How do you stay strong?
How did you hide it all for so long?
How can I take the pain away?
How can I save
A Fallen Angel, in the dark.
Never thought you'd fall so far,
Fallen Angel, close your eyes.
I won't let you fall tonight, Fallen Angel.
-Fallen Angel, Three Days Grace
Chapter 25: How Did You Hide It All For So Long, A Fallen Angel.
It was completely and utterly impossible and yet there it had been right before his eyes, heard it with his own ears, and he still could not wrap his head around what he had just witnessed. Severus was pacing his rooms at a rate that a trail was threatening to become visible across the rugs, while completely neglecting the visit he should have paid the Headmaster upon his return.
Dropping into his favorite chair, he began to sift through what he knew. On one hand there was Nemo, a rarely glimpsed person who was persistent in interfering with the Dark Lord's plans at every opportunity – who also had succeeded in ousting his undercover death eaters, ones that the light had had no clue of even being there until they had killed at least three of his followers.
On the other hand, there was Granger. The brash, but no less bright, young witch, who had entrenched herself more and more into his life with each passing year and was intent on keeping her friends from trouble. The Muggleborn who had befriended the young Malfoy, in some twist of fate, that had Severus truly hoping her influence might lead him away from the mistakes of his grandfather, father and Godfather.
He had thought he had this figured out, yet now things were clearer and yet still failed to make sense. Granger was Nemo. He kept insisting that he should have seen it, but in truth he knew there was no way he could have guessed anything close to what was. Nemo, even in disguise, had obviously been a highly skilled adult - not the Hermione Granger that had received a Hogwarts letter five years ago.
At one-point Severus had even theorized that he might have been a squib. After all, until the end of last year he had never witnessed Nemo preforming any type of magic apart from claims of memory alteration, which in all honesty could have been done by a third party. Nemo must have replaced the girl at some point, the summer before her third year coming to mind.
He still did not know how Nemo had managed to fool Granger's friends into believing she was their friend, or why Nemo looked so much like Granger.
Maybe she really was Granger's sister, as her neighbor had claimed, an older sister who had gone to school somewhere besides Hogwarts. Maybe Beauxbatons Academy, given De Vincent's claim of being French or Durmstrang, seeing as she had admitted to him just last year that she could read Russian.
Standing, the Potions Master moved to retrieve his Pensieve. He had gone over the few memories he had of Nemo countless times, and now he had a different perspective.
Looking back now at memories of the first time Nemo had been brought up, he could see that both he and Dumbledore had played right into Lupin's cover for Nemo. The werewolf had been the one feeding them most of their information to begin with.
"I can't say for sure, Albus," Lupin said hesitantly, seeming truly at a loss of any details. "He showed up one night after my transformation. He told me to consider the rat and left. I never saw his face or even heard his real voice."
"I see. Did he give you a name? Who he worked for, anything?"
"No," Lupin said, shaking his head before a thought seemed to cross his mind. "Wait, he did say one thing. He told me to call him 'Nemo'."
Reviewing the memory now, Severus could only scowl. Lupin seemed to have been deliberately trying to fit as many references to 'he' or 'his' as he could in just a few sentences. 'He told me', 'He showed up'; the wolf had thrown them off the scent so easily and Severus had a vile taste in his mouth admitting it. Even before the three teens had left, Granger and Lupin could be seen sharing almost amused looks, even as Granger posed insightful explanations in the form of questions.
The clues had been right there, Severus seethed, yanking himself from his Pensieve to begin pacing the rooms again. Now it made sense why De Vincent's neighbor had never seen any other men at her house, save Black and Lupin, and why she thought Granger and De Vincent were related. Granger, De Vincent, and Nemo, with the clever use of subtle glamours, were all the same person.
Granger had been so careful when talking. "No, I don't think a third year would have a chance against Sirius Black," she had said that first morning he had met her running two years ago, avoiding mentioning herself in the statement instead referring to third years in general. Again, when she had been questioned about entering the Tri-Wizard Tournament, she never denied entering herself, just merely stated she had not wanted to enter.
The clock in his sitting room chimed. If he did not hurry, he was going to be late for breakfast. He had been up all night pondering over the situation and still did not know what he was going to do. Dumbledore would want to know this development, yet he was hesitating in going to the Headmaster with this information. He wanted answers, real answers, and his instinct was telling him if he went to Dumbledore now he may never find out the whole truth. He would watch and wait for now. Hurrying to change into a fresh set of teaching robes, the Potion Master set off to speak with the Headmaster. He still did not know what the commotion with Potter and the Weasleys had been last night and was still due to check in after his meeting.
Hermione was panting when she woke from a fitful sleep. Wincing as she stood from her bed, her pajama shirt was sticking and clingy from sweat and there was a dark splotch seeping through one side. Covering the stain, she glanced around the room. Pavarti and Brown were gone. Pulling on a dressing gown, she gathered up her school clothes, a bag, and a first aid kit from her trunk, and headed to the nearest Prefect bathroom that would guarantee her privacy.
Once in, she quickly and gingerly stripped off her pajama top. The bandages she had put on last night were soiled with a bloody drainage. Removing the bandage, she was met with the results of the night's activities. A five-inch-long slice ran from around her right side, almost to her navel. The skin around the edges was turning an unsettling shade of blackened purple. Curtesy of whatever spell Dolahov had hit her with, it wasn't one she recognized. There were also many other scrapes and bruises on her arms and hands from grappling one of the death eaters in the ruins of a demolished desk. A large bruise and wood splinters were scattered across her upper back from being thrown over a desk. She could not do much about those now, as she would need help removing the splinters before they began to fester.
Though she cleaned up as best she could, the yarrow salve she had put on last night had not sealed the wound like it was supposed to, and the gash was still draining freely enough that it was starting to become a danger. Digging in the first aid kit, she pulled out the mostly-empty jar of murtlap essence. Hopefully it worked better than the last medicine she had tried; she was not skilled in healing magical wounds like she was the more mundane versions. She bandaged her torso again before getting dressed in her school robes. She just needed to keep herself going through classes today until she left school tomorrow.
While drinking down one of the few bottles of potion she had, as well as a blood replenisher and a couple of white pills, she finally felt steady enough to head down for a late breakfast.
When she finally made her way down to the Great Hall, Hermione had found that between the pain killers and blood replenisher, she was able to move freely enough that her injured state was not overly noticeable. Taking her seat, it became obvious now that there was a lack of red heads in the breakfast crowd.
"What's wrong with you?" she asked Neville, who looked almost as tired as Hermione herself felt.
"Harry woke us all up screaming this morning." the shy boy said before being cut off by Seamus, who was looking more awake.
"Some bad dream about Ron's dad, then Fred and George came in looking for Ron. Apparently, it was some family emergency and McGonagall wanted them all. Harry insisted on going with them to the Headmaster's. They all left together, I suspect."
"Must have been serious," Neville said sheepishly, as if hesitant to give his opinion of the situation. "I'm sure they didn't mean to forget you."
"I hope everything is okay," she said, and tried to mask the roll of nausea that came upon her after only a couple bites of the bland porridge she was having. She couldn't risk throwing up now - the convulsions would tear out her stitches for sure.
"You alright, Hermione?" Neville asked, evidently worried. "You look a little pale."
"Yeah," she said, swallowing hard. She pushed the bowl away. "I think I might be coming down with something."
"You should go see Madame Pomfrey then," Neville said. "It would be a bummer to start off the winter halls sick. I could go with you, you know, if-if you want me too." He seemed to be trying to step up and fill in the gap left by her friends' sudden departure.
"Thanks, Neville," she said, and stood up from her seat as steadily as she could manage. "But I'll be fine by myself."
She did her best to walk out of the hall without losing what little breakfast she had eaten. Thankfully they only had morning classes today; after lunch, everyone would be left free to start packing their things to return home tomorrow. She just needed to last until then, when she could go back to bed. She just needed some rest.
Slipping down a secluded hall, Hermione leaned against the cool stone, where a wave of tiredness suddenly crashed down on her. She wiped a sleeve across her fevered face, trying to dry away the gathering perspiration. Pulling out her locket, having not checked it that morning; she found several messages flashing on and off the inner frames.
SB(2:49) on the left frame was a reply from Sirius shortly after she had dropped Arthur at the hospital. The words 'On it!' were on the right frame before fading away, only to be replaced by another.
SB(3:10): MW and I at Mungo. AD already waking kids.
SB(3:46): Are you alright? Harry is here too, don't worry.
RL(6:23): How are you? Going to meet Sirius.
RL(7:37): Hermione, why aren't you replying?!
SB(7:52): ANSWER OR I'M COMING TO DRAG YOU TO A HEALER!
Hermione wiped her thumb over the locket face, clearing the messages as they began to repeat before sending her own.
SB(7:56)I am fine, slept late. Stop panicking.
RL(7:57)Just tired, how is Arthur?
Closing the locket, she tucked it back in the collar of her vest and loosened the tie that was beginning to feel like it was strangling her. Making a last-minute decision, she shifted her glamour to hide the gathering perspiration on her brow and added more color to paling skin. It was either that or getting sent to Pomfrey's for real, and that was not an option.
Pushing off the comfortingly cool wall, she headed down the hall to History of Magic. Much of the next hour was spent in a history induced daze, which wasn't much different than the rest of the class. Neville's hand on her shoulder startled her awake with a jerk only to realize class had ended, and most of the other students had already stumbled out in their usual post history nap daze.
"Thanks," she mumbled, shaking her head to clear it before stuffing her textbook into her bag.
"What did Madame Pomfrey say?"
"It's a little bug, it'll be gone by tomorrow," she replied, clearing her throat and digging around in her bag as they left the classroom.
"You didn't go, did you?" he reprimanded when Hermione pulled the tie out of her bag and began redoing it around her neck as they made their way down to the Dungeon.
"Madame Pomfrey would make me miss class and we only have the two today. I can go to class, see Pomfrey about getting something for this bug, and then sleep the rest of the day. That way I won't fall behind."
"You know, it's okay to slack off once in a while," Neville grumbled back at Hermione's stubbornness as they walked into Potion's class.
Potion's was a far more uncomfortable class than history had been. Her jerky return to consciousness at the end of her last class had strained something. She was in no rush, unlike her classmates, to jump up and leave. Moving from her seat wasn't something that she was looking forward too. Malfoy had given her an analyzing glance when she and Neville had first sat down at their work station, but apart from that he had not so much as said a word to her and had left with the first wave of students. Neville stood to leave but lingered in the doorway, no doubt intending to escort her to the hospital wing if needed.
"Granger, remain behind," Snape ordered before disappearing into his office. She waved Neville off before Seamus came and dragged him to lunch. Hermione groaned, resting her head against the stone work top. Of all days that Snape wanted to speak with her outside of their usual scheduled time, he had to choose now. Roughly shoving her papers in her bag, she dug out another pair of white pills and dry swallowed them. Then she stood from her seat, but almost immediately stumbled.
Her vision went black for a terrifying moment as pain flared up, and Hermione teetered on the edge as her body tried to decide if it was capable of remaining up right. But after a blink, her vision was back and she caught herself on the edge of the worktop before her legs could collapse. Her hand was clamped over her mouth, silencing a cry, while her other held at the solid surface. She was sure now she needed to make this meeting go as fast as possible. There was something dangerously wrong with her. Not only had the last round of painkillers begun to wear off and at least a few of her stitches had been torn, but something was wrong with her. It wasn't just her side hurting now, but rivers of pain seemed to be spreading up her chest and down her leg like veins of liquid fire.
She needed to get this meeting over with and contact Remus. If she could get to the passage to Honey Dukes, he could pick her up without anyone the wiser. Excuses could be made later for her disappearance. Taking a deep breath, Hermione reluctantly released the tabletop and straightened her clothes as best she could before strolling into the Potion Master's office. The man was sat behind his desk like usual, though the surface was free of any papers, leaving the area clear for the elbows he had propped there. She entered in her usual pace and took the seat opposite him. She dropped her bag on the floor and leaned back in the seat carefully, the bits of wood and scrapes on her back aching at the movement.
"I know you must be eager to get on with your winter halls," he said, leaning back in his chair. Hermione had to keep herself from snorting; that was an understatement. "But an unavoidable matter has arisen," he continued, "and will need to be resolved before your departure."
She looked over him and paused. Something was… off. Relaxed Snape and an 'unavoidable matter' usually did not coexist at the same time, and when they did, he was usually up to something. Taking in his posture, mind muddled by the painkillers as she realized belatedly, his hands were not visible to her, and for some reason she knew that should be bad.
"Sir?" she asked, before her brain finally began to send off warning signs and her eyes jumped to his face.
"Finite Incantetum," Hermione flinched on reflex as the spell hit, layers of carefully constructed glamours peeling away like a serpent's old skin.
Her first instinct was sheer panic as fight or flight instincts went into overdrive. She couldn't fight, not in her condition, but she could grit through the pain and make a run for it. The door was still open; a few flights of stairs and several turns and she would be down the One-Eyed Witch passage and out of the school before Snape could tell anyone.
She quickly squashed the instinct down with a shake of her head. She had to calm down. A deep breath and a glance over Snape's features showed no signs that he was surprised by the outcome of his spell. If Snape had wanted to hurt her, he would have done so. The same could be said for informing Dumbledore. Seeing as they were not currently having this interaction in the Headmaster's office, she guessed the man had not told the Headmaster.
She closed her eyes and leaned back in the chair with a relieved sigh. Snape was curious; it was the only explanation to why Dumbledore was not here now or a group of Aurors. A curious Snape she could deal with, and maybe, just maybe, get out of here with her cover mostly intact.
There was a thud and a click after a few moments as the door closed and locked - her chance at escape was gone. The silence stretched out between them, both waiting to see who would make the first move. At any other time, Hermione would have been happy to sit there in a silent glaring session with the man, but not today. With a resigned sigh, she shifted gingerly and opened her eyes to meet the dark-haired man's before her.
"How long have you known?" she asked softly.
Hermione flinched at the tone of cold, calculating indifference, his Spy persona in full effect. He was treating her like he might any other foe; not a friend, not a colleague, not even as a student. An enemy who had information he required and was going to extract it any way he could. It was enough to cause her to sit up straighter in her seat, yet wince as she did so.
"Sorry you had to find out this way," she said with a small smile, pulling on her own masquerade of self-confidence. There had to be a way for her to salvage this situation. "I was hoping to be further along in my plans before you found out."
"And what plans might those be, Ms. Granger?" he asked shortly. "Or is it Ms. De Vincent? Maybe I should simply call you Nemo." Each name that fell from his lips was another stab at her.
"Granger would be most appropriate, given it is my name," she said quietly. He wasn't supposed to find out like this. She had wanted to tell him herself. To not do so was a risk of losing any chance of keeping a civil relationship with the man and she knew it.
"Is it now?"
"It is," she agreed, scoffing. "Sirius got the idea stuck in his head that I needed a nickname. We came up with Nemo, and it stuck and evolved from there." Honesty seemed to be the best bet here.
"And De Vincent?"
"Simply an alias. De Vincent is as much my name as Voldy is old snake face's."
A strange look crossed Snape's face for the briefest of moments before he continued his interrogation. "You're awfully forthcoming about all this."
"Forthcoming about what? I haven't told you anything you couldn't work out on your own, Severus." With his name falling out without a second thought, her secret was out. There was no use in censoring herself any longer.
"And so I have," he said in a dry tone that suggested he was not surprised. "And you have avoided the question. What precisely are your plans?"
"Well isn't that the question of the year?" she shot back sarcastically, blinking as her vision became hazy on the edges again. She shook her head. "Or should that be, why haven't you told Dumbledore?"
"Who says the Headmaster isn't aware of everything I know?" he said coolly. She gave him a look, the same look she had so often given another Snape that said she wasn't buying his bluff in the least.
"You didn't," she said, and her confidence surprised her. "Because I know you, and I know you want answers first. Answers I can and will give to you and only you."
The haze was getting thick and her eyes were heavier as she spoke. She thought for a second she saw genuine surprise cross his face, but couldn't be sure. She closed her eyes for a moment, taking in a few measured breaths before opening them again. Giving a tired smile, she let the persona fall; she was too tired for this. Too done with the acting and in too much pain to care anymore.
"If I manage to come out of this alive, that is," she joked, and pulled her hand into view for them both, the one she'd had fisted in her shirt. It came out smeared in red.
"Please don't tell Dumbledore. It's not time yet," she pleaded, her words more begging than they had been for so long. "Please Severus."
With that, her world went black as she slipped into the welcoming grasp of unconsciousness.
An Hour Earlier...
Severus sat behind his desk as he watched the last class of the day work on copying down the details of the assignment. A series of several essay questions that covered things they needed to review for next term and upcoming OWL exams. Granger was seated at her work station between Longbottom and Malfoy, and to the casual observer nothing with the girl seemed amiss. That is, apart from an oddly assertive questioning from the Longbottom boy, whose worried remarks she seemed to dismiss with just a few words and a smile. Overall, Granger didn't appear to be acting any different than any other day as she greeted Malfoy and took her seat.
Severus's eyes watched as she tugged at the collar of her shirt with one hand, as if trying to loosen it without undoing the buttons. Her tie was done up a little less-neat than usual, and was tugged as loose as socially acceptable with the dress code. Releasing her collar, her hand moved up to rub at her temple as if trying to relieve a headache. Her other hand did not pause as she scratched out neat sentences identical to the ones on the blackboard that were also in her hand.
Knowing the girl, or what he had known of her before last night's revelation, she had more than likely already made a copy of the assignment and had quite possibly already finished it. She had done so before, but he had never been tempted to find out why. Now he was finally catching on, onto the little things that would seem normal for the girl who spent the better part of her free time in the library poring over mountains of books. Now he could see her seemingly normal actions in a different light, studiously writing away a set of extensive and useless notes so as not to draw the unwanted attention of her peers or even himself. He knew for a fact if she had not kept busy, he would have been honor bound to take a significant amount of points from the girl for lazing about in class, regardless of her being his aid and knowing she already had done the work. Besides, she was a Gryffindor, and it would have been considered suspicious for both if she somehow got a free pass from losing points.
The bell then tolled, signaling the end of class, and the students practically leapt from their seats in a rush to be free and get an early start on their Christmas break. Granger seemed to be one of the few who wasn't trying to break a record of leaving as she packed up her things carefully. Longbottom lingered in the doorway, seeming torn between staying behind to wait on her or bolting like the rest.
"Granger, remain behind," Severus snapped before he knew what he was doing. A glare was sent toward Longbottom, who reluctantly bolted from the door with the other stragglers of the class. She waved him off before turning back and packing up her notes, placing a tentative hand on her side that was hidden from view from the door by the backpack on her lap.
Storming into his office through the adjoining door, he figured he had about ninety seconds of privacy to figure out what exactly he was going to do now. He wasn't a man to rush into things, but between the meeting last night, lack of sleep, and his only lead preparing to leave until after the New Year, he wasn't in the best frame of mind. He was relying more on his gut instinct than he would like, but his gut was usually right about these things. Still, that didn't mean he was in the habit of following it without a plan or three in mind. The last time he had done such a thing he had walked in on a werewolf.
He sat down behind his desk and watched as Granger came in, elbows propped on the desk before him and fingers steepled. She entered at a moderate pace, looking at him curiously. Any of the previous dishevelment was gone as she took the seat opposite him. She set her bag to the side and took a deep breath in before leaning back in the seat slowly, a reaction meant to suppress whatever discomfort she was in.
It seemed that Dolohov had done a deal more damage than he had first thought. The man wasn't the brightest of wizards, but he made up for it in the creative use of dark spells. Dumbledore had filled him in on the events he had missed the night before.
Apparently, Potter had woken his dorm up in a panic after a vivid dream. Dumbledore saw fit to inform him that the boy had been having them frequently until recent weeks. Something Snape had known from his talk with Granger, it seemed the private lessons had been helping but this most recent one had caught the boy off guard by the content. Dumbledore suggested that he wanted Snape to check over Potter's progress to see if more formal lessons would be needed to help with the boy's progress.
Potter's dream had proven most enlightening as he had apparently witnessed an attack on Arthur but had woken as the man had hit the floor. He had then insisted on going to the Hospital with the rest of the Weasleys after being informed Arthur had already been admitted to St. Mungo's before McGonagall had been sent to collect them. Nemo's doing, Snape suspected.
"I know you must be eager to get on with your winter halls," he said, leaning back in his own chair and sliding his hands off the desktop with the motion. He pulled his wand out from under the cover of his desk as he settled back, crossing one black trousered leg over the other. "But an unavoidable matter has arisen and will need to be resolved before your departure."
"Sir?" she asked, brow furrowed at the change in posture. Her eyes seemed to flick over his form as if she was looking for something, before they fell to where his hands were hidden. Then her eyes flicked up sharply and met his with narrowed brown ones, body going ridged, but it was too late.
"Finite Incantetum," Severus said with a calculated wand swish from behind his desk. Granger flinched a moment before the spell hit. As the layers of glamour melted away, her eyes closed, and she leaned back with a look of both resignation and surprisingly relief. The pair sat in silence, broken by Granger's labored breathing. Severus still sat at his desk, his wand directed at the impostor. A flick of his wrist snapped the office door closed and locked it with a resounding click, but besides that he did not make any further move to attack the woman.
"How long have you known?" she asked, at last her head lolling to the side as she opened her eyes tiredly.
"Long enough." He watched as she shifted to sit more upright, careful to not lean back into the chair and not bothering to hide the wince as she held her side.
"Sorry you had to find out this way," she said, a wry smile pulling on her lips as she watched him with those familiar brown eyes. Eyes set in a face that was both familiar and different. It was the same face as the teenager that had entered his office and if he looked hard enough he could see the hints of that first-year girl that had been practically bouncing in her seat in an effort to get his attention. It was Granger's face undoubtedly, yet wasn't. Gone was the innocent carefreeness of youth, in its place a young woman with a matureness gained more from a hard life rather than time. He had seen the same wear on young face's before, his own included. Many of the young members of the Original Order bore the same look of aging after the war had ended. This woman had seen the brutal hardships of war, though what war he did not know. She would have been a small child at the time of Voldemort's first reign, if born at all.
His eyes continued their analysis of her person, taking in more detail than the brief glimpse a window had provided last night. The same curling brown locks framed her face with an untamed wildness, even when tied loose out of the way as it currently was.
She was still lean and fit, as she had always been since he had begun to take notice, back when she had started to intrude in on his morning runs. She looked much the same as she had when she came in, if more developed in certain areas.
"I was hoping to be further along in my plans before you found out," she continued, breaking his focus and bringing it back to her face.
"And what plans might those be, Ms Granger? Or is it Ms De Vincent? Maybe I should simply call you Nemo." She flinched at his blatant use of her names. So she hadn't known he knew all that.
"Granger would be most appropriate, given it is my name."
The theory that she was a relation of the Granger who had been invited to Hogwarts five years ago was looking more and more promising. There was no way that the system that detected muggleborns and added their names to the potential new students list could have been tampered with. He doubted even Dumbledore could if he wanted too.
"Is it now?" he asked mildly.
"It is. Sirius got the idea stuck in his head that I needed a nickname. We came up with Nemo and it stuck and evolved from there." She finished her sharp remark with a scoff, and Severus was caught off guard by the offhandedly admission of working with Black.
"And De Vincent?" he asked. If Granger was her real name and Nemo some nickname that turned code name, where did the French woman fit in?
"Simply an alias. De Vincent is as much my name as Voldy is old snake face's." Snape had to restrain himself from gaping at her complete disregard and mocking of the man most feared beyond reason.
"You're awfully forthcoming about all this." He struggled to cover his unease that the injured woman before him still had enough gull to refer to the darkest wizard of their time by names like 'old snake face', and - his face scrunched up at the very thought - 'Voldy', of all things.
"Forthcoming about what? I haven't told you anything you couldn't work out on your own, Severus." His name rolled off her tongue with an ease of familiarity that came from frequent use.
"And so I have," he commented. "And you have avoided the question. What precisely are your plans?"
"Well isn't that the question of the year?" she shot back sarcastically. "Or should that be, 'Why haven't you told Dumbledore?'"
"Who says the Headmaster isn't aware of everything I know?" he said coolly. His efforts were rewarded with a look that said she wasn't buying his bluff in the least bit.
"You didn't," she said with unknown confidence. "Because I know you, and I know you want answers first. Answers I can and will give to you, and only you."
She closed her eyes again, looking pained and exhausted. The next time those brown eyes opened they were pleading with him, full of an emotion he had never seen directed toward him so openly. Trust. Regardless of who she was or what she was planning, Severus was struck with one thing he knew for certain. This woman trusted him.
'Why?!' His mind kept demanding. Why did this-this stranger playing Hermione Granger trust him so much?
"If I manage to come out of this alive, that is," she joked, and pulled out the hand that had been fisted in her shirt. It was covered in blood, and he could see now the stain growing on her shirt where her hand had been.
Then she did something he had not expected. Barely hanging onto consciousness, she begged, begged him to keep her secret.
Her last words were barely a whisper before she slumped lifelessly over in her chair.
Severus stared at the unconscious woman for a long moment before coming to a decision. Stalking to the fireplace and tossing a handful of flu powder into the grate, he shoved his head through into the office beyond.
Word traveled fast through the ranks of the Order of the Phoenix. After all, it wasn't every day one of their members wound up in the Hospital after a Death Eater attack. At least, not in recent years. The fight at the Ministry had been plain to see, the offices managing the Hall of Prophecy and Timeturners were in shambles. The heads of department quickly began an inventory of both areas to determine if anything had been stolen or damaged in the commotion.
Kingsley had been assigned to open an investigation into the cause and culprits behind the events. Arthur Weasley, still in intensive care at St Mungo's, was not open for questioning yet, and so left the events of the night before up for interpretation. The trail of blood leading from the offices to the fireplace in the entrance chamber of the Ministry indicated that Arthur had help getting to the Flu as well as being injured themselves. The bodies of two eligibly dark wizards had been found amidst the destruction in the office, along with one of their stunned - presumed comrade - who had been taken into custody.
Poppy heard all this information second hand from passing Order members, after being called into consult on Mr. Weasley's condition early that morning. There was little she could aid in as the medical staff rushed to find a way to treat the foreign snake bites. It was, to put it simply, beyond her skill level to deal with. So, with a regretful goodbye, the witch returned to her own wards that were currently devoid of students as they avoided her like the plague this time of year in fear that she might declare them too ill to travel and ruin their holiday plans.
She had no sooner sat down behind her office chair with a cup of tea when her fireplace blazed green and a familiar head appeared.
"Severus," she remarked in surprise. "What can I do for you?"
He was silent for a moment, though she did not miss his eyes glancing about the room as if looking for something - or someone.
"Are you currently occupied with any students now?" he questioned.
"Not at the present," she said, setting her cup down with an audible clatter. "I would expect the students would have to be dragged in against their will to grace me with their presence."
Severus seemed to take this in before nodding decisively and vanished from the grate. Poppy was about to write off his odd behavior and go back to her tea when the fireplace flared again and the man stepped through fully in a flourish of green flames and ash.
"Severus, what are you-" she cried out in alarm as the man strode from her office, arms baring an unconscious figure in student robes. "What happened?"
"Seal your wards, Contagion Protocol. No one comes in; student, Headmaster, or otherwise," he said, laying the figure out on one of the beds. Unobscured now, Pomfrey could finally get a look at the student – no, young woman in student robes. Recognition dawned on the medi-witch and she stilled in her protests.
"There is no time for questions now, and most that you would ask I don't even know where to even begin answering," he said shortly, almost at a loss for what to say in explanation. "This curse is beyond my skills at healing. She will die without proper aid. I didn't know where else to take her."
"Yes," Poppy answered in an overwhelmed tone until her training kicked in and she jumped right into the routine of diagnosing and treating the patient before her. Questions could be answered later. Now, there was work to do.
With a wave of her wand the Contagion Protocols were invoked, and the ward sealed itself. There could be no traffic in or out of the ward while the protocol was invoked magically, or otherwise, precautions in place to keep the whole school safe from any dangerous illnesses. Or in the current case to keep any unwanted guests from barging in.
Severus immediately headed off to the storage cabinet of potions he kept in stock for the medi-witch. Running several diagnostic charms on the young woman, Poppy called out a list of potions she needed even as she removed her patient's clothes. A blanket folded and draped across her hips and another across her chest for modesty sake, leaving the area of interest accessible.
From the general diagnostic results and the fact that faint black veins of color where branching out from under the bandages, it was clear things were indeed very serious. Running her wand tip over the soiled bandages, Pomfrey cut them loose and began peeling them off carefully as the lower layers were already beginning to dry and cling in place. She was just removing the last layer when Severus returned with a levitating tray of potions and holding another full of magical medical instruments.
"This is a very dark curse," Poppy breathed as the fabric fell away. The stitched gash running along the woman's side was blackened and inflamed. Several stitches were torn, and the wound reeked of rot. Veins of black spread out just under the skin like fractured glass, having spread nearly to mid-thigh on her right leg and up nearly to the sternum.
"Can you do anything?" Snape asked, more composed now than he had been when first entering the Hospital Wing.
"I can try. This is very dark magic, and if it reaches her heart there will be nothing anyone can do."
It took hours. Lunch had come and gone long ago as the pair worked. The curse was a nasty one and practically fed off healing of any magical nature. It had been lucky the brunette had not seemed to use anything more powerful than salves and balms made with magical properties. Any spell with an active healing nature would have surely progressed the curse's effect beyond reversing. It took over a dozen different potions to finally contain and begin to draw out the blackened rot spreading through her body.
All that was left was to wait until all trace of the curse had been cleared from her body and then allow the injury to heal normally. It would be weeks before she would be free of the entire effects of the curse, if she survived at all.
Poppy had removed the Contagion Protocol on the ward shortly after dinner and the immediate danger had passed. The head of Gryffindor House had been informed that Hermione Granger had come in with the flu and would be remaining there. The woman was left to rest in a secluded corner of the Wing, tucked away behind warded screens to sleep while The Medi-witch and Potion Master sat down to a late dinner in her office for a much-needed talk.
"I believe that it goes without saying that what happened today cannot be spoken of with anyone," Severus said lowly as he set aside his empty soup bowl. "Not even the Headmaster."
"I understand. I have told you before, Severus, that I trust your judgement when it comes to handling your House. You have always done right by them, and though I hate to speak ill of a former colleague, more than Slughorn ever did for you or any of his," Poppy said tiredly. "But this is not some abused child, this is-"
She paused, struggling to put the situations into words. Imposter seemed to be the most prominent label to describe the Granger-who-was-not-Granger in the other room.
"We have to report this to the Headmaster. She could be a threat to us."
Severus shook his head adamantly. "No. I need to speak with her first, at the very least." Seeing she was not being swayed, he made an entirely genuine offer. "If it would help your conscious, I could Obliviate you."
"That won't be necessary, Severus," she said sharply, and the man let out a sigh. Poppy Pomfrey was probably the closest thing to a confident he had. The woman had seen him at some of his weakest moments in life. She had been the one to patch him up when the bullying had gotten violent, until he learned enough healing magic to treat himself. After leaving school they had not met until he had taken up the position of Potions Professor and the pair had started up a friendship of sorts, given their frequent meetings.
"All that I am sure of is that over the past several years, she has saved two lives from what would have been very gruesome deaths. Most recently being Arthur Weasley."
"The incident at the Ministry?" she asked, and was rewarded when Snape nodded.
"I need time to sort things out, give me to the end of break at the very least." The silence stretched for several minutes before the Medi-Witch nodded.
"Till the end of break, then. After that, I expect some satisfactory answers." Her tone held a warning. Snape nodded, and then rose.
"I'll put a few more wards up, just in case she tries to make a run for it in the night. I doubt she is in any condition, but still." With that, he left the room and moved to the corner where Nemo slept.
The alcove was empty, save for the bed, side table, and a chair Poppy and himself had taken turns resting in. Granger lay peacefully in the bed, blanket tucked up to her chin. Her brown curls were fanned out on the pillow around her and brow was furrowed slightly, like it was when she was trying to figure out a difficult problem.
Pulling his wand out, the wizard began casting an unbreakable charm on the window before moving on and began casting wards on the area inside the screens that would prevent the woman from leaving, should she wake in the night.
Finished, he was about to leave when something on the table had caught his eye. Granger's uniform had been cleaned and left folded on the side table. Beside the pile was her wand. Snape picked it up and examined it before pocketing it. He was about to leave, when something else caught his attention. This too he took before turning and striding toward his private room.
He sifted through one of his bookshelves and he found the book he was looking for before deciding to sit down. Flipping through the book to a section before propping it open, Snape pulled out the second item he had taken from Granger and placed it beside the image on the page. He hadn't been sure when he had first seen it sitting there so innocently on the small table, but now he was sure. Now what was Granger doing with Salizar Slytherin's Locket, an heirloom lost years ago? He pondered, picking up the item and setting the book aside. Just another unanswered question amidst a storm of questions.
On a whim, as one is prone to do when presented with a closed locket, he flicked it open without a thought and found his eyes locked on the contents of the inner frames.
RL(8:15): Don't strain yourself. AW stable, worry about you.
SB(8:17): NOT panicking, no matter what Mooney says.
SB(8:20): You want one of us to come get you?
RL(10:11): Bites giving trouble, AW still stable.
RL(2:47): AW resting, want a ride from train tomorrow?
SB(5:34): Left StM with kids headed to GP. MW staying at StM.
"Clever girl," Severus remarked, impressed. Using the Protean Charm to send messages was a truly ingenious use of magic. Far more efficient than even the Orders use of Patronus, especially for those unable to produce a corporeal Patronus and Squibs.
Feeling more than a small amount of curiosity, Severus began fiddling with the locket, trying to work out how it functioned. It took a few tries to figure out how to send a message, but after realizing the old messages would need to be charmed away before he could send one, it was simple to charm the locket with messages to placate Nemo's associates. He didn't want Black or the Werewolf thinking something was up and come barging in like the Gryffindors they were.
Now… how to deal with Granger when she woke?
The first thing Hermione registered as consciousness returned to her was pain. Then came the smell that could only mark the room she was in as a medical facility. Hermione felt a pang of overwhelming fear until her mind cleared enough to recognize that there were no straps holding her to the bed. After some shifting, she concluded that she was on a soft bed and not the cold table of Fowl's lab. She drifted off again, with that comforting knowledge in mind.
When she woke again, it was to the feel of warm hands brushing purposely across her skin. Cracking her eyes open cautiously, she found a dark head of hair bowed over her belly.
"Just because you're tending to my injuries, Professor, does not give you the right to feel me up," she remarked, as mortified as she could while hiding the smile that kept trying to creep out at the reversal of their roles in a past life.
"I assure you, the thought had not even crossed my mind," the man said as his hands paused in their work to grab one of the many bottles cluttering a tray on the bed down by her knee. Dumping a measured amount of the bottles contents on her belly, he massaged it in, working it into the black vein still visible and toward her open wound.
She could feel something dripping down her side in a slow stream, onto the towel laid out on the bed for just that purpose.
"Aw, I'm hurt you never envisioned me helpless and bleeding, completely at your mercy after spending the last few years trying to catch me," she said, feigning hurt.
"If you should be so lucky," Snape said sarcastically, but low enough that she had barely been able to make it out. Hermione snorted and tried not to laugh, but failed.
"Hah—oww," she managed with a soft hiss.
"And what is so amusing?" He set the bottle aside, in favor of another that was tipped into the open wound before being covered loosely with a conjured bandage.
"You wouldn't understand," she brushed him off, before pausing and thinking hard. "Well, you would, but you wouldn't."
"And how does that work, exactly?"
"Complicated. Very, Very complicated. And a little insane," she admitted, before letting out a tired sigh. "Merlin, why is my life so bent on screwing me over every chance it gets?" She hauled herself up into a seated position after Snape had removed a towel stained in an unknown, blackish liquid. Tugging the top of her pajamas down over the bandages, she settled back against her pillows, watching as Snape sent the tray of potions and soiled towel out of her little makeshift room. He returned to the seat beside her bed, a small potion bottle in hand.
"We have some things to discuss," he said.
"You know your bedside manner leaves a lot to be desired," said sarcastically back. "At least let me know how long I'm going to be stuck in this bed."
"If it is any consolidation, you'll live," he said. Hermione had a hard time telling if he was being sarcastic or simply attempting to genuinely be comforting. If it was the second option, he was failing completely at it.
"You're not going to need that," she said, all joking set aside as she pointed at the inconspicuous little bottle in his hand. "Truth Serum is handy for answering questions, but you won't be able to get the full depth of what I have been doing when you don't know half the questions to ask."
"You intend to tell me your 'plans', just like that? Just because I saw through your rather elaborate act?"
"I always intended to tell you," she admitted, picking at a loose thread on her blanket. She bit her lip. "But I knew if I couldn't keep Snake-face from coming back, it would put you at a higher risk than you already are at. Better you could return to him and honestly be able to say you knew nothing of me after what I've done over the years. At least, until I could secure the means of destroying him for good."
His last statement seemed to catch the Potion Master's attention. "You know a secret of the Dark Lord's?"
"Yes, though we have a few other things that need to be explained before we get to that." She focused her attention back on the thread she had been picking at for a moment before shrugging. "I had intended to organize a series of memories into a Pensieve for you to view. It's about the only way I think you might believe anything I might tell you. I suppose, seeing as you are a legilimens, I could still show you."
She hadn't really wanted to resort to Snape poking around in her head, but without a Pensieve handy, there were few situations that Snape might be convinced into believing her far-fetched story of time travel and futures and pasts that never happened. Truth serum was a use full interrogation tool, but like she had said, without knowing the right questions to ask, getting her story across to him in an understandable manner would be difficult. A picture was worth a thousand words, and a memory even more so.
"You intend to allow me to enter your mind?"
Hermione nodded in response before raising her eyes from her lap.
"Very well," the man agreed, and pocketed the potion before pulling out his wand at a leveling point with the woman.
Black met brown and Snape found himself falling. He dug deep expecting resistance and found none as he delved into her mind. The room warped, and he found himself standing in a simply furnished living room. A dark-haired woman walked by into another room with a basket of folded laundry in her arms. Looking down, Snape was met with a small bushy haired girl of two, maybe three. She had a green, well-worn blanket tied about her shoulders, a paper crown lopsided on her curly head. The little Granger was sucking her thumb, staring at a brightly colored show on the television before she seemed to realize her mother was no longer in the room.
She promptly plopped down on the carpeted floor and proceeded to cry. Mrs. Granger came in a moment later with a resigned look that said this was a normal occurrence.
"Come now, dear," she said, pulling a stuffed toy out of the basket she had brought back in with her, full of laundry ready to be folded. Handing the little girl a stuffed unicorn that was nearly as big as the seated toddler, the child immediately latched onto the toy.
"See? Pongo's all clean again. Now let mummy finish what she needs too," the woman said, setting the basket on the couch and leaving the room again.
'Too far back-' he mused, and looked for another memory. He had found the best way to navigate someone's mind was to follow the natural flow until he found what he was looking for.
The next memory he found was of young Granger sitting in a Muggle primary school looking near to tears as her teacher reprimanded her sternly. There was paint on her shoes and all over the teacher's black board. Severus glanced to the door at a sound and saw two boys snickering before scampering off around the corner. He was brought back to Granger and her teacher by a high-pitched 'eep!' sound. Rather than looking upset, the girl looked shocked as she stared at her now blue haired teacher. Snape repressed an amused snort at the outburst of accidental magic and moved on.
The next memory found him standing in the middle of a Hogwarts girl's lavatory. It seemed to be empty, save for the hushed sound of sniffling. He was about to move on, not wanting to linger in the girl's private moment, when another sound made him pause and glance toward the door. A hulking form lingered in the doorway, head cocked to the side as if deciding wither to go in or not. Granger chose that moment to open her stall door and came out, dabbing her red rimmed eyes with the corner of her robe when she froze at the sight of the fully grow Mountain Troll in front of her. It snorted, catching sight of her and lumbered into the bathroom with new purpose. The girl backed up until she was against the far wall, eyes wide in terror as the Troll approached, smashing sinks and stalls as it passed them. There was a movement behind the Troll and suddenly the thump of debris hitting the back of the Troll's head.
"Hey pea-brain!" yelled the youngest male Weasley as he threw a piece of pipe at the Troll, and it turned on him. Potter slipped in behind it and ran for Granger, grabbing her by the arm and hauling her to her feet from where she had shrunk down on the floor.
"Come on, run!" Potter called to her, but she was too frozen in fear. Weasley suddenly was yelling as the Troll cornered him. An instant later Potter had managed to not only latch onto the back of the Troll's neck but also get his wand jammed up the creature's nose. The Troll shook itself, trying to rid the boy and irritating wood, and was caught off guard as its club was suddenly jerked from its hand to float above its head. Unsurprising, the Weasley boy's spell did not hold long, resulting in the club coming down on the Troll's head. It swayed before collapsing, sending Potter sliding across the floor. Moments later he saw himself, Minerva and Quirrel enter the bathroom, and the memory shifted to a new scene.
This one was, much to his displeasure, yet another girl's lavatory containing Granger, Potter and Weasley. This time however they were seated around a bubbling cauldron. The boys were playing a game of Exploding Snap while Granger worked on adding ingredients to the potion. Snape stalked around the group unseen, eyeing the ingredients laid out on the tiled floor.
'Busted,' he thought with a triumphant sneer, finally having solid proof that the brats had stolen from his stores. The memory faded, and Severus was not sure what to think, he had been sure this woman had been playing Hermione Granger. It simply did not make sense how she could have been the same girl from three years ago and the woman who was obviously in her early twenties, yet her memories said otherwise. How could she go through such a change over a single summer?
The scene changed again; he expected it to be another memory of her time at Hogwarts, or maybe something involving her summer time with her parents. The trip to France she claimed they had taken where they had met 'De Vincent'. He was not expecting to find himself on the deck of a ship
It was bucking and heaving as it was tossed around like a toy in the waves. Lightning flashed in the black sky that was rolling with clouds that mirrored the waves below. There was a shudder that ran through the whole ship, followed by a crunch that made Snape's stomach lurch. For a moment he forgot he was only in a memory when a brown-haired man ran by, holding onto a familiar girl. He kept a tight grip on her as they neared the rail and hoisted her up in one of the few remaining life boats as many the passengers had already cast off. Severus stood there in confusion. This wasn't right; Granger had said that her parent's had moved after their visit to France after her second year. They had met De Vincent on that trip, which obviously had been a lie. Was this what really happened on that trip?
"Wait here. I'm going to get your mum."
"Don't leave me!" Granger cried out clinging to who must be her father. The man gave her a tight hug, kissing her head before yanking her arms off him.
"I'll be right back. DON'T LEAVE THAT BOAT!" he shouted back over the storm as he staggered back below deck.
"DAD!" Granger yelled, but her voice was drowned out by the storm. The ship gave another jerk and crunch. Granger held onto the seat of her little boat for dear life right before the beams holding the boat out over the side broke and they were dropped into the roiling waters below.
"DAD! MUM!" Granger's cries where tiny compared to the roar of the waves and storm. There was a grating sound and the ship began sinking, slowly at first, then faster until it was swallowed up by the rolling waves entirely.
"DAD!" Granger was screaming and sobbing as she scanned the roiling waters for her parents, "MUM!"
Severus stood there beside the boat, looking down at the sobbing girl as she still clung to the seat of her boat as it drifted further and further away from the other lifeboats in the storm.
The next series of memories went by quickly; glimpses of Granger in the boat, sometimes it was day, others night, sometimes raining other times clear. She obviously had been there for a while, she was withering away with each image as she slowly starved. Finally, she was on land and walking among a forest of trees, when he saw her walk into a trap and a fall that broke her arm. She was with a man after that, and seemed to be getting healthier.
The images were going fast now. Some would pause long enough for him to watch what was going on. Others skimmed by and he let them go, focusing more on the lingering memories. They would be the ones most prominent in her mind. He watched the man beat her black and blue, and her getting up to continue until her legs would no longer support her. He watched the man showing her how to fight with a knife and cutting her when she was to slow. He saw her rubbing balm into the cuts and he was suddenly reminded of something―the white scars that became visible as he rubbed a healing balm into her skin.
'They're not self-inflicted,' she had said, rolling down her sleeves. Little things were making sense now and yet leaving him with more questions, the most prominent being the woman whose mind he was sifting through was too old.
The memories shifted by again and he caught glimpses of Granger wielding wandless magic rather efficiently for someone who appeared to be about the age of a third year. Then the flow of memories paused on one and he watched as Granger, not much older than fourteen, was picked up by a large dog-creature like a rag doll. He swore he heard a crunch as her bones broke and she was tossed aside, she tried to crawl away, even as her companion was drug off by another creature. He was surprised when the girl suddenly sprung forward rather viciously and drove a knife into its skull, but it was in vain as she was dragged off by another one of the creatures moments later.
The next memory he saw of her, she was huddled under a tree, alone, as the rain poured down. She appeared to be completely soaked to the bone and was shivering violently.
More scenes of her alone followed; he could only guess she had gotten away, but her friend had not. Granger trying to fish, and wandering off empty handed. Trying to hunt, and her shot going astray. She attempted to sneak onto a plane on an isolated landing strip and an alarm began to sound. She fled, but even as she took cover in the trees he could see the red staining her clothes. He watched in morbid fascination as she used a knife to pry the bullet out of her shoulder and stitch it closed crudely before she passed out in the branches of the trees.
He moved onto the next memory and felt resistance. Despite her words of compliance, she did not want to share this one as easily. He pushed on and found himself in a campsite. Two forms were sleeping by a fire, a third against a tree, obviously having dozed off on watch. He did not see Granger at first until something moved at the edge of the camp. She was attempting to pull on what little of her clothing was still intact as best she could with her wrists tied. She looked about fifteen now, filthy and overly thin. Bruises of all stages of healing were coloring her visible skin and shallow cuts were bleeding along her ribs. Moving into her knees, she dug in the dirt where she had just been lying on her side, all the while casting panicked looks toward the three sleeping men. There was a chain attached to a nearby tree, but who ever had assaulted her last seemed to think she was too battered to run.
Grabbing her stashed prize, she opened the knife and cut the rope bonds on her wrists. Snape let himself be pushed from the memory as Granger directed him to another that was less personal.
Granger looked about sixteen or seventeen now; her eyes were hard and yet full of hope as she sat on the edge of a medical table in some hospital.
"Where is Harry, have you seen him?"
Granger stood in a room, watching Molly Weasley tuck her youngest son into bed before walking downstairs. Snape paused, looking over the comatose boy- no, young man. He was beginning to get an idea, a vaguely insane idea, and if it were possible―it made sense with everything he had seen because he had just seen that same boy a day ago, two years younger than the one he was currently standing by. He was pulled down stairs as Granger moved into the kitchen and then she was punching the counter until her knuckles split and her fists bled.
'He's Dead―Harry's Dead―Voldemort killed him. Harry Potter is dead.'
Molly's words rang in his ears like a gong. Severus staggered under the news. He did not even notice the memory change until he found himself standing in the kitchen, but this time with Arthur instead. He didn't catch much of what was said but he heard enough. 'Sirius Black―executed. Harry in the Tournament―body found in a cemetery. Dumbledore―didn't make it out. Hogwarts―attacked.'
The next memory he heard someone calling his name.
"Severus, can you hear me? You need to stay awake."
Snape walked to the head of the table, unbothered as people passed through him as if he were a ghost. He looked at himself lying on the table in an unfamiliar kitchen, pale and worn. His chest was in ribbons as Minerva tried to stop the bleeding and he began to wonder if he was about to watch his own death. Then Granger was there and ordering Arthur and Minerva about. She stitched him up bit by bit, his chest giving a phantom twinge every time he watched the needle pass through his flesh. Then Poppy was there, and Granger retreated to her room, curling up on the floor beside the bed to sleep fitfully.
The scene changed again, and Severus found Granger seated at a table writing furiously on a piece of parchment, mountains of books around her. The other him leaning over her, one arm braced on the table beside the parchment, reading as she wrote.
"Yes, yes." He nodded, pointing to a diagram the woman was filling in. "Add another one there, even out the stabilization runes so they complement each other. Last thing we need is to be dumped out too soon."
The scene changed again and now Granger was alone in a dusty room, hurriedly tossing books into a backpack that appeared to have an extension charm on it. Severus hadn't seen the significance of the memory at first, until he was struck with recognition. Behind all the cobwebs and layers of dust, he recognized Dumbledore's office.
'Dumbledore didn't make it out, Hogwarts-attacked.'
It had been one of those bits of information he had barely heard amidst his realization, that in whatever twisted future he was watching, Potter was dead.
A distant explosion resounded beyond the stone walls and Granger cursed viciously. Dumping the last of the books into the bag, she went to the glass case that held the Sword of Gryffindor. She tugged at the lid while wiping off a section to peer in when it did not open.
She cursed again before dumping the case onto the floor, shattering it and revealing nothing sword like among the broken glass and wood.
"Where is it?!" she hissed, tugging open cabinets and drawers in a hurry before the stone room shuddered ominously. Granger abandoned her search and dove for the bag of books, barely missing a ceiling beam as it collapsed into the office in a shower of stone and wood.
She ran down the spiral staircase, squeezing between a narrow gap where the wall had buckled and out into the corridor. She barely missed being cleaved in two by an ax, wielded by a headless suit of dented armor.
She didn't break stride as she send a wandless Sectumsempra at the armor, cutting its legs from body and rendering it incapable of pursuing her.
The memory blurred slightly before refocusing. Granger entered the clock tower courtyard at a jog. Corpses of acromantulas, both old and fresh remains, and debris from many designated statues littered outward.
"Took your time," the other him remarked, looking haggard and battle worn, a satchel slung over one shoulder. Any further talk was cut off as the castle rumbled ominously.
"Run!" Granger shouted and made for the wooden bridge, the other him a step behind. With a shriek the large griffon statue that once guarded the headmaster's office burst out of the clocktower, stone wings only barely holding it up. It gave another shriek before attempting to dive at the pair of fleeing humans. It missed, its stone form dragging it down quickly and propelled the living statue into the cluster of supports that reached down into the ravine below like a cannonball.
The pair stopped to grasp at the railings as the bridge shuddered and swayed beneath them before settling again. "Go," Snape hissed out cautiously, letting go as the floor swayed. They were nearly at the other side now. "Go, go, go." They were running again and the wood beneath them began to buckle beneath them as the bridge collapsed around them. The bridge detached from the stone arch that was their destination with a crack of breaking wood. Granger jumped the gap, Snape a fraction behind her, and the pair crashed together in a pile of bags, bodies and limbs on the other side of the narrow stone arched that marked the entrance to the sundial garden.
The memory shifted again, and Severus found himself in a chaotic battle in the very bowels of the Ministry before his other self shoved Granger into a veiled archway, only for her to come tumbling out into the same room, this time barren of other life.
The next few memories went by quickly, Granger levitating what Severus could only explain as a younger version of herself into a room with her parents. Granger and an obviously just escaped Black eyeing each other from across an unfamiliar kitchen. Granger, in what must have been her early version of Nemo, listening to Lupin talk of his revelation about Wormtail. Nemo in lion form, prowling through an unfamiliar room full of junk, pouncing on a rat, only for it to turn into a man. Lupin coming to subdue the rat-man with a curse.
Granger breaking into Moody's office before tampering with his Polyjuice potion. Dropping a slip of parchment into a goblet lit in blue flames. A darkened maze and staring down at a watch that seemed confused on whether Potter was unknown or in mortal danger. Nemo's lion form snarling at Lucius after dodging a colorful curse, muzzle dripping in Crouch's blood even as the Dark Lord watched in interest.
The scene shifted again and lingered on what could have only been the events from the night before. Granger fighting Death Eater's alongside Arthur, the injuries that led to her current state and the attack on the Weasley Patriarch.
Black broke from brown, and Granger sagged back against her pillows, eyes closed and exhausted. Snape slumped forward, as if everything he had just seen was too much for him to bare. Elbows braced on knees, one hand hanging limply with his wand. It fell to the floor from the loose grip before his face was cradled in both hands, unable to look at her anymore.
"There is more," Granger's voice broke the silence, "but that can be explained in a less jarring fashion later."
A silence settled around them, and Hermione leaned back and closed her eyes. Snape would need time to digest everything he had learned. She would give him that time. Settling back more comfortably, she drifted off into a light doze.
Author's Note: Sorry for the long wait, guys, but here it is! I squeezed in at the end of the year, special thanks to my beta thepurplewriter who cleaned this up for me on such short notice since I wanted it out by New Years Eve. I blame crazy life and the insane task that is writing Snape/Hermione interactions that don't involve Fluff and/or Humour. But we are finally past that hump in the story where I can finally break out that box of Fluffy Flirting Ideas that has only been pulled out on occasion for Hermione's interactions with Sirius and Remus. *cracks knuckles* Let's get into the Severus/Hermione!
Things are going to start moving fast plot wise. I only have five more chapters planned after this, plus the Epilogue. This story will wrap up some time in Seventh Year (Chapter 31 - which I may end up splitting into two, it just depends on how that chapter unfolds, really) with the Epilogue taking place roughly two years later.
Check out my AO3 version of this story for a look at the awesome(my opinion, I can say that cuz I made it) banner I made for this story. Working on a new story artwork for FF Net, but most my ideas don't show up on such small resolution.
Anyway hope you all had a Merry Christmas and Well Wishs in the New Year, please feel free to make my new year by leaving a Review!
Next Chapter 26: In My Eyes, If There's One Thing That's True, It's That I Believe In YouThe conclusion of Christmas Break and Snape's final decision concerning Nemo. Fifth Year begins to come to a close as a few familiar faces make reappearances, as well as one new one. A fourth and fifth Horcrux is located and Hermione begins to finally consider what her future might be like after the War.
Beta's by thepurplewriter!