Snape waited patiently at the train station in Hogsmede. The crisp air tugged at his robes as it carried the scent of coal to his nostrils. The fragrance matched the sounds of the train as it arrived. He scanned the passengers as they began to step out of the cars. His target was not hard to spot.
With strong, sure steps he walked through the crowd and came to a stop in front of a short, Asian man with a wizened face. Respectfully, he bowed. "Master Takehito. I am Professor Severus Snape. Please allow me to extend Hogwarts' warmest and most sincere welcome. We are honored to have you join us."
The man returned the bow. "Thank you, Professor Snape. I must admit I am looking forward to seeing your venerable school. Hogwarts is a legend, even in Japan." Both men straightened up. Severus levitated his guest's luggage and sent it before them to come to rest on the roof of the carriage as they walked down the path to step inside.
They rocked gently inside the confines of the carriage on their way to the castle. Takehito looked out the window at the passing terrain with interest. "I am curious, Professor, about your invitation. The request you make has not been done in many centuries."
"No, it has not. However, these are extraordinary circumstances."
Takehito turned away from the window to look at Snape. "But surely in this modern age, such heroes are outdated and past their time."
"As a needed commodity, yes. But I am not thinking of forging a hero. In this particular situation, I feel that this would be the best way to pull the young lady in question back from the edge of the abyss."
"The abyss?" The elder man smoothed out the fine, colorful silk of his robes, their style so vastly different from British wizards. "You think her in danger of going mad?"
"I think her in danger of letting sorrow and grief eat away at her soul."
"Ah. An event that can only lead to two possible outcomes. Suicide or a decent into darkness."
Snape nodded in agreement. "The first would rob the wizarding world of one of the finest minds and budding young powers that it has seen in decades. The second would create a monster potentially more dangerous than the Dark Lord himself."
Takehito smiled. "And so, you seek to save this young woman from herself, and in the process, create something useful of her."
"The foundation was laid long before I knew her. I am merely building on what is already there and directing her pain down that path." Snape noted that they were reaching the end of their trip. "I am curious; knowing that the Enforcers are no longer allowed, why did you accept my invitation?"
Takehito's smile widened. "For the sake of the sword, Professor Snape. I have always wanted to try making that particular type of weapon."
The school included a blacksmith's forge, though it had not been used in a very long time. The house elves had worked diligently to clean away the cobwebs and debris. It was stocked with the raw materials needed and well ventilated to make it comfortable. The suite of rooms nearest it had also been scoured and made habitable once more. Takehito seemed pleased by the warm, inviting colors and the cheery fire in the hearth that chased away the cold bite of the late winter day.
Snape took his leave, allowing his guest to get settled in. They agreed that Miss Granger would show Takehito around the school after the evening meal, allowing the sword smith to get to know her better. He said it would help him better understand the type of blade that she would need.
The following morning Hermione appeared at their dungeon practice room before the start of breakfast. Her usual appointment time on Sundays, and she was punctual as ever. He found her doing her stretching as he entered. "None of that today, Miss Granger."
A confused frown met his gaze. "We aren't practicing today?"
"No, we are not. There is a potion that needs to be brewed. Put your clothes on and follow me." He waited for her to pull the jeans and sweater over her workout clothes before sweeping out of the room and leading the way to the private work room connecting to his office.
His cauldron was waiting, along with containers of the ingredients he would need. Hermione, knowledge always superceding her confusion, peered through the glass of each jar intently, hands clasped behind her back. Severus stood there and watched her in silence, taking his usual inventory since that night. Still getting thinner, but not at the rate she had been. She was eating, but still not enough. The lack of proper nutrition was starting to show in her hair and nails, both of which are becoming brittle. He would start her on a vitamin potion to make up what she wasn't getting through meals.
Hermione straightened up, the jar of dragon heartstring in her hands. "This is quite a bit. Are we going to use it all?"
"Yes, we are." He picked up a silver pitcher and poured a measure of water into the cauldron before starting the fire. "Tell me, Miss Granger, how much history have you studied?"
"Quite a bit, but there is a lot yet I don't know. What part of history do you mean?" She set down the dragon heartstring and watched him.
"The so called 'Dark Ages'. Shortly before the Inquisition got into full swing. There was a rather small and elite group of wizards and witches known as Enforcers. Have you studied them?" She shook her head, clearly interested. "Yes, well, start powdering the unicorn horn and I will endeavor to impart some bit of new knowledge to you."
She opened the vial containing a few precious bits of unicorn horn and poured it into a mortar bowl. He watched as she picked up the pestle and started to grind the hard bits. It would take some time to powder it fully. Severus nodded in appreciation of her method and continued.
"Enforcers were usually powerful witches and wizards in their own right, but in those times class and birth were still the driving factors when it came to how well you lived or how successful you were. A young witch born into a poor family would likely be poor all of her life, struggling to survive, not even knowing where her next meal would come from at times. It was highly unlikely that she would be married to a high-ranking wizard, as they would stick to their own kind. But, if she had the mettle for it, she could find a position in a household as an Enforcer."
"But what, exactly, was an Enforcer?" She shook the mortar a bit to reposition the now smaller bits of horn amongst the powered horn before starting again.
"And Enforcer was both wizard and warrior. They were trained in both magic and in the use of a sword. If the witch was good enough to be an Enforcer, then a wealthy wizard or witch might sponsor them. This meant a solid roof over their heads, a warm place to sleep at night and a proper sword. They might still carry a wand, but the sword was their true weapon. Now, add the powdered horn."
Hermione carefully added the powder from her mortar, taking care to tap the side with the pestle to knock free the last bits clinging to the smooth marble. "Magic swords?"
"Quite. The core of an Enforcer's sword was a braid of dragon heartstring that had been soaked in a potion containing the soon-to-be Enforcer's blood. A truly skilled sword smith would fold the metal around the core, and then continue to forge and hone the blade about it. The magical core turned the sword itself into a wand, a sort of extension of the Enforcer himself. But there is a price to be paid."
Hermione had picked the jar of heartstring back up, the reason for her being here clearly settling in. "What price, Professor?"
"To activate the bond between witch and sword, and oath of loyalty had to be taken. Usually to the Enforcer's sponsor. The benefits in increased power alone were great, but if that oath were ever broken, the Enforcer's sword would shatter, taking the witch's power with it. The witch would have no more magic than a common Muggle."
Brown eyes looked up at him. "What brought this up, Professor?"
Snape came around the worktable to stand behind her. He leaned down to speak close to her ear as he reached out and took the jar from her hands. "Because, as clever and powerful as you are now, Miss Granger, you are not strong enough to take on more than one or two Death Eaters at a time. Revenge is driving you, but it will end up getting you killed because it will make you do something stupid and foolhardy. What I am offering you is the change to increase your power. To turn yourself not only into the most powerful witch of the age, but the most powerful weapon for good that we could hope for. I'm offering you the chance to obtain the power and strength to take your vengeance out of their hides."
She was silent for a long time, looking over the ingredients and to the cauldron. "Who… who would my oath be made to?"
Something inside him relaxed. He straightened up and unscrewed the lid of the jar. "I had considered the Order, but giving your oath to a body of people would likely keep you bound to them until you finally succumbed to old age. I, however, am far older than you and will likely die when you are still relatively young. And therein lies the reason why the Enforcers are, technically, illegal." He removed the heartstring and laid it in front of her. "Start braiding that."
He set the jar down and wiped his hands clean on a nearby towel as he walked back behind the cauldron. "An Enforcer who breaks her oath loses her power. An Enforcer whose sponsor dies does not. A rare few went bad. Bad enough that the wizarding world began to fear them. Bad enough that to even forge the blade for an Enforcer is made illegal. You won't find the names of those rare few linked with the practice. History has been rewritten to exclude the fact that they were Enforcers and to prevent others from trying to follow in their footsteps."
Hermione's head was bent down over her task, her thin fingers taking care to keep the braid as tight as possible without tearing the thin strips of heartstring. "But if it is illegal, why do you even want to risk it?"
"Desperate times call for desperate measures, Miss Granger. And these are desperate times. Besides, it's not as though you haven't broken rules before when the occasion warranted it." He smirked as she paused in her braiding. She resumed just as quickly. "The question is, do you have enough trust in me to take the oath. Can you trust me enough to pledge your unerring loyalty on penalty of being rendered powerless should you fail to keep that pledge?"
Hermione finished the braid and looked up at him. Severus kept his gaze steady and uncompromising, thinking how it seemed he could almost see the wheels of her mind turning behind those large, whisky colored eyes. After several long moments, she nodded. "I trust you, Sir."
"Good." He held out his hand to her. "Give me your wrist." She placed the slender part of her arm in his hand so that he could pull it over the simmering cauldron. Taking a silver knife, kept to surgical sharpness and cleanliness, he made a quick slice into her skin. She drew in a quick breath, but didn't pull away as he turned her wrist over and allowed her blood to flow into the potion. The unicorn infused liquid swirled as it mixed with the blood, turning from an opalescent sheen to rose-colored concoction tinted with iridescent hues.
He released her hand, offering her a clean cloth to press against the cut to stem the flow. With quick, practice movements he added the last few ingredients before holding his hand out for the braided heartstring. She placed it into his hand and he added it to the cauldron before dismissing the flames underneath.
"How long does it need to soak, Professor?"
"At least one month." He began leaning up his workspace. "I believe that Master Takehito would like us to join him for breakfast in his suite this morning. We are fortunate that he has agreed to come here, Miss Granger. He is taking a great personal risk to forge your blade. It would appear that he, like you, enjoys a challenge and is willing to do it for the sake of his art."
She nodded. "He was very nice, when I took him around the castle."
"He is a powerful wizard and highly respected in certain circles. But he has not let his station go to his head. Like Albus Dumbledore, he has remained approachable. Go to his suite. I will join you there shortly. It would not do for us to be seen together too much. There might be… rumors."
Hermione nodded in understanding and got up from her seat. He watched her as she left the workroom. That went far better than he had anticipated. Pleased with how this was all going, he put the jars back up before locking his workroom and turning to head down the hallway. A voice calling out to him stopped him. He turned to see Draco approaching. "Something the matter, Mr. Malfoy?"
Draco stopped before him, shaking his head. "No, Professor. I… I was just wondering if Hermione was down here. She wasn't up at breakfast with the rest of the Gryffindors."
Clearly guilt was still eating away at the boy. "No, Mr. Malfoy, she is not here. Might I suggest, however, that you curb your interest in Miss Granger as long as you are still living within the Slytherin dorms? It would not do for you to draw any… unwanted attention to yourself."
The boy swallowed and nodded. "Yes, Professor. I'll keep that in mind. Sorry to have bothered you."
Severus watched as the teen turned and walked away, hands shoved into his pockets. Internally he sighed. It looked as though Mr. Malfoy's feelings of guilt were starting to reassign themselves into the beginnings of misplaced romanticism towards his protégé. He certainly hoped that was not the case. Teenage hearts were tricky things to manage.