Hermione Granger sat in her room during her summer holiday reading a rather tattered old book that she had read at least a hundred times. It was her favorite from her early childhood, a Dr. Seuss book Oh the Places You Will Go. As she read through it, she pictured herself as an adult working at different jobs that interested her. Maybe she would be a vet? She loved animals. Or maybe she would be a teacher? She really enjoyed learning and reading. Her possibilities were endless. The only thing they all had in common was that she was away from home, far away.
Up until the time she was five, her parents had adored her. She came from a family of dentists, and her parents prided themselves on their work and seemingly perfect little family. She was an only child and the center of attention for her parents and extended family. She was a charming and easy going baby and toddler, and had shown signs of her intelligence early. That was until weird stuff started happening. She remembered it like it had only happened yesterday. She was six and at her primary school. She was minding her own business coloring letters of the alphabet on the worksheet her teacher had handed out. Out of nowhere, she felt something hit the back of her head, and looked in time to see one little boy throwing paper wads at her when the teacher wasn't looking. She ignored him, but he kept on throwing paper at her until her teacher walked by, and scolded her for littering the floor! She had been so mad and hurt that the boy who had tormented her, and had now gotten her into trouble, suddenly flew backwards out of his chair and across the room. She wasn't sure how she knew, but she had a feeling that she had been responsible for that. She had noticed a tingling in her body that she had never experienced before. Then the school had informed her family. Her parents had somehow also known that she was responsible for this "incident" too. When she had gotten home that afternoon, they punished her harshly. They called her names they never had before, and treated her worse than you would a stray animal. All of a sudden when she went to bed that night, she was an undesirable that got in her parents way, and she was a far cry from the child they had taken joy in just that morning at breakfast! Everything had changed in one day.
Now Hermione knew not to interact with her parents much. It had been four years since she had been loved and accepted. Four years since she had been hugged and kissed and taken on vacations or complimented for her efforts at school. Now all they referred to her as was freak when something strange would happen, and it usually did.She fended for herself when it came to food, clothing, stuff for school, and other things by stealing or working odd jobs here and there for money. Her parents only provided her with the basics of shelter and the opportunity to make something from their food in their house. When she did interact with them, they would ignore her for the most part. However, there were days when her father especially would be in a particularly foul mood. He would lash out at her by pulling her hair and dragging her around by it, or shoving her roughly to the floor, or every once in a while he would aim a swift kick or hard smack at her. She had bruises and bumps and one nasty scar across her chest from when her father had taken a swing at her while he was helping her mother fix dinner for just the two of them. He had had a knife in his hand, and he had cut her with it. She had fled upstairs, bleeding everywhere, sure that she needed stitches but unwilling to walk around as she was feeling faint. Now a constant reminder was there as a faint, red, jagged scar going full length across her pale skin that she was not worth loving, not worth caring for, and probably not worth being alive.
But she had survived. She survived every day. She had gone from being completely studious and carefree to just surviving day to day. She was still extremely bright for her age, and she never let her grades fall below a certain standard, even if it was just to prove to her alone that she could do good, non-freakish, things. However, reading and homework and studying no longer were the focus. She would love for it to be the center of her concerns again like some of the other kids…and having friends. She missed her friends. She had started to distance herself when the abuse started, and they had moved on with their lives, not really understanding what was wrong with their once lively and funny friend. She was a loner and survivor now. She knew that if she was alone, no one could harm her. She would be safe.
But secretly she longed and hoped for a life where she didn't have to be alone or a survivor. She wanted a life where she didn't have to take care of herself. Where she could talk to someone who loved her and wanted to be with her and cuddle with her and support her. She had no clue where that was or who that would be with, but she wanted it. She wanted to prove that she wasn't a freak despite the freaky things still happening to her, because of her. She wanted a family.
Severus Snape looked out the window of his summer home at Prince Manor at the faint outline of mountains hiding away in the shadows night brought with it. He took a sip of the last of his tea as he turned and headed back into the living room to enjoy some peace and quiet. While he had done a complete makeover from the cold, forbidding and dark look that the home used to sport to a warm, inviting and safe place, it still felt as it had in his childhood before he had moved with his abusive father to Spinner's End. Severus had done everything he could think of to change the place, but with just him here and only over summer holiday, the house still didn't feel quite like home. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, however, felt like his home. It had since he was an eleven year old boy. He had accepted the place as home with his best friend, Lily Evans, and they had spent many wonderful days there despite being in different school houses. He had been in Slytherin house while she had been in Gryffindor. Their houses shared a brutal rivalry, but they didn't. They were happy. Until James Potter and the Marauders had come along, and then he had insulted his friend by calling her a disgusting racial slur. He wanted to blame James Potter, his tormentor and abuser, for everything that had happened between him and Lily, but he knew that his words had been the final straw that had drove them apart in their fifth year, and he suffered for it to this day. After Lily's death at basically his own hand, he had vowed to live alone and to die alone. He felt that he didn't deserve a life of love, fun, laughter, and other milestones. Lily couldn't have it because of him, so why should he? He felt that way was the only way he could say sorry to her and pay her back for what he had stolen from her. While she was away from her family, he would not have a family either. He had his coworkers at Hogwarts where he was the Potions Master. He also had Professor Albus Dumbledore who tried his best to look out for him. Dumbledore was the reason he wasn't rotting away in Azkaban, and through his service to Dumbledore felt he was at least doing some good, even if the work Albus had him doing was annoying and very trying of his patience at times. At the moment, he was job free. However, next year Harry Potter would be returning to the magical world and attending school at Hogwarts. It was Severus' job to look out for him and protect him. That would be…interesting.
Looking down at his empty tea cup, he felt as though he could use something a little stronger. While he was not a big drinker of alcohol because of his abusive, alcoholic father, he did enjoy a little here and there in moderation. He poured himself a bit of Firewhiskey, content to sip it until he fell asleep. However, at the moment when he had just sat down in his favorite comfortable recliner to enjoy some peace, quiet and alcohol, the Floo turned green and out stepped Albus Dumbledore. The old wizard used his wand to get the soot off of his bright blue robes that had stars and moons all over them. When Dumbledore would turn a certain way, Severus swore that the stars glimmered. Dumbledore straightened his hat and robes, and turned towards Severus who was looking at the old man with a mixture of dread and exasperation. What could Dumbledore want at close to midnight at the start of the summer holidays? Severus made to get up again to greet his guest when Dumbledore turned to him with a twinkle in his eyes and smiling, put out a hand to stop him from rising. "Don't get up on account of me, Severus. You look more comfortable now than I have seen you in many years."
"Yes, well, I don't have a school full of dunderheads to teach." Severus figured that would make anyone tense when he had to make sure students wouldn't blow themselves, their classmates, or their professor up in an act of foolish disregard.
Severus gestured for Albus to have a seat on the couch opposite the chair he was sitting in. The old wizard obliged, and as he sat down pulled out a bag of lemon drops, offering one to the younger man who declined. Albus took one out to suck on, and then started explaining what brought him to Prince Manor at this late in the evening on such short notice, well, really no notice at all.
"Severus, we have a situation," Dumbledore began losing the twinkle in his eyes as he spoke. "One of our future Muggleborn students appears to be…struggling at home."
"Struggling how, and how does that concern me, Headmaster?" Severus asked genuinely confused and not at all sarcastic or snarky.
"It concerns you greatly, my boy," Dumbledore went on as he leaned forward in his seat. "She is being neglected and abused. It has been brought to my attention from another witch who was visiting family who resides in the same neighborhood as this young lady. She heard loud voices and while…investigating…saw the young girl showing signs of accidently magic to protect herself. She contacted me immediately."
"What would you like me to do with her?" Severus was worried that he knew exactly where this conversation was going, but he was not going to make it easy on Dumbledore to get there.
"I would most appreciate it, Severus, if you could take the girl in and become her guardian eventually." Dumbledore was so serious that Severus almost smirked. Albus wanted him to rear a child on his own? Especially a young girl who would clearly need assistance processing her troubled childhood before it could cause any long term hurdles?
"No, Albus." Severus sat back and sipped on his alcohol wondering if he would need another finger more to get this conversation and ridiculous request from the Headmaster out of his mind.
Dumbledore merely smiled. He would never tell Severus this, but he felt that the young girl would do some good for his walled off, and inwardly hurting, Potions Master. He felt for the young man, having lost what was most important to him, and in doing so, bestowing a lonely life upon himself as penance. Albus understood that pain and suffering very well himself. He had made the mistake to wall off from everyone, including his own brother who now hated him even more, and immersed himself in protecting the wizarding world from two evil wizards. He made the mistake of never loving again after what happened to his sister. He would not allow Severus to undergo the same fate.
"Severus," Albus said barely above a whisper and sounding extremely old and fragile. This got Severus' attention. "I made a decision much like you're making when I was about your age. I too had made a terrible mistake that cost someone I loved their life. I immersed myself in work trying to forget while also numbing my emotions. That was the worst thing I could have ever done, Severus. I do not want to see you to make the same mistake I did."
Severus could only stare. This man who was so secretive with his past, his ideas, his hunches, with everything, was so open and vulnerable now, it took all of his willpower to not simply agree with the man, and say that he wouldn't repeat the mistake. But this was different. This was Severus Snape, the greasy bat of the dungeons, the hater of all that was light and happiness, the punisher of Gryffindors, and most importantly the Death Eater and spy. Dumbledore was the defeater of Grindelwald and leader of the Order of the Pheonix. A one man personification of all that was good and just, and a beacon for a cause everyone should fight for. Albus was a hero. Their situations were not the same.
"It's not that simple, Albus. I can't." Severus finally responded hoarsely. "Besides what would I raising a little girl accomplish? That would surely stress me more, and she would not be able to fully rely on me, especially when the Dark Lord comes back. She would be abandoned again. I may be seen as heartless by many, but I couldn't do that to an innocent child."
Dumbledore merely chuckled. "Children have an amazing capacity for love and forgiveness, Severus. She would know you as you are now, and would not care about the past you. You would also have a reason to rebuild your reputation, and if you raised her right, then you would have someone to be proud of, and someone who would be proud to have you. You would have a family, Severus. Family is very important. I want you to have a family. You deserve one. And as far as when Voldemort comes back, well, we will cross that bridge when we come to it."
"I don't," Severus cut across him. He was still thinking about what Albus had said, but he didn't deserve to be forgiven, to have a life…to have love. He deserved to be miserable.
"You do," Dumbledore reassured him. "Don't pity the dead, Severus. And don't fall upon your own sword. If you won't do this for yourself, then do this for that young girl. She deserves someone who will love her, doesn't she?"
"Then she deserves to be with someone else, Albus, someone who CAN give her all those things. I cannot." Severus uncharacteristically slumped back in his recliner looking defeated and like a man who was many years older than him.
"How about this," Dumbledore asked giving one more idea a go. "How about we do a test run? Let her live here for two weeks. If everything works out, then that is fantastic news. If not, then I will find another place for her to go. She cannot go into the Muggle orphanage system, Severus. Too many wizarding children have fallen between the cracks there." He was specifically thinking of Tom Riddle.
Severus thought about it. It was a fair suggestion, but he was not looking forward to it. However, since he believed he deserved to suffer, raising a little girl would certainly qualify."Very well, Albus, we will do a 'test run'. When will you be bringing the girl here?"
"Excellent!" Dumbledore was very pleased, and he had a sneaking suspicion that the two would get on fine. "Her name is Hermione Jean Granger. I will be bringing her here tomorrow evening."
"That's rather sudden, Albus!" Severus didn't expect her so soon! Was her situation really that dire? "What does she eat? What do I need for her? What do I DO with her?!"
Again Albus chuckled with that annoying twinkle back in his eyes. "Everything will be alright, my boy. You will learn as you go, and I'm sure it will go better than you think. However," at this Albus looked right into Severus' dark brown eyes and said slowly, as if Severus had issues comprehending English, "Do. Not. Sabatoge. This. There will be times you will feel overwhelmed, like you are failing, that you were the wrong choice. Keep pushing forward. Vent when you need to. Minerva would be an excellent resource as she has raised other Muggleborn children in her time. However, since Minerva is of a certain age, she cannot take Hermione." Albus had noticed the little light of hope that had come into Severus' eyes when he mentioned Minerva raising children, but it left just as quickly as it had come when he had said she no longer could. However, he was not going to tell Severus that Minerva had agreed regardless of age. No matter what people said of his stern, no nonsense friend and Deputy Headmistress, she loved having children since she was unable to have her own. He didn't doubt that Severus would eventually see the reward in it as well.
"Very well, Albus." Severus hoisted himself out of his chair, more tired now than he had been earlier. "Will you at least send me a message through the Floo before you come?"
"Why Severus, one would think you were nervous?" Albus had to poke a little fun at him. This was a man who had turned spy against the darkest wizard of his time, a man who had successfully completed many dangerous missions, barely escaping with his life and identity still intact, and yet was nervous to introduce a young girl into his house, into his family.
"Insufferable, meddling, old man," Severus growled under his breath. He knew Dumbledore was only poking fun at him because of everything he had accomplished in the First War; however, raising a child was very different. Severus thought he would rather have the Cruciatus curse repeatedly used on him by the Dark Lord than to take this girl.
"Don't have such dark thoughts, my boy," Dumbledore gently reprimanded, eyeing him over the top of his half moon spectacles. "Try to remain positive. Due to her home life, she will be very perceptive to your emotions, and she will be very vigilant. Dark thoughts like that will put you in a certain mood, and will certainly make bonding difficult for you two." Dumbledore thought he heard what strangely sounded much like a very quiet and juvenile, "So what?" come from the Potions Master, but didn't comment."Good night, Severus, I will be seeing you tomorrow with Miss Granger."
"Goodnight, Headmaster," Severus replied dutifully. Once Dumbledore had left back through the Floo, Severus got himself ready for the small amount of sleep he would get tonight. Tomorrow night at this time he would be dealing with a small girl in his home. On the surface, his pessimistic side told him that this was a waste of time, that she would hate him, and that she would probably be leaving in two weeks anyway. But deep, deep down, Severus kind of hoped that she did like him, and that maybe, just maybe, he would have a family.