Hello again! I keep telling myself I'm going to work on actual work, but this story kept rattling the bars of it's cage in my head, so I'm letting it escape slowly whenever I have the time to write. It might be on the long side and I have the first dozen or so chapters written already. I'll try to stay to an at-least-once-a-week posting schedule, but if I get too wrapped up in it things might progress faster.
For those coming from The List, expect less fluff right away, but you know me...it'll happen eventually. I hope you enjoy this one! As always, please review and let me know what you think! Severus willing I'm usually open to ideas/feedback.
And with that, here we go again...
Severus silently trudged back through the same secret passageway he had walked hundreds of times before, forcing his mind through the even more familiar process of sorting the memories of the night behind his occlumency shields. I don't know whether I should be more disturbed at the fact that I am doing this again or at how easy it is to step back into it. It's like the last twelve years never happened. Throughout the year, as he noticed his dark mark slowly returning, he had prepared himself for the moment when it finally burned. However, earlier that night when he felt the agonizing burn consume his left forearm, he was overwhelmed with a feeling of heaviness that no preparation could have prevented.
After an already long evening of of the third task of the Triwizard tournament, Potter's dramatic return, and the revelation of Crouch's real identity, the simple act of removing the black cloak and mask from his trunk and donning his old Death Eater persona was almost as terrifying as the idea of apparating to his former master's side almost two hours late.
Fortunately, the Dark Lord had taken out most of his rage on the Death Eaters present immediately after Potter's escape. He had only been in full possession of his body and his magic for a few hours, and fate seemed to be in Severus's favor that his cursing stamina had not been what it once was. Not wanting to show any form of weaknesses, he had covered his inability to throw stronger curses with what Severus deemed to be quite a poor portrayal of calculated mercy. However, even the unexpected reprieve from the physical agony of the Dark Lord's worse moods could not make up for the hollow feeling of being once again trapped between two masters with no way out.
All Severus wanted was a long shower, silence in which he could finish cementing his occlumency shields, and possibly a half dose of dreamless sleep. He cursed the gods when he approached his rooms and noticed that his wards had been tampered with. Clearly there truly is no rest for the wicked, he thought, automatically beginning to assess the skill level or detect the magical signature of the culprit. It can't be. It truly must be my lucky night. He continued to grumble internally as he opened the door and faced the figure sitting almost regally in one of the arm chairs in his sitting room. The lights were all dark, but he could see half of the all-too-familiar face in the light of the dying fire.
"Granger, you have thirty seconds to explain your presence before we discover if Gryffindor's hourglass can display a negative points value."
He expected her to shrink in fear, reevaluate and flee his rooms, anything but the small, jaded-looking, half smile that graced her features as she stood up and placed the notebook in which she had been writing down on the table. Bloody make yourself at home, why don't you? Instead of speaking right away, she surveyed his person with the same analytical intent he usually saw directed at one of her potions in class gave a small nod, and breathed what looked like a small sigh of relief. When she finally spoke, it was with a tone strangely calm and eerily mature, even coming from her.
"I'm glad to see he didn't hurt you too badly, Professor. I was worried."
He didn't know what to make of this remark or of the fact that it took no strides towards answering his original question. "I don't know who you think you are, Miss Granger, but it is neither my Master, my mother, or my healer, so I would advise you to answer my question directly. I have had a long night and have neither time nor patience to spare."
For a half second he was almost certain she had given him a look that at best resembled a forbearing eye roll, but whatever look it had been was gone as quickly as it had come and was replaced with a look of sheer dedication he knew only too well. That is the look of a Gryffindor on a mission. Here comes the squaring of the shoulders, yes right on cue, now the deep breath, there it is, now let's hear what the chit has to say for herself.
"This isn't going to work."
Well that certainly wasn't what I was expecting. He arched one eyebrow up, subtly urging her to continue.
"I came to speak with you as soon as Harry told me the full story of what happened, but you weren't here. I sat down to wait and after a half hour I realized where your absence suggested you were. I began running Arithmancy equations to pass the time and it just isn't going to work."
His eyebrow remained arched, but it now assumed a more mocking tone as he spoke.
"Miss Granger, if you are looking for someone who can understand what you are talking about without an adequate explanation, Sybil Trelawney's tower is three staircases over and to the left. Your thirty seconds are up. Get out of my sitting room."
I know I saw an eye roll that time. If my powers of intimidation are failing I must be more tired than I thought. He put on his fiercest glare, the one that could reduce a first year to tears in a matter of seconds. She gulped and her back became almost imperceptibly straighter. Ah, that's better.
"Voldemort," she blurted out, not noticing the subtle clenching of his left fist when she spoke the name. "There's no way we can defeat him."
He took a second to survey the girl standing in front of him. Fists tight, shoulders back, chin up in an unspoken defiance, yet she spoke calmly and with words that had clearly been thought out beforehand. A true hatstall she had been, the courage of a Gryffindor battling the intellectual curiosity of a Ravenclaw. After being the brains of the Golden Trio's mischief over the years he had to admit that the Slytherin portion of the hat's donated grey matter might have had a stake in the game as well, but probably bowed out due to her blood status. She had to have a pretty good reason for being in his rooms at, gods, three fourty seven in the bloody morning. All right, she has my interest. Sod it all, let's hear her out.
"Explain, Miss Granger," he said with an eye roll of his own and a reluctant half nod towards the chair she had been occupying when he arrived.
One almost successfully stifled sigh of relief later she was seated in a chair facing his own, notebook open on her lap.
"Voldemort seems to be fairly certain that killing Harry is his ticket to ruling the wizarding world, which means that at some point in time Harry has to fight him. At first I tried to figure why it had to be Harry, after all it doesn't stand to logic that the fate of wizardkind should rest on the shoulders of a fourteen year old boy, but the Arithmancy equations really just didn't tolerate any other way around it, on top of which I assume if it didn't have to be Harry why didn't Dumbledore just off him years ago..."
"Ten points for rambling, Miss Granger." Rambling, yes, but it's impressive how she arrived at the correct conclusion even without knowing about that thrice damned prophecy. I'll have to compliment Vector on her curriculum if fourth years have managed that level of sophistication. However, it is Granger we're talking about, so maybe not.
"See your way to your point please. Some of us do wish to sleep tonight. "
"Sorry, Professor." She took another barely-concealed, calming breath and began again more slowly.
"I ran the equations and there is no way I could see for Harry to come out alive, not to mention victorious, in another confrontation with Voldemort." She did notice the tensing of his left arm this time, looking guiltily down for a beat before she continued on.
"He was lucky to survive this time, but I fear he wouldn't be that lucky a second time. Not unless we change something. Change something big."
He paused before responding, surveying the look of determination on her face and the fact that she didn't flinch away from his eye contact the way she used to.
"And this 'we' you speak of is you and me. At quarter to five in the morning. The day of the Dark Lord's return?" His eyebrow raised perilously close to his hairline.
"Well yes. No. Sort of." Another deep breath, this time without an attempt to hide it. "You were the only one I trusted." She looked like she was now having to fight to maintain eye contact, but she won the battle and kept her head up.
"And why is that, Miss Granger?" Surely I am the last person any of your Gryffindor...colleagues," he let the word roll off his tongue as if to maximize the amount of disdain he could put into only two syllables, "would come to for help. Why do you even trust me?"
Without missing a beat, she held her chin up and replied confidently.
"Headmaster Dumbledore trusts you, sir."
"That is a child's answer, Miss Granger. I have neither time nor patience for children at this time of night. However, if you manage to make it back to Gryffindor tower immediately and without being seen, I will not deduct any more points from your house." He rose from his chair and made to walk into his private rooms when he realized, that he had yet to hear the sounds indicating she had stood up from her chair or, for that matter, any shifting sounds to indicate she had any intention of moving.
"Yes, Professor?" Said calmly and rationally, as if she was not in a situation that would have most other students running for their lives (or at least for their academic careers).
"Tomorrow in class I will find reason to give you detention. Be here tomorrow night at six o'clock with a better answer to my question. If I am satisfied by your answer we may discuss the matter further."
"Thank you, Professor. Have a good night, what's left of it." And with that he heard her rustle up her notebook and quietly shut the door behind her.
And to think the Dark Lord returning would be the strangest part of the evening. With a nonverbal charm he simultaneously folded his Death Eater cloak and banished it, alongside the mask, back to its hidden compartment in his wardrobe. Another minute and he was taking full advantage of the hottest water Hogwarts' magical showers could produce. Not soon after, he was clean, dry, and tucked into his silky, Slytherin-green sheets. However, sleep did not come. The first lights of morning would find him still awake and replaying the events of the evening, culminating in Granger's warning. Not unless we change something. Change something big.