|A Living Secret
Author: Ms-Figg PM
Albus Dumbledore is dead. Murderer Severus Snape holds the secret to Harry's success. By reading Hermione Granger's journals, Snape discovers a delicious secret of his own. Adventure, Mystery & Lemons ahead. HBP CompliantRated: Fiction M - English - Mystery/Romance - Hermione G. & Severus S. - Chapters: 4 - Words: 121,346 - Reviews: 67 - Favs: 178 - Follows: 32 - Updated: 02-28-09 - Published: 07-10-07 - Status: Complete - id: 3647985
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A Living Secret
"Severus, I am dying," Albus Dumbledore said to the Potions Master, whose black eyes widened in shocked surprise, "I am afraid I am too old to throw off the dread curse Voldemort struck me with at the Ministry the night we rescued Harry."
Severus Snape, Potions Master of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, as well as a double agent against the Dark Lord Voldemort scowled immediately. Damn Harry Potter. His stupidity had brought this about. The stupid, stupid boy. Because of him, the only wizard who he believed could have truly faced Voldemort was going to die
Dumbledore seemed to be able to divine Severus' thoughts.
"Now Severus, don't blame Harry for this. He loved his godfather and truly believed he was in danger," Albus said to the wizard.
"It was no reason for him to try and take on Voldemort, Headmaster…endangering not only himself but the lives of his housemates as well. Sirius was just one man, his death would have meant nothing in the greater scheme of things," Severus said rather hatefully.
The Potions Master had hated Sirius Black for years due to being targeted by him and his friends while in Hogwarts, friends which included Harry's father James. Sirius should have died long ago as far as Severus was concerned.
"Every life is a gift, Severus, and a loss once it is extinguished. I know how you felt about Sirius, but for Harry he was the closest thing to a family that he had. He did what he felt he had to do, and as a result several Death Eaters now reside in Azkaban," Dumbledore said.
"And as a result, you are dying," Severus said, his eyes hard, "a wizard worth one hundred Sirius Blacks at least."
Albus shook his head slightly at his Potions Master's continued malevolence for the dead.
"Yes, I am dying Severus…but I believe it is my fate and not anyone's fault," Albus said hiking up the sleeve on the arm where his blackened, skeletal hand rested. The rest of his arm appeared healthy. Then the wizard removed the heavy glamour and Severus let out a hiss when he saw the arm was blackened and shriveled as the hand. Dumbledore pulled the sleeve higher, revealing his decimated shoulder, blackness extending down across his chest.
"It is spreading to my heart, Severus. I will be dead in a matter of days," Albus said, replacing the glamour and shaking down his sleeve again. "No one knows this but you. And the reason I am telling you…is because you have to continue my work. Only you have access to the Dark Lord. You have to make it possible for Harry to destroy him."
Severus looked at him silently.
"Your loyalty to the Dark Lord has been questioned greatly these last few years, Severus, and I fear Voldemort no longer has the faith in you he once did. We must restore his faith in you…we need it now more than ever," Albus said.
Severus felt a cold feeling wash over him.
"I am well aware Draco has been given the assignment of killing me, thanks to your information," the wizard continued, "You are bound to protect him…but not just from death, Severus…from a life of reprisals, of hatred, of self-loathing. Draco is the son of a Death Eater, but he hasn't the heart of one, no matter how he boasts and tows the Death Eater line. The only reason he has agreed to do this, is because his life and the life of his family is in the balance. You must not let Draco be the one to kill me, Severus."
The Potions Master remained silent. Dumbledore continued.
"As my death is inevitable…I have decided that my demise should serve a greater purpose, one that can possibly help to end Voldemort's reign in the future and the meantime, provide him with solid proof that you are indeed his loyal servant. You are to be the one to release me from my mortal coil," the old wizard said.
Horror crossed the Potions Master's pale face. It was a strange emotion to see. The wizard had witnessed the most horrible, depraved acts and remained stoic and straight-faced. But the very idea of killing Albus Dumbledore was enough to make the wizard blanch.
"Headmaster…I don't want to do this," Snape began.
Albus had been more than a leader and Headmaster to the dark wizard. He had been the one to believe in him, when everyone questioned his loyalties. Albus had provided him with a job, a roof over his head and a chance to redeem himself. Now the only wizard in the world who felt anything good towards him wanted him to kill him?
"I am afraid you have no choice in the matter, Severus. I would rather pass from this life by the hand of a friend, rather than that of an enemy. It is my dying wish, Severus…surely you would not deny me that?" the Headmaster said to him, his blue eyes twinkling.
Severus looked at him and sighed.
"No, Albus…I would not," the wizard replied.
"Of course, you will be deemed a traitor by the entire wizarding world, though that is nothing new for you…but you will be hunted and forced into hiding," Albus said, "But I am sure Voldemort will protect you."
"Possibly…or he might consider my service finished and kill me. He is not the most trustworthy despot," Severus said, still trying to absorb the fact that he would have to take Albus' life.
Albus stood and walked over to Fawkes, who was gazing at him with sad eyes. The phoenix let out a miserable trill.
"I know, Fawkes…I know. But unlike you, my friend…I cannot rise from my own ashes. Men are meant to move on from this world, and I Fawkes…despite all my power, am still a man. I am content," he said to the bird. Then he looked at Fawkes, arching an eyebrow at him. A non-verbal communication seemed to pass between them.
Suddenly, Fawkes brightened, bobbing his head excitedly, then turning to look at Severus.
Severus' throat had tightened at the Headmaster's words to his familiar, and he lowered his head for a moment, missing the exchange between Albus and Fawkes. He looked up, desperation in his dark eyes.
"Albus, give me a chance to attempt to create a potion that can stop or slow the hex," Severus said suddenly. "There are many ingredients known to retard…"
Albus smiled at Severus but shook his head.
"No Severus…there is nothing you can do. My body is simply too old to regenerate. I have been to other gifted Potions Masters in an attempt to slow my demise. I didn't come to you because I wanted no one at Hogwarts to know for morale's sake. You have enough secrets, my friend. All those who attempted to save me are under an Unbreakable Vow not to reveal my condition. All that could be done, was done…I assure you," Albus replied.
The last bit of hope in the Potions Master faded. There was nothing else for it then. Albus was doomed
Albus motioned to Fawkes to rest on his good arm, then approached Severus.
"Rise, Severus," the Headmaster said, looking at him soberly.
Severus stood up. Albus brought Fawkes closer to him and rested one hand upon the Potions Master's shoulder.
"Bind, Fawkes," he said to the Phoenix.
Suddenly Severus couldn't move and Fawkes flew to his other shoulder and sat there for a moment, his body issuing a golden light that covered him, the Professor and Albus, as the Headmaster murmured some type of spell under his breath. Severus began to shudder as he felt a powerful pull on his insides, a sharp pain, then the golden light suddenly snapped inside him, making the Potions Master dizzy and nauseous for a moment. Fawkes trilled at him and flew back to Albus' arm.
Still shaken, and feeling as if something had been added to him, Severus asked Albus what he had done.
"I've given you protection, Severus. You will soon become the most hated man in the Wizarding World besides Voldemort himself. In the event you are captured or your life endangered by those bent on avenging me, you will find that help will come to those who are loyal to me," the wizard said obliquely. "I cannot in good conscience leave you to the wolves, Severus. You are still serving the Greater Good."
Severus knew this was all the wizard would tell him. Albus was infuriatingly secretive when he wanted to be. But at least…at least he wouldn't be alone in this…not really. In a way, Albus would still be with him.
Severus was correct. Yet he didn't know how correct he truly was.
Severus Snape had, without his knowledge…been turned into a Horcrux and contained a fragment of Albus Dumbledore's soul. As long as Severus remained safe, Albus would continue to exist despite his body being damaged or destroyed.
To create a Horcrux, the spellcaster's soul had to be fragmented by committing the act of murder. Albus Dumbledore had killed many times in the fight for the Greater Good, but each time he killed, his soul was torn. In his heart, though he was in the midst of battle, every life he ever took, he considered murder. This was something the Headmaster kept hidden from others, who would disagree that this was the truth of the matter. Yet Albus believed all life was sacred and taking it, a grievous thing. It was a simple matter to take part of his fragmented soul and place it in Severus.
Yes, Severus Snape was the keeper of many secrets.
But now, he was a Living Secret himself.
Hermione Granger, who was in the library with a sullen Harry and equally sullen Ron, suddenly looked up from her reading, her eyes narrowed.
"Did you feel that?" she asked Ron and Harry.
Ron looked at her with narrowed, bloodshot blue eyes.
"Feel what? I can't feel anything, my brain's so numb," Ron complained, "Come on Hermione, give us a break, now."
Hermione had, as usual, browbeaten both boys into studying with her, when they would rather be outside.
"I didn't feel anything, Hermione," Harry said to her, looking up from his parchment. "What was it?"
"I don't know…sort of a surge of power or something. Like strong magic had just been performed," she said, looking about, her face in a slight frown.
"Probably something you ate at lunch. That roast beef was a little too rare," Ron said, trying to focus on his Advanced Potions book again.
"I don't know," Hermione said slowly, "But it was something…I'm sure."
Both Ron and Harry went back to their work as Hermione continued frowning.
Something was going on at Hogwarts.
Cloaked in darkness, Albus Dumbledore strode across the grounds of Hogwarts, Fawkes perched on his shoulder. He didn't have his wand lit, but moved easily through the night, heading toward the Forbidden Forest.
As they approached the edge of the forest, Fawkes trilled at Albus, then took off, winging his way between the trees, heading in another direction as Albus entered the dread wood with a separate destination.
Fawkes flew silently, using his night vision to seek out what he was looking for. After about twenty minutes, he saw them, gathered in a herd and feeding. He landed on a low branch and let out a mellow trill.
The unicorns all looked up, snorting as they saw the Phoenix, flicking their ears back and pawing their hooves. The leader of the herd, approached Fawkes, tossing its head, then stopping before the bird and lowering itself in a bow. Fawkes also bowed, then a conversation between the animals ensued.
Albus walked through the trees of the Forbidden Forest unscathed by any of its inhabitants. He was known even to the magical creatures that dwelled there. If there was one thing the wizard wasn't…it was prey.
Albus continued to move through the forest until he came to a cave. He entered it, drawing his wand now.
"Lumos," he said, the tip igniting. The sound of scuttling was all around him as he entered the domain of the Acromantula, which were enormous black spiders with the ability of human speech and a poisonous bite. They were a wizard-bred species that originated in Borneo, and one of the main reasons the ban on experimental breeding was put into effect. Hagrid was at the bottom of this particular clutch of spiders.
Hagrid had acquired one of the spiders in his third year and named him Aragog. The half-giant had hidden the spider in the cave to protect him when it was accused of killing Moaning Myrtle. Tom Riddle had made the charge, knowing full well a basilisk had done the deed. Hagrid was expelled and Aragog thrived in the cave for many years, mating with Mosag, a female of his breed brought to him by Hagrid, and fathering thousands of children. Not quite as large as him, but just as deadly. They too had the power of speech, but were not as intelligent as their sire, due to being raised in the cave.
They might not have been as intelligent, but every one of them knew better than to attack the tall, elderly wizard that walked into their midst. Albus put out his wand, able to see because of the glowing green fungus that lined the cave walls. Above him and around him scuttled the spiders, lifting up their front legs and hissing "The Great One!"
Albus walked toward a large opening at the back of the cave and stopped.
"Aragog!" he called.
There was a sound of something heavy moving inside the opening.
"Who calls me?" a tired voice sighed.
"It is I, Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts," Albus said.
There was another great sigh, then the sound of something heavy moving toward the front of the cave. A gray-flecked spider the size of a small elephant appeared, all eight eyes white and sightless.
"Headmaster," the spider said, lifting one leg in salutation.
"Aragog," Albus said by way of greeting, "I have come to you concerning an important matter. May I have a word?"
"Yes," the spider said tiredly, "But a short word. I am very tired. Very, very tired."
Albus sat down on a large rock. Around him, hundreds of spiders of all sizes jostled about for position, climbing over one another and hissing. No one had been here other than Hagrid, and the two small ones that got away and they were all interested to hear what this wizard had to say. Albus gave them a moment to get settled. He was completely surrounded but felt no fear. When the noise of their settling in ceased, he smiled at the creatures benignly, then addressed their sire.
"Aragog, I am in need of your help and your protection," Albus said to the spider.
"What do we have to do with protecting wizards? You have magic…you can protect yourselves," the spider replied, settling down on its belly.
"Aragog, we have something in common, you and I and that is we are both not long for this world. However, if you and yours agree to help me, your days can be extended," the wizard said.
The spider perked up.
"Extended? How?" Aragog asked, interested now.
"My familiar Fawkes is attempting to make the arrangement now. You will be provided with something that will allow you to maintain your life. Unfortunately, it cannot heal your ailments, but you will become stronger," Albus said, "Are you interested?"
Aragog was silent for a minute or two.
"Yes," the spider hissed, "Tell me what we must do."
An hour later, Albus was on his way back to Hogwarts. Fawkes met him at the forest's edge, trilling happily. He landed on the Headmaster's shoulder.
Albus smiled at him.
"Judging by your song, Fawkes, all must have gone well," Albus said to him.
Fawkes let out another happy trill.
"Excellent! I too have been successful. All is in place now, my friend," the wizard said, stroking the Phoenix's crest with his good hand.
"All is in place."
Three days later Draco was in his room when he felt the coin he used to keep in contact with Rosmerta warm in his robes pocket. He took it out and looked at the message on it. The Headmaster and Harry were in Hogsmeade and had gone for a drink. That meant Albus was away from the school.
This was the perfect opportunity to put his plan in action. Draco hurriedly put on his robes, took out a long thin package from between his mattress and slipped it under his robes. He headed for the Room of Requirement.
Hours later, Severus was in the Potions office when Professor Flitwick burst into the room. The little wizard was red and panting. Severus could hardly understand him at first.
"Death Eaters! In the castle! Fighting! Need help!" the wizard panted at him.
Severus stood up, pulled out his wand and non-verbally stunned the Professor, who fell forward on his face, then placed a confundus spell on him as well. That should keep him out of the way. He strode out of the office to find Hermione Granger and Luna Lovegood standing outside, staring up at him with frightened expressions. What the hell were they doing here?
"Professor Flitwick has collapsed in my office," Severus said to the two witches, "Go take care of him while I go help fight the Death Eaters who have made their way into the castle."
Hermione and Luna looked at him for a moment, then rushed into his office. Severus took off at a run, tearing through the castle. When he reached the main hall he could hear the faint sounds of battle on the upper floors and apparated.
The dark wizard's heart was pounding as he reappeared on the floor that led to the astronomy tower. Neville was down, Ron, Tonks, Ginny and Lupin were battling several Death Eaters. Severus saw that the entrance to the Astronomy Tower was blocked, ran past the fighting witches and wizards and straight through the barrier. It was keyed to only allow those with the Dark Mark to pass. Severus bounded up the stairs, his robes whipping around him, praying he wasn't too late to fulfill Albus' last wish.
Severus burst through the rampart doors, his black eyes taking in the scene. Dumbledore was slumped against the wall and Draco had his wand trained on him. Fenrir, Amycus and Alecto stood behind him. Severus paused. He could feel Harry was present as well. Albus must have hidden him somehow and no doubt bound him, otherwise the idiot would be attacking right now, even though he was seriously outnumbered.
'We've got a problem, Snape,' said Amycus, his eyes and wand trained on Dumbledore, "the boy doesn't seem able…"
Suddenly Severus heard Albus say his name, pleading with him.
His heart battering his chest and revulsion on his face at what he was about to do, Severus strode forward, pushing Draco roughly out of the way. The three Death Eaters fell back as he pointed his wand at Albus.
"Severus…please," Albus said weakly, pleading with him to continue.
Severus focused on Harry, how his stupidity had led to this. Damn him. Damn that boy! His pale face contorted with hatred.
"Avada Kedavra!" he shouted, the green light hitting Albus with such force, his body was blasted up into the air and out of the Astronomy tower, seeming to pause for a moment, illuminated by the Dark Mark filling the sky behind him before plummeting from sight.
It was done. Severus Snape had killed Albus Dumbledore as he wished. The Potions Master had taken the life of the only man who ever fully believed in him. He forced his face to remain stoic.
"Out of here, quickly!" he said, grabbing Draco by the back of his collar and forcing him through the door.
They ran down the stairs and into the corridor which was full of dust, part of the ceiling collapsed, the battle still raging. Severus weaved his way through the fighters, pushing Draco ahead of him.
"It's over, time to go!" the Potions Master shouted, turning the corner and disappearing. He had to get them all out of there before more people were hurt or killed.
He and Draco ran through the castle, Snape looking behind him from time to time and seeing no one. He and Draco bolted through the main doors and out on to the Hogwarts grounds.
They had gotten a good distance from the castle, and Severus saw Hagrid engaging a Death Eater who was firing spells at him that didn't seem to affect the half-giant.
Suddenly a jet of red light flew past his head. Severus knew who fired the spell before he even turned around.
"Run Draco!" he shouted at the blonde wizard, who disappeared into the night. Then he turned to face the boy he hated most in the world, hated because he was the reason he was forced to kill Albus.
"Cruc…" Harry yelled but Severus blocked the curse by knocking Harry down with a wand blast before he could complete it. Harry rolled to his feet.
Suddenly Hagrid's house flared up into flame. The Death Eater had set it on fire.
"Fang's in there!" Hagrid shouted at the Death Eater, cursing him.
Severus watched as Harry tried to cast the Crucio curse a second time. Again he blocked it.
"No Unforgivable Curses from you, Potter!" Severus shouted at him, his face contorted, "You haven't got the nerve or the ability!"
" Incarc…"Harry screamed, but Severus flicked away the spell easily.
"Fight back!" Harry shrieked at him, "Fight back, you cowardly…"
Cold rage filled the Potions Master. Coward? How dare the boy call him a coward when he had just killed the only wizard who cared for him and destroyed his reputation as a loyal member of the Order for the sake of the wizarding world…all to help Harry destroy Voldemort at a later date?
Severus was so enraged all he could do was fall back on what he knew would affect Harry the most. He was well aware the boy hated his father had been a bully. He saw it in his mind during their Occlumency lessons.
"Coward, did you call me, Potter?" Severus shouted, "Your father would never attack me unless it was four on one. What would you call him, I wonder?"
Enraged that Snape invoked his father's name, Harry pointed his wand at him again, hatred on his face.
"Stupe…" he cried, the spell once again blocked by the hated Potions Master.
"Blocked again and again and again until you learn to keep your mouth shut and your mind closed, Potter!" Snape mocked him before shouting at the huge Death Eater behind him.
"Now come! It is time to be gone, before the Ministry turns up," the wizard cried.
Harry made one more desperate attempt to strike Snape down.
"Impedi -" Harry cried, but then was struck by a horrible pain, falling over into the grass in agony.
Severus cursed as the young fool went down, hit from behind by the Cruciatus curse. The boy was going to get himself killed.
"No!" Severus screamed at the Death Eater, who stopped the curse instantly. "Have you forgotten our orders? Potter belongs to the Dark Lord! We are to leave him! Go! Go!"
Amycus, Alecto and Fenrir ran past him. Severus half-turned to watch them as they sprinted for the gate then turned back to seeing Harry teetering toward him, his wand extended.
"Sectum…" Harry cried and again the Potions Master blocked the spell, a spell he created. Harry was only a few feet from him now, and Severus could clearly see the hatred on his face, illuminated by the fire from Hagrid's burning house.
Harry desperately tried again, concentrating on casting a non-verbal spell this time, hoping Snape wouldn't be able to block it.
"Levi..." he thought
Severus could tell by the look in Harry's eyes what he was doing. He looked into his mind and snarled at the spell he was attempting to use.
"No, Potter!" he screamed at him, enraged, blasting him with a loud bang so Harry flew back, his wand flying out of his hand. Furious, Severus strode forward and stood over him, his wand trained on the boy. For a moment, Severus actually felt like killing him.
"You dare use my own spells against me, Potter?" Severus snarled, "It was I who invented them - I, the Half-Blood Prince! And you'd turn my inventions on me, like your filthy father, would you? I don't think so! No!"
Harry dove for his wand but Severus hit it with a spell and it rolled away into the darkness. Harry turned back over, hatred, rage and contempt in his green eyes.
"Kill me then. Kill me like you killed him, you coward," he hissed up at the wizard.
Severus never wanted to hurt anyone as badly as he wanted to hurt Harry…he was the cause of all of this…the reason for Albus' death.
"DON'T!" he screamed at Harry, barely able to retain control, his face full of pain, "CALL ME COWARD!"
Then, before he could stop himself, Severus slashed downward with his wand, cutting Harry across the face. Suddenly, Buckbeak the hippogriff appeared in front of him, slashing at him with his talons. Severus leapt back then began running for the gate, Buckbeak in hot pursuit, shrieking after him.
He had to get away from here…go to Voldemort and let him know that Albus was dead, and he was the one who killed him. Then the new deception would begin. What he would do, Severus had no idea…he'd have to wing it…find some way to bring Harry and Voldemort together. Hopefully, the boy would continue searching for the Horcruxes, find them and destroy them. By that time, he might have a plan.
His robes billowing around him, the Potions Master shot through the open main gate and the moment he touched earth outside the grounds, disapparated mid-stride.
Disoriented, Harry desperately tried to find his wand, but by the time he did, Snape was gone.
The murderer of Albus Dumbledore had escaped.
Severus had prepared for this day, reducing all his beloved books to an extremely miniscule size and leaving an illusion up in his study at Hogwarts that made the shelves look full. He had also collected and stored all of his research as well as samples of potions he was working on.
Upon discovering that it was the Potions Master who killed Albus, Voldemort, to Severus' surprise, had been extremely generous. Using the wizard's memories, the despot recreated Severus' private rooms at Hogwarts and gave him a lab that exactly mirrored his own, completely stocked with ingredients and utensils. He also granted Severus a boon, anything he asked of him.
The Dark Lord and several hundred of his Death Eater were gathered in the throne room of his stronghold. Voldemort was going to grant Severus' boon publicly to show his followers how generous he could be to loyal followers. This great event was to be followed by Draco Malfoy's execution for his cowardice in hesitating to kill the Headmaster. Narcissa Malfoy was there, sobbing quietly. There was no hope for her son. Severus had failed her.
Voldemort's red eyes shifted to Severus, who stood before his throne, his head bowed.
"Severus Snape, faithful follower and killer of Dumbledore, your excellent service is to be rewarded. You are the finest example of a loyal servant within my ranks. You are to be respected and praised above all other Death Eaters," the Dark Lord lisped.
"Thank you, my Lord," Severus replied, bowing.
"Thank you, loyal servant for ridding me of that insufferable Albus Dumbledore. With his death, my success is assured. I will grant you a boon…all you need do is request it," Voldemort hissed. "Anything within my power."
The room went silent as everyone waited to see what the Potions Master asked for. Diamonds, riches, power…what?
The Potions Master drew in a deep breath as if needing extra strength to reply. Voldemort watched him, hoping he didn't ask for anything ridiculous, such as to rule beside him. He would grant it…but then he would kill him afterwards, claiming him to be a rival. Severus was not that stupid.
"My Lord, my boon is that you do not kill Draco Malfoy," the Potions Master said silkily.
Narcissa let out a small sob in the background.
Voldemort looked at Draco, who stood restrained between two burly minions, his face badly bruised. Then his eyes shifted back to Severus. They were narrowed with displeasure.
"You would waste your boon on this…this coward, Severus?" Voldemort asked in his high-pitched voice, "Why?"
"Because he is young my Lord, and to be honest…should be commended that he got as far as he did. It was Draco who disarmed Dumbledore, and Draco who figured out a way to get Fenrir, Amycus, Alecto and the rest of the Death Eaters into the castle without setting off the wards. True, he did hedge when it came to the actual killing…but Albus is dead, and the boy did try," Severus said to the despot.
Voldemort considered this, his red eyes shifting back toward Draco, who seemed resigned to his fate. The Dark Lord's eyes shifted back toward Severus and he scowled. After a minute or two of silence the despot spoke.
"Release the boy!" Voldemort hissed, "Severus, I hope you at least get a 'thank-you' fuck out of Narcissa for saving her worthless son's life."
Narcissa's ice blue eyes fell on Severus gratefully. If Severus wanted that type payment for his act, she would pay willingly. But Severus wanted nothing from her but to be left alone from this point forward.
The two Death Eaters pushed Draco forward to the floor. Slowly he raised his head and looked up at Severus thankfully. The Potions Master stared down at him without emotion. He had fulfilled his Unbreakable Vow to Narcissa. Draco was safe.
"Go to your mother, boy," Voldemort hissed at him, "And be grateful for your miserable life!"
"Thank you my Lord. You are most merciful," Draco said, rising to his feet and half running into the crowd of Death Eaters and falling into his mother's arms.
Voldemort scowled. He hated displays of true affection. Well, Severus had managed to throw a damper on the night's fun with his request. He carelessly waved his hand at the group assembled before him.
"You all may go!" he snarled, "Now. Stragglers will be Crucio'd"
There was a huge mass disapparation and only Severus and Peter Pettigrew remained. Peter looked a bit nervous. When Voldemort's fun was thwarted, he usually amused himself by casting the Imperio curse on the squat little wizard and making him do all types of things his body wasn't meant to do.
"I will retire to my rooms, my Lord," Severus said bowing.
"Good night, my most faithful servant," Voldemort said, giving the wizard a lipless smile. Severus backed away until he was far enough to turn his back on the wizard without causing offense, then went to his rooms.
Voldemort had been delighted to find out Severus was the one who killed Dumbledore. The Potions Master's treachery put all doubts about the wizard's loyalty completely to rest. Imagine, after all those years of torture, Severus believed in him and his cause to the point of becoming the instrument of Albus Dumbledore's demise. That was true dedication. If Voldemort was sure of anything, it was that Severus Snape was as true as true could be. In fact…
The Dark Lord looked thoughtful. For the longest time he had wanted to use one of his Death Eaters for a service, a very important service…but found no one strong or trustworthy enough to provide that service. Until now.
Voldemort believed Severus Snape could be the one he had been looking for. He was his most trusted servant and had proven himself beyond a doubt.
Yes, he would be perfect.
Severus let himself into his rooms, warded the door and walked over to his liquor cabinet. He poured himself a firewhiskey and sat down in front of the fireplace. It was no longer a floo. Despite his surroundings, he was no longer at Hogwarts…and he would never go back, not even when all this madness ended. He'd had enough of teaching and trying to mold young minds that had about as much give as stone. He had other things to think about now, like finding out where Voldemort's Horcruxes were hidden, and worse than that, finding a way to let that thick-brained Potter boy know the locations without being discovered.
Severus sighed. It would have been so much better if Albus had lived to orchestrate this. Now he was alone and the fate of the wizarding world rested in his pale hands. Yes, Harry Potter was destined to destroy Voldemort, but the boy wouldn't be able to do it without Severus' help. All the Horcruxes had to be found and destroyed before they faced off, otherwise the Dark Lord would continue to exist in spirit form until he could create another body or find a host…like he had in Quirrel.
Severus finished his drink and sat staring morosely into the flames. He had nothing to do. No papers to mark, or halls to check for shagging students.
The wizard sighed. Well, he did have his labs. Maybe he would start brewing again. Do some research. But, it would be rather empty as well, since he couldn't market anything he created. He smirked as he imagined what the reactions would be if he walked into the Ministry with a potion to patent. It would be the equivalent of a small war. His smirk faded.
He had killed Dumbledore. Killed him.
Severus swallowed and blinked several times. If his heart hadn't already been shattered by the type of life he had lived up to this point…it would surely be breaking now.
The next morning while Severus was eating breakfast in his study, a timid knock sounded on his door. The wizard put down his fork and knife, wiped his mouth and answered it. Peter Pettigrew stood on the other side. Severus scowled at him. He hated Peter with a passion. It was Peter who threw salted water over his wounds after the tortures, and the fat little wizard was always at the forefront when the other Death Eaters had mocked and spit on him.
"What do you want?" Severus snarled at him.
Peter cringed a little. Severus was now the Dark Lord's most favored servant, and as such could get away with murder if he wanted to. Gods knew he had enough reason to murder him. He had treated Severus like shit on numerous occasions.
"The Dark Lord wishes to see you," Peter squeaked.
"Fine. Now get the fuck out of here, you fat little bastard," Snape growled, his dark eyes full of hate.
Peter scampered away as fast as he could, Severus striding behind him. The wizard entered the throne room, lowered his eyes and approached the throne.
"You asked to see me, my Lord?" he said to the Dark Lord, who smiled at him.
"You may raise your eyes, Severus," the wizard said, standing up and walking down the dais. He placed one scaly hand on the Potions Master's shoulder.
"Come. I wish to talk to you, Severus," he said, waving his wand and creating two soft, comfortable armchairs and a small table between them.
He and Severus walked over and Voldemort waited for the wizard to be seated, before sitting himself…a grand gesture indeed, and one that was not lost on the Potions Master. Two house elves appeared with tea and cakes, setting them down on the table and winking out swiftly. House elves moved very quickly in the stronghold. To be slow was to be hexed.
Neither Severus nor Voldemort made any move to consume them. Voldemort stared at the wizard for a long moment.
"Severus, I am very impressed by your service to me as you know," the wizard began.
"Yes my Lord. Thank you," Severus replied.
"You have proven your loyalty to me beyond a doubt, and I must tell you that you are the only one of my followers I feel worthy to be in my stronghold. Oh yes, there is Peter…but let us face it…he's a toady," the despot said with a slight frown. "Absolutely worthless except for the fact he gives me my elixir and is too cowardly to even dream of attacking me when I am at my weakest. He has no dreams of greatness."
He looked at Severus.
"Do you have dreams of greatness, Severus?" he asked, lisping.
"No my Lord. I only seek to live in the shadow of your greatness and to follow you wherever you lead me…even to death," Severus replied smoothly.
"Ah Severus, you are a loyal servant. And that is why I am giving you an assignment, a service that is very important to me. One that my very survival depends upon. Have you ever heard of a Horcrux, Severus?" the Dark Lord asked him.
"There are some very old texts on the subject. Actually, they sound like something out of a fairy tale. I've never been much on fairy tales," the wizard replied.
"Ah, but they are not fairy tales, Severus. Horcruxes actually exist," he said, noting the look of surprise on the wizard's face, followed by a hint of disbelief.
"A Horcrux is a receptacle that houses a fragment of a wizard's soul so that he can attain immortality. The receptacle can be inanimate or living," Voldemort explained.
Severus listened attentively. Of course, he knew what a Horcrux was. Albus had schooled him on them quite thoroughly.
" The purpose of a Horcrux is to protect the soul fragment from anything that might happen to the body of the person to whom the soul belongs. While the Horcrux is kept safe, the person will continue to exist even if his or her body is damaged or destroyed," Voldemort continued.
Severus wondered why the wizard was telling him this…but he began to hope there was some purpose behind it…something he could use.
Voldemort leaned in toward Severus, dropping his voice a bit.
"I created several Horcruxes in my youth, Severus. Even then I was thinking of immortality. The first was a diary. It was destroyed by Harry Potter," the wizard hissed, hatred on his face, "That was my first attempt at being restored to the physical body. Damn the boy. The second was my grandfather's ring which I 'acquired' from his son Morfin. I had magically hidden it in the ruins of the Gaunt house, but Dumbledore found it and released the fragment. The old bastard had the nerve to wear my ring for a time, adding insult to injury."
Voldemort's face contorted for a moment, then he continued.
"The third was a locket which carries Salazar Slytherin's mark that belonged to my mother. I have hidden it away in a cave. As far as I know, it is still there," the wizard said, "The fourth, oh that was a stroke of genius. No one would suspect Helga Hufflepuff's cup to be a Horcrux for a Slytherin. That too is intact as far as I know."
Severus listened closely, hardly believing his good fortune. Voldemort was telling him what items held his soul fragments.
"Ah, and the fifth, Severus…was right under Albus' crooked nose and rests on the head of every student that enters Hogwarts," Voldemort hissed delightedly.
"The…the Sorting Hat?" Severus asked incredulously.
"Yesssss," Voldemort replied, his tongue flicking out in pleasure at his own cleverness. "Even that ratty hat has no idea what it holds."
Good gods. If the Sorting Hat was destroyed, there would be no way to place students in the proper houses. It would be a fiasco.
"The sixth Horcrux is my own beloved Nagini. It is one of the reasons she has lived so long…and of course I retain the seventh fragment since I need it to live, Severus," the wizard said to the Potions Master who nodded.
"Now, I suppose you are wondering why I have shared such intimate and secret knowledge with you," the Dark Lord said, eyeing Severus speculatively.
"Yes, my Lord," Severus replied.
"It is because I need to know the status of the remaining Horcruxes…to find out if they are still intact and in place. I cannot feel when they are destroyed since they are in effect, separate from me and only come into play if I lose this body. I cannot check them myself, Severus because coming in contact with them weakens me since they are drawn to the source and it is quite a painful ordeal. Until this point in time there was no I trusted enough to do this for me," the Dark Lord said.
Severus stared at the scaly despot, his entire body tense. Dare he hope.?
"But I believe you are the man for the job."
The next morning, Severus was once again eating a solitary breakfast in his reproduced rooms when suddenly he stiffened and spasmed, his fork falling out of his hand as he fell back into his armchair, his body shuddering powerfully. His eyes rolled up into his head and the wizard fell still.
Suddenly, he was looking down on a scene. It was by the lake at Hogwarts, hundreds of chairs were set out in rows, an aisle running down the center of them: The chairs all faced a marble table set out in front. It was a bright, beautiful day.
The chairs were half full. Severus recognized many of the people he saw. Kingsley Shacklebolt, Mad-Eye Moody, Tonks, Remus Lupin, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Bill sup-ported by Fleur and followed by Fred and George and Madame Maxime, to name a few.
He could barely make out the castle ghosts because of the sunshine and watched as Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny took up seats at the end of a row. Cornelius Fudge walked towards the front rows, and Rita Skeeter was sitting attentively, a notebook in her hands. Even Delores Umbridge was there, an exaggerated look of grief on her toadish face. Firenze was standing by the lake's edge as if a guardian. Prime Minister Scrimgeour sat in the front row next to Minerva.
Severus realized he was witnessing Albus' funeral. But how?
Hidden by foliage, Fawkes observed the ceremony, linked to Severus by the binding Albus had performed before his death, thus allowing the dark wizard to attend the Headmaster's funeral vicariously.
A strange, melancholy song rose up and the mourners all looked around. The merpeople were singing, just below the surface of the water.
A sobbing Hagrid walked up the center aisle, carrying Dumbledore's body which was wrapped in purple velvet spangled with golden stars. He placed the body carefully upon the table and walked back down the aisle and sat next to a rather small giant dressed in a jacket and trousers who sympathetically patted him on the head hard enough to sink Hagrid's chair into the ground.
A little man in plain black robes began to speak about Albus, the merpeople breaking the lake's surface to listen to the eulogy. Severus saw even the centaurs came to pay their respects, situated among the trees.
When the wizard finished the eulogy, bright white flames erupted and seemed to consume Dumbledore's body, white smoke undulating in the air and forming strange, unearthly shapes. A phoenix seemed to soar away into the blue and the fire vanished, leaving a white marble tomb.
A bevy of arrows landed in front of the tomb, a final tribute from the centaurs, who then disappeared into the trees.
Severus shuddered again, and he was in the study once more, his link to Fawkes broken. He blinked several times, then covered his face with one pale hand, once again despairing the loss of Albus Dumbledore.
Hermione returned home for the summer, but her parents found her different now, not so willing to talk about all the wonderful things she had learned throughout the year, or how good her grades were. Of course, they knew she was grieving. The Headmaster of the school had been killed, apparently by one of his own teachers.
Her parents were tempted to try and talk Hermione out of returning to Hogwarts. She had told them enough for them to know Harry Potter was not going to return. He was her friend. If Harry was smart enough to stay away from the school, surely Hermione could follow his example. Stay in the nice, safe, normal world where people didn't die from the blast of a wand.
Hermione was grieving, but she was thinking too. No one really knew what motivated Snape to do what he did, but Hermione found it hard to believe that after being tormented by Voldemort year after year that the wizard was actually loyal to him. It made no sense to her. Dumbledore had always treated the Potions Master well and did his best for him. Yes, he spied for the Headmaster, but had been willing to do so. He wasn't forced.
Could it have all been staged? The broken condition the wizard returned to Hogwarts in just a ruse to throw everyone off while he planned on killing the Headmaster the entire time? How could he allow himself to be treated in such a manner? Sometimes when he returned he was at the brink of death. No. No that couldn't have been an act.
Hermione's mind returned to the last time she saw the Headmaster privately. He had called her into his office and made some very complimentary statements about her marks, then reached out and took her hand.
"Miss Granger, you are the brightest witch to come through Hogwarts in many years. Your intelligence and dedication are marvelous assets, assets that may well be needed in the near future. Always remember to think, Miss Granger, and to do so in a logical manner. One thing we can always count on in this life is that things are not always as they appear, my dear," Albus said.
Then Hermione felt a surge of power rush from the wizard's hand and up her arm. She had gasped and pulled her hand away from the Headmaster's soft grip.
"What…what happened?" she asked him, rubbing her arm, "I felt a sudden surge of magic from you, Headmaster."
"Oh, I'm so sorry, Miss Granger. When a wizard or witch gets up in years, sometimes they have magical spasms. It's a part of the aging process. I hope it didn't cause you any pain," he said, his eyes twinkling.
"No…it just startled me, sir," Hermione replied, relaxing.
Hermione now thought about Albus' words.
"…things are not always as they appear..."
Hermione's brow furrowed. Was the Headmaster giving her some warning when he told her that? On the surface, it just sounded like sound, generalized advice…but he had also said her intelligence and dedication might be needed in the near future.
Hermione's eyes began to shift back and forth as she went over the Headmaster's last days at Hogwarts and the strange surges of magic she felt over those final days, including the night he and Harry had left Hogwarts. She had several sensations of great power being expended while they were absent and a great influx around the time the wizard was killed. And then there was the time where she was studying with Harry and Ron in the library. The sensations of magic felt very similar to the surge of power that passed between her and Dumbledore, except she couldn't physically feel them, only sense them.
Hermione's eyes widened.
Had Dumbledore done something to her that day? Something he didn't tell her but trusted her to figure out? Had he in some way connected her to himself? She knew from Harry that Dumbledore used powerful magic several times that night. She had been in Snape's office attending Professor Flitwick with Luna Lovegood when she felt the last powerful surge.
That had coincided with when the old wizard died.
Suddenly, Hermione knew she had to return to Hogwarts if it remained open. She wasn't sure why, but perhaps she could find out…see if she experienced any other surges of magic while within its walls. She could maintain contact with Harry in some way, she was sure of it. Maybe she could even help him in some manner while still at the school. Harry had moved back to Godric's Hollow and was in the process of repairing his parent's house. It had been made unplottable, the area appearing to be a ruin much like Hogwarts appeared when stumbled upon.
Hermione didn't like the idea, saying Voldemort or his minions might still be able to find him despite the disinformation spread by the Order stating that Harry had returned to the muggle world for a time because of his grief at the loss of Dumbledore. Rita Skeeter helped spread this disinformation, writing an article that basically claimed the great Harry Potter had cut and run for his life, abandoning the wizarding world willing to save his own life at the cost of thousands.
Harry didn't like being publicly branded a coward, but had made up his mind. Before he left for Godric's Hollow he attended Bill and Fleur's wedding. Ron used this occasion to ask his parents if he could leave Hogwarts to help Harry on a secret mission. He was swiftly shot down, and Mrs. Weasley spent most of the reception trying to convince Harry to return to Hogwarts where he would be safe.
"I'm not your mother, Harry, but I love you like a son. I don't want anything to happen to you in these dark times," she said, trying to change his mind.
"Dumbledore gave me something to do, and I have to do it," Harry said stubbornly, though he was glad Ron's parents wouldn't let him accompany him. It was too dangerous. If anything happened to Ron, it would be another death on his hands.
Molly then tried to get Harry to tell her what he had to do, but he wouldn't tell her. For a week afterward, Molly stayed on Ron's back, trying to get him to tell her Harry's mission, which he wouldn't. Arthur told her to leave it alone, that it was between Harry and Dumbledore, but Molly was determined to find out the secret. While Arthur was at work, she slipped a bit of veritaserum into Ron's pumpkin juice and questioned him when it took effect.
She found out to her dismay Ron had taken a wizarding oath not to reveal Harry's secret. Veritaserum could not override an oath.
"Oh fudge," she said, frowning as Ron slowly came out from under the serum's influence. Unfortunately, this particular type of veritaserum left the user with memories of being questioned and Ron lit into his mother right away.
"I can't believe it. My own mother slipping me veritaserum! What's the world coming to?" he exclaimed at her. Of course he told his father, who was furious with Molly and didn't speak to her for over a week.
Ron made a big show of sniffing everything his mother served him after that, acting as if he could smell veritaserum. Of course, he couldn't, but he still drove his mother wild by doing it and then scrunching up his face, saying, "I'm not sure I should eat this, mum. I might spill my guts."
Molly would put her hands on her hips.
"Ronald Weasley, there is nothing wrong with that food. It's fine!" she'd snap at him.
Ron would then look down at his plate or drink skeptically.
"I don't know," he'd say, then thrust the food or drink at either Fred or George, "One of you try it!"
Arthur never said a word about Ron's taunting of his mother, she deserved it after all. It had been a very dirty trick giving Ron truth elixir. She was going to have to rebuild his trust.
It took her weeks to do.
Voldemort gave Severus his final instructions.
"Whatever you do, Severus…do not set foot in or touch the water with any part of your person, am I understood?" the Dark Lord said to him, "Just draw the boat up with the chain, go to the island and check the locket. I have given you the spell so you don't have to drink the contents of the basin. All you must do to check if the fragment is present, is to do a simple medi-witch health spell. It will glow blue as if you are examining a healthy body. Then return and report to me."
"Yes, my Lord," Severus said, bowing.
"And do not attempt to apparate to the bottom of the cliff. You will splinch. You must climb down," the Dark Lord continued. "Then swim for a bit."
"Yes, my Lord," Severus replied again. Voldemort had been going over this with him for the past week. He knew what to do. But the Dark Lord was a bit of a nag.
"And don't forget you need blood to enter the inner sanctum," Voldemort reminded him.
"Yes my Lord," Severus said again.
Voldemort stared at him for several moments, then said, "Go, my most faithful servant," and flicked his wand at him.
Severus felt disoriented for a moment as if traveling by port key. Suddenly he dropped hard to the ground, and sat up, looking around. He got to his feet.
The wizard could smell salt and hear the crash of waves. A cool breeze lifted his lank hair as he looked out over the sea, which was illuminated by moonlight. Thousands of stars filled the sky. Severus was standing on an outcrop of black rock, water rushing and breaking below him. Behind him was a huge cliff with a sheer drop, broken pieces of the rock face strewn beneath it. There were no trees, grass or sand.
He looked over the outcrop, down at the face of rock leading down below. There were crags and jutting pieces sticking out of the stone. He could climb down. Carefully he lowered himself over the edge and cautiously chose his handholds. The wall became more slippery the closer he got to the bottom. He slipped and fell about five feet, but landed in a crouch, sliding slightly on the wet boulder. He straightened and looked at the stone before him.
There was a fissure.
He climbed through.
As Severus climbed through the fissure, he thought about what Voldemort had told him, that there would be water pouring through the fissure. The rock base was wet, but there was no water.
As the Potions Master climbed through, he heard a roar behind him. He looked back just as a rush of water washed over him, forcing him through the fissure and into a small tunnel…he was buffeted off the slimy walls as he was shoved through by the pressure of the sudden tide, the tunnel curving to the left. Spluttering and doing his best not to swallow any more water, Severus rode it out, the water becoming shallow as he came to rest against rugged stone steps.
His teeth chattering, the wizard climbed the stairs, water streaming from his robes and head, his hair plastered to his skull. He felt his pocket. Thank the gods his wand was still there. Severus whipped it out and quickly cast a drying spell on himself. He pulled up his sleeves. There were bruises on his arms. Shit, that had been quite a ride.
"Lumos' he said, lighting the wand tip and looking about. Yes this was the cave.
He looked at the walls…there was supposed to be an entrance hidden in them. Severus said the incantation Voldemort had given him so the door would reveal itself.
"Visiportis," the wizard breathed.
The outline of an arched doorway was illuminated by a blazing white light. Severus strode over to it and touched the wall. The outline faded. This was the entryway that required blood. Severus put out his wand for a moment, then pressed it to a vein in his arm. A small gash appeared, streaming blood. He wiped his arm on the stone and the outline appeared again, the stone within it vanishing. Severus healed his wound and relit his wand, walking through.
The dark wizard stopped. He was standing at the edge of a huge black lake that spread so far out he couldn't see the other side. There was a greenish fog resting in its center that was reflected in the water below. The cavern was so high, the Potions Master couldn't see the ceiling. There was the distinct feeling of evil in the place and neither his wand nor the green mist offered much light. It was as if the darkness was denser than usual.
A narrow rim of rock encircled the lake and Severus set off walking around the edge, carefully counting off his paces. He took care not to misstep and touch the water. The Dark Lord had not told him what would happen if he did, but that was the perversity of the wizard. Severus was sure something terrible would occur…he didn't need to know exactly what.
Finally he stopped and slowly fanned his hand through the air over the lake, coming in contact with something cold, hard and invisible and closing his fist over it. He moved as close as possible to the edge of the lake without touching the water and tapped his wand to his fist as Voldemort instructed.
A thick greenish chain appeared in Severus' clenched hand, the links leading into the water. Severus tapped the chain with his wand and it began to slide through his fist, coiling of its on volition on the bank, clinking noisily as it pulled a tiny, glowing green boat from the depths. It didn't look very stable.
Severus entered the boat carefully, folding up his body as best he could, careful not to touch the water. The boat began to glide across the lake under its own power, the Potions Master glancing down at the dark water. He thought he saw some movement beneath the surface. It didn't seem as if the water could sustain any sea life, but one never knew.
After a few moments, Severus reached the greenish glow and the boat bumped against something hard. The wizard held out his wand and saw a small island made of smooth rock, no larger than Dumbledore's office. The glow was coming from a small stone basin set upon a pedestal in the center of the island. It was filled with an emerald liquid that gave off light.
Severus approached it and waved his wand over it, repeating the incantation Voldemort had given him to clear the contents and collect the locket. The liquid vanished, and at the bottom of the basin…was nothing.
Severus frowned. The locket was gone. Hopefully whoever had taken it had destroyed the soul fragment within. Voldemort would not be pleased about this, but the Potions Master certainly was. He turned to return to the boat, but found it had drifted out a ways.
"Accio boat," the Potions Master said, pointing his wand at it. The boat bobbed calmly on the black surface of the water, not moving. Severus tried again to no avail.
"Shit," he breathed, looking about then back at the boat. It was just out of reach. Severus stretched, trying to catch the bow…he was almost there, when his foot slipped and the toe of his boot touched the water. He drew it out quickly.
Suddenly the water of the entire lake began to bubble. Severus splashed through the water and got into the boat, which began its journey back to the other side. Pale shapes appeared under the surface, and to Severus' shocked horror, pale hands gripped the sides of the boat. He started blasting them, but to not avail. Bodies began to appear, waterlogged animated corpses, bobbing in the water, all converging on the boat.
"Inferi," Severus hissed as the creatures grabbed hold of him.
The Potions Master fought valiantly, but there were too many of them and he dropped his wand. In a moment, he was pulled over the side and into the dark water, the bodies of the dead pressing around him. He swallowed water…he was drowning. He'd never get back to Voldemort. He'd never help Harry find the Horcruxes. The wizarding world was doomed because he'd failed.
He relaxed, his body ceasing to fight as the inferi dragged him downward. Death was here.
The surface of the lake was smooth now, there was no sign of struggle, no indication at all that a brave wizard had been taken below the water to join the ranks of the undead.
Suddenly, a powerful pulse of orange light boiled through the depths from the center of Severus' body to the edge of the lake itself, the inferi releasing the wizard and Severus bobbing up to the surface, followed by the bodies of the undead…which weren't moving.
Severus floated on his back and suddenly coughed, expelling water. He took a choked breath and coughed again, feeling something bumping against him. He opened his eyes and looked to see a malformed face floating next to his head and kicked away from it, only to bump into another body and another. The wizard pushed through them, his hand coming into contact with something thin and straight…his wand. He silently thanked the gods and used his wand to clear the bodies from his path as he swam to the lake's edge and staggered to shore.
He looked back at the lake which was filled with the floating, unmoving bodies of the inferi, no longer animate. Severus knew he had been dying. Where had that burst of power come from? He couldn't do wandless magic, but somehow that burst of fire, because that was what it was, erupted from his person. Fire was not supposed to be able to burn under water, but this flame did.
Was it some kind of magical adrenaline that caused the burst of magic? Severus didn't know, but he was thankful. He cast a drying spell on himself and quickly exited the cavern. He couldn't leave this place soon enough.
In her bed in muggle London, Hermione suddenly woke up from her sleep, looking around wildly. She had felt another surge of power. Her eyes widened.
The witch had come to the conclusion that Dumbledore had purposely connected her to him magically, so she could feel him whenever he expended energy. For what purpose Hermione wasn't sure. But she felt that power tonight…and it didn't make sense. Albus Dumbledore had been dead at least two weeks now. But she felt him. It could only have been him. But he was dead…Snape had killed him. Harry witnessed it. She attended his funeral. The body of Albus Dumbledore was encased in a tomb on the grounds of Hogwarts for all eternity…wasn't it?
Then why did she feel him? Feel his power?
"Things are not always how they appear…"
The thought came unbidden and Hermione started. It was almost as if she heard the Headmaster's voice repeating those words to her again.
Hermione fell back to the bed, her brow furrowed as she rested her head on the pillow.
She was certain of one thing, something really wasn't as it seemed.
"You're mad Hermione…mad with grief," Ron said to the witch as they walked around his yard at the Burrow the next day, "The Headmaster is dead. Harry saw him die, Hagrid carried his body to the tomb and we all witnessed him being interred. Snape killed him."
"But Ron, remember I kept telling you about all the power surges I felt. I believe they corresponded with Dumbledore every time he used a great amount of power. And I felt him last night," Hermione breathed at him.
"Hermione, maybe it has something to do with your…your hormones or something. Witches go through a lot. Maybe your cycle's off or something," Ron suggested, shoving his hands deep in his jeans pocket. "Anyway, enough about this. How about a little kiss? I haven't seen you for weeks."
Ron tried to put his arms around Hermione but she jerked away.
"Ron, this is important. I'm starting to think Snape didn't kill Dumbledore at all," the witch said.
Ron scowled at her.
"You're crazy, Hermione. You need to see a medi-witch," he said to her blackly.
Hermione stared at him for a moment.
"You're not even willing to entertain the idea that Dumbledore might still be alive," Hermione said to him, "I'm not making this up, Ron. Something is going on. I feel Dumbledore."
"The only thing going on, Hermione, is your overactive imagination. No one is going to believe you. 'Oh…I can feel Dumbledore in my bones,'" he said in a mocking falsetto voice.
Hermione's face became dark as an approaching storm.
"I'm going to go talk to Harry then. He'll listen," she said angrily, "The hell with you, Ronald Weasley."
"Don't you dare tell Harry this," Ron said, his own face turning dark, "He's been through enough. He had to watch Snape kill Dumbledore. And you are going to try and convince him he's not dead? When Harry watched him fall from the tower? Hermione…listen to yourself. Harry's got enough on his mind trying to figure out how to find the Horcruxes without you adding your mad ideas!"
"You really think them mad, Ron?" Hermione asked him, a quaver in her voice.
"Yes. I really do. You need to stop it now," he said.
"Fine. I will stop it. I'll stop everything," Hermione said, narrowing her eyes, "Including my relationship with you. It's over Ron. If you have no faith in me and can't be supportive then I want nothing to do with you."
Ron looked at her flabbergasted.
"But Hermione, you can't expect me to agree with everything you say! What you are saying is insane. Dumbledore is dead. Dead, dead, dead. No matter how much you want him to be alive, he isn't. And if you go around saying he is, someone's going to stick you in the St. Mungos' psycho ward."
"Goodbye Ron," Hermione said stiffly.
Ron rushed forward.
"Hermione, wait!" he cried, but the witch cast a silencing spell on herself and disapparated back to Diagon Alley, then using the Leaky Cauldron exit, returned to muggle London. She didn't know what she ever saw in Ronald Weasley.
He was an ass.
Voldemort was livid when he finished viewing the pensieve. He stared at Severus wildly.
"Gone! The locket is gone…stolen! How did this happen?" he asked Severus angrily.
"I do not know, my Lord. You just told me about the existence of the Horcrux. I simply went to check it as you directed, my Lord," Severus said.
Voldemort stared at Severus a long moment, longing to crucio him for bringing back bad news…but he still needed him. It wasn't the wizard's fault the locket was gone. The despot's red eyes fell on Peter, who was sweeping the floor of the throne room, putting the finishing touches on clean-up detail. There had been a revel the night before. Voldemort trained his wand on him.
"Crucio!" the despot cried.
Peter Pettigrew stiffened, then cried out, falling to the floor screaming and shuddering as the horrible pain blazed through him. Satisfied at having expended his displeasure, Voldemort released Pettigrew, who remained on the floor, quaking.
Voldemort turned his eyes on Severus, who wisely did not share what happened after he discovered the locket missing. Voldemort would have wondered about the burst of power, and Severus couldn't explain it. But he knew if the Dark Lord knew he was capable of such power, he would kill him.
"You've done well, Severus. I am going to send you out to check the next Horcrux in a few days. In the meantime, I want you to brew up a few batches of polyjuice potion. It is said that Harry Potter has hidden himself in the muggle world. I am not sure I believe this, though he would have been wise to do so. But the boy is a fool and believes himself courageous. I don't think he would cut and run. I know you are being sought, Severus, but you are also quite adept at spying. I have a number of leftover hairs from victims scattered about in Nagini's quarters. You will use them to move about the wizarding world and seek out information on Harry Potter. Do you mind?" he asked Severus, his eyes narrowing.
It really wasn't a question. It was more of a dare for Severus to decline the job.
"Not at all, my Lord. I will begin brewing immediately," the wizard said.
"Good man, Severus," the Dark Lord said with a thin, lipless smile, "You may go."
Severus backed away and turned heading for his rooms.
So, he'd be moving about the wizarding world. He would have to be careful, but this could work to his advantage. He might be able to find some way to pass Harry the information about the Horcruxes, if the boy wasn't too thick to understand it.
But he probably was.
Fawkes soared high above a landscape which was illuminated by moonlight, his sharp eyes searching for the sign that would identify a very special location. This mission was best pursued at night, and his enhanced vision served him well. He was flying over the mountains now and seeking a plateau that was far from the beaten path. Albus had given him the landmark to look for, an etching in the earth visible only from above.
After flying over the area several times because of low-lying fog, the phoenix saw something, a design partially covered by mist. He flew a bit lower, then squawked as he found the symbol he was looking for.
A bee. A bumblebee painstakingly etched in the rock, four wings spread. The Phoenix dropped quickly, scanning the area until he saw the tiny, upright stones in the light of the moon. He landed in the middle of a small family graveyard. Only four tombstones rested here, the occupants interred beneath for many years. Fawkes examined each stone, trying to match the symbols carved into the stones to the image Albus gave him.
Fawkes could not read, but he could divine shapes and presently he stopped in front of a headstone that read:
Alfred Brinley Dumbledore
Beloved Husband and Father
Jan. 17th, 1800 – Dec. 16th, 1890
Fawkes lowered his head respectfully for several moments, fluffed up his feathers and began to scratch at the hardened earth with a purpose.
Severus immediately went to his lab and checked his stores for the following ingredients
Lacewing flies, crude Antimony, unsucculated leeches, Fluxweed, Sal Ammoniac, Knotgrass, lunar-extracted horn of Bicorn, rasplings of Salpeter, Mercury, Mars, and last but not least, desiccated Boomslang skin.
Yes, he had everything he needed. Since polyjuice potion took a month to brew, Severus decided to create a large quantity. As he worked he couldn't help but wonder just who he would be turned into. The hairs in Nagini's lair were from people killed at the revels…muggles and magical folk alike. He could be mistaken for someone missing for a long period of time. He had no way of knowing where the dead originated from, which would make this assignment even more perilous. He could run into someone searching for the witch, wizard or muggle he was impersonating. That could be awkward. Worse than awkward.
It could get him caught.
But then again, Severus had an ace up his sleeve that had served him well when he got into tight spots before. He would utilize it if need be. He kept it a secret, even from Albus, though he suspected the old wizard knew. Albus seemed to know everything.
Damn, if only he had known following Harry to the Ministry would result in his death.
Severus frowned to himself as he pulverized knotgrass. Perhaps Albus had known. It wouldn't have stopped him in any case. He was also a Gryffindor, and as all Slytherins knew, Gryffindor was interchangable with "fool" and fools rushed in. Even if they were noble fools. Had Albus Dumbledore been a Slytherin, most likely he would still be alive.
Increasing the portions of ingredients, Severus added them to several cauldrons, covered them and set them to low simmer. It would be a week before the next stage. The Potions Master cleaned his workspace meticulously, then retired to his rooms.
Seated at her small writing desk in her bedroom, Hermione Granger studied at the parchment she was writing on. The witch was listing possible reasons why she would feel the Headmaster's powers after his death. She only had three scenarios that she felt were possible.
1. Albus Dumbledore didn't really die, it was a ruse.
It could be that the Headmaster wasn't killed in the fall, and there was a conspiracy to hide that fact for whatever reason. Professor Snape could be in on it, or not aware the wizard survived. Possibly they found a way to emulate the Killing curse without actually using it. Some kind of illusion.
Ways to check: Talk to Madame Pomfrey and try to get details. No students had seen the body. By the reactions of the staff, they believed him dead. Their grief couldn't be false…they weren't actors.
2. Albus Dumbledore created a Horcrux and hid it away.
Hermione thought this was a likely scenario. She didn't know if Horcruxes gave off magical signatures. There wasn't much information on Horcruxes at the school. More than likely she would have to order a book on them. She knew that a person had to murder someone to fragment his soul so it could be placed in another vessel. It was easy to imagine Voldemort killing someone to create a Horcrux, but not the Headmaster. Still, he had killed over the years for the Greater Good. Maybe that was enough to fragment his soul. Hermione knew the wizard respected life very deeply…it could be that taking it, no matter the circumstances, was enough to provide the fragmentation.
3. Albus Dumbledore was a ghost and giving off residual magic leftover from Life.
Hermione wasn't sure about this. She had never seen a ghost do magic. Peeves did, but he was a poltergeist and not a ghost. She had come to the conclusion Peeves got his powers from the unsettled emotions of the student body, since poltergeists seemed to manifest around adolescents and young adults. If this were the case, Peeves was fueled by hundreds of angsty students. No wonder he was so naughty. In Dumbledore's case, he hadn't been seen about Hogwarts as far as Hermione knew, but he could have appeared since they all left for vacation. She would have to question the ghosts when she returned to the castle.
Hermione frowned as she looked at the three possibilities, then a light bulb appeared over her head for a moment, fading away as she wrote down her next idea.
Question the Headmaster's portrait in the Headmaster's office.
Portraits of all the former Headmasters and Headmistresses of Hogwarts were kept in the Head office, and they could be asked advice. No doubt the portrait of Albus Dumbledore hung there as well and could give her some answers. Maybe. She'd have to get past McGonagall in order to get the chance to question the painting.
It could be done.
Hermione stared at the parchment, her amber eyes shifting back to the Horcrux idea. If the Headmaster had left a Horcrux, where would he have hidden it to keep it safe? A sock? A lemon drop? No. He wouldn't do that would he? How did one check for a Horcrux? She needed to talk to Harry. He hadn't given her any details about how he planned to identify Voldemort's Horcruxes. Perhaps he could feel them, since he was supposed to be connected to the evil wizard in some manner.
No. If that were the case, Harry would have known that the locket he and Dumbledore retrieved from did not contain a fragment before going through what they did.
Yes. She had to talk to Harry.
Harry had given Hermione a magic mirror to use to contact him. She hadn't utilized it yet because she didn't feel she should be frivolous with it. It wasn't the kind of thing to be used for idle chitchat, but for important reasons. Well, this was important.
She decided to take Ron's advice and not tell Harry about feeling Dumbledore's magic. She simply wanted to know a little more about Horcruxes. In the privacy of her bedroom she opened the top drawer of her dresser, pulled out the mirror, walked back over to her bed, sat down and looked into it.
"Harry Potter," she said to her reflection.
The mirror clouded up for a moment, then Harry's face appeared in the mirror. Hermione smiled at him brightly, but for some reason…Harry didn't smile back.
"Hi Harry," Hermione said, looking a bit taken aback at the cold look her friend was giving her.
"Ron told me you'd probably be contacting me," he said with a bit of iron in his voice.
Hermione scowled immediately. She'd bet even galleons that Ron had told Harry about her theory concerning Dumbledore after he'd told her not to do it. Ron could be very vindictive and probably wanted Harry to be mad at her too.
"Yes, I haven't talked to you for a while, Harry," she began.
"Dumbledore is dead, Hermione. I saw him die. I saw Snape kill him," Harry said, "I don't care what you're feeling. What you're feeling is nothing compared to my seeing him die. Snape murdered him in front of my eyes. He was too weak to survive it. Besides, no one survives a Killing curse."
Hermione stared at him.
"I didn't call you to talk about that, Harry…but I am mad that you know. Ron told me not to tell you and then turns around and tells you himself. Probably because he wants you to be mad at me too. I broke up with him, you know," she said to the-boy-who-lived.
"Yes, I know. Because he tried to talk some sense into you," Harry said, clearly showing Hermione whose side he was on concerning the breakup.
Hermione decided to avoid the whole conversation concerning her and Ron. There were bigger brooms to fly.
"Harry, I'm trying to come up with ways to help you when I return to Hogwarts," she said placatingly, "I wanted to ask you how do you identify a Horcrux? How will you know when you find one?"
Harry blinked at her for a moment, considering whether he should answer her or not. He decided it wouldn't hurt to tell her, despite the crazy notions the witch was entertaining. Hermione was still very intelligent, even if she wasn't being logical concerning Dumbledore. That could be because of grief however.
"Well, I only know how to identify an inanimate Horcrux. There are living Horcruxes as well, when a soul fragment is put inside a living creature. I have to figure out how to identify a soul fragment in something alive. To check for an inanimate Horcrux, you just have to use a medi-witch spell, the one they use when checking someone's overall health. The wand tip will glow blue to show they are healthy. An inanimate object doesn't have a life force, so shouldn't glow. If it does, more than likely it contains a soul fragment. If you check anything alive, it's going to glow regardless, so you can't tell if it has one," he said, adjusting his glasses.
"I see," Hermione said, thinking hard, "I tell you what, Harry. I'll try to find out how to identify a Horcrux that's been placed inside a living thing. When I do, I'll tell you," she said.
Harry smiled at her now. Because of the secrecy of his mission, he couldn't consult anyone. Plus he was supposed to be in the muggle world, so he was very limited as to where he could travel. But he had Dobby with him, for pay of course…though the house elf would have worked for Harry for free…he loved him so much. Dobby did all the shopping and such for the wizard. With Hermione doing research for him, he had a better chance at accomplishing what he had to set out to do.
"I appreciate that, Hermione," he said to her, "I need all the help I can get."
Hermione had also taken an oath concerning Harry's mission, but unlike Ron, who took an across the board oath, Hermione structured hers. Her oath stated that she would not say anything to anyone that would endanger Harry's mission. In this way, the oath was protective. It wouldn't allow her to discuss the search for the Horcruxes with anyone who had the inclination to interfere, impede or pass information about the mission. It gave her more leeway to investigate the situation, the oath serving as a kind of filter. Even if she didn't know the motivations of the person she spoke to, the oath could and would curtail the conversation. Hermione was one smart witch.
"You know I'll help you any way I can, Harry. And I've decided to return to Hogwarts. I think…well…I just think it's best," Hermione said.
Harry nodded, thinking Hermione felt she had worked too hard at her marks to skive off without graduating. She was right, too. Plus she would be safe at Hogwarts.
"Ron will be going back too," Harry said, "though he doesn't want to. His mum and dad are making him go back. He wanted to come with me."
Hermione thought Harry sounded a bit relieved about that. He probably was. Harry was always worried something would happen to them because of him.
Hermione didn't respond to what Harry said about Ron. He was her least favorite person right now, especially since he had told Harry about her claim to feel Dumbledore's magic. What a git he was.
Harry looked at Hermione, then cleared his throat.
"Um…Hermione, I didn't mean to sound so angry, but you know…I witnessed…" he began.
"Don't worry about it, Harry. I understand," she said, giving him a small smile.
And she did, really. Harry had to be feeling a large amount of guilt at not being able to help Dumbledore and letting Snape get away. Neither occurrence was his fault, but Harry took on the sins of the world all the time. Her claim to feel Dumbledore probably only added to his feelings of guilt. Harry believed him dead.
"Listen, I'm going to go," Hermione said to the wizard, "I'll contact you as soon as I find out anything important."
"All right, Hermione. Be good and be careful," Harry said, his eyes sober.
"I will. And you do the same, Harry," Hermione replied.
The wizard's image faded and her own reflection looked back at her.
"I'm going to find out what's going on," Hermione said to herself determinedly, "There's more here than meets the eye."
Hermione returned the magic mirror to her dresser drawer and sat back down at her desk, studying the parchment again, and planning her next move, which was to go down to Flourish & Blotts book shop and order a book that discussed Horcruxes.
She'd move forward from there.
Marcus Delaluci sat in the back of the Hog's Head Inn sipping a firewhiskey and looking at the wanted parchment he picked up off the bar when he entered. The SB teacher's violet eyes scanned the photo of Snape, which, despite being a wizarding photo, didn't move. The wizard's dark eyes stared back at Marcus as if challenging him. He read the poster:
"Twenty thousand galleons? Damn. Got yourself in a world of shit this time, Snape," Marcus said to the image, taking another swallow of his firewhiskey, "Don't know why you'd kill Dumbledore though. He was the only one who liked your snarky ass."
Marcus Delaluci served as Hogwarts' Spells Breaking teacher for the past year. It was a new position created by Dumbledore. The Headmaster felt Spell Breaking would be an important skill for the students to learn if they found themselves dealing with spells that they did not know the counterspell for. The rugged blonde wizard was a former Eradicator, a member of a secret force that did the dirty work for the Ministry when the usual avenues didn't work. The group had had been disbanded several years ago when a reporter by the name of Rita Skeeter found out about its existence. Of course the Ministry denied there was ever any "Eradicators" in their employ.
In other words, Marcus was a former assassin who raped, assaulted and killed in the name of politics and the Ministry of Magic. After the Eradictors were disbanded, he spent some time as a mercenary abroad for Gringotts bank, killing natives, nullifying curses and claiming jewel-rich territories around the world. Finally, tired of the bloodshed, he returned to England to try and make an honest, blood-free living. He wasn't doing very well at it when Albus Dumbledore showed up at his flat and asked him to come to Hogwarts.
Marcus didn't have anything better to do, other than chase down trim. Actually, he was a fairly good teacher and his pupils loved him…especially the older young witches. He loved them too, albeit discreetly…provided they were the Age of Consent and willing.
Well, maybe love was too strong a word. Fucked would be a better description of what Mr. Delaluci did. He wasn't big on conscience, though to his credit he didn't pursue his students. But if they pursued him, they were fair game as far as he was concerned. He made it clear to the young women however, he was not in love with them, nor would he maintain a relationship. It was strictly sex.
As a result, Marcus found himself obliviating quite a few witches who found out later they weren't mature enough to handle what he offered them, which was little more than a stiff member and experience. What happened with the SB teacher mattered to them.
The moment a witch walked into his office with her eyes glistening and asking him why he wasn't paying attention to her, the SB teacher whipped out his wand and removed himself from her memory. Marcus was quite adept at memory charms because of his past. He often had to remove certain memories of his victims who lived while leaving the horror intact. He was fast and precise. The ability certainly came in handy at Hogwarts. He stared down at the parchment.
"Twenty thousand galleons, eh?" the wizard mused.
Marcus had never cared for Snape. He was greasy, snarky, sarcastic and acted as if he owned Hogwarts. He doubted the Potions Master had ever been laid unless he paid for it. He had a run-in with the wizard once, concerning the frequent loss of some potions ingredients.
"Mr. Delaluci," Severus said to Marcus one day, stopping him on the way to breakfast in the Great Hall, "I do not appreciate you teaching your students how to break the wards on my Potions stores."
Severus was the Dark Arts teacher now, but he still brewed and kept a private Potions store in his DA classroom. It had been raided several times this year. A lot of skill had to go into breaking those wards, skills that students didn't have before Mr. Delaluci arrived.
Marcus looked at him with raised eyebrows.
"There's no proof my Spellbreaking students are the ones breaking into your stores, Snape. I imagine that's been going on long before I came to Hogwarts," he responded, his violet eyes telescoping to black for a moment, "If you don't want students breaking into your stores, I suggest you bone up on your magic and use stronger wards."
Severus' nostrils flared at the suggestion that his magic was weak. Who the fuck did Marcus Delaluci think he was?
"I assure you my magic is above par and I take offense that you have suggested it is not so. You don't want to make an enemy of me, Mr. Delaluci," Snape said darkly.
Marcus loved a good duel.
"Maybe I do," the wizard replied, meeting Severus' eyes directly, "I haven't had a good duel in ages."
Severus smirked a little. He'd like nothing better than to blast the swaggering bastard to hell.
"Any time you feel 'froggish,' Mr. Delaluci, you are welcome to leap," Severus purred.
Marcus smiled nastily and was about to respond when Albus suddenly swept around the corner with a big smile, offered both wizards lemon drops and escorted them into the Great Hall with a flourish, effectively defusing the situation. They never did get back to the matter, but Marcus remembered Snape was more than willing to have a go.
"Seems like I might get that duel after all, Snape," Marcus mused, his eyes falling on the G20,000 reward offering.
He started thinking, and thinking hard. How could he possibly get to Snape when no one else could? Snape was most likely with Voldemort and under his protection. The only ones who could enter Voldemort's presence were his Death Eaters.
This wasn't the safest time to be a Death Eater…but hm.
He had heard it bantered about that Snape was considered a spy loyal to the Order before he killed Dumbledore and had been for years. Too bad the Headmaster didn't realize just whose side the dark wizard was on.
Marcus was no slouch when it came to filling a role. The Headmaster had been after him to join the Order for over a year before his demise. Marcus always refused, stating he was neutral and if things got bad, he'd just leave the country. He had done enough service for the so called "Greater Good" when he was an Eradicator. He knew the uglier side of it and felt he had earned his stripes. But for twenty-thousand galleons, he could have a change of heart, especially since it might work in his favor. Now…who was the head of the Order now?
Marcus scoured his brain for a moment. Oh yes. Kingsley Shacklebolt.
He'd have to stop by the Ministry and see him since the location of Order headquarters was a secret. Marcus had no doubt Kingsley would put him on. He had several abilities that had made him invaluable to the Eradicators. They would serve him equally well in the Order, if he joined. Marcus had a secret and that was he was of mixed ancestry. Something about a virgin and a dragon that fell in love with her centuries ago. Marcus was the first of his line born with dragon gifts in generations.
His violet eye color was inherited from the dragon, as well as his ability to see in almost total darkness. He could also "zoom in" on objects, like a telescope, the pupils of his eyes enlarging until they appeared almost completely back. He could detect dark magic, resist the effects of veritaserum, and when obliviated, his memories would come back in a few days. He also had another gift…one more appreciated by witches, one which most likely explained how a dragon could mate with a human female.
Marcus could adjust the girth and length of his organ between human size and what he imagined was dragon-size, though he had never used it set on "insanely enormous." He'd kill someone. However, he was quite the lover, pig that he was.
His brow furrowed, Marcus finished his drink and rose, leaving a galleon on the table. If Snape could play spy…why couldn't he? However, his focus wouldn't be on Voldemort…that would be the ruse. He really wanted Snape and those twenty thousand galleons. Once he got the reward, he would leave the Order, leave the school and leave England. Make a new start far beyond Voldemort's influence. He knew how to disappear.
"I wonder just how you become a Death Eater anyway?" the wizard mused as he exited the inn.
That was something he'd have to look into as well.
Hermione ordered two reference books from Flourish & Blotts, the first being "Dark Magic: Myth and Reality." The text discussed Horcruxes, though purely from a theoretical view. It did not give the exact spells needed to create a Horcrux, but it did give other pertinent information about them. She also ordered "The Big Book of Soul Magic" another reference guide to spells involving the soul. Again, there were no actual spells, only the history and theories behind the magic. The books were not in stock but she would be able to pick them up in a couple of days.
As she exited the book shop, Hermione saw a wanted poster for Professor Snape attached to a streetlight. She walked up to it and studied the Professor.
"Why did you do it, Professor Snape?" she asked the poster in a sad voice, "The Headmaster cared about you…trusted you. Was his trust misplaced?"
The Professor's black eyes looked back at her, glinting slightly.
"He's not going to tell you anything," a voice said behind her.
Hermione spun and met the violet eyes of Marcus Delaluci. He smiled at her.
"Hard to believe, isn't it, Miss Granger? That he'd turn on Dumbledore that way," the wizard said to the witch.
"Yes. It really is," Hermione said, looking up at Marcus.
"Just goes to show you can't trust anyone," Marcus said, his eyes washing over Hermione appraisingly.
Hm. Little Miss Granger was filling out nicely. But alas, the witch was a walking library. Probably everything she knew about sex was out of a book.
Hermione was about to suggest that maybe there was more to what happened with Snape than met the eye, but found she couldn't do it. Something was stopping her. She realized it was the oath. But, she had taken that oath only concerning Harry's mission, not Professor Snape. She had been able to talk about her thoughts openly with Harry and Ron, but for some reason, she wasn't able to say anything to Professor Delaluci. Could he interfere with Harry's mission in some way?
Something was wrong here but Hermione didn't know what.
"Yes, these are untrustworthy times, Professor," she agreed, not letting on something was out of whack with the wizard.
"Are you ready to return to Hogwarts or are you bailing like half the student body?" Marcus asked her.
He doubted Hermione wouldn't come back. Most likely she cared about her marks more than breathing.
"Oh, I'm definitely coming back. I'm in your Advanced Spellbreaking class this year, and am looking forward to it," she said, still wondering what it was about Marcus that made the oath go into effect.
"It will be quite challenging, Miss Granger, I promise you. You might even have to come to me for private sessions," Marcus said, arching a bushy blonde eyebrow at her.
Hermione smiled at him.
"Then it would have to be very challenging, Professor," she replied.
Marcus knew if anyone could handle the curriculum, it was Hermione Granger. She had the best marks in Hogwarts in the past fifty years. The witch was a walking brain.
"We'll see, won't we?" he said with another smile.
Hermione noticed Marcus had a dimple in his right cheek. No wonder the other witches went gah-gah over him. He was handsome enough, but held as much interest sexually for Hermione as playing Quidditch. He was too old.
"Yes we will," she answered him.
Marcus stared down at her consideringly, then said, "I have to go. See you when school starts, Miss Granger."
"Goodbye, Professor," Hermione said.
Marcus gave her a parting smile, then walked away. That was one young witch who wouldn't be knocking on his door after hours.
Hermione watched him go, then headed for the Leaky Cauldron, her mind once again on Professor Snape. They were certainly offering a large reward for him. Wanted posters were plastered everywhere. But Professor Snape was a very dangerous wizard. She was sure he'd protect himself by any means necessary if someone tried to capture him. That would mean even more blood on his hands. Hermione sighed.
There was more to this…she knew there was. She wished she could find the Professor and talk to him, hear his side of what happened. Harry had told her several times what occurred in the Astronomy tower…but…what happened before then? Before that night?
Hermione pulled out her wand and tapped the pattern that opened the brick wall behind the Leaky Cauldron and stepped through.
She hoped those books would arrive soon.
She had a lot of research to do between now and her return to Hogwarts. Not to mention a bit of planning. She had to figure out how to be alone with Dumbledore's portrait so she could question it. Professor McGonagall was the Headmistress now and probably wouldn't take kindly to Hermione wanting to investigate the Headmaster's death further.
Her response would probably be, "The Ministry is handling it, Miss Granger. I'm sure they have enough experienced people in their employ not to need your help."
It didn't help that Minerva was grieving over Albus terribly. They had been lovers for many, many years and it felt as if she had lost not only a friend and respected colleague, but a spouse as well. Of course, none of the student body knew this. Albus and Minerva were masters of discretion. Now, she was alone and had to keep the depth of her grief to herself. It was bound to come out in other ways.
Hermione walked through the Leaky Cauldron without even seeing the patrons, she was so deep in thought. She bumped into a witch smoking a long pipe.
"Oh, excuse me," Hermione said.
The witch scowled at her. She wore a traditional pointed black hat with matching black robes, had a very pointed chin and a hooked nose with a large wart on the end of it. She was the witchiest looking witch Hermione had ever seen. If she had been green, she could have doubled for the Wicked Witch of the West.
"You should watch where you're going, young lady," she sniped at Hermione.
"Sorry," Hermione said, glancing down to see if the witch wore ruby slippers.
She didn't. She wore emerald ones with bits of silver running through them. Probably a Slytherin.
Hermione walked past her quickly, the witch squinting after her.
"Young people have NO manners, today," she complained, then walked up to the bar and ordered a firewhiskey sour.
Hermione exited the bar and headed for home, feeling tired now.
It had been quite a taxing afternoon.
A week later, Hermione had her books and sequestered herself in her bedroom to do research. Her mother and father had to coax her to eat, drink and bathe. Her actions didn't surprise them. Even when she was a little girl she would lock herself up with her books and had to be threatened with a spanking before she would sullenly come down to breakfast, lunch or dinner Well, they couldn't spank her now.
Hermione had discovered some interesting things about Horcruxes. For example, a Horcrux and its living counterpart could not be brought together without terrible results. So Voldemort could not be in the presence of anything he placed a soul fragment inside.
Hermione was glad about this, because secretly, from the moment she learned that there could be living Horcruxes, she was afraid that Voldemort had turned Harry into one when he was a baby. She knew it sounded stupid, but what better way to protect the fragment than to have it inside a boy that the entire wizarding world would protect and keep from him? And Harry did get terrible headaches from his scar…and…and…
But Harry had been in Voldemort's presence in the graveyard during their fourth year, when he returned. At first, Hermione played with the idea that Voldemort actually used Harry to come back, the fragment being taken from the-boy-who-lived when Peter Pettigrew cast the spell to restore his master. But no, Voldemort had his own distorted body then, so had a soul and wouldn't have needed another Horcrux. And then he tried to kill Harry and was in close proximity to him. He couldn't have been if Harry contained his soul fragment, and he certainly wouldn't have tried to kill him. So Harry was in the clear.
After reading a bit more about Horcruxes, she read the theory of how a living Horcrux could be identified.
It required the use of a Signature Stone.
"What's a Signature Stone?" Hermione mused, leafing through the book. But there was no more information on it.
Since Hermione wasn't at school, she didn't have the Hogwarts library to browse through and was forced to go to the Ministry library, which was much more restrictive. However, luckily Signature Stones were not a classified subject. In fact, there was quite a bit of information on them.
Signature stones were used in a medical capacity. They were stones made of quartz that contained the magical signature of an individual and could be used in tangent with a healing spell to strengthen the healing process if he was ill. A sliver of the stone placed in the healer's wand tip worked like a tuning fork, helping to focus the power to match the signature of the person being healed. When the Signature Stone came in contact with the person whose signature it held, it would warm and glow.
A person's soul was the source of his magical signature, so if a Signature Stone came in contact with a living Horcrux that held part of that soul, it would glow and identify it.
Well, that was good to know. But the stone would already have to exist to be used. Hermione read on to see what situations would require a Signature Stone to be made. She learned that Signature Stones were often used in places that had their own infirmaries and a large amount of individuals that had to be cared for. Prisons and schools primarily.
Hermione seemed to remember Madame Pomfrey fiddling with the tip of her wand before examining her after she recovered from being petrified in her second year. The tip had glowed amber at first, then settled into the recognizable blue of healing. Had the medi-witch had a Signature Stone attuned to her?
Hermione began to feel excited.
If Poppy had Signature Stones for the students, she must also have them for the staff. More than likely she had the Headmaster's Signature Stone…as well as Professor Snape's. Hermione's eyes widened.
How long did they keep Signature Stones?
It could be possible that Tom Riddle's Signature Stone was still at Hogwarts. If it was, if she could get hold of it, Harry could use it! All he would need was a sliver. He could put it on a necklace, or in a ring! And so could she!
But in Hermione's case, she wanted three stones. Dumbledore's, Snape's and Voldemort's.
Hermione quickly jumped off her bed, ran to her bookshelf and pulled out the latest Edition of "Hogwarts: A History."
She thumbed through it until she found what she was looking for. The year Tom Riddle arrived at Hogwarts. Nineteen thirty-eight. He was part of the class of nineteen forty-five. Did Madam Pomfrey still have the Signature Stones of students that far back? For some reason, Hermione thought she might, or the stones would be in storage someplace in Hogwarts. Filch was forever carrying boxes down into the subdungeons. She had once heard Professor McGonagall claim that the Headmaster was a packrat and refused to throw anything away to do with Hogwarts.
She hoped this claim were true.
Hermione began to think of the significance of the stones. She doubted anyone had considered them at all, since they weren't really considered magical items. They were more like health aids and did no magic of their own. Since the topic of Horcruxes was not a common one, and the existence of Voldemort's Horcruxes a well-kept secret, no one had a reason to think about them. But they could be used to identify a person. Even if they were glamoured or polyjuiced. The human eye could be deceived, but not the stones. You only had to have the proper one in order for it to be utilized.
Hermione closed the history book and lay back on her bed, staring up at the ceiling. Everyone assumed Professor Snape was hiding out with Voldemort. But what if he wasn't? He was a Potions Master and could easily brew Polyjuice. He could be hiding in plain sight and no one would know. If he were captured, it would most likely be dumb luck.
But…if she found him…she could find out what really happened.
If he didn't kill her on sight, that is. As far as the evidence showed, Professor Snape was a cold-blooded murderer. If he could kill a man who had cared for him for decades, he could certainly kill a student who aggravated the hell out of him for almost seven years.
Still, there was the matter of Hermione feeling Dumbledore's magic.
The witch didn't believe he was dead, no matter what anyone else said. She was going to prove it.
She had a lot of work to do when she got back to Hogwarts.
Harry Potter paced through his family home, trying to figure out how to get started on finding the Horcruxes. He had no idea where any of them were, or even what they were. Voldemort could have hidden his Horcruxes any place. Even outside of England.
Dobby watched Harry pace back and forth, his ears flattened. It distressed him to see Harry so lost and upset. He wished there was something he could do for the-boy-who-lived, but he could do little more than make sure he ate and rested.
"I wish Dumbledore was here," Harry said, plopping down in an armchair.
"We all wishes the great Dumbledore was still alive, Harry Potter sir," the house elf squeaked.
Harry's mind turned toward Hermione. She believed the Headmaster was still alive…that Snape hadn't killed him.
Harry's green eyes darkened.
But Snape had killed Dumbledore in cold blood, when he was weak and defenseless. The black-hearted coward. If Harry found him, he had no intention of turning the dark wizard over to the Ministry.
He was going to kill Severus Snape any way he could.
Preferably, he'd be wandless like Dumbledore was. Harry hoped the Potions Master would be terrified and on his knees pleading. Yes, he would be on his knees after being crucio'd several times. Maybe he'd even put a binding spell on the bastard and pummel his face into jelly before he killed him.
Dobby cringed as he felt the hateful vibrations emanating from the young wizard. They were very dark, very…evil. He looked at his friend and employer with wet eyes.
Harry glanced over at Dobby and scowled at the look on his face. Dobby was always worrying about something.
"What's wrong with you now, Dobby?" Harry asked him in an annoyed voice.
Dobby looked at the wizard dolefully.
"Harry Potter is not himself," Dobby said meekly.
"What do you mean, I'm not myself? I'm fine," Harry snapped, "I'm just worried about how I am going to complete my mission."
Dobby knew about Harry's upcoming search for the Horcruxes. The elf was trustworthy and would not give away Harry's secret. The house elf shook his head.
"Harry Potter is not fine. He thinks of…of murder," Dobby said, wincing a bit at his own honesty.
"Do you mean Snape? That's not murder…that's revenge…just desserts," Harry replied, his eyes glittering. "He killed Dumbledore. He deserves to die."
Dobby looked at Harry, shivering a little.
"Maybe so, Harry Potter, but that is for the law. That is why the law is. You is not the law, Harry Potter," Dobby said, "You is becoming dark…like Snape. Do not turn into a Snape, Harry Potter."
"I am nothing like Snape!" Harry shouted at the elf. "I would never turn on a friend like he did! I would never murder someone who stuck by me! I would never kill an unarmed person!"
Dobby's sad eyes rested on him.
"You thinks of killing Snape that way," the elf said softly.
"Snape…Snape is not a…PERSON! He's a fucking turncoat! A murdering Death Eater!" Harry raged, jumping up out of the armchair and stalking towards Dobby, who pressed up against the wall, throwing up an arm protectively as the angry wizard approached.
"And I'm going to kill him, Dobby, kill him like he killed Dumbledore. I'm not going to even give him a chance. I want him to suffer and die!" Harry hissed in a low, dangerous voice.
Then Harry seemed to realize he was menacing Dobby and turned around, walking back to the armchair and sitting down, resting his face in his hands. Dobby slowly unfolded and stared at Harry shaking his head sadly. Hatred was eating him alive.
"I makes you some tea, Harry Potter," the elf said, "Some good calming tea, sir."
"Fine, Dobby. Just fine," Harry said, his voice muffled.
The elf winked out.
Harry lifted his head, his eyes wet.
"I wish you were here, Headmaster," he breathed into the empty room, "I really wish you were here, sir."
Severus added the next few ingredients to the simmering Polyjuice potion, stirred the contents several times then covered the huge cauldron, turning the flame up slightly. He'd have gallons of it when it was completed, and was more than willing to spend time away from the stronghold and Voldemort. He wanted to see what was being said about him and how the wizarding world was taking the loss of Albus.
He needed to locate Potter too, so he could formulate a plan to direct the young wizard to Voldemort's Horcruxes. He had to find a way to do it without dealing with him directly. Severus knew that if Harry saw him, the idiot would blast first and ask questions later. He might be forced to hurt the boy. Not that he would mind hurting him, but Potter had a job to do. Dumbledore seemed to think it important that Harry be the one to destroy the Horcruxes.
Severus was torn about that. On the one hand, he wanted to follow the Headmaster's last directives…but neither of them knew at that time that Voldemort would send Severus himself to locate and check the Horcruxes. Since Voldemort could not feel when they were destroyed, the Potions Master could easily do Potter's job for him. And he was tempted to do it. It would save so much time and effort, possibly bring Voldemort's madness to an end sooner rather than later.
Not only did he have to help Potter find the Horcruxes, but orchestrate the showdown between him and the Dark Lord, with the odds in the boy's favor.
"It would be easier to pull a Manticora out of the Sorting Hat," Severus snorted out loud.
He didn't believe Harry could defeat the Dark Lord on his own. He never did. Sybil Trelawney's wooly prophecy was a load of dragon shit as far as the Potions Master was concerned.
But Albus believed it and Severus spent years being tortured because of it, before finally being forced to take the old wizard's life…all because of that cursed boy.
Hatred began to boil up in the wizard and he fought it back down. He couldn't let his personal feelings rule him. Albus, though dead…was still counting on him. Severus intended on fulfilling his wishes and seeing the Dark Lord destroyed by any means necessary.
Even if it meant his own life.
Fawkes winged his way into the cave of the Acromantula carrying two items in his claws. He let out a cry as he entered to let the creatures know he had returned so they wouldn't attack. There was a truce going on.
Aragog moved to the head of his cavern as Fawkes landed before the huge spider, and bowed, placing a vial on the ground before him. Aragon squinted all eight eyes at the other object. He could make out something long and fuzzy.
"So you have retrieved it, Fawkes," the spider said to the phoenix. Fawkes squawked assent.
"Place it in the back of my cavern with the other items," the spider directed, feeling around the ground until his leg touched the vial. It contained a silver liquid. Fawkes flew to the back of Aragog's cave and placed the item with the other things stored there for protection. He returned to Aragog, who held the vial in his claw.
"A bit of help, Fawkes?" the spider asked.
Fawkes flew over and perched on Aragog's leg and pulled the cork out of the wide-mouthed vial with his beak. He flew down and watched as the spider carefully stuck a fang into the tube and suck out the contents. He placed the vial on the ground and Fawkes collected it, rolling it around in his claws until he could replace the cork.
Aragog smacked his mandibles together appreciatively.
"There is nothing sweeter than unicorn blood," the spider said, feeling renewed.
His children all clicked their mandibles together at his statement. None of them had ever tasted a unicorn and were a bit jealous of their sire. It wasn't for lack of trying however. Acromantula hunted unicorns as they did any other creatures, but unicorns were fast and ferocious. That horn was a deadly weapon. Well, they used to hunt them. Now, they were strictly off-limits for good. They were providing the blood that kept Aragog alive in exchange for a truce. He only needed a small amount, and the vial was charmed so when placed against the flank of a unicorn, it would painlessly fill with blood. Fawkes collected it every two weeks as agreed.
Aragog looked at Fawkes. All he could see was a red blur.
"You must be tired after your journey," he said to the Phoenix, who nodded and fluffed up his feathers. He had traveled some distance this past week and it was close to burning time.
"Your perch waits," the spider said.
Fawkes had a perch in the upper part of Aragog's cavern as well as a comfortable nest set inside a small fissure in the stone. He trilled a thanks at Aragog, flew over the spider into the cavern once more, then after a moment's hesitation, landed on a small ledge, climbed into the fissure and settled in his nest, which was more comfortable than the perch.
It wasn't Albus' office, but it would do for now.
"Hermione? Hermione!" Jane Granger called up the stairs.
Hermione, who had her face in a book looked up from her bed, clearly irritated.
"Yes, mum?" she called back.
"You have a letter here, from your school," her mother replied loudly.
Hermione sprang out of bed instantly. A letter from Hogwarts? It was too early for her normal letter. She flung open the door and ran down the stairs. Her mother was waiting at the bottom, holding the letter out. Hermione took it from her, cracking the wax seal and opening the parchment envelope as her mother looked on curiously. A smile crossed Hermione's face as she read.
It is my pleasure to inform you that you have been selected to be Head Girl at Hogwarts this term. Your duties will be to assist in maintaining order and administering discipline to your fellow students as well as overseeing the prefects of each house. I sincerely hope you will return to Hogwarts this year as you are greatly needed. The position of Head Girl can be declined, but if you do decide to accept the position you are required to report to Hogwarts immediately to assist in preparation for the returning students. Please report to directly to my office. Your individual password is: Pretty Kitty.
Hermione stared at the letter, then let out a whoop.
"Good news, dear?" Jane asked her daughter as Hermione danced about excitedly.
"Great news, mum. I've been chosen to be Head Girl this year. It is quite an honor," Hermione gushed, "But I have to go to the school immediately to help get it ready for returning students."
Jane's face fell a bit.
"You'll be cutting your vacation short, dear?" she asked Hermione.
"Yes. I'll be leaving immediately, mum," Hermione replied, not noticing her mother's disappointment.
All she was thinking was she might be able to do some snooping once she got back to Hogwarts. Head boys and girls had more freedom to move about the castle than regular students, and weren't watched as closely since they were seen as honest and dependable.
She folded up the parchment, replaced it in the envelope, kissed her mother's cheek happily and bolted back up the stairs.
"I'm going to pack, mum," she called back happily, disappearing into her room and closing the door.
Jane looked after her, wishing Hermione wouldn't go back to Hogwarts. But she was almost eighteen now, and able to make her own decisions. Her mother walked back into the kitchen, made herself a cup of coffee and stared into space.
In an hour, Hermione was on her way back to Hogwarts.
Minerva was in her office…the former office of Albus Dumbledore, shifting through letters sent by parents who either declined the letter inviting their children to attend Hogwarts, or simply said their child would not be attending this year and to forward their marks.
The new Headmistress sighed. Half of the enrolled students would not be returning. Everyone was too frightened. How many other staff members were under the Dark Lord's thumb? If Albus himself was killed on the school grounds, what kind of protection could they expect for the students?
She removed her glasses and rubbed her eyes. This summer had been a busy one. She had to sort through a number of applications to replace the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. She had offered the job to Marcus Delaluci, but he declined it, stating he'd prefer to serve in a position that wasn't cursed. Snape hadn't lasted a year either in the position, though it was his own fault. Minerva understood and placed several ads. After going over the applications, she finally chose one of the applicants, a Miss Matilda Hagg as the best choice. It was Miss Hagg she was waiting for now.
Miss Hagg had worked for the Ministry for more than twenty years as a Dark Magic researcher, identifying spells and finding counter-spells. On her application she stated that she felt in these dark times, she wanted to do something more to protect others and felt teaching students how to protect themselves would be a satisfactory way to do just that. Most of the other applicants had somewhat shady run-ins with the Ministry Aurors at one time or another involving the use of Dark Magic. Whereas Albus wouldn't have concerned himself much with an applicant's past, Minerva was a different story. She felt anyone who worked at Hogwarts should have a clean record and no associations with unsavory types. If Albus had been more careful when he hired Severus Snape, he might be alive today.
Minerva looked at his portrait on the wall, and her eyes filled with tears. She sniffed and wiped them away, wondering when she would stop crying and move on. Suddenly there was a knock on the door. Minerva quickly dabbed at her eyes with the sleeve of her robes, put her glasses on and folded her hands on the desk.
"Come in," she said.
The door opened and a witch walked in.
"Good morning. I am Matilda Hagg and am here to fill the position of the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher," the witch announced as Minerva stood up.
"Welcome, Miss Hagg. I am Minerva McGonagall, Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please have a seat," she said, gesturing to the comfortable armchair in front of her desk.
"Thank you," Matilda said, walking over to the armchair and sitting down.
Minerva looked at the witch. My, she was a textbook example of how a wicked witch was supposed to look. She wore severe black robes, curly-toed black boots and a pointed black hat under which stringy black hair fell over her shoulders. Her nose was long and hooked, with a wart on the end of it, and she had a curved pointed chin as well. Her eyes were dark brown like rich chocolate, long-lashed and her eyebrows thick and arched. But she had a beautiful, even set of white teeth that clashed with her other features when she smiled.
"So, Miss Hagg, I see by your application that you worked for the Ministry as a Dark Magic researcher for a number of years. I've done a background check as well as checked your references. Both came back exemplary," Minerva said as she rifled through the application. "Now as to your teaching ability, do you believe you can instruct students of varying ages?"
"Yes I do," Matilda said firmly, "In my position at the Ministry, I often had to instruct entry level witches and wizards in my department who were gifted in research but not familiar with the Dark Arts. I have to say that intelligence can be…quite selective, and a person gifted in one area might not be so in another, so I had to be able to adjust to the mental abilities of each individual in order to show them what to do and how to do it. I was quite successful at it."
"I see," Minerva said, quirking her lip.
Matilda had just insinuated she had to deal with a few brain-challenged individuals at the Ministry without actually stating it. Tact was a plus in a teacher, who often had to deal with parents and inform them their child was performing below level. Minerva believed Miss Hagg would be able to handle such a situation.
"Now, Miss Hagg…our enrollment this year is a bit low, due to the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the demise of our former Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore. You will actually be filling the position of his…his murderer," the Headmistress said, her voice quavering a bit. "Because of that, I am afraid that my budget doesn't allow me to offer you the salary someone of your experience deserves…"
"Headmistress, that won't be a problem. I worked more than twenty years for the Ministry and receive a generous pension from them each month. I didn't apply here for the money, but to help the children," Matilda said, "Since I understand I will be provided with room and board, I feel that whatever pay you can give me will be fine," Matilda said.
Minerva let out a sigh of relief. She had been concerned the witch would turn down the post.
"Wonderful," Minerva said, smiling broadly at the witch, who smiled back with those disconcertingly white teeth. Minerva then reached into a drawer and pulled out a contract and a thick bound book of "Hogwarts Rules and Regulations."
"This is a contract binding you to serve as the DADA teacher for a term of one year. At the end of the year, it will be renewed," Minerva said, sliding the parchment across her desk.
Matilda cocked one eyebrow.
"One year? I was led to believe that most contracts were for three years," the witch said.
Minerva looked distinctly uncomfortable, which put Matilda immediately on point. Something was wrong here.
"Well," Minerva began…she had to be honest with the witch, "You see, the position of DADA teacher has a…a kind of negative history. Quite a few years back, Tom Riddle applied for the position and was turned down by Albus Dumbledore. From that moment…no teacher has stayed in the post for more than a year. It is believed to be cursed."
"By Lord Voldemort?" Matilda asked her, both brows raised now.
"Yes," Minerva said in a low voice. She still wasn't comfortable hearing the Dark Lord's name.
Matilda looked at her for a moment, then her face contorted and she burst out in a hair-raising witch's cackle, covering her eyes as she laughed, her shoulders shaking with mirth.
"A Dark Arts position cursed by the Dark Arts! That's hilarious!" the witch gasped, standing up, taking a quill out of a cup on Minerva's desk and signing the contract. She put the quill back and handed the contract to Minerva. She sat back down and wiped her eyes, regaining her composure.
"A year it is then, Headmistress," she said smiling.
Minerva took the application and placed it in a basket on her desk to be filed later. She was a little miffed that Matilda thought the curse funny, but did her best not to show it. She slid the thick tome of rules toward Matilda.
"These are all the rules and regulations of the school. They have been updated to reflect the steps we have taken to protect the grounds and the students. You are expected to know them before you return to the school a week before term starts," she said as Matilda took the heavy book.
"I will read it thoroughly," the witch said, pulling out her wand and reducing the book, placing it in her pocket.
"Welcome to Hogwarts then, Miss Hagg," Minerva said walking around the desk to shake the witch's hand. It was rather cool and her fingernails were painted black, filed to points and at least two inches long.
"Thank you, Headmistress. I am sure it will be an interesting year," Matilda said with another flash of white teeth. "Now I will be off."
"Good day," Minerva said, as the witch exited the office.
Minerva sat back down at her desk, feeling she had accomplished something. She looked at Albus' portrait.
"I think she's a good choice," she said to the wizard's painting, which stared back at her.
Minerva went back to perusing the letters on her desk.
Hermione Granger had just walked through the main doors of the castle after being let in the gate by Argus Filch when she rang a large bell attached to the gate. No one was allowed to enter or exit the grounds without a gatekeeper letting them in or out.
Filch was a crabby gatekeeper to say the least, but Hagrid was his backup. Both wore a little disk with a button that buzzed when someone was at the gate. Then one of the gatekeepers would press the button to let the other know he was going to answer the bell. Filch always tried to beat Hagrid to pressing the button. He liked to know who was entering and leaving the grounds. When Hagrid did manage to press it first, Filch would still spy to see who the person was. He was sneaky that way.
Well, it had been Filch who let Hermione in, grumbling about students coming to school early and giving him more work to do watching them. Hermione ignored him and walked up to the school at a good clip, Filch shaking a fist after her. What a troll.
The castle was empty and felt a little eerie as Hermione walked through, the sound of her footfalls echoing. She quickly mounted the shifting stairwells and picked her way across them to the corridor that led to the Headmaster's…no…Headmistress' office. Hermione was going to have to get used to that designation now…but it sounded so strange. It had been the Headmaster's office since she first came to Hogwarts. A sense of sadness washed over her as she stepped off the landing.
She wiped at her eyes and started walking up the corridor. She saw someone striding toward her, robes billowing. For a moment, her stomach lurched, the billowing robes reminiscent of Professor Snape…but this was a witch. She wore a pointed hat. Suddenly, Hermione recognized her as the witch she had bumped into in the Leaky Tavern.
The witch's eyes narrowed in recognition as she approached.
"Good morning," Hermione said, swallowing a bit as the witch stopped.
"Not running people over today, I see," the witch said to her, her mouth turned down.
"Ah…no," Hermione said, not knowing what else to say.
The witch looked at her consideringly.
"What is your name, girl?" she asked Hermione.
"Hermione Granger," Hermione replied.
"Well, Miss Granger…my name is Miss Hagg. Will you be taking Defense Against the Dark Arts this year?"
"Yes, I will. Advanced," Hermione said.
"Ah. Advanced. You must do decent spell work then," Matilda said, cocking her head at the curly-haired witch. She had intelligent eyes.
"I do all right," Hermione responded.
Matilda gave her a smirk.
"Well, we'll see about that," she said, walking off, "Goodbye for now, Miss Granger."
"Goodbye, Miss Hagg," Hermione called after her.
"That's Professor Hagg to you, girl," Matilda called back.
"Professor Hagg," Hermione corrected herself.
The witch mounted the shifting stairs and rode out of sight.
"Hagg. Well, the name suits her," Hermione thought as she continued toward the Headmistress' office.
The familiar statue of the gargoyle stood in front of the entrance as usual. Hermione looked up at it.
"Pretty Kitty," she said, and the statue leapt aside, revealing the spiral staircase leading up to the Headmistress' office. Hermione quickly mounted the stairs, the gargoyle leaping back as she ascended.
Hermione walked to the top of the landing and stood in front of the double doors for a moment, composing herself. Then she knocked.
"Come in," Professor McGonagall said.
Hermione pushed open the door and entered. Minerva broke out into a broad smile, standing up and walking around the desk to embrace Hermione warmly.
"Oh, you came. Thank the gods. I knew you wouldn't abandon Hogwarts, Miss Granger," the witch said smiling.
"No, Headmistress," Hermione said.
Both of them sobered at her use of Minerva's new title.
"Please sit down, Hermione," she said.
Hermione sat down in the armchair and looked around the office. There had been some changes. It was less cluttered. The Sorting Hat still rested on a shelf behind Minerva's desk, but Fawkes' perch was gone as were all the Headmaster's gizmos and gadgets. It looked a bit bare. Hermione saw the portrait of the Headmaster. He was sitting at his desk.
"Hello, Headmaster," Hermione said to the picture.
It didn't respond.
"Headmaster?" Hermione said, surprised. The other portraits shook their heads sadly.
"He doesn't answer," Minerva said sadly, "He hasn't moved since the portrait was hung."
Hermione looked at the Headmistress for a moment, then back at the portrait.
"Are you sure it's a magical painting?" she asked the witch, who nodded.
"Yes. It was done by Arctus Higglesby," Minerva replied, "We are all at a loss why it doesn't move. None of the other portraits can enter it either."
Hermione's heart dropped. She had wanted to question the portrait. But it wasn't responding. She turned to Minerva…she had to ask.
"Headmistress, do portraits move when the person painted is alive?" she asked her.
Minerva shook her head.
"No. The person painted has to pass over before the portrait will move and speak. But as we all know, Albus is dead. There must be faulty magic in this portrait. The pity is, we can't do another one. The person has to actually sit for the portrait for the magic to take hold. So all we can do is look at him, and remember," the witch said.
Hermione stared at the portrait for a moment longer. It didn't move. Was this more proof the Headmaster hadn't passed on? Hermione was sure it was an indication, but didn't dare tell the Headmistress her suspicions. Especially with all the snooping she had to do.
"Enough about the portrait, Miss Granger. You are now Head Girl," Minerva said, "I will give you your badge shortly before the students return, but you may take up residence in your room today. Now the reason I asked you to return is because we have a bit of clean-up work to do, and I was hoping you would help Poppy clear out some of her records in the infirmary. She has years and years of documents and other items that need to be put in storage, sensitive material. I need someone trustworthy to help her. You don't mind do you?"
"Of course I don't," she said, "I'll be happy to help Madam Pomfrey sort things out."
"That's the good witch," Minerva said with a smile. "It will require you to go into the subdungeons. Filch can escort you the first few times until you get your bearings."
Ugh. Filch? Oh well. Hopefully he'd only have to do it once and not insist on being with her every time. This was beyond perfect. She could ask the medi-witch about Signature Stones. Maybe find out where she kept them. Maybe…
"I can't express how happy I am you're back, Miss Granger," Minerva said, her green eyes clouding up, "I only wish Mr. Potter was returning."
"So do I, Professor…but he's made up his mind," Hermione said softly.
"He's just disappeared," Minerva said worriedly, "We checked the Dursleys and they said, quite happily I might add, that he moved out. No one knows where he went. Do you know, Miss Granger?"
"No. I haven't heard anything from him," Hermione lied.
Minerva looked at her consideringly.
"I suppose you wouldn't tell me if you did know," she said, frowning.
Hermione didn't answer her.
"Your silence says it all, Miss Granger. But I understand in a way. Loyalty. It's a fine characteristic," the Headmistress said, though she did look a bit upset. She couldn't force Hermione to tell her. Harry was no longer a student and not under her protection.
"Well, go settle your things in your new rooms, then report to Poppy. She'll tell you what to do," Minerva said to the witch.
Hermione thanked her, feeling a bit guilty she couldn't tell the witch about Harry, but she'd taken an oath. If anyone was likely to interfere with Harry's mission, it was Minerva. Hermione left the office and hurried toward the Head Girl rooms. She'd unpack her miniaturized suitcases then go straight to Madam Pomfrey.
She had a million questions for the medi-witch. She'd just have to be careful how she asked.
"Oh Hermione, I am so glad you're here to help me clear out my files," Poppy said, smiling as Hermione sorted through folders removing records and placing them in boxes, sorting them according to last name, house and year.
Poppy must have had some kind of enlargement spell on the inside of her cabinet, because the bulk of the documents removed so far exceeded the capacity.
"When is the last time you did this, Madam Pomfrey?" Hermione asked her curiously.
"It's been about fifteen years. It's long overdue. But, I can always fit more folders in the drawers so I didn't really concern myself about it, but it will be faster finding newer files this way," Poppy replied.
"That's a long time," Hermione said, glancing at a Slytherin's record from the class of '85 before placing it in the Slytherin box, leafing through the separator parchments between the years and slipping ii in.
"Yes, it is," Poppy said.
Hermione fell silent for about half an hour, wondering how to broach the topic of Signature Stones without making the medi-witch suspicious. Then she had an idea.
"You know, Madam Poppy, I've been considering what field I'm going to go into after I graduate. I've been thinking about becoming a medi-witch," the witch lied.
Poppy turned to her, looking delighted.
"Oh Hermione, medicinal magic is a very rewarding field," she gushed, "A witch as bright as you would be a wonderful addition, though I would think if you pursued instruction as a healer that would be even better."
"You know, I was doing a little reading about items used in healing and came across something I had never heard of. Signature Stones. Have you ever used them?" the witch asked innocently.
"Oh yes, of course. I have a signature stone for every staff member and student at Hogwarts. I create them when I give the students their initial check-ups when they arrive their first year. And the staff has them created when they are first examined as well. Have you ever seen one?" Poppy asked the young witch.
"No, I haven't," Hermione replied.
"Well let me show you what they look like," the medi-witch said, putting down a pile of parchments on her desk and brushing off her hands. Hermione put down the papers she was sorting and followed Poppy to the back of the infirmary.
There were several closets with glass fronts, and slender drawers inside which had labels on them. Between each closet was a small table. Poppy opened the first closet. The top drawer's label read "Staff." She pulled the drawer out and set it on the table.
The drawer itself had inserts that boxed it into sections. In each section was a piece of quartz and several thin slivers. Hermione could see the teachers' names on a piece of tape attached to each stone. They were multi-colored. Albus' stone was there, a bright blue piece of quartz. Minerva's stone had striations and looked a bit like cat's eye. Severus' Snape's crystal was a smoky gray color. There were plenty of slivers.
Poppy reached in and took a sliver of quartz from her own box, colored a bright yellow. She pulled out her wand and placed the sliver against the tip of it. It magically adhered. Then she passed the wand over her body. The sliver immediately lit up as a bright yellow light, then the tip of Poppy's wand turned blue.
"The Signature Stone focuses the healing spell and makes it more attuned to an individual's body, and more effective. They really come in handy," Poppy said, smiling at the witch. Suddenly the door to the infirmary opened and Filch tottered in.
"Poppy, I hear you have some boxes to be stored," the caretaker said, his eyes narrowing when he saw Hermione.
"Oh yes, Argus…one moment," the medi-witch said, then turned to Hermione, "I'll be right back, dear."
She walked down the infirmary and into her office, followed by Filch.
Hermione looked at the drawer full of stone slivers. Her heart pounding, she quickly took several slivers from both Dumbledore and Severus' boxes, and shoved them into her robes pocket. Gods, she was stealing. But it was for a good reason.
"What are you doing over there, witch?" Filch called down the infirmary suspiciously, two large boxes stacked on top of each other in his wiry arms.
"Waiting for Poppy," Hermione called back, afraid the squib had seen her pocket the slivers. Argus scowled at her and muttered something about untrustworthy students and hobbled out of the infirmary, Poppy shaking her head as she walked back to Hermione.
"Argus is the most distrustful man I have ever met…outside of Sev…"
The medi-witch's voice faded away. She had been about to say Severus' name. Her blue eyes started to glisten, her lip trembling.
"It's all right, Madam Pomfrey," Hermione said softly to the medi-witch.
"I still can't believe he turned on Dumbledore that way," Poppy said in a near-whisper. "Albus loved him like a son."
Poppy had cared about the Potions Master too. You couldn't patch a wizard back together as much as the medi-witch did and not feel concern for his welfare. It had broken her heart doubly when she found out what Severus had done. Once for Albus and once for Severus. It was a horrible thing. She believed in her heart something had driven Severus to do it. Something terrible.
Hermione wanted to give her words of comfort, but didn't. She didn't want to tip her hand in any way, so she just embraced the older witch. They stood there for a moment, then Poppy wiped at her eyes.
"Let me put this away," she said, picking up the drawer of stones and putting them back in their proper place, not noticing anything amiss.
They began to walk up the infirmary and back to the office to continue sorting.
"Madam Poppy, how do you dispose of the stones when the students graduate?" Hermione asked her as she gathered up more parchments.
"Oh we don't destroy them. They are stored in the subdungeons. Albus insisted that they be kept there, though they aren't of any use. Any medi-witch or healer can make a new stone at any time. A waste of space really. We must have stones down there that go back a hundred years or so," the medi-witch replied.
Hermione felt excited. She didn't ask Poppy where the stones were kept though. She'd find out. So far she had slivers for the Headmaster and the Potions Master. All she needed now were slivers from Voldemort's stones.
The two witches worked far into the evening, Poppy ordering sandwiches and pumpkin juice from the kitchens. There were ten boxes of documents when Filch returned. Hermione was ready for him.
"I'll help you take these down, Mr. Filch," Hermione offered.
Filch scowled at her.
"These boxes are heavy. You can't carry them to the dungeons. You'll give out before we make it down the first flight," he groused, "Better that I do it myself."
In answer, Hermione pulled out her wand and reduced the boxes to a much smaller size, just big enough so two people would have to carry them…otherwise Filch would have taken them all himself in one go.
She wasn't a squib.
Filch's jowls quivered as she gathered up five of the boxes. Smart-assed little show-off. Filch bad-temperedly took the other five boxes.
"Come on," he said, walking quickly but arthritically.
"Bye Madam Pomfrey, I'll see you tomorrow to help with inventory," Hermione said to the medi-witch.
"Goodbye, Hermione…and thank you," Poppy said as the pair exited the infirmary.
Filch grumbled as he walked ahead of her. The headmistress said she would be helping him, despite his protests. Well, if she were going to go with him to the subdungeons, she'd have to go the way he did. A nasty smile crossed the squib's face as he stopped near a suit of armor. Hermione stopped too, looking confused.
"What are you doing, Mr. Filch?" she asked the caretaker.
"Just come with me, witch," Filch said, lifting the right arm of the armor. The wall to the right of it slid back and he slipped through the gap. Hermione stared at the hidden door.
"Come on, girl!" Filch hissed from the recess.
Hermione cautiously entered. They were in a passageway…a very short one. Filch walked to the end of it, facing a solid wall. He looked over his shoulder at Hermione.
"Come on, you're slowing me down," Filch declared.
Hermione walked up and stood alongside the old man. Filch looked at her sidewise.
"Hold on to your packages," he said with a toothless grin, then pressed a stone.
The floor dropped under them and they fell, Hermione screaming at the top of her lungs as they landed on a slide and slid downward, Filch's stringy locks streaming back as he roared with laughter, Hermione shrieking behind him as they flew through spirals, over ripples, through a horrible looptie-loop and even going airborne for a few seconds before landing back on the slide, continuing at a sickening speed down into the bowels of the castle, Hermione's heart in her throat.
Filch reached out and hit a lever as he passed, knocking it back. The slide leveled out and they slowed, sliding over one final rise and landing on their feet, Filch hobbling out of the way as Hermione landed behind him. He turned to look at her, grinning horribly at the trembling witch's red face and tangled hair. Hermione looked like she stuck her finger in a muggle socket.
Well, now she knew how Filch got around the castle so fast. They passed a number of levers. Possibly the slide could stop on every single floor. At least she didn't drop any of the boxes, though they were slightly dented from her clutching them for dear life.
Filch hobbled through a set of heavy iron double doors with two great iron rings on them. Hermione followed and entered into a huge open area, filled with arches, pillars and curtain after curtain of spiderwebs. She was in the bowels of Hogwarts. Something scuttled behind her and Hermione jumped and spun, seeing a huge, bald pink tail sliding between some boxes. There were boxes everywhere.
"This way," Filch growled at her.
Hermione followed the squib to an area piled high with boxes. They were sorted in sections.
"Medical items go here," the squib said. "Items that can be sorted by houses go where the symbols are. They are on the floor. Newest to the front."
Hermione looked down. Yes…there were the house symbols. The lion, eagle, badger and serpent. The boxes were set back a distance from the symbols presumably to make room for future storage. The boxes themselves led back into the darker recesses of the space. Yes, it looked as if there really was one hundred years worth of items here.
Filch put the boxes down, read the names on each, and put them quickly in their proper places, then scowled at Hermione as she did the same, taking out her wand and enlarging the cartons. Her eyes wandered over to the pile of Slytherin boxes. Tom Riddle's Signature Stone was somewhere in that pile. Filch's eyes narrowed.
"Don't think you'll be snooping around in any of those boxes Missy," he said, "They're off-limits. You have to get permission from the Headmistress to go through anything…and she's not going to give it to you. You have no business sticking your nose in things that don't concern you. Now come on. It takes a lot longer going up than coming down."
Filch hobbled off as Hermione took one more longing look at the boxes, then followed him. At least she knew about the slide.
At around midnight, a disillusioned Hermione cautiously made her way to the infirmary floor, a silencing spell around her to muffle any sound she might make. Filch was old, but he had sharp hearing. A single scuff of her trainers could get her caught.
She found the suit of armor and carefully raised the right arm. The wall slid back and she sidled through. A single torch spluttered and she walked to the far wall, braced herself and pressed the stone Filch did. She dropped and once again found herself flying down the slide, watching the levers fly by. Shit…she didn't know what lever to pull and instead tried to judge the timing between the drop and when Filch hit the proper lever.
She started to hit the next one, then hesitated, catching the following lever instead. The slide leveled out and she slid to a standing position. Yes…there were the heavy iron doors. She pushed through them and entered the storage area. It was extremely spooky now, though it looked precisely the same as when she was here with Filch.
Hermione quickly walked to the back of the Slytherin pile of medical records. Filch had left small aisles between the boxes and they were sorted by year. Hermione lit her wandtip for more light, grimacing as she wiped the cobwebs and dust away with her hand so she could read the writing on them. She located the boxes for the year of Voldemort's graduation.
"Yes…Slytherin…nineteen forty-five," she breathed.
Hermione was grateful Filch was so meticulous in his storage methods. She went through eight boxes before she found one stacked with the flat drawers the stones were kept in. She removed all the boxes, then opened each one, holding her breath.
It could be that Tom Riddle realized his stone might be used in some way against him and removed it when he left Hogwarts. But then again, the stones weren't considered to be very magical. He might not have bothered.
Hermione found Lucius Malfoy's signature stone. It was a rich green. She didn't want that. She opened another box and smiled. Yes…there it was…Tom Riddle's signature stone. It was a deep crimson color…the color of blood. It seemed fitting. Hermione quickly selected several shards, then hurriedly returned the drawers to the box and resealed it.
She had what she needed, and made sure to take enough slivers that she would be able to make a necklace for Harry too. She hurried out of the storage area and to the long flight of stairs that would lead to the dungeon corridor. Then she would disillusion herself, return to Gryffindor Tower and make her necklaces. She would have three clusters of slivers on her own necklace and one crimson one on Harry's. Hermione intended to wear her necklace at all times, especially when out in public. If Severus Snape was about and she came into close proximity, she would know.
What she would do if she did locate him, she wasn't sure…but Hermione knew she wouldn't turn him in. At least not until she had a chance to talk with him.
If he gave her a chance, that is.
Hermione created two necklaces, one for herself and one for Harry. The necklaces were made of a slender leather thong, the stones set in a back of pewter with loops on top to pass the thong through. Harry's necklace had only one stone set in it…Voldemort's. Hermione's necklace held three slivers, Voldemort's, Albus' and Snape's.
The next morning she put both necklaces on, ate breakfast, then reported to Poppy to help her take inventory of what she had and what she would need before the school year started. Hermione then sent an owl post to Professor Slughorn listing what potions had to be brewed for the infirmary stores. He would brew them before he returned to Hogwarts.
The brunt of the inventory done, Hermione told Madam Pomfrey she would be gone for the afternoon, heading to Hogsmeade. Luckily, Hagrid walked her to the gate and not the crotchety Filch, who made every little thing seem like a great imposition.
Hermione wasn't really going to Hogsmeade, but to Godric's Hollow to give Harry his necklace. Since Hermione was a trusted friend, she could access his home.
When she arrived, she approached the house and knocked on the door. If anyone had seen her, it would have looked as if she suddenly disapparated, the illusion of a thunder crack following her. Harry added this little extra kick to the ward at her suggestion.
"It wouldn't do for someone to just disappear. It would look suspicious," Hermione told him.
After a minute, a very doleful looking Dobby came to the door. He brightened when he saw Hermione.
"Oh Miss, I is so glad to see you, I is. Harry Potter is not himself. Maybe you can helps him," the elf said, letting Hermione in.
Hermione walked through the house to the living room and saw Harry sitting in an armchair, staring into the unlit fireplace. He looked terrible, with dark circles under his eyes and his messy hair needing a cut. He had a bit of stubble on his chin.
"Harry?" Hermione said to him tentatively.
Harry's green eyes slowly turned on her as if he didn't recognize her at first. Then they brightened.
"Hermione!" he said, jumping up and rushing over to embrace her.
He smelled horrible.
Hermione coughed and pulled away from him, her amber eyes narrowed.
"Harry! When was the last time you showered? You smell like a troll," she hissed at him.
"It's been a while. Now tell me…have you figured out anything about identifying the Horcruxes?" he asked her excitedly.
Hermione scowled at him.
"I am not going to stand here and suffer your stink, Harry. You go shower first and then I'll tell you what I know," she said evenly, holding her nose now.
Harry frowned back at her, but Hermione had her chin stuck out in that stubborn way she did when she meant business.
"All right," he snarked, storming off toward the bathroom.
Dobby clapped his hands together with joy, running up to Hermione with adoration on his face.
"Oh thanks you, Miss. Dobby tries and tries but could not get Harry Potter to shower," the elf said, his ears flattening slightly at his failure to get Harry to take care of himself.
"What is wrong with him, Dobby?" Hermione asked the elf in a low voice.
"All day and night he thinks about the Snape. Wants to kill him he does Miss. Hates him terrible. Terrible. Is going to murder him if he gets the chance, Miss," Dobby said fearfully, "Is like Harry Potter is…is…insane to kill him. Even in his sleep he cries out 'I will kills you dead! ' and the Avada Kedavra…but has no wand at night…I takes it from him so no accidents."
Dobby looked very frightened as he said this. Hermione paled. She didn't know if it were possible to cast an Unforgivable in one's sleep, but she was certain Harry had enough hatred for the wizard he believed killed Dumbledore to cast the Killing curse effectively.
She sat down in the armchair that Harry occupied, then leapt up, her nose wrinkled. She pulled out her wand and scourgified it, then fumigated it as well. Dear gods. Hermione walked over to the other armchair to wait for Harry.
After about fifteen minutes he reappeared, dressed in slippers, jeans and a black t-shirt. He had washed his hair as well, but it was still too long.
"Harry, you've got to take better care of yourself," Hermione said to him.
"No, I've got to find a way to identify those Horcruxes. I don't even know where they are," he said despairingly, then looked at Hermione hopefully, "Did you find out anything that can help me, Hermione?"
"Oh I did better than that, Harry. I MADE you something that can help you," she said with a big smile.
Harry blinked at her.
"You did? What?"
"First a little background. Horcruxes are vessels, living or inanimate that contain part of a wizard's soul and gives off a living magical signature. Every witch or wizard has a personal signature different from everyone else's. Anything holding a fragment of a witch's or wizard's soul, will give off a living magical signature," Hermione said to Harry, who caught on immediately.
"So what I have to do is check for Voldemort's magical signature…but how can I do that?" he asked the witch.
Hermione pulled the neck of her robes down and showed Harry the necklaces.
"With one of these. These necklaces are made of slivers of signature stones. I have Voldemort's stone for you. I got it from Hogwarts. The stones were made to help focus healing spells for individuals. Everyone who ever attended Hogwarts has one. I found Voldemort's in the subdungeons. It will light up and glow warm when you come in contact with a Horcrux."
Hermione took off Harry's necklace and handed it to him. He examined it, then looked at Hermione's necklace and the three stones attached to it.
"Why do you have more stones than I do, Hermione?" he asked, frowning slightly.
Hermione looked a little shifty.
"Well one stone is Voldemort's. I can check around Hogwarts for you and see if he left any Horcruxes there," she said slowly.
"What are the other two?" Harry asked her. Whenever Hermione started talking slow…there was something she really didn't want to say.
"Well the blue one is the Headmaster's stone," she said, wincing a little.
"He's dead, Hermione," Harry said bluntly, "You're wasting your time carrying that stone around. It will never register anything."
"Harry…I keep telling you I felt his power after he was supposed to have been killed," she argued.
"Supposed to have been killed? He WAS killed, Hermione, by that bastard Snape!" Harry shouted at her. Suddenly he fell silent, staring at the last gray stone on her necklace.
"That's Snape's stone, isn't it Hermione?" he asked in a quiet voice. His green eyes turned dark and hateful as he looked at it.
Hermione put her hand around it protectively.
"Yes," she said in a small voice.
Harry stared at her for a moment then said, "I want that stone, Hermione. Give it to me."
"No. You only want it so you can kill him," Hermione replied.
"You're damn right I want to kill him. Kill him like he killed Dumbledore," Harry hissed, madness in his eyes now, "Give it to me, Hermione."
"No. I want to see if I can find him and talk to him about what happened," Hermione said, clutching the stone.
"I told you what the fuck happened, Hermione! He's not going to tell you anything different. In fact, he'll probably kill you if you find him, you idiot! Now give me the stone!" Harry yelled, rising and walking toward Hermione, a crazed look in his eyes as he stared at the stone she clasped in her hand.
Dobby ran forward.
"Master Potter! Don't do this…you is not yourself!" the elf cried, putting himself between Harry and Hermione.
Harry viciously kicked Dobby out of the way, the elf flying across the room, hitting the wall and sliding down in a crumpled heap.
"Harry!" Hermione screamed at him in alarm.
Harry in his normal state would never have done that to Dobby. His hatred of Snape had driven him over the edge. Hermione had the means to find him, and Harry wanted it. Hermione pulled her wand and pointed it right between Harry's eyes. Harry stopped walking toward her for a moment.
"Just give me the stone, Hermione. I need it. I need to kill Snape," he breathed.
"No Harry. It's not your place to do it. If anything, Snape has to be brought in and tried in a legal court of law," Hermione said to him.
Harry's face contorted.
"Don't tell me what my place is, Hermione! He killed Dumbledore in front of me! Me! He deserves to be avenged! Now give me the gods damn stone or I'll fucking rip it off your throat!" Harry screamed at her.
Hermione trembled. Who was this person…he wasn't the Harry Potter she knew.
"No! I won't. I won't let you destroy yourself with hatred, Harry!" she said to him, her wand still pointed at her.
"Fine," Harry said, relaxing, acting as if he were turning away…then suddenly, he charged Hermione, hatred in his green eyes.
"Stupefy!" Hermione screamed, the bolt of red light hitting Harry directly between the eyes and throwing him back several feet. He landed on his back unconscious.
Hermione's eyes filled with tears as she looked at her friend.
"Oh Harry. You made me do it," she said softly.
Dobby hobbled over and looked at Harry for a moment, then up at Hermione.
"You had to do it, Miss. He would have hurt you…not means to, but would. You go now. I will takes care of him. Harry Potter will be very, very sorry when he wakes, Miss…but is best you stays away for now," Dobby said softly, placing his scaly hand on Hermione's arm for comfort. "You gives him what he needs. Maybe he will goes out now and looks for Horcruxes."
Hermione nodded, tears streaming down her face as she looked at Harry. This was horrible. Dobby walked her to the door and opened it, letting the witch out. Hermione turned to look at the elf.
"Dobby will takes good care of Harry Potter, Miss. Don't worry," he said to her.
Hermione sniffled, nodded then disapparated directly from the front step.
Hermione dried her eyes and rang the bell that summoned the gatekeepers. Filch came walking arthritically across the grounds and eyed Hermione suspiciously through the gate.
"I heard you went to Hogsmeade," he said to the witch.
"I did," Hermione said.
"So where's your packages?" he demanded, "There should be packages."
Hermione frowned at him. She was in no mood for Filch.
"Not if you're window shopping. Now let me in," she snapped at the old caretaker, who looked affronted at her tone.
"You watch how you talk to me, girl," he groused as he pulled something out and pointed it at the gate. It opened. It was some kind of magical charm that worked for squibs.
Hermione stalked through and started walking across the grounds quickly, Filch scowling after her.
"The Headmistress wants to see you!" he called after her, "Right away!"
Hermione said nothing as she hurried toward the castle. All she wanted to do was go to her room and cry. But if Headmistress McGonagall wanted to see her, there was nothing for it.
Hermione entered the castle and made a beeline for Minerva's office, giving the gargoyle the password and watching as it leapt aside. She walked up the spiral staircase and knocked on the office door.
"Come in," Minerva called.
Hermione took a deep cleansing breath and pushed the door open, entering the office.
"Ah Miss Granger. I wanted to see you for a moment," Minerva said, smiling and offering her a seat in the armchair in front of her desk. Hermione sat down.
"How can I help you, Headmistress," she said.
Minerva looked at her a bit sharply. Hermione was rather pale.
"Is there something wrong, Miss Granger?" she asked the witch.
Hermione shook her head.
"No, not really. My stomach is a little upset is all," Hermione lied.
"Well, then you should get something from Poppy for it," Minerva clucked.
Hermione nodded but said nothing.
"I just wanted to thank you for the marvelous job you did with Poppy. I am sure she couldn't have done it as quickly alone," the Headmistress said.
"It was my pleasure," Hermione replied, wishing she could leave.
Then suddenly she stiffened noticeably. Minerva's eyes narrowed.
"Miss Granger…is something wrong?" the Headmistress asked her.
"I…I need to use the bathroom," Hermione said, rising quickly.
Minerva made a face. Obviously her stomach problem had moved significantly lower.
"Down the hall and to the right," Minerva said, gesturing to the hallway on the left of her desk. Hermione hurried down it.
"Poor girl. She should watch what she eats," Minerva said looking after her.
Hermione ran into the bathroom and pulled out her necklace, her eyes widening as she looked at it
Voldemort's stone was glowing. Slowly it went out.
Hermione stared at the sliver, her stomach really clenching now as she realized what this meant.
There was a Horcrux somewhere in the outside office.
She would have to tell Harry, and when she did, she wouldn't have her necklace with her.
The wizard couldn't take what she didn't have.
Hermione waited a week and a half before contacting Harry with her magic mirror, figuring the wizard needed a little time. She might have given it more time if not for the fact that her hand had been forced and opportunity was presenting itself.
Minerva had to go to an annual two-day symposium attended by all Headmasters and Headmistresses, where they exchanged notes, talked about advances in handling students and learned new techniques for running their schools. Defense was the theme of the meeting this time. So her office would be empty for one night. She would return the evening of the second day. Harry could take advantage of her absence to find out where the Horcrux was.
Hermione had done some heavy thinking. The Horcrux had to be an item that had been in the office at least since nineteen forty-five, when Tom left Hogwarts. He was probably about sixteen when he asked Slughorn about the Horcruxes. He had already killed because according to Harry he wore Marvolo's ring which he took from his uncle when he and Slughorn had that conversation. And Dumbledore didn't become Headmaster until nineteen-fifty-five, ten years after Voldemort left the school, so the Horcrux had to be something that was in the office when Headmaster Armando Dippet was in place.
There were two items that Hermione knew were in the Headmaster's office then. The Sword of Gryffindor and the Sorting Hat. She wondered about the sword. It had been in the presence of the memory of Tom Riddle without a negative effect. According to what she had learned, if a Horcrux came in contact with an individual whose soul was held, it would cause great pain. But Tom Riddle had not been a true human being. He was a memory that was trying to be reborn as a flesh and blood person using Ginny Weasley's life force to form a solid body.
But Tom had been quite dismissive when the sword appeared for Harry, taunting him about Albus Dumbledore sending a bird and an old hat to help him. He would have been more concerned about it if the sword held a soul fragment, but then again, he might have made the sword a Horcrux after the diary, so his memory self would have no recollection of it.
Could it possibly be the Sorting Hat? It had been kept in the Headmaster's office for the longest time. But the hat was sentient. Wouldn't it have told it had been used in such a manner? Yes, unless Tom Riddle cast some type of obliviate spell on it. Could you obliviate a magical item? Maybe a Confundus charm. It worked on the Goblet of Fire in their fourth year.
Then Hermione thought about other items that were in the office. The portraits. The portraits went back over 400 years. He could have placed a fragment in one of them.
Hermione was sure the Horcrux could be located and began to think how it could be destroyed. Dear gods, if it was the Sorting Hat…how would students be sorted? Marvolo's ring cracked when Dumbledore released the fragment. Would Harry have to destroy the hat to release it? That would be horrible. It would throw Hogwarts into chaos. Maybe they could wait until after the Sorting, but it would be so much harder to move undetected through the castle then. Filch would be much more on point, and the Headmistress would be in her office…sleeping in her rooms. It would be much more risky, and if caught…they would be facing Azkaban for certain.
Of course, she could let Harry do it and stay safely away, but that thought never crossed Hermione's mind. She wouldn't let him do this alone. Besides, he might need her.
Hermione sighed and pulled out her two-way mirror and summoned Harry.
Harry's face appeared in the mirror, more haggard and unwashed looking than it was when she went to visit him. His hair was matted.
"Hermione," he rasped.
It sounded as if Harry hadn't used his voice at all in the past week and a half. The truth was, he hadn't. When he recovered and remembered how he had tried to attack Hermione, his guilt all but paralyzed him. Dobby was having hell getting him to eat, and he still didn't go out to search for Horcruxes. He believed he had lost Hermione as a friend, and this added to his misery. Of course he blamed Snape for that too.
"You're taking away everyone I love you bastard," he swore, then fell silent.
"Harry, you look awful," Hermione whispered, her heart going out to the wizard.
"I'm…I'm sorry, Hermione," the wizard said, his green eyes full of despair.
"I know you are, Harry. Hate is eating you up. You have to let Snape go for now. Dumbledore wouldn't like you to be focusing on him when it is so important that you destroy the Horcruxes. You have to get your priorities straight Harry. You have to summon up your Gryffindor values. Right now…you are acting more Slytherin than Gryffindor," Hermione said, hoping to snap Harry out of his funk with her comparison.
"The hat wanted to put me in Slytherin, Hermione," Harry said darkly.
"But you were put in Gryffindor. It wouldn't have done that if you didn't have the qualities of a Gryffindor as well, Harry. That is your true house. That is who you are," she replied, "besides you have a reason to forget about Snape…I think…I think I have located a Horcrux here at Hogwarts."
Harry's eyes brightened immediately.
"You think you have?" he asked her, more animated now.
"Actually, I'm sure I have. But I need you to clean up and tend to yourself first…then I will come and give you the details…"
Hermione's voice hesitated for a moment, then she continued, "I won't have my necklace with me, Harry. I don't think I will wear it in your presence ever again. You can't control yourself."
Harry's face fell. Whether it was from shame or from the knowledge he wouldn't have a chance to get Snape's stone, Hermione couldn't tell. But she knew she was right about leaving the necklace hidden when she met with him.
"All right, Hermione," he said.
A glass of water suddenly appeared in front of his face and he took it, drinking thirstily. Dobby must have given it to him.
"I'll contact you when I'm presentable," he said.
"And have Dobby cut your hair," Hermione chided as she looked at the tangles.
"Right," Harry said, then faded out of the mirror.
Hermione sighed again, then put the mirror away, charming it not to work if found. It wouldn't do if it were found out Harry was still about. The Prophet would love to have "Harry Potter Living in Godric's Hollow" plastered across its front page.
Severus finished bottling the last of the Polyjuice potion. He counted the bottles. He had sixty in all, plus extra for experimentation. He gave a nasty smile as he picked up the gallon jug, exited his lab, walked down the hall and into the throne room. Now for the fun part.
Voldemort was sitting on his throne, looking quite bored when the Potions Master entered. Peter Pettigrew was standing beside the throne, ready to give service as needed. The Dark Lord's red eyes lit up when he saw Severus, who stopped in front of him and bowed low.
"Ah, what news, Severus?" Voldemort asked him, eyeing the glass jug.
"The Polyjuice potion is prepared my Lord and I have collected a number of hairs from Nagini's room. I wish to test the transformations first," he said to the wizard, who looked interested.
"Test? Test how, Severus?" the Dark Lord replied.
Severus' eyes flicked to Peter, who paled significantly.
"I would like Peter to take small sips of the potion after I add different hairs. The transformation will only last a minute or two, long enough for me to see if it is suitable," the Potions Master said.
"No! No. I won't be used like a lab niffler!" Peter spat at him.
Voldemort narrowed his eyes at the rotund little wizard.
"You will be used any way I say you will be used, Wormtail," Voldemort said, pulling out his wand and conjuring a table, several large glasses and a very small glass.
Severus took some labeling tape out of his pocket and placed it on the table, as well as a small funnel and several tiny glass bottles which he resized with his wand. Then he took out a folded parchment, placed it on the table and opened it. Inside were a number of hairs of varying lengths and colors.
Voldemort sat on the edge of his throne. This was going to be very entertaining.
"Get over there, Wormtail," he hissed at the animagus.
Peter slouched over to the table and stood beside it, looking very unhappy. Severus was a bastard, a big snarky bastard who deserved to be strung up by his balls.
Smiling grimly, Severus poured a proper dosage of Polyjuice potion into one of the large glasses, then dropped in a long brown hair. All watched as the potion bubbled and turned a nasty, muddy color. Severus poured a bit into the smaller glass and offered it to Peter.
"Drink up," he said with an evil smirk.
Peter's eyes shifted towards Voldemort, who wore an "obey him" look and was tapping his wand on the arm of the throne as if anxious to use it. Peter swallowed, picked up the potion and looked at it. Severus had only poured about a shot of it.
Peter tossed it down and made a horrible face. Polyjuice potion tasted terrible. He put the glass down and immediately his flesh began to bubble. Severus had made some adjustments to the potion over the years so it worked faster, but didn't last longer. Too much Polyjuice potion could be fatal. So whereas a small dose would result in a shorter transformation…a larger one could result in death.
Severus and Voldemort watched as Peter turned into a lovely brunette muggle with long, brown hair. The transformed wizard wore a white midriff blouse that showed a pierced belly button and jeans that looked painted on. She appeared to be about twenty-five.
"Well, this is a vast improvement," Voldemort said, flicking out his tongue at Peter who gave him a petulant look, tossing his hair back cheekily.
"She's too pretty and would attract unwanted attention," Severus observed, "I need someone plainer."
Voldemort raised his eyebrows at him.
"Severus, usually my Death Eaters choose lovely women for the revels," the Dark Lord said to the Potions Master.
"I've seen a few rather plain women taken as well," Severus replied, "I will have to keep trying until I find several that don't stand out. Since I can't identify the hairs and can only use one hair per potion, I am going to have to keep testing the potion on Peter. I need at least four changes of potion when I go out in search of Potter."
"Well save the other potions. I can find uses for them as well," Voldemort said, eyeing Peter as he transformed back into his fat, unattractive self.
Severus poured the rest of the potion into a bottle, corked it, applied some tape, then wrote on the tape with his wand, "Very Attractive Brunette, 25." He put it aside and scourgified the glass. He added more Polyjuice potion and another hair, offering it to Peter again.
Peter had to go through twenty-three transformations before Severus found six suitable disguises. Two of them were rather dumpy witches, one blonde, one brunette most likely taken for revenge's sake, another was a very skinny, plain muggle with mousy brown hair, her straight lines offering no sex appeal whatsoever. The other three were also very plain looking muggles. Every other potion created beautiful curvaceous disguises.
"I would never have suspected there were such trolls among my victims," Voldemort said as Severus labeled the last bottle, his nose wrinkled in disgust, "I guess my Death Eaters will fuck anything."
Severus looked at him as he gathered the six bottles together.
"Not to correct you my Lord, but those…po…poorly put together women could have been used for torture only, the wizard said, correcting himself mid-sentence. He had been about to say "poor women." That wouldn't have been good.
Voldemort nodded as Peter turned back to his regular form.
The Dark Lord looked at Peter thoughtfully as the wizard felt himself all over and breathed a sigh of relief.
"Am I finished?" he asked Severus with an edge to his voice. Severus looked at him, his eyes glinting.
"For now," he said darkly, "but undoubtedly, I am going to need your cooperation again after these potions are used up."
"I don't see why you can't use the pretty ones. You can do things to make them unattractive," he argued.
"I only have an hour's transformation time, you idiot. I'm not going to spend twenty minutes of it trying to look less attractive," Severus shot back at him.
The Dark Lord chuckled evilly, causing both wizards to look at him. Voldemort's eyes rested on Peter for several moments, then he addressed Severus, not taking his eyes off his servant.
"Up to this point, it was quite boring here when I'm not plotting…however Severus, you have shown me I can have other more pleasant physical diversion using your rejected Polyjuice potions," the wizard said.
Peter went pearly white…white as a ghost as his Lord and Master eyed him.
"Master," he began, pleading.
"Shut up, Wormtail. At least you will serve in a more pleasing capacity. To be honest, sometimes I hate having you hanging about, bowing and groveling. Now when you bow…I'll be able to take advantage of it," Voldemort hissed at him.
Both of Peter's hands clapped over his fat ass reflexively.
Severus was absolutely delighted. The Dark Lord was going to use the potion to turn Peter into various women and do him. Oh, dear gods…if only he could laugh. But Voldemort was perverse. If the Potions Master laughed out loud at Peter's predicament, he could find himself on the other end of that snake-like appendage as well. Oh no. Not Severus. Just the thought of it made his buttocks clench together tightly.
It was easy not to smile after that thought. The Potions Master gathered up the six bottles of Polyjuice potion he needed, leaving the other seventeen bottles for Lord Voldemort and Peter, who scowled at him blackly.
"When do you plan to go out into the public, Severus?" the Dark Lord asked him.
"Tomorrow my Lord. Since we do not know where Harry Potter is, I will have to find someone who might," he said. He didn't want to tell the Dark Lord who he would be searching for in case the despot decided he wanted to take them and question them himself. It would undoubtedly end in death. There had been enough death.
"You will be frequenting Knockturn Alley for informants I expect?" the Dark Lord asked him curiously.
"I am not sure yet, my Lord," Severus lied, dropping his Occlumency walls just in case, "I will give you a full report when I return."
Voldemort's eyes narrowed for a moment. He liked to know what was going on…but Severus was too valuable to punish.
"Very well, Severus. I hope you find out something useful," he said, a note of warning in his high-pitched voice.
"I will do my best, my Lord," Severus replied with a bow.
Voldemort waved him off, and Severus exited the throne room. Peter also tried to beat a sneaky retreat, but the Dark Lord saw him tiptoeing off.
"Wormtail, get back over here," the red-eyed wizard snarled.
Peter turned and walked back toward the throne as if he were approaching the gallows.
Voldemort smiled nastily, his lipless mouth stretching across his scaly face. Peter could see the snake-like writhing beneath his robes…in the loin area. Shit.
"Now, locate that bottle marked redhead, green eyes," Voldemort hissed, rising from his throne and walking down the small dais, unbuttoning his robes.
Peter mechanically walked to the table, read the labels on the bottles and selected the one the wizard requested. He could feel Voldemort standing close behind him.
"Drink, Wormtail," the despot purred.
Hermione arrived at Godric's Hollow a bit apprehensive as she approached Harry's home. She had just made it to the door when it was yanked open and Harry stood there, looking at her. She was dressed like a muggle, in a white flowered-long sleeved blouse and blue slacks and flats. It was easy to see she didn't wear the necklace.
"Hello Hermione," Harry said, his green eyes slightly hesitant.
"Hello Harry," Hermione replied, feeling strangely formal as Harry stepped back so she could come in.
Hermione waited for him to close the door then lead her into the living room. He was cleaned up and his hair was cut and combed. But he still had a gaunt, haunted look about him.
"Please sit down," Harry said, sounding stiff and unnatural as he gestured to the other armchair.
Hermione sat down and Dobby appeared with two tall glasses of pumpkin juice and two ham sandwiches on a platter. The sandwiches were made just the way Hermione liked them. The house elf placed them on a small table between the armchairs, bowed to Hermione then exited the living room, looking a little worried. He would hover near the door in case Harry lost control again.
Hermione picked up a pumpkin juice and took a sip although she wasn't thirsty, Harry looking at her intensely.
"Hermione…I'm so, so sorry. I don't know what's happening to me," he suddenly said.
"You're being eaten up by hatred, Harry. You aren't over Dumbledore's death and want to avenge him by killing Snape. But Harry, if Dumbledore could talk to you, you know he would tell you not to kill Snape. He'd tell you to focus on the Horcruxes and bringing down Voldemort. He is the real danger. He is the one who has to be destroyed," Hermione said, "If Snape is really guilty…then…"
Harry's eyes narrowed.
"I hate it when you say 'if' concerning what Snape's done, Hermione. It's as if you think I didn't see what I saw," Harry said bitterly, "He killed him and I saw him kill him, Hermione. I wish you would accept that."
Hermione stared at Harry, then decided to share with him what Dumbledore said to her before his demise.
"Harry, the Headmaster told me before he died that my intelligence would be needed in the near future, to always remember to think in a logical manner and that things are not always how they appear. I am just doing what he told me to do, Harry. Things are not adding up. Snape just killing him like that and the power surges I continue to feel. The Headmaster really cared about the Professor Harry. I can't believe he turned on him that way. There has to be more to it," Hermione said.
"Hermione, Dumbledore was always saying something like that. He talked in riddles. He probably was referring to your studies," Harry said, frowning, "Not Snape."
"I think it was part of a plan, Harry. Dumbledore always had some kind of plan," the witch argued.
"Not a very good plan if he had to die to carry it out," Harry spat.
"Dumbledore was like that, Harry. He'd be willing to sacrifice himself for others…you know that," Hermione replied.
"But his sacrifice meant nothing! Who benefited from it Hermione? Other than the Dark Lord?" Harry demanded. "Now that Dumbledore's out of the way, he can take over. The Ministry is full of idiots."
Hermione looked thoughtful, then her eyes widened.
"Snape," she said.
"What?" Harry's eyes narrowed at the mention of the Potions Master's name.
"Snape benefited. By killing Dumbledore, most likely he is Voldemort's favorite servant now," Hermione said, her eyes starting to shift back and forth.
"Of course he is, the bastard," Harry hissed.
Hermione looked at him.
"But…but Harry…what if the plan was for the Professor to get closer to the Dark Lord? You know Voldemort wasn't sure about his loyalty…that was why Snape was tortured so much. What if Snape killed Dumbledore as part of a plan to get closer to him so he could be destroyed or better yet…to help you? You don't know where the Horcruxes are. The only one who does is Voldemort. Maybe Snape is supposed to find out and let you know somehow," Hermione said excitedly, "Dumbledore might have willingly sacrificed himself so you could destroy all the Horcruxes with Snape's help."
Harry leapt out of his chair.
"Hermione, you are really reaching with this. That's not what happened. I saw what happened!" Harry yelled at her. Hermione remained calm.
"But you don't know what's behind what happened. You know how Dumbledore manipulated everything. You know how he did that, Harry. And Snape could have killed you that night on the grounds. He blocked everything you sent at him. And he stopped the Death Eater that hit you with the Cruciatus curse as well," Hermione said, "He didn't let anyone harm you."
"That's only because Voldemort wants me for himself," Harry retorted.
"Are you sure, Harry? Are you absolutely sure?" Hermione asked him, "And think of what he said to you when you attacked him. How your spells would be blocked again and again and again until you learned to keep your mouth shut and your mind closed. It sounded as if he were instructing you, Harry. Telling you to do your spells non-verbally and to use Occlumency," she said insistently.
"He was mocking me! Mocking my abilities, not instructing me, Hermione!" he said.
"But he's the Half-Blood Prince, Harry…the one you looked up to all year…the wizard whose words you trusted implicitly. You believed in him!" Hermione said, standing up too and facing off with the wizard.
"That was before I knew it was Snape!" Harry spat at her.
"But you still did whatever he wrote down. He never failed you!" Hermione said, "Dumbledore trusted him, Harry! You don't know what the two of them planned. I'm telling you, you should focus on the Horcruxes and not Snape. Snape may end up helping you!"
Harry stared at Hermione.
"I can't believe after what he's done you still believe he's on the side of Good, Hermione. He murdered Dumbledore. He's a traitor," Harry said, "A murdering traitor."
Hermione stared at Harry, trying to decide whether or not to tell her what she really thought Dumbledore might have done. She decided to say it.
"Harry…I think Dumbledore may have created a Horcrux before he died," she said softly, "I think he is still alive. That he might…might come back when the time is right."
Harry's eyes went round as saucers.
"No. No, you have to murder someone to make a Horcrux. The Headmaster was no murderer, Hermione," Harry said to her quietly. But inside, he felt just a tiny twinge of hope…it was something to grab on to. But…but it had to be proven to him, or at least made more feasible.
"Harry," Hermione said, "Dumbledore was no murderer, but he still took lives. He was such a gentle man that it could have still fragmented his soul because he killed. It might have been for a good reason…but he still killed another human being, and more than once. He might have been able to make a Horcrux. Maybe he ordered Snape to kill him. Maybe he plans to return."
Harry dropped back down into the armchair, considering what Hermione said. It made sense, and Dumbledore was sneaky enough to have done such a thing and not told anyone. Hermione was absolutely certain she felt his power after he was supposed to be dead. She had been feeling it before he died. She felt it the night they went after the locket. He had never doubted Hermione before…well…not too much. She usually was right. But he saw Dumbledore die…that's why he wasn't willing to listen to her theories. He was in too much pain, felt too much guilt that he did nothing to help him. But Dumbledore made sure he couldn't help him. He didn't want him to interfere.
After several minutes of silence he looked at Hermione.
"Do you really think Dumbledore could still be alive, Hermione?" he asked her, his heart tight in his chest.
"Yes, I do. I really do, Harry. He told me things weren't what they seemed. I believe he was talking about his death. He wouldn't abandon us, Harry. He'd find some way to help us. If Voldemort thinks he's dead and now trusts Snape implicitly, then Snape can find out things he couldn't before. He could help us, Harry," Hermione said.
"But Snape looked so hateful when he killed him, Hermione. He didn't say anything but the curse," Harry said, remembering how contorted the wizard's face was when he cast the Killing curse.
"It could have been Snape hated what he had to do, Harry. Maybe that is what gave him the power to cast the curse on Dumbledore, not because he hated him," Hermione said, "Remember how angry he got when you called him a coward? You said he went crazy. What he did to Dumbledore seemed to be a cowardly act, and he would have had to acknowledge it in some way. He killed a weak, unarmed wizard after all. Even Snape would have to admit it was cowardly. But he didn't. He insisted he wasn't a coward though his actions seemed cowardly. Maybe because it took strength for him to do it, Harry. Maybe it took courage to follow through on what the Headmaster asked him to do. It might have been…the hardest thing he had ever done in his life."
"He could have been in denial," Harry said, adjusting his glasses. He was putting out every argument he could, hoping Hermione could shoot them down…make him believe this was possible. Oh gods, if only it could be possible.
"This is Snape we're talking about, Harry," Hermione said, "He's always been brutally honest. Always. I don't think he would fudge the truth about what he did. Why would he? He can't fool himself after all. No, I don't believe it was denial. I believe he was telling you the truth when he said he wasn't a coward. And to be honest Harry, he's done nothing in all the time we've known him to prove himself one. He continued to return to Voldemort's tortures over and over, and gave good information to the Order that saved many lives. I don't think that was an act, Harry. He really is a brave wizard. I think he still serves the Greater Good."
Harry felt as if the iron bands that constricted his breathing suddenly popped off, and tightness in his head relaxed. Maybe Hermione was right. Maybe it was all part of a greater plan, a plan that Snape played a part in. Maybe…maybe there was still hope…maybe the Headmaster HAD made a Horcrux. He had been disappearing from the castle quite often, no one knowing where he was going. Oh he had claimed to be doing other things but one never knew with Dumbledore.
"All right, Hermione. I will leave Snape alone…for now and focus on the Horcruxes. It is possible something else is going on here," he said slowly, looking at her.
Hermione smiled, relieved that Harry had finally come around and was at least willing to listen to her.
"But I still don't like the idea of you looking for him. If you're wrong…" Harry began.
"I might not even find him, Harry," Hermione said, "Anyway right now, we have to deal with the Horcrux. It's in Dumbledore's…I mean the Headmistress' office. Voldemort's stone grew warm and glowed when I met with her last week."
"You waited a week to tell me, Hermione?" Harry said, frowning at her.
"Harry, you almost attacked me over the necklace. We needed time, both of us," Hermione said, "Besides, there was no way to check her office without getting caught. But she's going away for a night. She's leaving tomorrow for some kind of Headmaster's seminar. Her office will be empty. We can check then. I think it is either the Sword of Gryffindor, one of the portraits, or…"
"Or what?" Harry pushed.
"Or the Sorting Hat," Hermione said, her eyes glistening.
"Shit. Not the Sorting Hat. If we have to destroy that, then how will the students be sorted?" Harry asked her.
Hermione shook her head.
"I don't know, Harry, but we have to do what we have to do. But I was thinking…" she began.
"What? What?" Harry said impatiently.
"A soul fragment is a life force. It is alive. Possibly we can use the Killing curse to release it without harming the hat. The Killing curse does no physical damage other than take a life, the exception being the scar that you received. And that was an entirely different situation," Hermione said. "Otherwise you'll have to blast it to bits. It can't be helped."
Harry sighed, then nodded.
If the Sorting Hat was the Horcrux, then he'd have to do whatever was necessary to destroy it.
"All right, so how am I going to get into Hogwarts?" he asked her.
"The Invisibility Cloak, of course," she said, "We'll apparate back to the school with you hidden under the cloak, and you'll slip in with me when Filch or Hagrid opens the gate. Then we'll wait until it's late, go to McGonagall's office, locate the Horcrux and destroy the fragment, then return to my room. McGonagall won't be back until the following evening, so any damage won't be discovered until then. I will leave the grounds and take you with me, and you can return here. Simple really," Hermione said, smiling wickedly.
"Yes, it is," Harry agreed.
He felt as if a great weight had been lifted off of him. He still hated Snape, but Hermione's theory made him feel he should wait to see what happens and not try to track the wizard down. If Dumbledore had put some kind of plan in motion, Harry's interference could ruin it. He wouldn't want that, particularly if there was the slightest hope Dumbledore could return.
Now, what would Dumbledore use as a Horcrux? It would have to be something no one would suspect, so that ruled out lemon drops and socks. Well, Voldemort's Horcruxes was what Harry was to focus on, and that's what he would do. He gave Hermione a grateful look.
She smiled back at him and began to eat a ham sandwich. Harry picked up the other and joined her.
Thank the gods he had such a brilliant, forgiving friend.
Marcus Delaluci sat with a bored expression as he listened to Kingsley Shacklebolt give an update concerning the search for Severus Snape. About seventy-five Order members were in attendance. Basically all the black Auror had to say was there was no progress.
"Unfortunately, there have been no sightings or news of Severus Snape, or any Death Eater activity since the death of Albus Dumbledore. Apparently, the Dark Lord is lying low and plotting his next move. All we can do is continue to keep our eyes and ears open," Kingsley said.
Marcus rolled his eyes as Kingsley gave out the month's assignments for active members. There were quite a few Order members, but not all were on active duty. They were called up a few months out of the year. Only when there was some serious issue at hand did they appear in force. However, recruitment was up. The death of Albus Dumbledore had moved many to join the Order. However, without Fawkes to judge new members, Kingsley had to painstakingly check the records of those who approached him. Not everyone qualified.
When Marcus spoke to him at the Ministry, Kingsley was reluctant to accept him at first. He had quite a dark background. Yet, he hadn't joined the Death Eaters and Albus thought him safe enough to teach at Hogwarts. He had a great knowledge of the Dark Arts, was a skilled fighter and had gifts that could serve the Order well. Being able to recover memories after being obliviated was a biggie as well as his Spell Breaking abilities. After about a week's consideration and a few talks with Tonks and Remus, Kingsley decided to take him on.
Marcus cursed silently as he was assigned to watch the graveyard that Voldemort had utilized when he returned. Shit, nothing was going on there. But Kingsley believed it could be a place where the Death Eaters might meet so was keeping it under surveillance just in case.
The good thing was Marcus would soon have classes to teach, so the Order wouldn't be giving him many such assignments. He had only joined because he thought they might have some inside information to help him locate Snape, but they didn't seem to know squat. Well, he was in for it now.
The meeting broke up and Marcus gladly left Grimauld Place. He hated being part of an organization. Shit.
Marcus looked down at the small stone he held in his hand. It would transport him to the graveyard. Damn, this assignment gave the term "graveyard shift" new meaning. The blonde wizard walked down to the end of the block, checked for muggles, then said "Portis" and vanished.
Marcus arrived in the graveyard, his violet eyes telescoping so he could see clearly. Chipped and time-ravaged tombstones of all shapes and sizes abounded, a low-lying mist covering the ground. He could hear scuttling.
"Rats," he said to himself, pulling his wand.
Marcus hated rats.
He slowly walked through the graveyard, checking out the surrounding area. Things were dead, as they should be. The wizard sighed and sat down on top of a small tomb that probably held a child.
"Hope you don't mind sharing your space," he said to the tomb. Of course there was no complaint. Marcus sighed.
"I should have picked up a hooker," he thought to himself, "At least I could have been entertained."
Kingsley didn't say he had to keep watch alone.
The wizard stayed vigilant, the mists swirling around him as he watched throughout the night.
It was a dreary day in West Ealing. A young woman about the age of twenty-two or so walked up the street checking flat numbers. She was dress rather drably in neutral colors, with mousy brown hair and sallow skin. She had a number of pockmarks on her face and her hair was rather stringy. She wore a large gray sweater over her thin, straight lines. Her brown eyes studied the numbers until she located the flat she wanted.
She walked up to the door and knocked. It was almost ten-thirty. She waited for an answer, then knocked again, harder this time. There was still no answer.
The young woman looked around but the street was deserted. Most people were at work now, and the Grangers were no different. She pulled out a wand and pointed it at the door.
"Alohamora," she rasped.
The door clicked open. Looking around once more, the woman entered, closing the door behind her and warding it.
She looked around the flat. It was very basic, a living room, dining area, a kitchen off the right a hallway, that led to the bathroom and three bedrooms. The living room was furnished with a matching sofa, loveseat, two armchairs and a coffee table. One wall covered with books. The woman walked over and examined them. Many of the subjects had to do with dentistry. Yes, Hermione's parents were dentists which meant they used barbaric methods to care for muggle teeth, twisting wires around them and drilling down to the meat.
The woman shuddered. Magic was so much better. She continued to look about.
A huge pink toothbrush stood in the corner with bristles that looked tough enough to clean muddy tires with. It had to be at least five feet tall and was large enough to brush a dragon's teeth. An enormous bicuspid stood on four rootlets on an end table. The top of it was hinged. A number of trade magazines rested on the coffee table. The woman rifled through them. Didn't these people read about anything other than teeth?
She headed down the hallway and peeked into the bathroom. It smelled of antiseptic. Continuing down the hallway, she looked into the first bedroom. It held a king-sized bed covered in patchwork quilts with a brass headboard. This must be the witch's parents' room.
She continued, opening another room. It was filled with boxes and furniture. Hm, a bedroom used as a storage room most likely. The Grangers only had one child after all. She closed the door back and walked into the last bedroom. Yes, judging by all the books everywhere, this must be Hermione's room. There was a full sized bed, covered in disgustingly pink frilly bed coverings. The woman was surprised that the bed wasn't covered in Gryffindor colors.
A writing desk with quills and muggle pens in a cup rested against the far wall. It had a number of drawers with keyholes in them. Parchment and notebooks rested on top of it. The woman looked at it curiously, walked over and tried a drawer. It was locked. Once again she pulled out her wand and pointed it at the top drawer.
"Alohamora," she rasped again, then pulled the drawer opened. Inside were a number of locked journals and a diary.
"Damn, does the chit lock up everything?" the woman thought, taking out the books and putting them on top of the desk. She pulled out the swivel chair and sat down, picking up the first journal. She touched the tip of her wand to the small locked clasp.
"Alohamora," she said, her voice strangely hoarse.
The little strip of leather that locked it sprang open. She opened the book and the first thing she noticed was a folded piece of parchment inside. She opened it, spread it flat and studied it.
As she did so, her flesh began to bubble, her hair shortening and turning black, her body elongating and losing what female attributes she had, her features becoming angular and sharp, her nose lengthening and turning hooked as her brown eyes turned black and piercing. She didn't even look up as she changed back into her original form, that of Professor Severus Snape.
He continued reading, frowning slightly.
Possible Reasons I Am Feeling Dumbledore's Power After His Supposed Death
1. Albus Dumbledore didn't really die, it was a ruse.
A possible conspiracy.
2. Albus Dumbledore created a Horcrux and hid it away.
The headmaster has killed before. He could have had a fragmented soul.
3. Albus Dumbledore was a ghost and giving off residual magic leftover from Life.
Ways to Find Out What Really Happened.
1. Question the Headmaster's portrait in the Headmaster's office.
Severus stared at the paper. Was the little know-it-all actually intending on looking for him. How was she planning on finding him? He saw a little note scribbled on the corner of the parchment. He peered at it, then sat straight up in the chair.
"Look up Signature Stones."
Dear gods. He hadn't even considered signature stones. They warmed and glowed whenever they came in contact with the person whose magical signature they held. How the hell had she thought of that? No one would think about those insignificant stones.
Then again, Hermione Granger would. That witch was always thinking outside the box. If the Ministry or the Order got wind of this, every one of them would go to Hogwarts and get a sliver of his stone. Even polyjuiced, he'd stand a very good chance of being captured. He'd be locked down in Voldemort's stronghold permanently if that happened, or at least he wouldn't be able to move freely through the wizarding world. Damn the girl. She was too fucking brilliant for her own good.
He had to find the witch and find out if she had acquired his stone. Knowing how sneaky she was, he didn't doubt Hermione had found a way to get the stone from Poppy. He read over the list again…she believed it was possible he and Albus planned this. That was a good indication that if she did meet up with him, she might not sound the alarm immediately. She had more curiosity than good sense.
Yes, it was a plan…but Albus was dead. There was no denying that. A Horcrux? No. The old wizard would have told him if he made a Horcrux. Albus wouldn't let him think he killed him when he hadn't…would he?
Severus shook his head.
No. Of course not.
But Hermione claimed to be feeling the Headmaster's power. But how could that be possible? She showed no psychic abilities whatsoever. She quit Trelawney's class in her second year. The witch didn't even believe in divination.
Severus opened the journal and skimmed through it. The title said: "Third Year Journal." It was just day to day thoughts. Hm. She had done quite a few shady things. He leafed through the book stopping on a page and reading the entry.
"Harry and I helped Sirius escape by using a time turner and giving him Buckbeak the Hippogriff. Professor Snape was furious. He wanted a medal."
Why those little…
His nostrils flared, Severus opened the rest of her drawers, took out the journals from first year on, reduced them and put them in his robes pocket. He was going to read them cover to cover and find out just what the little minx was doing all her years at Hogwarts. He couldn't punish her now, but at least he'd know for certain what she and Potter had been up to. He'd start at the beginning.
As he removed the journals, he found Hermione's letter from Headmistress McGonagall telling her she had been selected as Head Girl and was to return to Hogwarts immediately. So that was where the sneaky little witch was.
Severus stood up, locked all the drawers back, pushed the chair in, then took out a bottle of Polyjuice potion. He drank it down, put the bottle back in his pocket and turned to look at himself in the large mirror over Hermione's dresser.
"Oh dear gods," he hissed as he looked at the dumpy witch that looked back at him. He was short, squat and reminded of Professor Umbridge as he looked at his reflection. His nose was red as a beet. He didn't remember the witch looking this bad. But then again, the transfiguration was Peter's. He wasn't much to start with and probably colored the Potions Master's perceptions.
Severus cast a disillusionment spell on himself. He was so unattractive, he might still attract attention. Better to move about like this for now.
Hermione's books in tow, Severus left the flat, removing the ward and locking it back securely. The first chance he got, he apparated back to Voldemort's stronghold.
Both Peter and Voldemort started when Severus appeared in the throne room, the wizard just managing to dodge a stunner Peter fearfully cast at him, roaring, "It's me you idiot!" in his own voice.
Voldemort chuckled as the fat witch glared at Peter.
"Wormtail, are you sure that victim wasn't a relative?" he chortled at his servant, "There is a distinct resemblance."
"No. No relation, my Lord," Peter said as Severus approached the throne and bowed.
"A curtsey might be more appropriate, Severus," Voldemort said, his lipless mouth spread in a smile, the tip of his forked tongue showing.
"I'm used to bowing, my Lord," Severus replied evenly, not willing to curtsey.
The Dark Lord let it pass.
"So, how was your outing? Did you find out anything concerning Potter?" Voldemort asked him, his eyes narrowing. It was unfair to think the wizard could gather any information his first day out.
Since Hermione was safely at Hogwarts, Severus felt it would be all right to tell Voldemort.
"I tried to locate one of Potter's close friends, a Miss Hermione Granger. She has been called back to Hogwarts early, however and is currently beyond my reach. However, most likely she will be going to Diagon Alley before the term starts. The grounds of Hogwarts are being carefully guarded, but I doubt they are guarding the surrounding areas as stringently. I believe I can safely observe the gates daily from a distance and wait for Miss Granger to leave the grounds. All I need to is take her, question her and obliviate her."
"We could kidnap her, my Lord," Peter said.
Severus scowled at him. Damn the little round bastard.
Voldemort looked interested.
"Yessss, perhaps torture the information out of her, then give her as a treat to my Death Eaters," the wizard lisped.
Shit. Severus had to think fast.
"My Lord, since I am no longer at Hogwarts, you no longer have anyone for your eyes and ears. It is true Dumbledore is gone, but I am sure there are things occurring at the castle that are of interest to you. I can use Miss Granger for our eyes and ears. As Head Girl, she is privy to more information than ordinary students. She will know what protective measures are being taken. I think it would be best at this time to use her in such a manner," Severus said smoothly, hoping the wizard would bite, "She can always be taken later, my Lord."
Voldemort looked thoughtful
"Yes, Severus. I believe you are right," Voldemort said to him, then made a face, "Now, go to your rooms. You are too ghastly to be seen."
Severus glared at him, feeling like asking him how he liked Voldemort's wand stuck in every orifice of his body and then some. But he couldn't. Voldemort would punish him for such a statement.
"Yes my Lord," the Potions Master said, bowing again then exited the throne room, his large chunky ass rolling behind him. He disappeared through the door that opened on the corridor that led to his rooms.
Voldemort shuddered, then said to Peter, "Go get a bottle of Polyjuice potion. Any woman will do. Severus just about killed my libido and I need to get it back."
Peter bowed and walked through a side door to the lab area, scowling blackly when the door closed.
Damn Snape. This was all his fault.
Severus rolled into his private rooms, cursing as his hips hit the doorframe painfully. He walked over to his armchair, took the miniaturized journals out of his pocket and placed them on the small table next to the chair, then lowered his bulk into the cushioned seat. It was a close fit.
"How could anyone live like this?" he said to himself, lifting up a large, floppy breast and letting it drop with a shudder. He then pulled out his wand and resized Hermione's journals and flipped through them until he found the one titled "First Year."
He began rifling through it.
I'm one of the oldest first years at Hogwarts. It's funny that so many students have grown up witches and witches and don't even know the history of Hogwarts. How can they be so dumb?
Snape smirked. Already the witch was thinking herself brighter than everyone else. He continued reading.
All of my teachers are nice except for one, Professor Snape. His hair is greasy, his skin is almost white, his nose is huge and hooked like a hawk's beak. He talks very softly but is very mean and likes to embarrass people. He doesn't seem to like Harry Potter at all and ignored me when I kept raising my hand to answer his questions. But he does seem to know Potions.
Severus snorted. He "seemed" to know potions, did he? The nerve of the little chit.
Ronald Weasley was saying a charm wrong in Charms class today and I just told him how to say it right…then I did the spell and made a feather float. I was the first in class to do it. Then later I heard Ron say to Harry, Seamus and others that I was a pain and nobody liked me. I know no one likes me. I can't help that. I try to be nice and help everyone but it's not appreciated. I feel so alone here…but I am still going to learn all I can.
Ah, the Gryffindor determination comes to the fore.
Last night Ron and Harry saved me from a troll that got into the castle. I lied to Professor McGonagall and said I went after the troll by myself and they saved me, so Ron and Harry wouldn't get in trouble. I think we are friends now.
Oh, so that was the real story behind the troll incident. Severus never did believe that story. And that's what got the three of them together. How sweet. Not.
Professor Dumbledore left the castle and we figured Snape would try to get the stone and tried to tell Professor McGonagall but she said Snape is one of the teachers protecting the stone. Harry still believes he is after it, but I don't know that Snape is. Why would he protect the stone if he wanted it?
Why indeed? At least the little know-it-all was thinking.
I was the one who had to break Snape's logic problem of finding two potions out of many that would let us leave the room. It was surprisingly easy to do. I guess since wizards have magic, they don't focus very much on logic. Professor Snape may know Potions but his logic needs work. Lots of it.
Severus let out a string of curses under his breath at Hermione's estimation of his logic skills. Nostrils flared, he kept reading, skimming over parts.
We won the House Cup. Harry, Ron, Neville and I received extra points for saving the stone. Professor Snape looked furious although he was clapping. I think that is what I enjoyed the most. That and Malfoy being so mad.
Severus closed the book hard and picked up the next one. So, she enjoyed him being furious about losing the cup. Hmph. If only he could turn back time.
Harry is a parselmouth. He says he didn't know. It's pretty bad. Everyone thinks he's the one petrifying people and the heir of Slytherin. I think Malfoy knows something about it. We're going to find out.
Snooping about again.
I stole potions ingredients from Professor Snape's stores while Harry distracted him. My heart was pounding. It's going to take a month to brew the Polyjuice potion.
Severus turned red with rage. He always believed Harry had stolen those ingredients. Why the sneaky, thieving little…
I've just gotten out of the infirmary. The hair I put in the Polyjuice potion wasn't Millicent's but a cat hair. It was horrible, and everyone keeps laughing at me.
The wizard chuckled. Hermione had been turned into a cat-creature for about a month. He knew she had brewed the potion but didn't know it was her who broke into his stores. It served her right.
I think the creature moving through the pipes is a basilisk. I'm going to find out.
Famous last words. Too damn curious for her own good. What the hell did she think she could do against a basilisk? Potter was lucky to come out of that fiasco alive. Severus read the final pages, put the journal down and picked up the next in the sequence.
Harry has found out that Sirius Black has escaped Azkaban and wants to kill him. Poor Harry. Now everyone's going to be watching for Black. Harry has to really watch himself.
Like that was something new. The boy was a trouble magnet from the time he arrived at Hogwarts. He wasn't satisfied if something wasn't trying to kill him.
I'm so excited. I have special permission to use a time turner so I can get to all my extra classes. I also have a new familiar named Crookshanks. Ron hates him because he chases Scabbers. He's half cat…of course he chases him. Ron's so stupid.
Ah, so that's why she had that blasted time-turner.
I quit Divinations today. Trelawney is an old fraud. Ron had the nerve to tell me I just didn't like being bad at something for a change. He's so stupid…it isn't that at all.
Severus snickered. Ron probably hit the quaffle on the head with that statement.
Sirius Black managed to get into Gryffindor house and ripped up the fat lady's portrait. Luckily she escaped. This is terrible.
Snape remembered that. How his sleep was disturbed and all the students herded into the Great Hall for protection.
Harry and Ron are both mad at me because I think the broom Harry got was from Sirius Black and is jinxed to kill him. I told Professor McGonagall, and now they won't talk to me because she took it. I'd rather have Harry mad at me than dead.
So, the firebolt was a mysterious gift eh? Well, it must not have been jinxed. Harry used it often enough to beat the snot out of Slytherin on the Quidditch pitch.
We found out that it was Peter Pettigrew who killed all the muggles and told the Dark Lord where Harry's parents were, not Sirius. Peter Pettigrew was really Scabbers. Ron had him all the time. He could have killed Harry…
What? Was that the story behind Sirius and why they tried to protect him and helped him escape? Severus' brow wrinkled. It wouldn't have mattered if he had known Sirius was innocent. He would have still given the doggish bastard to the Dementors. Harry's godfather had been dead for years, but Severus still hated him.
In Defense Against the Dark Arts a Boggart turned into Professor McGonagall and told me I had failed all my classes. It was awful. I don't think I'll be able to sleep tonight.
Snape chortled at this entry. That had to be horrible for the brainy witch. Definitely her worst fear.
I've passed Professor Snape's class with high marks but they should have been higher. Professor Snape is purposely sabotaging my grades, the dirty bat.
Severus smirked at this. He wasn't sabotaging her grades as much as he was making sure she worked hard and didn't feel she could just waltz through his class like she did every other. Someone had to challenge the witch. Plus, he enjoyed taking points when she complained about her marks.
Severus opened the fourth year book and read about Hermione going to the World Cup and the attack of the Death Eaters and how she had to hide in the woods and about the Mordes Mordres curse being cast and Winky being accused of casting it.
There was also a lot of entries about Ron Weasley and Harry Potter not being friends and her being caught in the middle, the Goblet of Fire challenges, Victor Krum and trying to save House Elves that didn't want saving. There was also her hating someone named Fleur Delacore because Ron was crazy over her. Typical fluff.
There was also a little entry about him.
Professor Snape is a bastard. I hate him! Malfoy hit me with a Densaugeo spell that made my front teeth grow past my chin and he said he didn't see any difference! I hate him. I hate him, I HATE HIM!
Severus smirked at having made her so mad.
My teeth are perfect now. I had Madame Pomfrey make them just a bit smaller than what they were and I'm not buck-toothed any longer. My parents are going to kill me, but now people are noticing my smile. I would thank Malfoy but he's such a little fuck.
So that's what happened to the bucked teeth. And what language.
There was more about Ron being jealous of Victor taking her to the ball and a little tirade about Ron needing to say he liked her if he did. Good gods. It was like a version of "All My Witches"
Then there was more about him.
Professor Snape read Rita's article about the supposed triangle with me, Harry and Victor out loud in class today. He just made it sound so AWFUL. He was smirking as he read it. He was probably jealous. No one would want to have any kind of relationship with him. He's too mean and too ugly and too much of a snarky bastard. I bet he never even had a girlfriend he didn't pay for.
Ouch. Miss Granger was developing quite a nasty little edge there. He read about Voldemort's return according to Harry and how she believed him, and her thoughts about Cedric's death, as well as her fears how everything was going to change. It seemed her fears had come to light.
Snape burst out laughing as he read how Hermione trapped Rita Skeeter in a jar and blackmailed her to make her quit the Daily Prophet. She kept the journalist trapped for over two weeks before she let her go. Hm. The Gryffindor had a touch of Slytherin in her.
The wizard opened the fifth year journal and skimmed over it.
There were some entries about her and Ronald Weasley becoming Prefects and Hermione schooling Harry how to date Cho Chang and how bad it went because the girl was dating Cedric before and Harry was with Cedric when he died. She also mentioned Cho was jealous of her friendship with Harry as well. Big deal.
She also tried to befriend Kreacher, the evil house elf that stayed at Grimauld Place. Severus imagined that didn't work out too well.
There were also a number of rants about how the Ministry was trying to discredit Dumbledore and Harry, and numerous comments about Umbridge, comparing her to a dictator. Then quite a lot of information about forming a secret club to learn Defense Against the Dark Arts on their own.
Snape was very impressed with the following entry.
That turncoat Marietta Edgecombe got just what she deserved for betraying us to Umbridge…and I'll be damned if I ever remove the jinx from her. She'll have "SNEAK" on her face until the day she dies if it's left to me.
Hermione Granger was turning out to be quite a nasty little piece of work. He never dreamed the little goody-two-shoes could be so vindictive. But then again, she really wasn't as good as she pretended to be.
There were a few more entries about Umbridge being taken by centaurs, and Hagrid's half-brother Gawp and the battle at the Ministry. But it was this entry that struck Snape the most.
I had the most horrible dream last night. I was with Professor Snape and he was kissing me in the dungeons corridor and touching me all over my body…and…I liked it. Ewww. Gods, there must be something very wrong with me. I hate Professor Snape. Yes, he is intelligent and has a sharp wit. Yes, his voice is nice…and his eyes…
These compliments were scribbled out with hastily scratched lines.
But I hate him. Why am I dreaming about him like this? It must have been the roast chicken. It was a little underdone at supper.
Severus stared at the passage. She had an intimate dream about him?
He opened the sixth year book to find that much of it was about her dreams about him. They became more and more intimate until the witch was playing with herself and fantasizing about him.
I was in Professor Snape's class today and he yelled at me for something, and I just could have melted. All I could think about was the dream I had the night before, when he was shagging me on top of his desk in the classroom after I had come to serve detention. He was as mean as always, but still I wanted him to do what he was doing. He wasn't gentle either, he stared at me with a sneer on his face as he did it and purposely made me scream from time to time. He said dirty things, then turned me over and did it from behind. As he yelled at me, I found myself wishing that he would assign me detention and do to me what I dreamed. How sick am I?
Snape changed back into his normal form as he read Hermione's most secret dreams and fantasies about him, her language becoming more raw and unrestrained. She went from using the word "shag" to the more poignant word "fuck" saying she liked the way it sounded when thinking of him. He seemed like a wizard who would "fuck" rather than "shag."
Some of the things Hermione described were borderline masochistic.
I was walking down the dungeons corridor and it was empty. As I walked by a niche, someone grabbed me, clamping their hand over my mouth and dragging me into the niche, pinning me against the wall with his body. I looked up and it was Professor Snape. He was staring at me, his eyes hard.
"I know what you want, Miss Granger," he said, then I could feel his cock pushing against my belly, "I see it on your face every day in my class. I feel those eyes burning into my back when I am writing on the board. I know when a witch wants to be fucked, Miss Granger, and you do."
Severus read the book cover to cover. There were a lot of entries about trying to catch Malfoy in the room of requirement, and one about Harry overhearing him trying to get Draco to tell him his plans. So…Potter knew there was something going on between them. To her credit though, Hermione also wrote she believed Snape was trying to get the information for Dumbledore, which he was. But it was the final entry that struck him.
I don't know what I ever saw in Professor Snape. I can't believe he would do this to the Headmaster. Dumbledore believed in him…and I believed in him too. And now…now he killed him and Voldemort can take over if Harry doesn't find the Horcruxes and kill him first. All I want to know is…why? Why would he do this? Why would he betray us all? I guess…I guess he truly is evil.
Severus blinked down at her words. But the list he had read was written later and showed that the witch must have thought on it more, especially since she claimed to feel Dumbledore. It seemed she was willing to give him a chance to explain what happened if she could find him. Could he confide in her? Could he use her in getting the information to Potter that he needed to find the Horcruxes?
Severus closed the book and looked thoughtful.
He didn't know if the witch still harbored the randy feelings she had for him last year…but if she did, he might be able to make use of her secret desire. Hermione seemed to be the best option to accomplish what he needed to accomplish.
The wizard rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
He'd get Hermione Granger to see things his way…even if he had to fuck her to do it.
Severus reread parts of Hermione's sixth year journal, going over it carefully now and reading entries about other aspects of her life. There was an ongoing issue with Harry using the Professor's old potions book in class. He was outdoing her marks and she found it unfair and thought the half-blood prince must have been a terrible if brilliant person to come up with such dangerous spells as Sectumsempra.
Snape frowned. He had needed that spell for protection. If not for the Marauders, he wouldn't have created it. He continued reading.
The Potions Master found it interesting that the witch and Ronald Weasley were involved while she was secretly lusting after him. He thought Ron might have been receiving the benefits of her naughty little secret. He read carefully to see if Hermione and Ron had fucked, but he couldn't find an entry. He believed the witch would have added such a significant event in her journal. She had written she kissed Victor Krum several times in her fourth year journal, admitting she had run away when the Quidditch player stuck his tongue in her mouth.
Shit. If she ran from a tongue…how would she react to a throbbing, dripping cock as big as his? Severus smirked. This was beginning to have an appeal outside of his mission.
He continued reading about her and Ron's volatile relationship and how she asked Cormac McLaggen to Slughorn's party to make him jealous.
We were walking to the party and no one was in the corridor. Cormac looked at me and said, "So you finally realized I was irresistible, eh Hermione?" I just nodded, then the next thing I know he had me pinned against the wall and started running his hands over my breasts and tried to kiss me. I pushed him away and ran for the party. He was just horrible. I can still feel where he touched me. I never should have invited him to make Ron jealous. I knew it was childish…but Ron is such an ass, acting the way he does with Lavender…snogging all the time...
The entry stopped suddenly and Severus noted a splash that had splattered the ink. Presumably the witch had started crying and a tear caught the fresh ink. Young love was such a pain in the ass. But the Potions Master found it a bit funny that she was pining after Ron while fingering herself to him in the middle of the night. Yes, witches…even young ones, were contrary.
He continued reading and found a rather long passage that showed just how conflicted the witch really was.
I got carried away kissing Ron last night and came close to shagging him because suddenly the Professor came to mind. I had my eyes closed and it was easy to imagine it was the Professor snogging me…and when Ron started touching me…it felt as if it were the Professor touching me and the next thing I knew my robes were open, my blouse pulled up and Ron was working on my pants button. He was very angry that I stopped him. He called me a tease and said it was easy to see I wanted to be shagged. I couldn't tell him Professor Snape was the one on my mind. So I said I just lost control but I wasn't ready yet. He went to bed very angry at me…but I care about Ron. I just don't want to shag him…especially when I'm thinking of somebody else. It wouldn't be fair to either of us.
I'm trying to do the right thing a witch my age should do. Have a boyfriend my own age, develop a real relationship…one that's healthy and normal. What I think about with the Professor is neither one. It is so dirty. He is so brutal and so…hot. What am I going to do? I can hardly bear to look at him sometimes now, because of how randy I feel. Going to Defense Against the Dark Arts class is becoming hell for me…and there's nothing I can do about it. I'm the age of consent but there's no way I can approach him. Either he'd have me expelled or laugh at me. Be cruel and sarcastic. I wish this would all go away, but it's like a drug…thinking about him like this. No one would ever understand how attracted I am to him…even I don't really understand it. I'll be glad when I graduate and don't have to see him any longer. If he's out of sight maybe he'll get out of my mind and dreams. I can only hope.
Well, he was certainly out of sight now, from Hermione…from everyone. But he would have to find a way to rectify that. The wizard began to think…how to lure the witch to him but protect himself from capture should she decide to turn him in?
He considered Hermione's strengths…which incidentally were also her weaknesses. As the journal showed, she was secretive…he could use that. She was also driven to seek out knowledge, and loved it when she knew something no one else did. He could use that too. Above all, Hermione was curious and as her early years showed, somewhat daring. She would take risks to get what she wanted.
He could contact her in some way and tell her to meet him someplace.
The wizard shook his head. If she told someone, they could be lying in wait. He had to be sure she wasn't being followed. Hm.
The wizard's brows rose as an idea hit him. His eyes narrowed as he considered the best approach. His head nodded slightly. Yes. Yes. That could work if he did some preplanning.
He had plenty of Polyjuice potion and was sure he could get a few galleons from Voldemort to grease palms.
He had a plan.
Two days later, Minerva was off to her seminar. She didn't leave anyone in charge since school hadn't started yet, though no doubt Filch would be on guard. Hermione accompanied her through the gate, stating she needed to go to Diagon Alley and begin picking up her books. The young witch apparated while Minerva utilized a port key to get to her destination.
To her credit, Hermione did go to Diagon Alley and picked up one book, then slipped into Knockturn Alley rather quickly, disillusioning herself and disapparating to Godric's Hollow and Harry. She didn't have her necklace with her.
When Dobby answered the door, Harry was standing behind him, dressed in all black. A black, long-sleeved shirt, black trousers, black socks. Even his trainers were black and he wore a black cap. Hermione laughed as Harry looked down at himself then at her.
"You look like you're going to steal the Crown Jewels," Hermione said, smiling.
"Really?" Harry asked, pulling down the cap over his face and revealing there were two eyeholes and a mouth hole in it. Hermione cracked up.
"Really Harry, you're going overboard. Your invisibility cloak is enough," the witch said, holding her stomach as Harry grinned beneath the mask.
"I may have to hide in the shadows or something," he said, "I want to blend in."
"Harry, it's going to be a straight run. I have a fireworks stink bomb I got from Wizarding Wheezes that is set to go off about twelve at the other end of the castle. Filch will be there with bells on. Then we can sneak to the Headmistress' office, use my password, get in and look for the Horcrux.
Harry blinked at her and pulled up the mask.
"We?" he asked.
Hermione scowled at him.
"Of course we," she said sharply, "I'm not going to let you do this alone. You might need help."
Harry looked at Hermione for a moment, then nodded. He did need her with him. Then he thought about what she said about the firework/stink bomb.
"What in the world is that?" Harry asked her, "A firework/stink bomb? Who would want something like that?"
"Obviously Fred and George. Actually, it's call a 'BangBoom Bomb.' It's their own creation. First…it draws people in with a fantastic display of fireworks…almost like the one they used in the castle when Umbridge was here…with dragons, flying pigs, displays like that. Once everyone gets close enough, then the stink bomb goes off…catching them all. It's terrible," she said as Harry laughed.
"Fred and George are geniuses," he chortled as he thought about Ron's siblings. Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes was their joke shop in Diagon Alley. They did great business because they were so sick and twisted and came up with the weirdest things.
"Filch is going to have bugbears," Harry laughed. Then he sobered as he thought about what it was they were going to do.
"You're sure the Horcrux is in the office?" he asked Hermione.
"Completely sure. We just have to find out what object it is and destroy it," Hermione said, hoping it wasn't the Sorting Hat. Destroying it would throw Hogwarts into an uproar. Plus the hat was like a living piece of history, though Hermione wasn't sure it was truly "alive."
"All right," Harry said, raring to go, "Are you ready?"
Dobby walked up, his eyes wide and worried.
"Be careful, Harry Potter, sir," the elf said, his ears flattened. Harry patted Dobby on the head.
"Don't worry Dobby. This isn't quite like facing a basilisk…though Filch is pretty damn close," he said, "You just take care of things here. I'll be back in the morning to tell you all about it."
Hermione shook her head as Dobby gave Harry a little nervous smile.
"Yes, Harry Potter," the elf said.
He watched as Harry slid on the invisibility cloak then what remained of his legs become a shimmer. Harry had grown and his legs stuck out at the ends of the cloak a bit. So he would disillusion himself as well. He adjusted the cloak to hang a little farther down behind and walked close behind Hermione so she shielded his shimmer. It was awkward but it beat hunching down and walking, which hurt his back after a while.
The two friends departed the house and disapparated to Hogwarts.
Filch was the one who answered the gate. Hermione groaned. Filch had a habit of hanging on to the gate and just opening it wide enough for someone to slip through then would close it swiftly, unlike Hagrid, whose gate attendance was just as wide and magnanimous as he was. The half-giant would open the gate wide to let others enter.
So when Hermione stumbled into the gate and made Filch fall on his bony ass, the squib was livid as Harry slipped through behind her unseen.
"Clumsy girl!" Filch hissed as he struggled to get up, his scraggly hair all over his head as he grasped at the gate for leverage.
"Oops. Sorry Mr. Filch. I must have tripped over my own feet," Hermione sang out, hurriedly moving away from the gate before she burst out into laughter, which would only aggravate the angry caretaker more. When she was far enough away, she did start laughing.
"Oh gods, that was hilarious," she said.
"Yeah it was," Harry's disembodied voice said, floating close behind her, "I've wanted to knock Filch on his ass for years."
"He's lucky he didn't break anything though. He seems so fragile," Hermione said, sobering a bit as she thought about Filch hobbling all about the grounds.
"He's fine. His bones are knitted together by meanness, pure meanness Hermione. Believe me," Harry replied.
Hermione shook her head as they entered the castle.
Everything went off pretty much as planned that night…the BangBoom going off at around midnight and Filch hobbling to the area and beating at the fireworks with a flaming broom. Flitwick had to come help him, casting water at the sparkling burning displays from the tip of his wand. Both of them were caught in the horrible stench that followed. Filch's cursing could be heard throughout the castle as Harry and Hermione, both disillusioned and crouching under the invisibility cloak made it to the gargoyle that blocked the stairwell to McGonagall's office.
"Pretty kitty," Hermione whispered from under the cloak.
The gargoyle leapt aside and they quickly mounted the stairs, the statue jumping back in front of the stairwell immediately.
The Headmistress' door was locked, and for a moment Hermione was afraid that she had put a powerful ward on it…but a simple "Alohamora" opened the door. The moment they entered, Hermione placed a spell on all the portraits in the room that made them become as stiff as real paintings. Harry looked at her appreciatively as they removed the cloak and disillusionment spell..
"You know, I didn't even think about the portraits," he said to her.
"That's why I'm here," Hermione said a bit smugly, "They won't remember anything."
Harry was sneaky, but not as thoughtfully sneaky as Hermione. She considered everything.
"Good," Harry said, pulling out his necklace.
Hermione still didn't have hers on. She was very serious about not putting it within reach of Harry.
Together, starting with the farthest portrait, they slowly walked the perimeter of the office, looking down as the sliver of Voldemort's stone. As they drew closer to Minerva's desk, the stone grew warm and began to emit a dim light.
"Oh no," Hermione breathed.
They were approaching the Sorting Hat.
Harry walked behind the desk and looked up at the hat which was on a high shelf. He pulled out his wand.
"Accio Sorting Hat," he intoned, and the hat flew down into his hands.
Suddenly Harry started, jerking visibly. The stone glowed brightly, and felt very warm…just this side of hot. Together, bathed in crimson light, both Hermione and Harry looked at the hat he held in his hands.
"What's wrong, Harry?" Hermione asked him, noticing his spasm.
"I…I feel a little throb around my heart. It isn't painful but it's like a second pulse. Do you feel it?" he asked Hermione as he sat the hat down on Minerva's desk.
"No," Hermione replied, looking at Harry thoughtfully for a moment.
"You know Harry…you might be feeling the presence of Voldemort's soul fragment. Remember how Dumbledore said some of his essence was passed on to you the night he tried to kill you and failed? Well, a person can't be in the presence of his own soul fragment or he suffers great pain. Something about being in proximity with the original soul. Maybe you can feel the fragment but not the pain since you have some of Voldemort's powers. Maybe that's why the Headmaster wanted you to find and destroy the Horcruxes. You're connected to them," she said, her eyes wide as she looked at him.
"Maybe," Harry said staring at the Sorting Hat, "But Hermione…what are we going to do about the hat? It's definitely a Horcrux. If we destroy it…then there will be no way to sort new students. Hogwarts will either be shut down or the houses filled with students that don't belong there."
Hermione couldn't help thinking that after all these years, Hogwarts should have developed some kind of questionnaire or some other alternative to the Sorting Hat.
The Sorting Hat remained silent. Possibly because it wasn't addressed directly. Hermione was glad. The last thing they needed was for it to break out in song. The stone continued to glow, red and ominous.
"We have to destroy it, Hermione. There's nothing else for it," Harry said, backing away and pointing his wand at the shabby, bent hat.
Harry was just about to cast the Reducto spell when Hermione grabbed his arm.
"Harry…Harry wait," she said to him, "Let's just leave it here for now. We know it's a Horcrux and it won't be going anywhere. We can come back for it later after the rest have been destroyed. Maybe by then we will find a way to remove the soul fragment without blasting it to bits. It can be used for the Sorting this way. As long as we know what it is, we can do something about it at a later date."
Harry blinked down at her for a moment. Yes, that did make sense. He was a bit relieved. He didn't relish the idea of leaving Hogwarts with no way to sort students. He put his wand away.
"All right, Hermione," he said as she levitated the hat back to the top shelf, no worse for wear.
The two once again disillusioned themselves and covered their shimmering bodies with the invisibility cloak. They slowly moved toward the door, then Hermione removed the spell on the portraits. The paintings didn't even open their eyes.
They left Minerva's office.
They didn't destroy the Horcrux, but they knew where it was now. If last came to last, they could reveal the hat's nature to the Headmistress in order to acquire it. But there were four more Horcruxes to find first.
That could take a while.
Tom, the barkeep at the Leaky Cauldron accepted a letter, a set of specific instructions and several galleons from a rather plain and non-descript witch. He didn't find it strange. He often passed on messages to patrons. The woman thanked him and left. Tom wondered what was wrong with her voice.
Madam Puddifoot accepted the pretty pink letter and the two galleons from the young woman before her, looking her over. She could really use a good conditioner and some tender skin treatment. She tried to sell her a few of her lotions but the young woman refused. Obviously, she didn't care about being pretty. Poor thing.
They went over the instructions once more then the witch left, Madam Puddifoot shaking her head at the awkward walk, as if the woman was purposely not trying to switch her hips.
The young man at the bookshop looked at the title of the book the witch put on hold for one Hermione Granger. It was entitled, "Finding the Man of Mysteries." The woman slipped an envelope inside the front cover addressed to whoever was going to pick it up, explaining it was a gift.
"It will be here," he said to the straggly-haired witch. He bet she'd never been on a date in her life, looking the way she did.
Severus moved through the crowd, heading for the public apparition point. He felt relatively sure he had planned everything correctly and this was the safest way to deal with Hermione. Now, if only the witch's natural inclination to put herself in danger made her take the bait. Hopefully she would tell no one.
He'd be waiting at the designated time. He hoped she was as punctual as usual. Timing was important.
A week passed and Hermione continued her duties around Hogwarts. The students, the few there were would soon be returning to the school. Actually from the returned letters Minerva received, only half the normal student body would be attending this term. The new Headmistress was quite depressed about this and Hermione did her best to put a positive spin on it.
"Just think…now there will be smaller classes and the students can get more individual instruction from the teachers. All around the marks will be better," she said to Minerva, who gave her a wan smile.
"Yes, I suppose there is that, Hermione, but the truth is the budget is going to be much lower too. We are going to have to cut back on the selection of foods we offer and will not be able to provide education for those students who can't afford tuition this year, since we have to use the extra money set aside for the running of the school. Also, there won't be the annual raises for the staff. I believe however that they are dedicated enough not to abandon us because of this. We do provide food and board after all. There will also be no dances or balls this year. We simply can't afford them."
Hermione hadn't considered how Hogwarts was run. With the smaller number of students, things were going to be very different her seventh year. There would be no elaborate graduation ceremony or ball. That saddened her a bit. She had been looking forward to that. Then she felt guilty. So much else was going on that a final Dance shouldn't even be on her mind.
At lunch, she received an owl post containing two deliveries. One was her issue of Charms Today, and the other was a small parchment envelope that simply had her name on it. But what made it interesting was that it wasn't in normal handwriting but printed on strips of paper and glued to the front.
Suddenly her belly tightened and she as non-chalantly as possible put the letter into her robes pocket and tried not to noticeably wolf down her lunch. As soon as she was able, she hurried to her headgirl's room and pulled out the letter…her heart pounding.
Who would send a letter and purposely glue words to it rather than write them? Someone who didn't want their handwriting recognized.
Slowly she opened the letter. She could feel a little twinge of magic as she did so. The letter was probably charmed only to open for her. She pulled out the piece of parchment inside. There were more glued words, presumably cut out of magazines or newspapers. It looked like a badly put together ransom note. It read:
If you would know the truth, this coming Friday, go to the Leaky Cauldron at precisely 6 pm and ask the bartender named Tom for a virgin Bloody Murder.
Hermione stared at the message. This had to be from Professor Snape. Who else would send her this? He wanted to talk to her.
"I knew it! I knew there was more to this than met the eye!" she breathed as she looked down at the letter.
Suddenly, the letter and its envelope burst into flame, Hermione dropping them quickly as it burned away to nothing before even hitting the floor. Not even ash was left. Shit, she could have been burned. Hermione scowled.
It was from Professor Snape all right. He was perverse enough to have a letter self-destruct without warning. Well, at least it hadn't exploded.
So, she needed to go to the Leaky Cauldron this Friday at exactly six in the evening.
She'd be there. And she'd be wearing her necklace.
Friday evening found Hermione walking into the Leaky Cauldron. She told the Headmistress she was going to visit her parents for the evening. Minerva had no reason to disbelieve her, though Filch grumbled something about "prowling the streets" at her as he let her out of the gate.
The pub was filled with witches and wizard ready to unwind after the long work week. Pipe smoke and the scent of liquor filled the air. She walked up to the bar. A bald, rather tall, bent man was serving drinks. He eyed her and scowled. She looked too young to be at the bar. He walked over with narrowed eyes.
"How old are you?" he snapped at her, "I can't serve you if you're not the age of consent."
"Um, I'm seventeen…but I want a virgin Bloody Murder," she said to the frowning wizard.
Tom's expression changed immediately.
"Oh. Right," he said, making up a concoction of tomato juice, lemon juice and other spices. He didn't add any alcohol. He placed it on the bar in front of her with an envelope.
"How much?" Hermione asked him, reaching into her robes pocket.
Tom waved his hand.
"The witch that left it for you already paid for it," he said, walking away.
Hermione looked after him, then opened the envelope. There was another message with glued words.
At precisely 6:30, enter Madam Puddifoot's teashop and sit at the third table in front of the large window and have a cup of tea.
Hermione would have to apparate to Hogsmeade in order to visit the tea shop. She realized that Snape was trying to make sure she hadn't set him up and was probably somewhere close, making sure she wasn't being followed. There was no reaction by her necklace, so he wasn't in the immediate vicinity. She couldn't help looking around the pub a bit suspiciously. Suspiciously enough to attract the attention of one Marcus Delaluci, who was seated at a table enjoying a firewhiskey on the rocks.
"Hm. Now what's Miss Granger doing here?" he wondered, watching the witch. He saw she had a parchment in her hand and telescoped his vision to read the words. Hm. Strange lettering for a letter. Suddenly it ripped into shreds in her hands, the pieces shriveling up and disappearing before he could read it fully.
The wizard instantly went on point. Something was up here. Of all the bloody luck. It seemed Miss Granger had made initial contact with someone who didn't want to be found out.
Most likely Snape. It made sense he would contact her if anyone. The last time he saw her looking at his poster on the street torch, she had seemed very sympathetic considering what he'd done. Marcus smiled. Snape was being cautious and was probably watching to see if the witch was being followed.
A slow grin crossed the blonde wizard's face as he watched the witch drink part of the drink in front of her. Those twenty thousand galleons just shifted to within his reach. The wizard stood up and sauntered over to Hermione, appearing on her right side.
"Hello Miss Granger. What in the world are you doing in the Leaky Cauldron?" he purred at her.
Hermione was startled at first, then sighed as she saw Professor Delaluci had addressed her.
"Oh, I just wanted a little drink before I headed out," she said lightly…a bit too lightly.
Marcus immediately knew she was trying to be evasive. His hand was on his wand in his pocket. Non-verbally he cast an Eradicator tracking spell on the witch. She couldn't feel the subtle magic wash over her. It was made that way.
"I see. Well, I just wanted to say hello," he said, "I imagine I will be seeing you at Hogwarts in class. Hope you're ready for it."
"I am," Hermione said smiling.
"Good. Take care, Miss Granger," the wizard said with a disarming smile. He walked back to his table and sat down.
Hermione finished her drink and walked quickly to the back of the pub which led to the entrance to Diagon Alley. The moment she left, Marcus whispered the incantation that made a translucent map appear floating in the air in front of him. No one else could see it but him. He watched as the footprints of Hermione walked through Diagon Alley to a public apparition point and disappeared. A new map appeared. She was in Hogsmeade.
Marcus ordered another firewhiskey. He wouldn't follow her until she went to a location that was rather private. That was where she would most likely meet up with Snape.
And that's when he could collect his twenty-thousand galleons.
Snape, disguised as an elderly witch with long gray hair, and a pointed hat, watched from across the street as Hermione entered Puddifoot's Tea Shop and took a seat at the designated table near the window. Madam Puddifoot came over with a cup of tea and the pink letter. The wizard looked about carefully to see if anyone was following her. He didn't see anyone. So far so good.
Seated at the table, Hermione opened the frilly pink envelope, opened it and read it. It had the same kind of lettering as the other messages. She scowled.
"I have to go back to Diagon Alley? Good gods," she murmured.
Hermione had to be at Flourish and Blotts book store at precisely seven o'clock and ask for a book called "Finding the Man of Mysteries." She never realized Professor Snape was so literal. First, she had to order a "Bloody Murder" now pick up a book
Hermione drank the hot sweet tea in front of her. It was very good. She noticed however that her hands were shaking. She was afraid. Afraid to see the wizard…afraid he might do something to her. Perhaps Voldemort decided it was time to kill off Harry's friends and she was first on the list.
"No. No. He wants to tell me what happened…not kill me. He could have killed me at any time after I arrived at the Leaky Cauldron if that was what he wanted," she told herself. She didn't sound very convincing.
Hermione looked down at her necklace. Still nothing. She began to wonder if she should have told someone about Snape contacting her. No. She couldn't have done that. There was no one she could have told that wouldn't have tried to capture the wizard. Not even Harry. She knew he said he wouldn't go after the Potions Master, but she was sure if Harry knew precisely where he would be…he'd still go for the wizard. He couldn't be trusted because of his emotions.
Severus disapparated to the next location to wait for Hermione when he saw her finish her tea and rise. The witch discovered her tea had also been paid for in advance. Well, at least the Professor wasn't cheap.
Marcus watched the map change again as Hermione apparated back to Diagon Alley.
"Hm, Snape is really fudging her movements," the wizard mused, watching as the witch loitered in front of a few shops.
"Killing time," the wizard said to himself as he finished his firewhiskey. That was enough liquor. He had work to do.
Snape sat on a rickety chair, waiting for Hermione. He had transformed back into his normal form, but had another bottle of Polyjuice potion for another transformation after he talked to the witch. He looked around the old, dusty room. He chose this place because it was right under the Ministry's nose and had already been investigated several times. It was decided the Potions Master wouldn't hide in such an obvious place. He wouldn't…but it was fine for a short visit. Particularly on a Friday night when Aurors were busy keeping the peace. Fridays could get quite wild in the wizarding world, the weekend warriors coming out in force, wands blazing. There were few people as arrest-worthy as an inebriated witch or wizard with a wand.
Snape sat there, going over what he would say to the witch. He'd have his wand drawn when she arrived, just in case Potter had rubbed off on her and she decided to try and take him herself. It was unlikely, but still possible. He didn't plan to tell her about the journals. She'd no doubt be livid. Just about what happened with he and Albus, how he wanted to help Harry find the Horcruxes and what they were. If it went well, he would contact her again with the precise locations as Voldemort gave them to him. Perhaps…perhaps…
Severus' eyes narrowed. No, the boy was too volatile. No doubt he would try to hex him the moment he saw him. They couldn't work together. This was Potter, not a reasonable human being.
Hermione walked into Flourish and Blotts and straight to the counter. A pimply-faced clerk looked down his nose at her. He was in his early twenties and looked tired. It was near closing time and he couldn't wait.
"May I help you?" he asked the witch.
"Yes. My name is Hermione Granger and I'm here to pick up a book you have on hold for me. It's called, "Finding the Man of Mysteries."
"I'll be right back," the clerk said, walking to the back of the shop. He looked on the shelves that held books for pick-up and after a short search found the book. Hermione's name was taped to it and it was prepaid. He brought it out to her.
"Here you go," he said, sliding the book over the counter to her, "It's already been paid for."
"Thank you," Hermione said, opening the hardcover book. Yes, there was another letter.
This one had only one word on it, and it was in the Professor's handwriting.
"Portis," she said.
Suddenly Hermione was gone. The clerk blinked at the empty spot the witch had disappeared from. She had left her book. Ah well.
He picked it up and returned it to the back. She could pick it up later.
With a gasp, Hermione appeared in a dim room, lit by only one torch.
"Your wand, Miss Granger," a silky voice said as her eyes adjusted.
Before her stood Professor Snape, dressed in his trademark black robes, his wand pointed directly at her heart, his eyes narrowed.
Hermione pulled her wand out of her pocket and handed it to him as she felt her necklace warm and glow. Snape noticed it as well.
"What is that?" he demanded.
"Your signature stone," she said. Then her eyes rounded as she looked down at her necklace.
"Oh my gods…my gods," she breathed, her voice incredulous.
"What are you going on about, witch?" Snape snarled at her. He didn't have time for this. He had to tell her what he had to tell her and get out of here.
Hermione looked at him, then slowly lifted up her necklace so he could see it clearly.
"This is your stone," she said in an awed voice, showing him the gray glowing stone, "but this stone, Professor…this stone holds the signature of Albus Dumbledore.
Snape stared at the blue stone, his eyes widening in disbelief.
It too was glowing.
Suddenly the covered window and wall behind them splintered with a powerful blast, sending both Severus and Hermione flying as Marcus Delaluci entered, his wand drawn, a victorious smile on his face. He trained his wand on Severus, who had dropped his own when he was taken by surprise.
"Easy Snape. Get up. Slow. You're wanted either dead or alive. Take your choice wizard," Marcus breathed.
Severus slowly rose, his black eyes shifting toward his wand which was a short distance away then back to Marcus, who smirked.
"I wish you would try it, Snape," the wizard growled as Hermione stood up, brushed herself off and looked at the wizard in horror.
"Professor Delaluci, how did you get here?" she asked him, shaken. This was terrible.
"A tracking charm. I saw the Professor's little glued note while you were in the Leaky Cauldron and figured he had contacted you. I put a tracking charm on you," he said to the witch, his violet eyes never leaving Severus, "Now come over here and stand behind me. Hurry up."
Hermione obediently walked over to Marcus, moving behind him as he directed. Snape watched her silently. Had she been in on this?
"Don't hurt him, Professor. You…you don't understand. He…he…" she began.
"Shut up, Miss Granger," Severus hissed at her, his black eyes glinting, "I don't need you to defend me."
Really he didn't want her to tell Marcus what they discovered. It would be like signing his death warrant. Voldemort would kill him.
"A good idea. I have to concentrate. So just be quiet," Marcus said in agreement, "Now Snape, I want you to walk out of that broken window. Hold on a moment."
Marcus whispered a spell, hitting Severus with it. The Potions Master's hair blew back slightly but that was all that happened.
"A targeted dampening spell so you can't apparate," the blonde wizard said.
Hermione was staring at Marcus' back. If he turned Severus in, whatever plans he and the Headmaster made would be ruined. She didn't know how she knew this…but she knew. Besides, Professor Snape was a Horcrux. If Marcus killed him, he'd be killing Albus too, and she wouldn't be able to prove anything if they were both dead. Suddenly Hermione leaped on to Marcus' back, covering his eyes with her hands and hanging on.
"Run Professor! Run!" she screamed at the wizard.
Severus didn't have to be told twice. He ran through the broken wall and across the grounds of the shrieking shack. There was a tall fence he'd have to scale, if he could reach it before Marcus threw Hermione off of him.
"Let go of me you crazy bitch!" Marcus snarled, reaching back and grabbing at Hermione's robes, trying to pull her off of him, "You're letting my money get away!"
Finally he back up into the wall hard, banging Hermione against it painfully. The witch let him go. Marcus ran out of the shack and saw Snape fleeing before him. He fired a stunner at the wizard, who zigzagged so it missed. Marcus fired another spell, grazing the Potions Master who slowed, clutching his shoulder, stumbling toward the fence. Shit, this wasn't good.
Marcus slowed to a walk. Snape didn't have his wand plus had a dampening spell on him. His shoulder was injured. He wasn't going anywhere. Those galleons were as good as in the Eradicator's pocket.
"Give up, Snape. You're mine," the wizard said, swaggering toward Severus, who turned, his black eyes hard.
Hermione recovered, grabbed both her own and Severus' wands and ran out of the Shrieking Shack as fast as she could.
"Let him go, professor! You don't understand!" she yelled as she ran toward the wizard.
"I understand fine. I understand he's worth a lot of money to me, witch and you nor anyone else is going to keep me from collecting! Now, don't make me stun you," he said over his shoulder before turning so he could see both her and Snape.
Severus' shoulder was burning and he could hardly move his arm. There was no way he could make it over the fence. Then he looked up. So did Marcus and Hermione.
A small ball of fire was soaring toward them, becoming bigger.
"What the hell?" Marcus said, staring at the approaching flame. It was heading straight for the Potions Master. Everyone was frozen in place as the ball of flame took on a shape. The shape of a large, fiery bird.
"Fawkes," Hermione breathed as the phoenix fluttered over them, ceasing to burn.
He let out a trill, then dropped and grabbed Professor Snape by the shoulders, streaking off with him, flying away quickly, the wizard's hair and robes streaming, whipping in the wind.
Marcus' jaw dropped as did his wand arm as he stared at the disappearing pair.
"What the fuck was that?" he breathed, "Wasn't that Dumbledore's phoenix?"
Hermione walked up and stood beside Marcus, watching as Severus and Fawkes disappeared into the distance.
"Yes," she replied her eyes shining, "Yes it was. And he's protecting Professor Snape."
A/N: And that is the end of Part 1. The next part has to be edited for "explicit" material before I can post it on this site. Hope you enjoyed.