all… my memories. Yes, even that one,” she said with a wrinkled nose, as she did every time Dumbledore was mentioned or even alluded to. “I still don't agree with the old coot's methods, but I think I need to see it to understand his motives better. I want to be her… me again, or as close as I can possibly be. I owe it to her, I think. Or to myself. I’m still a bit muddled up about who I am exactly, or who I’m supposed to be...”

“Nobody is pushing you either way,” Severus promised, although he knew he should not speak for most of her brash Gryffindor acquaintances who would probably put their large opiniated feet in their mouth within two minutes of speaking to her. “Just be who you’re comfortable being and let the rest of the world adjust to it.”

“Wow, Uncle Sev,” Draco drawled in such a tone that Severus knew that whatever came out next would not be a compliment in any way. “I never knew there was a Hufflepuff hidden under all those layers of Slytherin. He’s right, though,” he added turning to Hermione. “You’ve done your fair share of the work to get to where you are today, let others meet you halfway and if they’re not happy, I’m sure Viktor would gladly send them a map to Count Dracul’s castle to keep Skeeter company.”

“It vould indeed be my pleasure. Do not vorry too much, Hermy-own-ninny. You did not have many friends, but those you had vere very steadfast in their friendship.”

“Was that a compliment?” Draco whispered while Krum continued by naming those friends on his fingers.

“I’m not sure. I think that friends to them does not mean the same as friends to us Slytherins. But he has a point. We’ll have to be careful to introduce her slowly to her old acquaintances. I just hope Minerva or Mrs Weasley did not get it in their head to do something as asinine as throwing her a big welcome back party upon our return.”

“Urgh, Gryffindors,” Draco lamented. “I can just see how that disaster would end. Fortunately, we still have a few days before we get to that. Unfortunately, we’ll be busy cramming Hermione’s head full of bad memories.”

“We can tell her about the victory that followed though,” Severus said half-heartedly.

Draco nodded but didn’t comment. The final victory over Voldemort and his Death-Eaters had been a bitter one. Too many dead, too many injured, too much loss and suffering. The fallout for people like him and the Malfoys who’d been sitting on the fence or changed allegiance at the end was pretty bad too. Severus had been shielded from the worse of it since he’d been sent to recover at St Mungos instead of being processed like a war criminal, as  Draco had. But there had been no celebrations, no fireworks or flurries of owls to spread the cheer and good news like there had been at the end of the First War. It hadn’t been a victory, it had just been an end.

Giving Hermione those last memories would probably bring an end to her lighthearted nature too. Watching her as she laughed with Krum, her face free of worry and grief save for the visible scar that slashed across it, he couldn’t help but feel it was a shame, but she’d made up her mind, so mote it be.

 

They started with the missing piece of Dumbledore’s funeral and she remained stone-faced, telling them they could go on with the next. She had witnessed most of the Battle before she was lost to the Forbidden Forest. She had watched an army of magical creatures and dark wizards and witches gather in front of her. Had felt the fear. She had seen classmates, friends and teachers die horrible deaths. Had felt the grief. She had narrowly avoided the same fate several times. She was as courageous now as she was then and wouldn’t hear of taking a break, but Severus could swear he was saw lines of sorrow carve into her skin as they spoke which hadn’t been there before. She suddenly looked older, more stern and foreboding.

She said she was fine and Draco confirmed with several diagnostic spells that nothing was amiss, yet, he hesitated when Krum handed him the next memory and Severus understood why when he saw the number written on the vial: 38.

“Hermione,” Draco said with the soothing voice he used whenever he was being a healer. “Are you sure you don’t want to continue tomorrow?”

Hermione looked at him then at the small chest they had been keeping her memories in, before shaking her head.

“Don’t be silly. We’re almost finished. I’d rather have this over and done with, tiphen I’ll be as much of myself as I can possibly be. I won’t… change again after you give me those memories.”

Draco sighed in defeat so Severus took over.

“There’s no rush. We’ll still have a couple of days before Viktor’s cousin arrives.”

Hermione narrowed her eyes at him.

“What’s in that next memory that you don’t want me to see?”

“Nagini,” Draco said in a whisper.

He’d always been terrified by that enormous snake and he’d had to live under the same roof.

“So? I’ve seen her before.”

True enough and what a disturbing memory that had been.

“It’s when she almost killed me,” Severus said, unable to stop his hand from going to his throat as if he was still trying to keep the blood from pouring out of his veins.

“I…” Hermione looked about to protest but suddenly deflated. Her spine which had been ramrod straight and her jaw which had been clenched since they started this session both seemed to give way at all he same time and she fell back limply in the cushions. “Alright. I actually think I’m at my limit. I really would have liked it better if it was finally over but-”

“You don’t have to justify yourself,” Draco cut in and turned away to put vial number 38 back in the padded chest which Krum gently closed and put away for the night.

“I’m not very hungry,” Hermione said and excused herself to an early night.

“Think she vill be okay?” Krum asked and Draco shrugged.

“I don’t see why not. She’s managed so far, but I’m guessing she will have nightmares tonight.”

Dinner was a silent affair since it was difficult to hold a light hearted or polite conversation while one of their numbers was processing a whole war on her own upstairs. They’d had years to come to terms with it and they still felt it weighing heavily on their shoulders now and then.

 

When they went upstairs to check on Hermione, they found her in Severus’ bed. It was probably a way to comfort herself, like she had done when she had sought refuge in Harry’s room, but the younger wizards suddenly made themselves scarce. Not that he minded. If he couldn’t take care of her on his own, then he didn’t deserve to be a Head of House or even a teacher. Or her.

She had snuggled under the blanket and into his pillow. Gently pushing her curls aside, he could see she was asleep but had been crying before that, her face still a bit blotchy and her eyes puffy. Only to be expected but guilt continued to gnaw at him for putting her through it all. Not that she didn't want to, but he never tried to stop her either.

Severus lay next to her and watched her sleep for a while but he could see her subconscious digesting the memories as surely as if he could read her mind. She woke with a start and a silent gasp and her face crumbled when she lay eyes on him. Without a word, she threw herself into his open arms and fell asleep between muffled sobs while he stroked her back and routinely got rid of her curls that insisted on latching onto his fingers at the first opportunity.

Thankfully, he had never needed much sleep and was up before one of the boys could come snooping into his room and tease him about Hermione. He had quite enough of that already and was just plain lucky the witch didn't get annoyed by all the needling. She herself must have gotten up with the sun because the sheets next to him were already cold. He got out of bed and changed robes, not that anyone would notice because they were all black with too many buttons to count.

He found Hermione in the middle of the sofa with the memory-chest open on her knees.

“Hermione?” he called cautiously so as not to startled her.

She looked up, didn't appear as terrible as last night, but didn't look like his savage bare-foot either. That seemed like a lifetime ago now. She literally wasn't barefoot anymore, wearing instead ankle high leather boots that most witches wore. A gift from “Vikki”, no doubt.

“Can you tell me about it?”she asked, her ginger playing with one of the vials. “I was thinking the memory might not be as terrible if you tell me what happened first so I'll know what to expect.”

Severus cocked his head to the side in thought. It was a good theory, one Draco would probably like to try out. He didn't see how it could hurt anyway, except that he didn't like to talk about it himself. Just thinking about that moment, the jagged scar at his neck seemed to burn with the poison and blood. He gulped and nodded before taking a seat next to her.

“It was near the end of the battle on the grounds. Voldemort wasn't satisfied with how his wand, the elder wand, was working, so he summoned me. I didn't really have a choice so I went. I realized too late that he intended to get rid of me,” he chuckled mirthlessly at his own idiocy. “I tried to get away. I think you might have been there already so you'll see how very pitiful I was. Begging…” he spat. “Promising to bring him Harry. I wouldn't have, of course, but I had to see him, to give him a message from Dumbledore. It was vital he'd said, so I thought we were going to lose the war because of my idiocy. But Voldemort wouldn't even kill me himself. He set his pet on me, like I was nothing but an annoying rodent, worthless…”

Hermione squeezed his hand. He was used to having someone care for him. Minerva and Poppy were there when he needed to vent, but he'd never told anyone about this. He undid his high stiff collar to show her all of his scar, so she'd know it was past, that he was fine now.

“Nagini sank her fangs in my neck. The pain was awful, but I couldn't let myself fall unconscious. I could feel her poison burning through my veins and that pain was just as bad. Voldemort didn't even stay to make sure I was dead, which was a good thing because it gave me enough time to take an antivenom and a blood replenishing potion before you came. I have no earthly idea where you'd been hiding, but suddenly you were there. Harry… I remember his eyes. You were there too, you helped Harry gather… my message. You wanted to help me, I think, but there was no time and you were gone. I suppose Weasley was there as well. I don't remember it though. Honestly, all the rest is a bit of a blur to me but I managed to give Dumbledore's message. I'd done my part so I stopped fighting. Next thing I knew, I was in a hospital bed, unsure whether I should be relieved or not.”

They sat in silence for a while and he realized their hands were linked. It felt good, warm and grounding, unlike anything he'd felt before and yet it was so simple.

“Why?” Hermione asked in a whisper.

Severus huffed. So many reasons in truth, not all of them noble unfortunately, but that's who he was and he had no intention of hiding that to Hermione if she wanted to persist in this path and believe that there could be an “us” between them.

“I never thought I would live to see the outcome of the war. I thought for sure one side would kill me if the other didn't so when I woke up, I had no idea what I was supposed to do. I’d fulfilled my mission, kept my promise… to be honest, I never planned further than that and I had no desire to face the consequences. I might have run and hid for the rest of my miserable life if I’d been in any shape to do so but I was still bleeding out from that damned bite and my wand had been taken away then, Saint Potter arrived.”

Severus rolled his eyes at the memory of Harry Potter walking into his hospital room, looking for all the world like he was happy to see him. Hermione made a sound that sounded suspiciously like a giggle she’d tried to muffle.

“He told me I was free. That he’d testified and given proof that I’d been working under Dumbledore’s orders all along. Free,” he scoffed. “You have no idea how foreign that concept was to me. I ended up back at Hogwarts teaching because I had no idea what else to do. I had nothing to live for...”

Severus trailed off. That had been true until recently, until someone saved his life in the Forbidden Forest. Since that fateful night, he’d had a new goal in his life, even if it had changed multiple time in the last few weeks: find the bare-foot, find who had harmed Hermione, go vampire hunting, assist in healing her mind… she was always at the center of it, had become a friend, wanted to be more than a friend, although he still doubted the wisdom of that decision, it was becoming more and more difficult not to encourage it.

“What about now?” she asked, voice a low rumble that made his skin tingle.

Severus had to shake off the ideas going through his head. Too soon. Draco hadn’t given her the all clear yet.

“Now I have time. I can wait.”

“You’ve got to be the most annoyingly patient man on Earth,” she huffed and set the small memory-chest aside.

“I've always been told patience is a virtue.”

“Not when it's in my way.”

Severus watched warily as her hand hovered closer, still hesitant whether he should just let her have her way with him and stop being such a … Gryffindor about it, or stop her. Her fingers carefully folded his collar down, grazing his skin in the process and that smallest of contacts was enough to send a goosebumps coursing down his spine. It had actually been easier to deal with her when she just jumped on him. All this anticipation was killing him.

Warm fingertips followed the jagged line of his scar, curling all the way around to the back of his neck and she leaned closer, pressing her body against his and he still had no fucking clue of what he should do.

He wanted more, he wanted to wait.

She pressed her lips to his throat, depositing a kiss to his pulse point as if kissing life itself, then withdrew and it took him a moment to realize they weren't alone anymore.

Severus buttoned his collar all the way up and refused to look flustered in front of Draco or he wouldn't let him live it down.

“Good morning, Pretty!” she chirped. “We're trying something new.”

Severus almost choked at her words.

“Obviously,” Draco replied with a sly grin. “Although I doubt I want to hear the details.”

“Really? We thought you'd want to take notes,” she deadpanned and Merlin, she was good. Draco’s teasing turned against him.

“What? No!” he exclaimed with a blush.

Severus sighed.

“She means by that we discussed the next memory in detail before we're to return it to where it belongs, you twat. Please get your mind out of the gutter before your drown in it.”

Hermione snickered while Draco huffed, but he tried to regain the upper hand by ordering them about for the next, and final, memory restauration séance. It seemed talking about the memory beforehand did help alleviate the shock of experiencing it again for the first time as Hermione didn’t react nearly as badly to Severus’ apparent death as she had to her setting fire to his robes for example. A bit obvious, in hindsight, and Draco wondered about using a pensive to see the memory from a distance as another alternative, but as they didn’t have one here and they were rather rare and expensive to come by, he just made a note of it for future experimentation and they talked about the last two memories left in the chest with Hermione before replacing them in her mind.

Severus didn’t know why he’d been expecting something special to happen once they’d given her back all her memories. Maybe because something always did when he accomplished the last steps of a potion. But he should have known better. After all, they hadn’t managed to rescue all of Hermione’s memories. Some had been eaten long ago by the vampire, others had been destroyed after his capture, devoured by the creature when he realized that they were stealing them back from him. So there would always be holes in her mind, the process would remain incomplete. Yet, both he and Draco stared at her expectantly after she opened her eyes. No doubt Krum would have too if he hadn’t left to do some errands again.

“Well…” she said. “I guess this is as close to my old self as I’m going to get.”

Draco scribbled in his notebook, then asked her a thousand and one questions and once he was done, he used a myriad diagnostic spells and gave her a schedule of mandatory check-ups for the next few months to come. Severus wondered if he wasn’t overdoing it. Not that he was going to complain, mind, because he felt as responsible for her now as he did when he had dragged her out of the forest, and what they had done was rather experimental so if something did go wrong… he didn’t like to think about it.

“So I’m cleared?” she asked Draco. “I’m as healthy and whole as I’m ever going to get, right?”

“Yes, if that’s how you want to put it.”

“Hear that, Severus?” she asked with a voice that should not be used in public. “My healer cleared me.”

“Ugh,” Draco cut in, leaving Severus enough time to gather his wits. “I did not need to hear that. I’m leaving before you start… unbuttoning again.”

“Hermione,” Severus scolded but his heart wasn’t really in it.

He had said that he wanted to wait until she was cleared, and so she was, but he was still not sure they should tread this path.

“Severus?” she asked, moving out of her chair towards him. “What is it?”

“I’m… not sure this is best for you. I- Frankly, I’m astonished you still want this. Me. I thought that once you knew everything…”

“What? That I’d change my mind?” she scoffed. “I know what I want. Just because I lacked the words didn’t mean I didn’t know before. I want you, Severus and I wish you’d stop being so hesitant about it.”

“It’s for your own good,” he said and took note of the spark of anger in her eyes, continuing rapidly before she could get really mad at his poor choice of words. “What I mean is that you were barely an adult when you disappeared and you’re still young. I know what it is to make poor choices at that age out of impulse or too little information and I don’t want you to have regrets. I don’t want to be that regret.”

Her face softened and she took his hands.

“You won’t be,” she said, looking into his eyes.

“You can’t know that. It won’t be easy. Us. People won’t approve, for so many valid reasons they won’t even need to make them up.”

“People are idiots. I don’t care about them or what they think. What I do care about is how much time we have before we are interrupted again.”

Severus couldn’t help it, he chuckled and felt a weight lift off his shoulders. Apparently, Hermione wouldn’t be deterred so easily. She really wanted this, him.

“If it’s any consolation, Draco won’t be back any time soon. He’s probably miles away, bleaching his eyes out or something.”

“Which just leaves Vikki. I think we should relocate,” she said and pulled him by the sleeve to lead him upstairs.

Upstairs. There was no doubt she was leading him to a bedroom. His bedroom, or theirs, since they’d shared it more often than not. She closed the door, locked it and turned to look at him with a playful grin. Severus was almost scared of how carefree she was, while he was nearly paralyzed by his insecurities. Which was strange because from all her memories he’d seen, she didn’t seem to be particularly experienced in this aspect. Neither was he, but she didn’t know that and he’d thought they would be on equal footing, but the way she’d dragged him into the bedroom, the way she was advancing on him and looking at him… She had never looked so much like a predator than she did now and Severus wasn’t really enjoying being the prey in this scenario.

“We won’t do anything you’re not comfortable with,” she said soothingly and he had a feeling he should be the one make such reassurances to her, not the other way around.

“How are you so comfortable with this?” he replied with a vague gesture at the locked door, the bed behind them and her in general. He was just glad his voice sounded steady so he didn’t make a complete fool of himself, but she obviously knew this wasn’t exactly his area of expertise.

“Animals and creatures in the Forest don’t make such a fuss about mating,” she said offhandedly and shrugged. “I watched.”

Severus choked on his surprise, but...yes, that made sense from her perspective. The more civilized she became, the more he forgot she had been a wild savage creature herself and always would be, in part. So of course such a natural ritual wouldn’t faze her. He had no such luck however. There was a reason he hid behind so many layers of clothing and buttons.




Chapter Text

Hermione had always been the one to make the first move, to openly show her interest, whether it be by her words or actions. At first, he'd ignored it, then stopped it, then allowed it. Today was entirely her doing too, so maybe it was finally time he take that step forward himself, that he show Hermione her feelings were reciprocated. She didn't seem insecure, far from it, but he knew how it felt to be in her position and be faced by a wall of indifference, even if he had done so to protect her, not to be cruel, but there was no point now in keeping her at arm's length.

Today, Hermione was officially healed, master of her own mind, body and heart. Only his own doubts, insecurities and fear were in the way. He could let his past continue to shadow his happiness, or he could take a leap of faith… he knew Hermione would catch him. She could probably do it literally, too.

“Hermione,” he said as he took a step forward and it was okay if he sounded sappy.

Fools in love. Or rather, love makes fools of everyone.

Hermione hadn’t moved. She was waiting for him and her smile hadn't slipped one inch while he'd been mulling things over. He cupped her face, gently tilted it up and kissed the corner of her mouth where her scar twisted it downwards even as she smiled. Her skin was warm and smelled of something sweet. Cake probably, he thought with some amusement and wondered if she tasted of sugar and vanilla too. Hermione hummed and pressed herself closer to him, but he realized she was holding herself back, letting him take the lead when it had to be against her nature.

He buried his nose in her hair, closing his eyes, overwhelmed by the smell of her shampoo, less sweet but reminding him of the plants he used in his  potions, of fresh cut Wiggentree leafs and Moly flowers. He nuzzled closer to her neck, pushing aside curls that tried to ensnare him so he could whisper in her ear.

My Alpha.

The shift was instantaneous. The tension he had felt throughout her body snapped and her hands moved eagerly against him, up his back where they'd been resting and over his chest until she could pull him down by the front of his robe. This time, for the first time, they met halfway and Severus knew everything would be fine.

 

ooo

 

Severus felt like he'd played through a day long Quidditch match when he woke up hours later. It was hunger that had pulled him out of his blissed out coma, he realized when his stomach grumbled anew.

Sure enough, he'd missed breakfast, and lunch apparently. Judging by the sun, it was around tea time, but he'd gladly miss any number of meals just so he could laze about in bed with his lovely - and naked - Hermione in his arms. However, he was rather disturbed to see Voldy was curled up against her because he was pretty sure she had locked the door with him on the other side, so just how had he found his way in? As if feeling eyes on him, Voldy glanced his way, judged him of little interest, snorted and resumed his soft snoring. Severus decided the mutt might have the right of it and dismissed him from his mind too.

However, he was surprised Hermione was still sleeping since food was usually paramount to her, but she looked peaceful and dare he say, happy. He noticed scars on her shoulders in the golden light coming through the window that he had never seen before: old, some deep but most rather shallow. More tokens from her life in the Forest, no doubt. He traced them lightly with his fingers, committing the network of white lines to memory until her eyelashes fluttered and she looked back at him with her goofy grin.

Once awake, Hermione couldn't keep still and barely took the time to dress she was so hungry. She could apparently smell food wafting up from downstairs and was worried the boys would eat everything, which was ridiculous because the house-elves' cooked ridiculous amounts while Draco picked at his plate like a bird and Krum was watching his weight before the nearing Quidditch season. As it was, Severus barely had time to throw his outer robe over Hermione's shoulders to cover her a bit more before she barged into the living room half dressed, startling the two wizards sharing tea and conversation in quite tones.

“Told you,” she said smugly around a mouthful of pie.

“Such a Gryffindor,” Draco tutted disapprovingly. “I'd ask how you're feeling since this morning but I think the answer is quite obvious.”

“Never better,” she replied anyway, not the least bit bothered by his allusion to their… activities, or by their curious stares.

Severus put on a blank mask. It had been a long time since he'd felt the need to call upon his occlumency, but he didn't want to let anything slip, least of all a blush. They already knew more than enough of his private affairs.

“Ve vere discussing your return,” Krum said, visibly as eager to get away from the topic of their relationship as he was. “My cousin vill arrive a day early. He had a little trouble at his last stop and moved up his schedule. But Draco tells me Hermy-own-ninny has taken the last memories quite vell?”

Hermione nodded, swallowed a mouthful and nodded.

“I think I'm ready to go home and see everyone. At least, I known I won't bite anyone's face off this time… unless they deserve it, of course.”

“Of course,” Draco chuckled. “Maybe you should avoid the Weasleys then, and remember not to push yourself too much. When people get wind of your return, it's going to be complete and utter madness.”

Severus sighed. He'd almost forgotten Hermione was such a celebrity and that they couldn't keep her hidden forever. Hell, if she wanted to resume her life, complete her studies, find a job, a place to live, even just apparate on her own... they were going to have to officially resurrect her and that meant a paper trail. Even if they used favours and bribes, he gave it three days before the whole of Britain knew of her return.

 

ooo

 

“You can't be serious,” Draco said while Severus eyed their ticket back home with some curiosity. They had all apparated to a nearby lake and looked on as their transport swayed in front of them in all its creaking, wooden beauty, tattered sails and tangles of ropes. So many ropes everywhere: dangling, pulled taught, coiled like snakes, knotted… Krum gave Draco a flat look, not bothering with an answer when the boat was so imposing and quite literally dripping on them. “You're serious. Alright. Well… it's not like we have much of a choice anyway.”

Severus slapped him behind his too blond head. Lucius had raised his offspring to be a prat, true, but Severus wouldn't let him get away with it, not on his watch.

“Just say thank you, Draco. There's a good boy.”

Draco rolled his eyes but mumbled a thank you to the Krums, even if it clearly wasn't as heartfelt as it should be. The other Krum, the new one who had demanded to be called ‘Captain’ looked nothing like Viktor: he was tall, blond and tanned, he actually reminded Severus most unpleasantly of Gilderoy Lockhart and he could only pray the captain was competent in his chosen trade contrary to that other fraud. The ship was undoubtedly magical since it looked like the twin of the one that had brought the Durmstrang delegation to Hogwarts for the Triwizard tournament.

“It is smaller,” the Captain told him when he asked about it. “Which only makes this beauty better as it is faster for our discreet delivery service.”

Severus chuckled at how the smuggler chose to call his trade.

“There are only two magical ships left in the world unfortunately. They ran out of fashion after portkeys became available through ministries. Durmstrang holds one of course and the other is displayed in Budapest's Museum of Magical Transport.”

Severus furrowed his brow. Surely the man could count, or this trip might be more dangerous than he imagined.

“Or so they think,” the Captain added with a wink and laughed heartily.

Severus smirked and nodded approvingly at the Captain. If he had managed to pull off a theft of that magnitude then he couldn't possibly be a dunderhead. He would keep a close eye on their belongings and on Hermione though, because he might be Krum’s cousin but he seemed to be a thief at heart and might not be able to help himself to a little extra galleons or a King's Ransom.

When it was time, Viktor shook his hand solemnly.

“Take care of Hermy-own-ninny.”

“I think she can take care of herself now. Thank you for your help and for hosting us.”

“Anything for friends,” he replied and went in search of Hermione to say goodbye.

Friends. Severus raised his eyebrows at the revelation. He had somehow become friends with a world renowned Quidditch champion, and only Hermione could have gotten them to get along. He was sure this was only the tip of the iceberg of the changes to come. He could kiss his old life as a grumpy recluse goodbye if he wanted to keep Hermione in his life, but the sacrifice didn't feel so awful in comparison to what he gained, even if it did involve a whole lot of socializing and Gryffindors.

“Keep in touch,” Krum was telling Hermione as he approached and she hugged him.

“Of course I will. We'll always be pack, whatever the distance.”

Krum looked like he might cry, but he rounded on Draco who was still staring with disbelief at the boat and gave him a mighty tap in the back that almost sent him toppling into the water.

“Draco.”

“Viktor.”

Apparently that was all, but Hermione rolled her eyes with a muttered “boys” that everyone pretended not to hear.

The Captain hollered something incomprehensible and everyone save Viktor climbed the gangplank. Silver grey sails were let loose, filling with wind that was not there and a translucent bubble started surrounding the ship. Hermione waved at Viktor and suddenly they sank deep into the waters until even the highest mast was under. As they dove deeper into the waters, the Captain blew a whistle he had around his neck and bubbles of iridescent light began floating inside the larger bubble containing the ship. Out of curiosity, Severus poked one which had wandered too close to him with his index finger, half-expecting it to burst, but it simply bounced away, hovering around the head of a nearby crew member who was coiling a rope as large as his arm at his feet and completely ignoring the clingy little bubble of light.

Hermione loved the boat, she said it was like sailing the midnight sky amidst the stars, except she didn't have to worry about falling down. Pertinent, if a bit too poetic for his taste. She also loved watching the fish and they caught sight of mermaids when they approached the Mediterranean sea except they looked a lot more human than those in the Black Lake next to Hogwarts. Severus was relieved when they stopped in Bastia, on the small Corse Island south of France. The Captain apparently had a lot of goods waiting for him there that had to be delivered en route to England. Severus did not ask questions because the dockers looked shifty and there was an alarming amount of galleons exchanging hands so discreetly it wasn't discreet at all anymore. They might as well be wearing masks and hoods.

The only upside is that they discovered Hermione could understand French fairly well although she was having trouble speaking it. But she did confirm their dealings were very shady and that they should leave before “gendarmes” arrived whatever the hell that was.

Draco made note of her French abilities and tried other languages on her, not that he knew any himself, but the sailors certainly did. However, Severus had a sneaking suspicion they were mostly saying swear words and salacious jokes because they laughed in that way men do when they think they’re being clever.

They were slowly navigating west with regular stops to exchange merchandise and amass galleons: Marseilles, Barcelona, Lisbon, Brest. They were almost home and Severus couldn’t wait to sleep in a real bed instead of the hammocks they’d been given with the rest of the -mostly snoring- crew. Only the Captain had a cabin, which explained why he was the only cheery person on the boat, except for Hermione who said she’d slept in much worse conditions in the Forbidden Forest. Draco looked even worse than he did. His hair matted and greyish instead of its usual shiny platinum. He hated sailing and couldn’t keep his food down, even after Severus sought out a potion in Marseilles with Hermione’s help as a translator.

His only consolation was that Voldy hated the trip too and usually lay curled in on himself in Hermione’s hammock.

Throughout their voyage, the Captain always told them when they were stopping and resurfacing so they could breathe some fresh air, so Severus was mildly curious when his hammock stopped swinging in the dead of night. He'd gotten so used to the motion putting him to sleep that the lack of it snapped him awake. He hoped he wouldn't have to enchant his massive poster-bed at Hogwarts to rock him to sleep. He'd never live it down if anyone found out.

Currently, he was more worried about the complete and utter stillness of the boat. Everyone else was still asleep though: the snoring sailors, or most of them anyway, Draco and even Hermione. He crept slowly up to the deck and was met by a cloudless almost full moon shining brightly over the calm waters. It was beautiful, he had to admit and the feeling of being so isolated and so small in the vast sea made him feel more at peace than insignificant. Quite the opposite of when he looked up at the stars. He soon spotted a lone figure leaning against the railing and he hesitated whether the approach him or spy on him. If he wasn't mistaken it was the Captain, but this would be the first time he saw him without his feathered hat. It was evident he was up to something. He cursed Viktor. Damn him for trusting second-hand parties. Severus disillusioned himself and kept at a distance but close enough to see what he was up to. The Captain was looking through a long-view staring at the same spot. What Severus had taken to be one of the moonlight’s reflections on the water at first was moving at a steady pace towards them. A lantern? Was this just some exchange between the smuggler and a client? But in that case, why be so secretive about it? He usually surrounded himself with his crew so no one would try to rob him during an exchange, but tonight, he could only see a couple of his men lurking around, staring at the same point with greedy grins that glinted in the moonlight.

Well, it was the Captain’s business he supposed, so he would stay out of it, but Merlin help him if he put Hermione in harm's way just to make an extra galleon or two. Out of curiosity, he approached when the smaller boat was within shouting range so he could hear the exchange. They would be somewhere between France and England now, so he had a fifty-fifty chance of understanding what would be going on..

“Greeting, Captain of the Speedy Siren!”

Ah, a fellow countryman then.

“You the guy goes by James?” the Captain asked, only it wasn’t the real Captain but one of his sailors wearing his ridiculous hat.

Curiouser and curiouser. It was probably meant as a decoy… Severus tightened his grip on his wand.

“Depends, Captain. You the guy with Avalon Crown?”

In answer, the sailor held up a cloth bag that could be the size of a crown, but whether it contained that or a brick was anyone’s guess.

“It’s gonna cost you a pretty penny!”

“Or not,” the man in the small boat replied, now close enough that he didn’t need to shout. “Stupefy!”

The fake Captain went down. Now was a good time to fight off the stranger, even more so because he’d been hiding his own men in his tiny boat somehow. An expansion charm no doubt. Were they being accosted by pirates? He’d had no idea there were still pirates on the sea, but he wouldn’t let them go anywhere near the cabin where Hermione was sleeping. Disillusioned as he was, it was child’s play to stupefy the first pirate to set foot on their boat but that gave his position away and he had to take cover. Meanwhile the Captain roused his troups using a sonorus charm and soon, an all out battle took over the larger ship. Hermione was in the fray, having the time of her life apparently as she dangled from the ropes and kicked a couple of the invaders oberboard. He knew then he didn’t have to worry about her falling to sea. Not with her skills.

Someone suddenly tripped on a rope behind him and he whirled around, coming wand to wand with…

“Potter?”

“Severus?”

He leveled his wand down, Potter mimicking his motion. He hoped this was a joke and that they hadn’t just been caught in the middle of an Auror investigation, but all evidence pointed to the contrary. Potter called off his men and they retreated very reluctantly to the smaller boat, then Hermione jumped in his arms and hugged the life out of him.

“Hey! I didn’t know you were on your way back? Why didn’t you tell me?” Potter asked once he’d managed to ease Hermione off.

“The only way I found to efficiently keep a secret is to not spread it around, strangely,” Severus snarked. “But I guess you managed to bollock that one up anyway.”

“Severus,” Hermione tutted. “Harry was just doing his job and you know it. But Harry, you can’t arrest the Captain, he was bringing us home.”

“He’s a smuggler! And a wanted thief if he really has the Crown of Avalon in there.”

“Oh, well then,” the Captain piped up with a smile. “Problem solved.”

He upended the cloth bag and a metal plate fell out, bounced once, then rolled in a circle until it stopped.

“So you were just going to fleece me, then? That still makes you a thief,” Harry argued.

“Well, you were going to buy illegal contraband so what does that make you?”

“An auror!” Harry replied indignantly.

“He’s Viktor’s cousin,” Severus said so they’d stop with this nonsensical argument.

The Captain grinned wider when Potter deflated.

“Oh, very well. But do you have any idea of the paperwork this is going to cost me? Tell Viktor he owes me one now.”

The Captain nodded and made himself scarce while they discussed how they had come to be on this boat, but despite Hermione’s assurances that she liked the boat, Harry insisted on bringing them back to land himself.

“And where’s Draco? Did you push him overboard? Is it because he wore that abominable bow tie again?”

“No, no,” Hermione laughed. “Pretty is not doing so well. He’s seasick. I guess he’ll be relieved to get home sooner. I’ll go fetch him,” she said and ran back down into the cabin.

Severus was packing and summoning their belongings all at once, which made for a distracting spectacle of flying objects parading around the boat before neatly packing themselves into a slowly approaching trunk that hovered inches above the floorboards as if it had tiny legs.

“Hermione has improved a lot, hasn’t she?” Potter asked.

Was he making small talk? With him? He should know better.

“Indeed,” Severus replied, continuing his work as if he hadn’t been interrupted.

“And did she and Viktor-”

“No.”

“Oh. Okay. So…”

Severus rolled his eyes and closed the lid of the trunk with an ominous thud before whirling around on the blabbering man.

“Are you trying to pry into my private life, Potter?” he asked, narrowing his eyes at him.

“No, Hermione’s actually, but I guess that answers my question. Uhm… Congratulations?” he said but his face said he didn’t mean it, which he seemed to realize. “Sorry. It’s just a bit weird, you know? And I’m taking it well. Wait till the Weasleys learn about it. Or Professor McGonagall. You’re a braver man than I am.”

Severus actually considered staying on the boat at the thought of Molly and Minerva’s hysterics if they knew he had sullied their precious Gryffindor golden girl. But that’s not who she was anymore… Besides, they didn’t need to tell anyone.

“It’s none of their business either,” he pointed out.

Potter chuckled.

“Yeah, good luck with that,” he said and walked passed him to greet Draco, still green at the gills.

 

ooo

 

One thing to be said, Potter’s little boat was a lot faster than the Speedy Siren, and Draco seemed to be dealing better with a boat that stayed at the surface of the water than one which sank under. They all disembarked in Pool where the Aurors had a naval unit and they finally set foot on British soil again. Severus hadn’t realized he’d missed his home country before now. He’d always thought himself above it, but now, he would love nothing more than a “real” cup of tea. It had never tasted quite right in Romania, even when he’d done it himself, and he wondered if it had something to do with the water or the climate.

Draco excused himself immediately and Potter looked at them expectantly. His own home was Hogwarts, but that didn’t necessarily mean Hermione wanted to go there. Maybe she would want to leave with Harry. He glanced at her, waiting for her to clue him in and realizing they should have talked about it in private, before they had an audience. But in his defence, he’d thought they had another day on board before they were due to arrive.

“Home?” she asked and yawned.

Which really didn’t help him.

“And where is home for you? You can go anywhere you want. I’m sure the Potters or the Weasleys would take you in if you want.”

Or anyone really. What a publicity stunt that would be. Maybe Draco should have offered her one of the dozens guest rooms of Malfoy Manor.

“Home is where you are,” Hermione said as if it was obvious.

Severus’ heart stuttered. Potter’s was turning into goo if the ridiculous sound he was making was any indication. He could have, at the very least, pretended not to be listening.

“Hogwarts it is then. Potter, thank you for the ride. I imagine we’ll be seeing you soon.”

“You can count on it!” he winked, hugged Hermione and disapparated.

Hermione slipped her hand in his and they followed suit.

 

Chapter Text

Everything could have been peaceful for a few days if people knew how to keep their fucking mouths shut. The first day of their return had started well enough. They had sneaked into the castle in the dead of night and made it to his chambers unimpeded. Hermione categorically refused to take a guest room, even one nearby his own, and he knew that he would only make her angry by insisting. It would be quite hypocritical in any case. Who did he think he was going to fool? It was obvious he and Hermione were more than friends. It wasn’t just the way she walked close to him, touched him casually, or looked at him with those adoring and trusting eyes, but she made absolutely no effort to hide it, to anyone. It was almost as if she was proud of loving him. Him. He wouldn’t be surprised if she climbed on the astronomy tower tomorrow to shout it from the rooftops too.

He didn’t go out of his way to hide it either and as Potter had pointed out, his expression changed without his consent when he looked at her. Try as he might, it was impossible to keep a scowl on his face when he saw her.

So he had to be brave and face it: Minerva was going to transfigure him into a gnat and step on him, or maybe a mouse so she could play with him for a while in her animagus form. It was inevitable. Which is why he was quite certain the insistent knocking at his door so early the next morning had to belong to the headmistress. Voldy was barking frantically at it too, which only gave credence to his theory as the  magical dog would no doubt be able to sniff out a magical cat even through a warded door. In any case, all the ruckus woke both of them up.

Severus stood in his bathrobe in front of the door, took a deep breath and opened it. A redheaded witch with too much energy fidgeted there, her fist raised, ready to pound the door down once more.

“Miss-” he was going to call her Weasley out of habit, but caught himself just in time and corrected himself. “Mrs Potter.”

Hard not to make that sound like an insult, but the witch just rolled her eyes, switching her latest spawn from one hip to the other.

“Professor Snape. I need to see Hermione. It’s rather urgent.”

He raised an eyebrow. They’d been back in the country only a few hours. Literally. What sort of emergency could have arisen so soon? He watched over her shoulder to glimpse bags floating in the air behind her, displaying logos from Mrs Malkin’s, Sleekeazy and others he didn’t know but which looked rather feminine.

“Please tell me this is not a wardrobe related emergency. Because I have poisons on hand and I will use them.”

The cheeky woman had the audacity to snort in his face and walk pass him as if he’d given her leave to enter his quarters. However, Hermione seemed overjoyed to see her and threw herself towards her with open arms before realizing she had a baby in her arms. She stopped in her tracks and stared at the brat.

“Little Harry,” she said.

“Yes. I think I finally mastered the gemini spell,” the she-Potter chuckled. “I’d let you hold him but we’re in a hurry.”

Severus’ ears perked.

“I know you just got here but it’s already madness in the Ministry and Diagon Alley. Someone’s blabbed about seeing you and now everyone is looking for you, and by everyone I mean EVERYONE. The Minister and anyone who’s anyone in the government, reporters and fans… Oh, Merlin. There will be a riot if this goes on much longer. And the rumours circulating already are the craziest pile of dragon dung!”

Her voice tapered off, ending in a high-pitch sigh and Severus took the opportunity to interrupt her.

“And what, pray tell, do you propose we do?”

He hoped she had a reason for barging in here and had not come all the way just to spread the gossip all the way up to Hogwarts. The redhead looked at him like he was an idiot. He was going to poison the little chit. With mild food poisoning. He wasn’t a total monster.

“Isn’t it obvious? You have to be ahead of the race! Take control of the situation before they steamroll Hermione with hearsay and lies, or ambush her with questions. And believe me, they can be ruthless. They haven't had a scoop to gnaw at since Harry's affair with Krum and they're ravenous, so feed them before they tear her apart.”

Severus wanted to object, but she looked like she actually knew what she was on about. He wanted to protect Hermione, shield her from it all, but he also knew it might make matters worse and that she wouldn’t be left alone until those vultures got what they wanted. In the end, it wasn’t his decision to make, so he looked to Hermione for her decision.

“I can do it,” she said confidently.

“They will ask you horrible things if they can,” Severus warned. “Try to trip you up, embarrass you, lie… they’ll do anything for a scoop. Remember that man in the restaurant in Romania who followed you into the loos?”

Hermione rolled her eyes.

“No biting ears off even if they deserve it. I think I’ll manage if I can have breakfast first.”

“Perfect!” the she-Potter said brightly. “I already invited the Lovegoods, Lavender and Lee to sit front row. They’ll serve as a buffer in case things get ugly. Don’t hesitate to call on them, they're all good reporters if a bit… specialized.”

To say he was surprised would be an understatement. That was practically Slytherin thinking.

“Minny is setting up the Great Hall. Which reminds me, Professor, she isn’t very happy with you. You’d better go up there to help her out.”

Severus cursed and dashed for the bathroom to make himself presentable. When he came out, their guest was trying to convince Hermione to try on periwinkle coloured robes which made his eyes water, but most colours that weren’t black had that effect on him. Without thinking, he gave Hermione a quick peck on the cheek before exiting his quarters. Only when he was halfway up to the Great Hall did he realize what he’d done, in front of a witness. Two, if you counted the drooling little Potter clone. He groaned. He really was getting soft. Mushy even. Positively Hufflepuff. He would have to watch himself or he could kiss his reputation goodbye too, and then teaching would become only more infernal than it already was.

“Severus!” Minerva called out when she saw him.

She didn’t look mad at all. This called for caution. It wasn’t normal behavior for a Gryffindor.

“Minerva.”

“Oh! So you do remember me. I was afraid you’d been inflicted with the very same memory loss as Hermione's. It's the only logical explanation I could muster for your utter lack of warning as to your return and half the wizarding world inviting themselves over when they learned you two had sneaked into the castle in the dead of night like two misbehaving students playing hooky, but apparently, I was wrong.”

Severus grimaced. He knew it wouldn’t be that easy, so he tried apologizing immediately, but she cut him off before he’d even opened his mouth.

“Because I love nothing best than to learn from a house-elf that my Potions Master has returned with his wifey , right before being assaulted by a flock of owls demanding if it’s true Miss Granger is hiding at Hogwarts. Then the Minister himself floo called me to ask why he hadn't been kept informed when I’ve been asking myself that very same question all morning in between ducking owls and setting up a ruddy press meeting.”

Severus tried interrupting her once more, but she wasn't finished.

"And all that while I'm still in my bathrobe and haven't even had a cup of bloody TEA!"

It was true her robes were a bit off, so she must have transfigured her bathrobe into clothes. Risky. But she was finally out of breath, a bit red in the face, so he seized the opportunity to speak up.

“I’m sorry, Minerva. We arrived quite late. I didn’t want to… make a fuss.”

She made a strange choking sound that might have been a chuckle. Maybe she wasn't all that angry. Maybe she had just needed to vent. Severus held in a hopeful breath that he wouldn't have to endure the wrath of a righteous Gryffindor.

“Only you would call bringing Hermione back a fuss,” she huffed then looked at him with moist eyes. “Is it true? She is healed?”

Severus froze in horror at the tears collecting around her eyes, searching for a way to escape down her face and he nodded curtly before finding something to do lest he find himself in the unenviable position of having to comfort her. If he wanted to walk around handing tissues to the faint hearted, he would have been a Hufflepuff. Magicking chairs around the raised stage Minerva had already rid of the staff table, Severus made sure to conjure them as uncomfortable as possible. The trick was all in the angles, distorting them to force people to hunch awkwardly as they sat. He made an exception for the front row where their allies in the press would be sitting, but it had nothing to do with being nice, it was for Hermione.

As the members of the press, and it was a term he used loosely, even with the glaring and enjoyable absence of one Rita Skeeter, Severus waited up on the stage with Minerva, Potter and Draco. It appeared that while his wife had come to prep Hermione, Potter had gone knocking on Malfoy Manor’s doors, almost giving Lucius a heart attack from what Draco had told him. The second since their return, because Draco had quite startled his father with his scorpion patronus. Severus should have thought of fetching Draco himself given his role in Hermione's recovery, and he was hating that he felt he owed more and more to the Potter family.

Draco's presence on the stage was already drawing a lot of pointed fingers and whispers that he didn't even seem to notice while Potter talked his ear off about something. Quidditch? What else could he possibly have to speak about that would interest Draco? He would never understand how those two had become friends.

However, the general interest shifted when Peeves floated in, cackling a new song as he banged two pans together.

“Here she comes, here she comes,

Granger's no Rotter,

But no thanks to Potter.

Think she's dead?

Then think again,

Or she'll eat your ear,

But all in good fun.”

He disappeared through the wall, his pans falling with a loud clatter on the flagstones. Severus rolled his eyes and even Minerva had a tightness to her face he hadn't seen in a while. Maybe they could finally exorcise the blasted poltergeist after this. Everyone's eyes went from the front of the room to the back again where Hermione had just entered, looking like she was pausing for effect, Ginny Potter standing behind her with a hand over her mouth and her shoulders shaking before she shimmied past and sat with her brat on one of his unoccupied skewed chairs.

As small as Hermione was, she seemed to be doing a fine job at looking down her nose at everyone before flouncing towards the stage, her purple robes such a deep shade they appeared almost black. Severus wondered if she'd been hit by a confundus charm before she stood front and middle and flashed the press a dazzling smile.

The room finally snapped out of their trance and flashes went off alongside raised hands, excited chatter, and her name called every other second.

Hermione grinned wider and Severus finally realized what was going on: in order to deal with the press, Hermione was channeling her inner Lockhart, and doing a fine job of it so far.

“Thank you for coming,” she said, her voice loud and clear, although the irony was lost on no one that she had never issued them any invitation. “I can only imagine how many questions you have for me, but to alleviate your concerns, I will tell you my story as it should be known.”

Severus bit back a snort. She'd always been more of a Slytherin than he suspected, but even her audience would pick up on her sarcasm at this rate.

“I was critically hurt during the Final Battle, on these very grounds, and I lost my identity for many years. I was lucky Severus Snape,” she paused to smile at him, extending a hand to introduce him as if he hadn't been to school with half the people here and taught the other half, but he gave a small bow to play along. “Found me in the Forbidden Forest and brought me back to my friends and family. My recovery was long and complex, and it would not have been possible without newly minted healer at St Mungo's, Draco Malfoy.”

She turned to him and applauded, the room following suit soon after, even if it was rather hesitant as the Malfoy name was still not one readily accepted post war.

“Many others helped me along the way. I'm very grateful to have such friends at my sides. Harry, of course, Hagrid, Minerva, Madam Pomfrey, Viktor… and all my old friends I can't wait to get reacquainted to. Now… I'll be taking questions. Do make an effort not to ask stupid ones.”

The switch was so abrupt, nobody reacted at first. Hermione had thoroughly wrong-footed a whole profession. She finally pointed to a witch at random who had raised a hesitant hand.

“Toriel Bullstrode for the Marvelously Magical Magazine. You mean to tell us you spent all these years in the Forbidden Forest?”

Hermione nodded.

“With centaurs and giant spiders and werewolves?”

And nodded again.

“On your own?”

Hermione smiled sweetly so he didn't expect her next reply.

“Is there a point to your inane questions, Miss Bullstrode, or do you just enjoy stating the obvious?”

The witch sputtered indignantly while the rest of her competition tittered more or less openly.

“Yes, er, that is, aren't you angry? That your friends left you for dead in that dreadful place?”

“Of course not. They had no way of knowing I was there. I might as well hold a grudge against the rain for making my hair frizzy. Next question?”

A familiar looking young woman with scars across her face raised her arm. She was in the front row so Hermione wasn’t fairing as well as she was projecting if she was choosing to switch to a safe question. It had to be very stressful after all.

“Lavender Brown with Witch Weekly. Hull Hermione,” she added with a hesitant smile. “I was wondering what you intend to do now that you’ve returned?”

“Finish my studies, of course.”

The room at large chuckled. It was such a very typical answer from the witch.

“I never had a chance to pass my NEWTs, but I’m going to need a lot of tutelage first since my injury caused quite a lot of memory loss, including all of Professor Binns’ History of Magic lessons.”

Another laugh despite what she’d just revealed. She was good at playing the crowd like a fiddle.

“It’s also going to take me a lot of effort to convince Severus to marry me. But after that, I absolutely want to work to better the treatment of magical creatures. Their integration and respect is absolutely necessary to construct a society that doesn’t waver into chaos at the slightest nudge. Together, we are stronger.”

There was another stunned silence as she paused, followed by whispers, as if no one was quite sure they had heard what she had just said. Severus too thought he might have imagined it. When he'd pictured her shouting her love from the top of the astronomy tower, he hadn't thought it would actually come to pass and this was worse. So much worse. Soon after, a flurry of raised hands shook in the air and he didn’t know what he should do. Should he stand by her? Stay out and not do anything? Deny any knowledge of their upcoming engagement? His preference was to edge off the dais unnoticed, slip into the shadows and out of view, but he wasn’t a coward and many eyes were already staring at him despite his glare.

“By Severus, do you mean Professor Snape?” a wizard asked boldly without being invited to speak.

“Yes. And by marry, I do mean as in a wedding, not that I'm aware there's any other sort. You’ll be duly notified when he accepts.”

Some wizards glanced back at him as if to say he was crazy for not accepting on the spot, but personally this was the first he’d heard of it. What the hell was she playing at? A prickle at the back of his head made him look around, only to be met by Minerva’s stone cold gaze. She was going to turn him into Haggis for this. He might not survive to see Hermione walking down the aisle. Scratch that, he might not even live long enough to walk out of the Great Hall one last time. Severus turned around when the din in the room died down once more, waiting for what next catastrophe was about to hit him on the nose.

The Lovegood girl raised her hand and stood.

“Luna Lovegood for the Quibbler. Hello, Hermione. It’s nice to see you again. Will you be taking the Snorkacks under your wing too? They’re endangered already and only have a small sanctuary in Sweden.”

“It certainly sounds as if they could use my help,” she said, but looked more uncertain, wondering no doubt if Snorkacks existed and she didn’t remember, or if they were just another mythical creature the Lovegoods loved so much. But the blond girl smiled at Hermione’s answer and sat back down, apparently satisfied.

The questions kept coming in, a few wizards in the front rows from medical journals were even directed at Draco. Severus wondered who had invited them. He glanced at Potter, but the man had mastered the look of innocence long before he'd graduated. Draco for his part drew out his answers in excruciating detail to give Hermione time to gather her wits, and the press less time to ask invasive questions.

When had everyone turned into such consummate Slytherins all of a sudden? Not that he minded. It was nice not to be surrounded by a bunch of dunderheads for once. Finally, Minerva walked up to Hermione and thanked everyone for taking the time out of their oh-so-precious day to attend their impromptu press conference, effectively dismissing the gathered reporters and their waving hands. A couple last flashes blinded them and after a few protests, the crowd started to trickle out. Hermione rushed back towards him, and he thought it adorable at first, until she stopped to stand in front of him, like the time she had stepped between him and a werewolf.

“What's the meaning of this, Severus Snape?”

“Severus, a word.”

Worse than werewolves, the Weasley matriarch and the castle’s lioness had cornered him. A low growl came from deep within Hermione as she spread her arms out protectively in front of him. The two witches stopped mid rant to stare at her.

“Hermione dear,” Mrs Weasley crooned. “We only mean to protect you.”

“I don't need protecting. I could defeat everyone here on my own without breaking a sweat.”

Minerva raised her brow and Severus nodded at her questioning glance. After the way he'd seen her fight the albino vampire, when she didn't even have access to her magic, he really believed she could beat anyone who crossed her.

“I meant your heart, dear. I've always known you were a formidable witch, but as Harry proved, power is nothing when it comes to love. What you said, about you and Severus-”

“I will marry Severus.”

“Severus? When did this happen?” Minerva demanded.

Severed would never do something as ungraceful as shrugging, so he waved off her question instead.

“As far as I'm aware, I was informed the same moment you were. Hermione and I have been growing closer, but I would never take advantage of her."

Hermione growled.

"No one could. She's not the Hermione you knew, nor the bare-foot from the Forbidden Forest. She's…" Perfect crossed his mind before he squashed the sappy thought with ruthless abandon. He searched for the right words to express his feelings and glanced at the two idiot duo Potter and Draco goofing off. "She's her own witch, powerful and strong-willed. She's the Alpha of our pack."

Minerva raised her brow at him and he quirked his lips, because what else could he do but be grateful he was even a part of it.

"I guess you have no choice," Minerva said.

"Minnie!"

"Oh, come on, Molly. As if you and Arthur don't have a few years age gap."

"But that's not the same!"

Minerva didn't even deign to answer such a blatant double-standard and put an arm around the red-head's shoulder instead to lead her away. Severus was astonished the headmistress had been swayed so easily to their side, but grew worried when he heard a snippet of their whispering.

"Just think Molly, you get to plan another wedding."

Dear Merlin, was it too late to grab Hermione and run away for the hills? It was tempting. He would be happy just the two of them, but looking at all those who had lingered behind, surrounding the witch that had finally made him grow a heart, he knew he would never deprive her of all that love and companionship, not even if they were a bunch of dunderheads and Gryffindors.