Hello, my dear readers.
This is the long awaited reward story to thank everyone who voted for me in the SSHG awards. For the Only Hope won first place in the WIP category, thanks to everyone who voted. I asked for prompts, and I got one from the dragon and the rose that just caught my imagination. I had to write this story... although I quickly hit a block. More on that below.
A quick note: the italicized porition at the end of the first section is from JKR's twitter. Also, while Harry Potter belongs to her, this story is dedicated to the dragon and the rose for providing the prompt.
But for now, on to the story!
"Expecto Patronum." Hermione Granger's voice was low and confident, and there was a smile woven with the words as her happiness poured out of her wand in pale silver smoke. The witch wasn't in danger; she didn't need to send a message of any type and the last time Dementors had been on the grounds of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry she had been fourteen and helping a fugitive. No, the Patronus she was casting was preparation for the next day's schoolwork. She would be expected to cast a corporeal Patronus for Professor Snape's Defense Against the Dark Arts class the next morning, and although she had been able to cast one since Harry Potter had taught her the winter before in their secret defense group.
Hermione watched the mist with a self-satisfied smile on her face, waiting for her familiar otter to dance before her as it always did. But as the mist settled, the smile slipped from her face.
"Oh no," she breathed. "Oh no."
Before the witch, a silky silvery fox licked its paw daintily, looking up at her with clever, cunning eyes. It arched onto all four feet, padded over to her, nudged her once, then dissipated.
It was a good thing that she was sitting, because if not the girl would have toppled over in surprise.
"What on earth have I managed to do?" she asked weakly.
The Patronus only changes if it's eternal love- unchanging, part of the caster forever.
Dumbledore raised his blackened, useless hand, and examined it with the expression of one being shown an interesting curio. "You have done very well, Severus. How long do you think I have?" Dumbledore's tone was conversational; he might have been asking for a weather forecast or to be reminded of the score of last week's Quidditch match.
Snape hesitated, and then said, "I cannot tell. Maybe a year. There is no halting such a spell forever. It will spread eventually as it is the sort of curse that strengthens over time." His voice was clipped, harsh.
Dumbledore smiled. The news that he had less than a year to live seemed a matter of little or no concern to him. "I am fortunate, extremely fortunate, that I have you, Severus." His tone sent alarms off in Severus' head, warnings that something wasn't right. He was being manipulated, and he could see it as it was happening. Dumbledore draped weakly over his throne like chair, his blue eyes staring up at Severus, his rare praise- the old man was going to ask him to do something, something Severus was quite sure he wouldn't like.
"If you had only summoned me a little earlier, I might have been able to do more, buy you more time!" said Snape furiously. The portion of his mind where he kept his emotions was torn between wishing to be free of Dumbledore's machinations and wishing that it wouldn't have to end in the Headmaster's death. He looked down at the broken ring and the sword. "Did you think that breaking the ring would break the curse?"
"Something like that. . . I was delirious, no doubt. . . " said Dumbledore. With an effort he straightened himself in his chair. "Well, really, this makes matters much more straightforward." Dumbledore smiled. "I refer to the plan Lord Voldemort is revolving around me. His plan to have the poor Malfoy boy murder me."
Apprehension rose swiftly in Severus- there were few people whose safety he cared about. Lucius he owed, and therefore he had promised to do his best by Draco. If his godson's name was upon Dumbledore's lips, the boy was in danger. Although no more danger than he had been in since taking the Dark Mark. He sat down in the chair across from Dumbledore, speaking to occupy the old man as he thought. "The Dark Lord does not expect Draco to succeed. This is merely punishment for Lucius's recent failures. Slow torture for Draco's parents, while they watch him fail and pay the price."
"In short, the boy has had a death sentence pronounced upon him as surely as I have," said Dumbledore. He reminds me of his upcoming death to garner my sympathy. "Now, I should have thought the natural successor to the job, once Draco fails, is yourself?"
There was a short pause. "That, I think, is the Dark Lord's plan." Severus had been well aware that the Dark Lord was expecting this of him. Many sleepless nights had been devoted to trying to think a way around the problem.
"Lord Voldemort foresees a moment in the near future when he will not need a spy at Hogwarts?" A spasm rippled down Severus' arm painfully.
"He believes the school will soon be in his grasp, yes," said Severus slowly.
"And if it does fall into his grasp," said Dumbledore, almost, it seemed, as an aside, "I have your word that you will do all in your power to protect the students at Hogwarts?"
Severus gave a stiff nod. After all he had down to protect the school and the students inside it, to think that he would cease to do so as soon as the students were in more danger than they had ever been before was ridiculous.
"Good. Now then. Your first priority will be to discover what Draco is up to. A frightened teenage boy is a danger to others as well as to himself. Offer him help and guidance, he ought to accept, he likes you—"
"—much less since his father has lost favor," Severus interrupted. "Draco blames me, he thinks I have usurped Lucius's position." Of course he had usurped the role of right hand man, at least as much as a spy ever could. Life as one of the Dark Lord's Death Eaters was dangerous at best and it was far less life-threatening if one was in the Dark Lord's favor. Severus would garner that favor in any way he could, and the potential wrath of a teenaged boy was not enough to deter him.
"All the same, try. I am concerned less for myself than for accidental victims of whatever schemes might occur to the boy. Ultimately, of course, there is only one thing to be done if we are to save him from Lord Voldemort's wrath."
Here it comes. Snape raised his eyebrows and his tone was sardonic as he asked, "Are you intending to let him kill you?" Am I right? Is he going to ask me to do what I think he is?
"Certainly not. You must kill me." The Headmaster's voice was calm and steady, as if he wasn't ordering his own murder.
Severus stared at him coldly. "Gladly. Under certain conditions."
That shocked Dumbledore, to Severus' satisfaction. That had been the goal, after all. "And what would those be?"
"If I'm correct," drawled Severus. "You were planning on keeping this conversation between you, me, and our audience of portraits. Am I wrong?"
Dumbledore frowned at Severus, straightening more and with less effort. "No, you are not. It is essential that it not get out-"
"Why?" interrupted Severus. "I disagree. If I am to continue in assisting the Order after you are gone, then they need to believe that I didn't murder you in cold blood- or, at least know that if I did murder you in cold blood, it was because you ordered me to and not on a whim." He gave the Headmaster a thin, malicious smile. "I'm not a man taken to whims, of course, but you must admit your raggedy band always tries to think the worst of me."
The muscle in Dumbledore's cheek was clenched tightly, and his uninjured hand flexed. "How would you help them?"
"I would still be a spy, Dumbledore," spat Snape. "I won't stop trying to save people just because you are gone. My loyalty is not to you in this war, the risks I take and the penalties I endure are not for your sake alone. At the end of this year, whether you die by my hand or of the curse you just brought upon yourself, I will continue to aid the Order of the Phoenix not because you command me to, but because it is the right thing to do. Therefore, I demand that someone in the Order know what you are asking me to do. Not so that they can see you for the manipulative man you are, but so that I can continue my life's work."
There was silence, punctuated by Dumbledore's still-harsh breathing. Severus' body thrummed with energy, with tension. He was defying him, defying him seriously for the first time in a long time. He is stuck, thought Severus with something bordering on joy. I've trapped him. He either can't make me kill him and hope that I'll do it anyway, or he has to agree to let an Order member know what he's planned.
The Headmaster and the spy locked eyes, taking each other's measure.
Severus blinked. "Well then. Minerva is the obvious choice-"
"I have my own conditions," Dumbledore snapped. "Minerva can't know. She's going to be running the school under you, so she has to believe that you are loyal to the Dark Lord as you will act. It can't be her."
"Kingsley, then," Severus said, only to be interrupted once more.
"I choose," Dumbledore said quickly. "I will choose."
Severus raised an eyebrow. "Very well," he said. "Who then?"
"Give me a week," Dumbledore told him, turning away and leaning back on his chair. As he spoke, he closed his eyes. "I'm tired, I can't make the best decision right now."
Severus stood, looking down at the old man. "I'll return Monday evening."
"Well, Dumbledore? Whom have you chosen?" Severus raised an eyebrow, examining Dumbledore's suspiciously smug face.
The Headmaster leaned forward, a small smile on his lips. "I believe I have come to the perfect compromise. Hermione Granger."
Severus leaned back, his eyes narrowing, mind racing.
Of course he chose Granger. She's not part of the actual Order, so she won't be listened to when they go against me. She's Potter's friend, but the debacle at the Ministry has shown that he doesn't listen to her. When it comes to my innocence, he definitely won't listen to her. At Hogwarts next year there will be little she can do to sway the student body to listen to me. Of course, that is if she and Potter are here next year- it would be a death sentence for them to be in a school controlled by the Dark Lord. So they'll be on the run- and they will need information.
What about Granger herself? Would she believe me? Would she trust me after it was all said and done?
She's smart, brilliant perhaps, but too trusting of authority. Which is exactly why Albus chose her, of course, because she'll be so blinded by his authority that she'll never doubt a word he'd say. Unless I can make her doubt him…
Could I do it? Could Granger actually work?
She might be less trusting of authority after Umbridge- I could use that to my advantage perhaps. It would require spending time with her- unpleasant, but I can use it to shape the narrative to my advantage.
"She's not in the Order," he tried halfheartedly.
"I inducted her yesterday," said Dumbledore quickly. "She is my choice."
Severus scowled at him. "If it's Granger, I want the Defense position this year." He doesn't need to know I'm actually surprisingly okay with this. If I can milk more out of it, I will.
Dumbledore pretended to consider for a moment, then nodded. "Done. I've needed to get Slughorn back for a while anyway."
Drat it. He had probably already been planning on offering me the Defense position this year. Well. At least he feels he came out on top in this scenario. Severus conveniently chose to ignore that Dumbledore probably had come out on top. Well. Other than the fact that he had less than a year to live.
"Very well. I give my word that I will kill you in Draco's place when the time comes, if you allow me to tell Granger about my task."
Dumbledore's eyes narrowed. "I was going to tell her."
Meeting his eyes, Severus scoffed. "And I thought you considered me mildly intelligent. I won't let you twist the story as you normally do. I believe the purpose of this is for the Order to actually accept my help."
The Headmaster peered at Snape over his glasses. "Of course, the Granger girl must decide. You said that you wanted one person to know, and so it will be. But if she chooses not to believe you or chooses not to accept your help, then you may not tell anyone else."
Severus leaned back in his chair, scowling furiously at the Headmaster. "Putting my fate and the fate of the Order into the hands of a teenaged girl?"
"Your fate, Severus?" There was a bite in the blue eyes of the Headmaster and his incredulous voice. "What do you mean, your fate?"
Severus made his face be still, concealing all emotion. "If I survive this dratted war then she can testify that you commanded me to kill you. If the word gets out without the truth behind it, the general populace would want my head. It would be something, don't you agree Headmaster, for me to survive life under your thumb and the Dark Lord's for twenty years only to be convicted by the Wizengamot?"
Dumbledore raised his eyebrows. "Don't tell me you're expecting to survive, my dear boy? I thought you had yourself firmly convinced that you wouldn't see the end of this mess."
Severus looked away. "You know I must plan for all eventualities, even the unlikely ones."
There was a long silence, broken by a timid knock at the door. Dumbledore straightened in his chair, shaking out his robes to cover his blackened hand before tucking it under the desk and out of sight. "Come in, Miss Granger."
He's asked the dratted girl to come in now. When he glared at the Headmaster, he shrugged. "Truthfully, I expected you to storm out the minute you heard the girl's name," he murmured. "I thought you'd be long gone by now."
Hermione Granger stepped through the doorway, her eyes taking in the office curiously. They lingered on the sleeping Fawkes, on the puffing and slightly dented silver instruments behind Dumbledore, on the perfect view of the Quidditch pitch outside Dumbledore's window (despite the fact that the tour faced the opposite direction). Snape steeled himself for her examination, gritting his teeth. As he expected, her eyes lingered on him the longest.
"This is not a museum and I am not here for your perusal, Miss Granger. If you would be seated." His voice was cold and impetuous, with just a shade more contempt that what he used for his Potions students.
The girl blushed, then took the other seat in front of Dumbledore's desk. "You wanted to see me, Headmaster?" She kept her gaze steadily on the Headmaster, even as the red faded from her cheeks.
"Yes, yes," Dumbledore said, smiling benevolently at her. "I called you here because I believe you can play a role of great importance for the Order. If you agree, I will be giving you some information far beyond what the average Order member knows, and I will need you to keep it secret."
Next to him he could feel the girl's excitement, but to his surprise there was also trepidation. "I don't see why I would be the choice for this, Headmaster."
The smile didn't falter. "Nevertheless, my dear, I need you to swear an oath of confidence."
Severus held up a hand. "You are forgetting, Headmaster, that her purpose is not to keep it quiet," he drawled, annoyance dripping from his words. "Her purpose is to be witness and share the information. Therefore, swearing an oath on her magic, as you were no doubt about to ask her to do, would be counterproductive. No oath."
For the moment that Hermione's gaze was off the Headmaster and on Severus, Severus was treated to a black expression from Dumbledore. He met the girl's eyes, raising an eyebrow expectantly. She flushed again and turned back to the Headmaster, who was once again a friendly grandfather figure.
He forced a chuckle. "Look at me in my old age," he said to Hermione jokingly. "Severus is, of course, correct. But I will need to ask you to use your considerable intelligence and prudence to decided when and to whom to divulge what I am about to tell you. Also, I will require that you attend Occlumency lessons with Severus, so that we can be sure that you can defend this information from the prying eyes of others if need be."
Well, he thinks that this is to punish me… but I think it'll serve my purposes quite well to be 'forced' to spend time with the girl. More time for her to trust me, and legitimate opportunities to look in her mind. Excellent. Severus scowled at Dumbledore, then turned his gaze to the girl.
Despite the fact that he had just snapped at her for examining him, Severus was now doing the same to Hermione. He took note of her furrowed brow, the way she was worrying at her lip, the thinking that was obviously taking place behind her eyes. At least she's actually thinking about this.
"I agree," Hermione said finally.
Severus watched, silent, as Dumbledore showed her his withered hand, as he explained that he had contracted a curse and was not expected to live out the year, how Draco Malfoy had been assigned to kill him. He watched Granger's horror, the worry that immediately took hold in her face and posture. As the big reveal approached, he became tenser and tenser.
"And so, to spare Draco's soul and for my own sake, I have asked Severus to take my life with the time comes," Dumbledore said, a note of sad finality in his voice. "I've thought long and hard about this, and both Severus and I agree that it is best if it is him and not Draco. Killing rips apart the soul, my dear girl, and I want to save your young classmate from that awful fate."
Hermione leaned back in the chair, her eyes wide. "But what about Professor Snape's soul?" she asked quietly. "What about him?"
Severus was so floored by her question he barely heard Dumbledore's answer.
"Only Severus knows if helping an old man avoid pain and humiliation will hurt his soul," he heard, as if he was underwater and Dumbledore was far away. "It will be a killing of mercy, my dear, not of hate."
Abruptly Severus stood, moving toward the window so he wouldn't have to look at either of them. Dimly he could hear Hermione questioning the Headmaster asking him why he was telling her this.
"Because, my child, the Ministry will soon fall, Hogwarts will fall. After he kills me, Severus will be publically declaring his allegiance to the Dark and severing all but one connection with the Light- and that connection will by you."
"He will be running the school, and will have very few opportunities to get information to you. For his sake, it is important that the Order believe that Severus was a traitor, that he has turned on them. When he gives you information, you must be the one to pass it along. Be creative with your sources."
"And when it's all over, I'll make sure he is exonerated too," Hermione added. "That the world will know he was a hero."
Severus scoffed, making both of them turn to him. "I'm no hero, Miss Granger. I am a Death Eater."
She met his eyes squarely. He had never noticed that they were the color of whiskey when the firelight hit the tumbler in the right way and illuminated the richness of the liquid. "And yet, here you are."
"Your first Occlumency lesson will be on Thursday," he said finally. "Are you staying at the Burrow?"
Hermione nodded. "Yes, sir."
"Can you Floo to Hogwarts?"
She hesitated for a moment. "I would have to get some Floo powder," she said, glancing at Dumbledore. "I wouldn't want to impose on the Weasleys."
"Consider it taken care of," Dumbledore said jovially.
Sweeping to the door, Severus donned his cape and held open the door. "Be at my office by six on Thursday," he said sternly, and left.
That night Severus sat in his worn armchair, a glass of Firewhiskey between his long, thin fingers. He was staring into the fire, thinking hard about one Hermione Granger.
What did he want from the arrangement? Part of why he had asked Dumbledore to allow someone to know what had been asked of him was to rile the Headmaster, that had been true.
Another reason was to save his own skin. Slytherins were very against the idea of self-sacrifice- it was more of a Gryffindor ideal. There was a very low chance of his survival, but in the event that he did survive, he didn't want to live out the rest of his days in Azkaban or soulless.
But something the girl had said rankled at him- she had called him a hero. Would that be the way others saw him? No. The girl was foolish and idealistic and unrealistic. She had campaigned to save the house-elves for Merlin's sake. When it came to the downtrodden and mistreated, she was worse than Hagrid when confronted with a dangerous creature. No. When other heard about what he had done, they would grudgingly exonerate him, but they would never, never claim his as a hero.
The confrontation had disturbed him, but nothing had bothered him more than the question she had asked. "And what about Professor Snape's soul? What about him?" When was the last time someone had asked after his welfare, had been concerned about him? Poppy, maybe, but that was her job. Lily, perhaps. But that disaster had ended more than twenty years ago, with one word, the taste of soap in his mouth and the desperation that led him to humiliate himself by sleeping outside of Gryffindor Tower every night.
How would he deal with Granger?
Well, the first question that any self-respecting Slytherin should ask would be, what did he want from this situation?
Severus was not sure. He had not planned for Dumbledore to ask him for death, he had not planned to bring someone else into the twisted relationship he had with the Headmaster. He knew he hated the old man as much as he relied on him for validation and for absolution. Atonement. Albus Dumbledore was his atonement for the wrongs he had done. He subjugated himself to another master to atone for his sins, a master he hated rather than worshiped. And now Granger was involved, at his request.
Maybe he had wanted someone else to know, though. Maybe he had wanted someone else in the Order to know how dark and twisted their great leader really was. Granger really was the perfect choice for that too- Dumbledore had unknowingly chosen the one person whom everyone thought had perfect respect for authority. But Hermione Granger had set him on fire without hesitation at twelve years old. If she thought authority was corrupt, she would fight to end it.
Was that what he wanted?
He didn't know.
Severus tapped long fingers on his desk impatiently, scowling at the door. His office was, for once, well lit, and he had magically raised it to a comfortable temperature. It made him uncomfortable- he was making an attempt to make the space he usually used to intimidate comfortable of all things. Just for her.
At six exactly, two quick knocks came on the door.
"Enter," called Severus, his voice curt but not hostile.
She did so promptly, slipping inside and closing the door with a soft click. Hermione's hair was pulled back into a braid, leaving her face free for his inspection. He could see traces of nerves in the way she was worrying her lower lip and the way she quickly sat down and fixed her skirt.
Severus sighed, leaning back in his chair. "Miss Granger, I do not bite." Her eyes flicked up to his, then down. He tried again. "Although I understand why you have reason to distrust me from our past interactions, now we are meeting under a very different context."
This time she actually met his eyes. "You're teaching me Occlumency, sir. How is this different from the interactions a Potions teacher and student have?"
He hesitated for the briefest second. Once he answered, there would be a revelation if she was clever enough to see it, which she was. He might as well use it to his advantage. "Occlumency teaches you how to protect your mind, which requires me entering your mind and viewing your memories. I will even be letting you into my own mind, so you can see how I've constructed my defenses. I will become familiar with your best and worst memories, your most mundane memories, your embarrassing thoughts and your deepest fears, almost intimately so. It will be very different from knowing you just as a student in my Potions class. There I am concerned with your potion, that you are following the steps, that you are absorbing the information. I watch your hands. In this room, I will get to know you as Hermione Granger, not as just another student creating just another potion."
Her face tilted up to him, absorbing his words with an intensity that let him know she was committing what he said to memory. "That makes sense," she said, drawing out the words carefully. The slowness of her speech did not fool him- she was taking her time so that she could use the extra seconds to let her thoughts race ahead and form into tangible words. He did the same thing at times. "Except for one detail, Professor."
Severus arched one eyebrow imperiously. "And what would that be, Miss Granger?" he drawled, glad that he had anticipated this foray.
"Harry Potter," she answered sharply, leaning back in her own chair. She was proud of herself for catching it. "If that's the way to teach Occlumency, then why did you teach him like that last year?"
Severus gave her a thin smile. "I wasn't trying to teach Mr. Potter Occlumency," he said simply.
"Why?" asked Hermione.
"Guess," he prompted her. "Let me see how your mind works."
Hermione frowned slightly, but by the slight flush in her cheeks and the way she twined a curl around the fingers of her right hand, he knew that she was tempted by the problem. "The first question is what you were doing if you weren't teaching Occlumency," she said. He could hear every word but her voice hummed along like a murmur, continuous and with few inflections. "I'd go with what Harry's gut reaction was after every lesson- he felt as if his mind was weaker. He had more dreams after lessons. So you weren't strengthening his mind's defenses, you were weakening them."
"Correct," Severus said with a nod. "Continue. You've not yet answered the question."
To his surprise, she held up a slender finger. "I wasn't done yet," she said, a trace of humor in her tone. "Now. I was getting to that. Why would you weaken Harry's mind? Most people would stop at that, and assume you did so for your own purposes. I would go a step farther- you are a double agent, you answer to two masters. So which master asked you to do so? And to answer that question, who benefited from Harry continuing with the dreams? Well, Lord-"
"Do not say his name," Severus interrupted. When he caught the mulish set of her jaw, he shook his head. "Please, Miss Granger. With the Mark, it causes physical pain."
Hermione bit her lip. "I wasn't aware," she said quietly. "I'll refrain."
"Thank you," Severus said, inclining his head gravely. "You were on the right track. If you would like to finish?"
She nodded, jumping right back into the flow of her thoughts. "Right. So, You-Know-Who has been revealed. Every wizarding headline across the world was shouting that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named has returned to Britain. Headmaster Dumbledore was reinstated to the Wizengamot, the new Minister for Magic asks his advice, and he was validated after a year of humiliation. I'd say that he came out on top in this one." Hermione tilted her head, meeting Severus' eyes. "So… my conclusion is that Headmaster Dumbledore asked you to give Harry lessons to weaken his mind… and when you informed You-Know-Who, you let him believe it was his idea."
"Impressive," Severus said bluntly. "Except for one thing- you were right because of luck. You guessed on the right things."
Hermione lifted both her eyebrows. "That's what I'm good at," she answered. "Making the right guess. Following the right trail."
"I'm guessing that you're very good at Arithmancy," Severus said after a moment. "Sorting out the future, past, and present through numbers, logic, and magic. You have a natural talent for it, am I right?"
Hermione's brow wrinkled. "So wait- me figuring that out was magic, not logic?"
"That isn't what I said," Severus corrected. "But I wouldn't be surprised if you had a spark of talent that helped." He shrugged. "Everyone has something that their magic helps with. Some people make better potions than others, even if they follow the exact same steps. A great Potions Master instinctively knows how to tilt the wrist with a stir, will pour in the next ingredient at the precise hundredth of a second that makes the potion its best. It's a mix of talent and magic and intuition and muscle memory. I'm simply suggesting you have the same kind of talent with Arithmancy and solving tricky problems."
"I'll have to think about that," Hermione said quietly. "But how right was I?"
Severus was unware that he was tracing his lips with his index finger as he thought. "The Headmaster did indeed ask me to weaken Mr. Potter's mind," he said finally. "He had his reasons; he always does. It worked out for him this time, but it was a real risk."
She had wound her curl tightly around her finger, and now she released it. The strand of hair bounced against her collarbone gently. "But we are doing something different," she said quietly. "More like what my research into Occlumency said teaching should be."
Severus nodded, and moved his chair closer to his desk, resting his elbows on the wood. "Lean forward, Miss Granger, and make eye contact with me," he instructed. "We shall begin."
She copied his posture, leaning forward and supporting herself with her elbows on his desk. Shyly, her eyes flicked up and met his. They were a clear brown, almost illuminated from some sort of inner sunlight, and framed with long curling lashes.
Hermione left the dungeons with her head spinning dangerously, her feet tracing a familiar route to the doors of the library without her knowledge. She hesitated for only a moment, before pushing open the heavy doors and slipping inside. Madam Pince was nowhere to be found, so Hermione quietly crept into the stacks, finding her favorite window niche. She had never sat there with the summer sun shining down- the red velvet was worn and warm. She pulled up her knees and gazed out the window, down at the lake, full of ripples as Hagrid tossed in something for the giant squid to feed upon.
Her eyes welled with quiet tears.
How much suffering had Severus Snape known?
The lesson had started with him entering her mind, just a brush. She hadn't even felt it, which he had promptly told her was the problem. Then he had shown her what a full intrusion looked like, rifling through her memories as if they were on a Rolodex. That had left her dizzy and with a full feeling in her head, as if her brain had grown a size.
They had taken a break then. He had handed her water, which she downed quickly, nervously. Despite all that he had said, she was still made nervous by his presence.
Finally, she had was granted access to his mind. He had started in hers, then had pulled her into his eyes. They were a grey so deep it was almost black, and falling into them had felt endless and terrifying. Then he had shown her his defenses, how he had made layers of surface thoughts and layers of memory and layers of hidden defenses. His mind was so complex- she had never seen anything like it.
But as she had been taken through his mind she had seen and heard snippets of memories and thoughts. There was the sound of fighting adults, of a child's quiet whimper. There were red tinged memories of pain and broken bones, of humiliation and pain.
He hadn't meant for her to see it all, of course. It had just happened. He had admitted that he had never taken anyone through his mind in that way before, and he didn't know what to expect. She wondered what he had seen in her mind.
Hermione wiped her eyes carefully, shivering slightly despite the sunlight streaming in the window. What strange territory was she wandering into? Gods, when the Headmaster had asked her to come to his office, she hadn't expected Professor Snape to be there, and she hadn't expected to be thrown into the intrigue on his side of the war.
And she hadn't expected to like Professor Snape.
He wasn't that bad, it seemed. Scary, sure. Intimidating, sarcastic, cold, yes, he was all of those things. But for some reason… she didn't mind overmuch. She kept thinking what she had thought when Dumbledore had first explained it to her- the Headmaster had seemed so concerned for the state of Draco's soul, he hadn't given a thought to the soul of Severus Snape.
Well, if he wouldn't, she would.
Because she had seen what the Headmaster hadn't, and that was hope. Hope that he would survive the war, hope that he would be pardoned, hope that his soul would see the light of day again. She would make sure it would, no doubt about it.
With that, Hermione Granger stood from her seat and slipped out of the library unnoticed, going out into the bright summer's day with new determination.
"And you, Miss Granger." The cold voice that called her to the front of the class, made Hermione wish to sink down through her chair and deep into the earth. The last thing she wanted to do was the face the man who was the cause of all the trouble.
Hermione stood, but she did not move to leave her desk. "I'm sorry, Professor Snape," she said quietly. "I am unable to cast a Patronus."
A murmur spread throughout the class, making shame prickle Hermione's cheeks. The know-it-all, not knowing something? It was certainly cause for exclaim, at least until the cold eyes of the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor swept over the crowd, quieting her fellow students.
She refused to look at him, but she could feel the curl of his lip in his words. "A mist of any sort will give you a passing grade," drawled the professor condescendingly. "Even if you cannot bring it to form. A failure to attempt will result in a zero."
Hermione nodded once. "Yes, Professor," she whispered, and sat down, to a chorus of gasps. Ron gaped at her, and Harry shook his head.
"You can do a Patronus, Hermione, I know you can," he said under his breath. "I've seen you-"
"Be quiet, Mr. Potter. If Miss Granger wishes to accept a failing grade, she may have it," said Professor Snape coldly. "Miss Greengrass."
Hermione stared at her desk with burning cheeks as all of her classmates successfully produced at least a cloud of mist. She looked so miserable that Ron's cheerful terrier liked her face worriedly, causing Ron to blush. When Blaise Zabini had gone, Professor Snape closed his grade book and went to the front of the class.
"A mediocre, but not unexpected showing today. Those of you who produced only mist, write one foot each on the proper wand movements for a Patronus, the proper intent behind a Patronus, and the situations in which a Patronus may be useful. If you managed to produce a corporeal Patronus, only the last is required from you. If you produced nothing-" and here there was a curl of his lip- "remain after class. Dismissed."
Hermione had been the only one who had produced nothing. In moments, the classroom had emptied and she faced Professor Snape alone.
When the door shut behind the last student, she rose and slung her bag over her shoulder, approaching his desk. Professor Snape leaned against the hard wood, arms crossed over his chest. On his harsh features was a frown of worry, a look that would have been unimaginable to one who was not aware of the friendship between the teacher and student.
Over the summer and the beginning of the school year, Severus Snape and Hermione Granger had met twice a week, for Occlumency lessons. After one particularly grueling session, he had offered her tea, and from then on it was Occlumency lessons and a discussion over tea. Books, theories, politics… and then history. To be more specific, Severus' personal history. It had been in August that he had revealed his purpose to her, asking her to be the keeper of his story, in the event that he survived and was granted a trial. By the end of the summer there was little he did not know of her or she of him- and he had succeeded in not only turning her to his side but befriending her. It was a strange friendship, and both were aware of its oddity- but to his surprise and hers it worked surprisingly well.
"That wasn't like you, Hermione. It isn't like you to not perform in class, it isn't like you to draw attention to yourself, and I want an answer."
Hermione sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose, a gesture she was unaware she had picked up from him. "Casting a Patronus would have drawn more attention to myself," she admitted quietly. "I didn't want to risk it."
"Why?" demanded Severus.
Hermione glanced up at him, then back down. "Do you know anything about my Patronus?" she asked meekly. Her heart was beating far too fast.
"It is an otter, if I remember correctly," he said, his frown deepening. "Cast one now."
Hermione took a shaky breath, closed her eyes, and cast, half hoping what she had seen the night before had been a product of weariness and her imagination. But no, when she opened her eyes, a sleek, silvery fox was investigating Severus. Finding no apparent danger, it turned around him once then disappeared.
When she finally managed to look at Severus' face, she swallowed hard. He looked… shocked. Shocked and a bit embarrassed.
"That… was not an otter," he said finally. "I see the problem."
Hermione nodded, her cheeks flaming. "I didn't want too many questions," she said softly.
Something in his face changed- the shock dissipated and a cold neutrality dropped. "I'll give you full credit for the day," he said finally. "I understand you not wanting your friends prying into your love life."
"You don't need to do that," Hermione said, embarrassed. "I didn't do it in class, after all."
"Fine, then I won't," Severus snapped, shocking her with the nastiness in his voice. He had stopped being truly cruel to her a long time ago- this was not what she had expected. "You're dismissed."
Stunned and a little confused, Hermione left the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. Why had he reacted like that?
Had he realized that her Patronus had changed because of him?
So ends Part One.
The problem is, not a word of part two has been written yet. So... what do you want to see? I have a general idea of where it will go and some scenes I want to write for it, but I'm open to ideas and suggestions.
Thanks for reading, and the next part should be up... well, sometime in August probably. Also, next update for FTOH will be on Friday.