Author's Note: The following narrative is canon with the books up until the chapter "Flight of the Prince" in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. However, that doesn't mean that there aren't new reasons for a character's past behavior.
The main plot of this tale came from one of my readers, mama123, who apparently has been mulling over the idea for quite a while. I've made a few changes to her preliminary outline of the story, to make all the events work right, and added a few plot flourishes myself. It's a great idea and I hope I can do her vision of the story justice.
Thanks for reading. Double thanks for those who read and review!
Chapter 1: The Silver Stiletto
June 30, 1997
Hermione felt like they were being way too obvious, she and Luna. Harry had told her to keep an eye on Snape and that's what she was trying to do. They had stalked him, as discreetly as possible, throughout the evening and had been parked outside his office for the last two hours. Taking up a position in a small alcove, on a bench, and within ten yards of the entrance to his office, they were pretending to study their respective copies of Advanced Potion-Making. It was to be their excuse, flimsy as it was, if they were caught outside their dormitories considerably past curfew. With Professor Snape as head of house, she didn't expect a single Slytherin out of bed and roaming the halls, so their chances of getting caught in the dungeons were slim to none. Unless Professor Snape himself found them out. Then there would be hell to pay.
As she shifted, again, on the cold stone bench, she pondered Harry's insistence that she keep tabs on Snape's whereabouts. He had always been suspicious of Severus Snape, ever since their first potions class, despite being proved wrong time after time. And he had seemed so convinced, a few hours ago, that this time he was right. She rubbed her eyes and leaned back against the hard stone wall.
Professor Snape. The man was an enigma. Obviously a genius, he probably knew more about potions and dark arts than any man alive. Hermione had never labored under the bias about Snape that Harry had. Although their professor could be nasty from time to time, her observations concluded that he rarely responded in such a way unless provoked, though she had to admit that many of those provocations were rather minor. And there was that incident with her teeth. Although her feelings had initially been crushed at his remark, it had all turned out for the better because she had finally gotten them fixed. Overall, she had a high opinion of the man and, if truth be told, a smidgen of a crush. Not anything like second year when Gilderoy Lockhart had been their D.A.D.A. teacher. She still blushed at the thought of how stupid that had been. No, this was more of a deep respect for the dedication to scholarly pursuits that Professor Snape exhibited. Whenever she thought about the type of man that she would want to marry, that quality was always at the top of her list and because Professor Snape was her prime example of such a characteristic, her imaginary husband tended to be tall and thin and wore billowing black robes. That's was all there was to it; not even a real crush. Well, that and the fact that he moved in such an elegant fashion. And that he had such graceful hands. And that voice . . .
"That's a very nice jumper, you know," Luna whispered to her. "Is it Muggle made?"
Hermione looked down at the dark red jumper she had hastily thrown on after classes had ended for the day. She usually only wore it in the Gryffindor common room, but she was glad she had it on now; it was cold down here. Last summer she had seen a bit of red peeking out of a basket of jumpers at a second hand shop near her home, and she had engaged another nearby shop to print a huge lion's head on the front. Some of the paint even looked like gold leaf. It was amazing what Muggle technology could do nowadays. She nodded.
"Yes, I found a drawing I really liked and they were able to use a computer to scan it, enlarge it and print it on fabric," Hermione whispered back. Luna's luminous eyes gazed into her own, accepting the explanation without question.
"I think Muggles have a kind of magic of their own," Luna said softly, in that eerily understanding way that she had.
"They do. I sometimes think that's what Voldemort, despite all his pureblood rhetoric, is really afraid of - that one day Muggle magic will overcome ours."
Luna nodded knowingly. Hermione thought they were at the point in their conversation where the Ravenclaw was going to go off the rails with her usual discourse on Wrackspurts or Nargles, but they were interrupted when Professor Flitwick burst into the corridor.
"Death Eaters!" he gasped out as he approached. "Death Eaters in the castle! Death Eaters at Hogwarts!" Hermione wasn't sure he even noticed them as he ran past their alcove, flicked his wand at Snape's door and ran inside. Alarmed, the two girls stood and sidled toward the now open office. They could hear Professor Flitwick quite clearly.
"Severus! Come quickly! Death Eaters have breached the castle's defenses and there is a battle at the base of the Astronomy Tower. Minerva sent me to . . . "
There was a quick gasp and then a dull thud and suddenly Professor Snape strode into the corridor, black robes swirling about him. He turned quickly in the direction from which Professor Flitwick had come and nearly ran the two girls over.
"Miss Lovegood, Miss . . . Granger, it is fortunate that you are here," he said smoothly, his eyes cold and piercing black as always, especially in the dim light cast by the corridor sconces. Professor Snape's face had always been a source of curiosity to Hermione. He was the most stoic man she had ever met, rarely showing any emotion at all. His black, black eyes were always flat and cold, unless someone messed up in Potions and the glare they could produce would wither a student on the spot. She sensed he had been able to smile at one time, but now, instead, he always seemed to quash that tendency which produced his trademark smirk. Another unusual thing about him - his voice grew quieter the angrier he became. With one exception, of course. At the end of her third year when he had caught them in the Shrieking Shack with Professor Lupin and what everyone at the time thought was the mass murderer Sirius Black. He had become unhinged with rage, behavior Hermione never would have expected from Professor Snape. Everyone has their limits, she supposed.
But now something odd happened. His eyes flicked down to her jumper and when he looked back up, those eyes seemed to glow. He stared at her with the softest expression she had ever seen on his face. She shifted uncomfortably and that seemed to snap him out of his brief reverie.
"Professor Flitwick has collapsed in my office. Quickly - attend to him. I will assist in securing the castle." Hermione watched Luna instantly run into the room to help her head of house and then she slowly turned back to the potions master. Feeling uneasy, she drew her wand, but now his eyes seemed sad. She saw his lips purse and the severe face she knew best snapped back in place.
"Miss Granger, you will obey me or suffer the consequences."
The abrupt change in his demeanor prompted a slight frown on Hermione's face, but then she nodded and turned to follow Luna. She had barely taken two steps in the direction of Professor Snape's office when something slammed into her back with tremendous force. Her wand went flying and she pitched forward. Her surroundings seemed to shift as she fell toward the very solid stone floor. She put her hands out to catch herself, trying to prevent a complete face plant as the floor rushed upward. But as she did so the flagstones changed to cobblestones, the walls of the castle corridor dissolved and the light from the sconces, dim as they were, snuffed out, plunging her into nearly complete darkness. She hit the ground hard taking the brunt of her fall on the heels of her palms and her, now, aching knees. Rolling onto her side as the pain shot up her arms and legs she wondered what the hell had happened.
She could barely see her hand in front of her face but there was just enough light to discern that she wasn't in Hogwarts anymore. The cobblestones beneath her were damp and it smelled of rain. As she looked around, she realized it was sprinkling lightly, so she must be outside. A solid wall was next to her and she shakily put her hand on it to support an effort at standing up. Dusting off her knees - they were going to be quite sore until she could find some bruise paste - and rubbing her aching palms, she peered about. It looked like she was in some kind of alley and it was so narrow it would probably be as gloomy during the day as it was right now with rain and nightfall. The buildings, wedged tightly together as if huddling close for protection, were shabby and unkempt. Then she noticed a few windows were barely illuminated by candlelight, magically tinged vermillion. Although she had never been here before, she suddenly realized where she was.
"Merlin help me!" she muttered, "It's the red light district of Knockturn Alley. How in hades did I end up here?" She immediately cast about for her wand, deciding it would not be a good idea to roam around the most dangerous part of wizarding London without protection. She tried several times to Summon it wandlessly, but nothing happened. Soon she was back on her hands and knees trying to feel about for that very important stick of wood. She heard hinges creak and a dim pool of light stretched toward her.
"And what have we here?" a gruff voice said from the doorway closest to where she was kneeling. Too late! She got to her feet as fast as she could, but not quite fast enough. The owner of the gruff voice, and apparently a couple of his pals, took the several steps across the alley and had her surrounded in an instant, wands drawn.
"Well, aren't you a lovely one?" Gruff Voice sneered. She could smell the alcohol on the man's breath, no surprise there, but that wasn't as nauseating as the stink of the fellow himself. She drew her head back attempting to avoid the reek that wafted off him and bumped it on the wall behind her.
"What? Not good enough for you, witch?" The disgusting man demanded. "You just have to get to know me better, you do," his snicker was joined in chorus by his companions. He reached out, grabbed the front of her jeans and pulled her close. She tried a right hook to his jaw, but he slapped her wrist away, deftly deflecting the blow. He slung one arm around her shoulders, pinning her arms to her side.
"Let go of me, you letch," she growled at him and tried to maneuver into a position to kick or knee him. He grabbed her jaw and forced his mouth on hers.
"I don't think so," a familiar velvety voice said. She felt her assailant stiffen and start to fall over, taking her with him. But then a firm hand took hold of her arm and the unconscious man was shoved away. She was pulled a few feet down the alley, until she cleared the pile of unconscious bodies. Wiping her mouth on the back of her sleeve, and trying desperately not to vomit, she allowed her rescuer to guide her along the narrow street.
"Are you okay?"
"Y-yes, thank you, Professor Snape, but I don't understand. Why did you bring us here? There are Death Eaters at Hogwarts. We have to get back as soon as possible."
"Professor?" Snape queried, surprise obvious in his voice. "Death Eaters at Hogwarts?" He added very quietly. His hand on her elbow tightened until it was almost painful and he forced her around to face him. "What do you know of the Dark Lord's plans?" He hissed, inches from her face.
Hermione was sorely confused. She was disoriented at being transported out of Hogwarts, which should have been impossible as far as she had been informed. She was still shaky from the distasteful encounter with the now unconscious overgrown alley rats and, other than saving her from harm once again, Professor Snape's behavior was distinctly out of character. She had never known him to even speak of Voldemort, let alone ask her questions about him. He knew very well that she could not know anything about what Voldemort was scheming.
"I - I don't know anything about . . . his . . . plans." She couldn't wrap her mind around this situation. "But Professor, the Death Eaters! We have to get back. You have to help the Order protect the castle!"
"Why in Merlin's name would I want to help the Order?" he snarled at her.
"You've been helping the Order for years!" she snarled back, to her surprise. Why was he acting so oddly? She tried to yank her arm from his grasp, but that just made him dig his fingers into the flesh around her elbow. Her arm was starting to ache. "Let go of me!"
"You have to answer a few questions first, witch," he growled and continued dragging her up the alley. "How do you know who I am?" Although it was too dark to clearly see his face, his voice was cold and quiet and she knew what that meant.
"What are you talking about? I've been your student for 6 years now." Hermione said. "How can you not know me?" Something had gone seriously awry. Could he have been injured, perhaps a concussion, when they were transported from Hogwarts? "Professor are you feeling okay? Did you . . . hit your head . . . when we landed in the alley?" What happened next made Hermione absolutely certain that something was terribly, terribly wrong.
"P-Professor Snape?" she stammered. He took a sharp left and opened the door to a tiny, decrepit pub. What little paint was left on the exterior was peeling and the windows were so filthy they were nearly opaque. The damp, tacky sign on the door read The Silver Stiletto. He shoved her through the entryway and followed after, still gripping her elbow.
The interior was a bit brighter than the illumination from the windows had let on, but not by much. Professor Snape steered her toward a dark booth at the back of the establishment and maneuvered her down onto the questionably cushioned bench. Retaining a firm grip on her arm, he flicked his wand and Hermione recognized its effects immediately.
"Muffliato?" Hermione whispered, astonished. "How do you know that spell?" This night was getting more bizarre by the moment. Harry had found Muffliato scribbled in the margins of his borrowed Advanced Potion-Making textbook, a spell that she had never been able to find in any other book; a spell no one else knew.
Professor Snape went very still. The pub, and particularly the booth where she now sat, was dark enough that everything was in shadow. Dampened by the rain, his black hair clung to his face obscuring most of it even if there had been enough light to see by. He towered over her, his black robes making him simply a darker shadow amongst the many that colonized the run-down environs.
"How do you know what that spell is?" he said coldly. Slowly, very slowly, the pieces fell together in her mind. There is only one other person who would have the knowledge to cast that particular spell.
"You're the Half-Blood Prince," Hermione said, barely able to push the words out of her mouth.
"How in Merlin's name can you possibly know that?" he demanded. "Who are you?" He released her arm and took the bench opposite. In an almost offhand manner he ran his hand through his hair, pulling the damp, lank mass away from his face. Just at that moment, the sconce behind her flared and his features came into sharp focus. She gasped and her hand flew to her mouth.
Snape stared at the witch sitting across from him. He was now wholly convinced that he had never seen her before in his life, so how on earth could she know so much about him? His mind shifted into overdrive. It was imperative that he find out what was going on. Lord Voldemort's plans were in serious jeopardy if this slip of a girl could suss them out. He quickly parsed the information that she had volunteered since he had intervened and dispatched her assailants in the alley. There were only two possibilities.
Was the witch the best Seer the wizarding world had ever known? It seemed unlikely that he would have had the opportunity to overhear prophecies from two genuine Seers on two separate occasions. Indeed, that would have been exceedingly rare. The first prophecy had come from the Trelawney witch during her interview with Dumbledore. Although he had only overheard part of it, the woman had seemed in a trance when it was given. From what he knew of Divination, that was the normal method of delivery for a prophecy.
This girl was different. She had definitely not been in a trance, yet she had told him things that only he and Lord Voldemort knew of. It was highly unlikely the Dark Lord had let slip his schemes in any situation where this witch could have overheard them and Snape was absolutely certain that he had not disclosed one word about his task to anyone.
But there was another scenario. It was even more far-fetched, but the comment the girl had made about being his student for 6 years lead him to believe it might be possible. If she had found a way to travel back in time - that could explain how she would be so familiar with him and he would not know her.
The Ministry had recently found several ancient artifacts that dealt with the mechanics of time and one such discovery was a cache of what were being called Time-Turners. Lord Voldemort was interested in this line of inquiry and one of Snape's assignments was to find out as much as he could about the research on-going in the Department of Mysteries involving the manipulation of time. The time-turners, from what he had been able to gather, were relatively limited, allowing the user to travel back only a few hours or a day or so. Not entirely helpful for what the Dark Lord was envisioning. But Snape continued gathering information about the activities there and, in particular, where the Ministry was searching to find more artifacts. And now he possibly had proof of extended time travel in the form of the witch sitting before him. No doubt Lord Voldemort would be quite pleased when Snape turned her over to him. If she were the real deal. He ran his hand through his wet hair.
The sconce behind the girl flared momentarily and, reflexively, his eyes flicked up to look at the distraction. Snape heard the girl gasp and his gaze snapped back to her face. The next words out of the witch's mouth confirmed his second hypothesis.
"Professor! Y-You're so . . . young!"
Snape couldn't quite quash the smile that played across his lips, his deductions verified for the most part. There was one more particular he needed to collect in order to make a final ratification of his assessment. He locked his eyes onto hers and, using a rudimentary level of Legilmency, watched for whatever might surface there. Indeed, this was the only reason he had dragged her into the Silver Stiletto in the first place. And he found what he was looking for. The girl had a vestigial understanding that she was no longer in her own time. He would have continued his perusal of her mind, picking up any stray facts he found on the surface - a pub was not the place to perform a comprehensive Legilmency - but, to his surprise, she tore her eyes from his.
"I know what you are trying to do," she said flatly, looking down at the table between them. "I know that you are a Legilimens."
"No matter," he said coolly, though again feeling uncomfortable about how much this witch knew about him. "I have what I wanted." He stood and once again took her by the arm. This time her resistance was considerably increased, but he was much stronger and magical enhancements were not needed to haul her out of the pub. The establishment's clientele was such that no one took particular notice of his companion's attempts to free herself from his grip - it was just another evening in the red light district.
They exited back into the alley where the rain was now coming down in earnest. The girl struggled against his manhandling, her feet scrabbling on the wet cobblestones, trying to find leverage to wrench her arm from his grasp. He increased her imbalance by pushing her back and then yanking her to the side and up to his face.
"I am not beyond using the Imperious Curse on you, witch," he growled.
"Miss Granger. You always call me Miss Granger."
"Whatever. Imagine everything that would come tumbling out of your mouth if I favored you with that particular spell? In fact, that is not such a bad idea." He lifted his wand to her face.
"Okay, okay," she conceded and she settled down, acquiescing to walk quietly by his side. He still did not release her.
"Where are you taking me?" she asked, her voice trembling.
"The Dark Lord will be very interested in how you traveled into the past . . . Miss Granger," he said silkily. "I believe he can be found, at the present hour, taking dinner at Malfoy Manor. That is where we are going."
"But you can't do that, Professor," she said quietly, furiously forcing her mind to think itself out of this mess. He had assessed the situation nearly as quickly as she had and had come to the same conclusion. Although always admiring Professor Snape's keen intelligence, it had just become a liability. She needed to stall him so that she would have more time to piece events together; more time to figure a way out of this unacceptable situation.
"He will Legilimens me and find out that you are spying for Professor Dumbledore," she said, hoping that would give this young Severus Snape pause.
"All the better, as that was the Dark Lord's original plan. I was to pretend to defect to the Order and volunteer to spy for Dumbledore. Unfortunately, the old geezer had already hired a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher for this year," he said and shifted his grip slightly. That allowed some blood to ease back into her arm, which was becoming noticeably numb. "Lord Voldemort will be pleased to know that his plan is going to work. You will be able to provide us information as to when that will be."
She bit her lower lip. How much could she tell him about the future? She had to balance securing her safety with giving up information about what was to come. The consequences weighed heavily on her heart. Of course, if Professor Snape - she couldn't think of him as anything else but her teacher, despite his apparent youth - if Professor Snape took her to Voldemort, that evil wizard would strip her mind of any information she had about what was going to happen. He would learn of major events that would benefit him beyond his wildest imaginings. With that eventuality staring her in the face, she felt justified in giving Professor Snape more information. Her future potions teacher had switched sides once. What was it that had caused him to defect and give his loyalty to Dumbledore? Perhaps she could induce that change again? Right now would be a good time for that to happen.
"Volde . . . the Dark Lord . . . knows about a prophecy that foretells his downfall."
"Yes, he does. I'm the one who relayed that prophecy directly to him," Professor Snape said and ducked into an even smaller, and very deserted, alleyway, dragging her behind.
"Y-You? You told him about the prophecy that got the Potters killed?" she blurted out, stunned at this piece of news. Her stomach churned and her limbs felt weak. Professor Snape had truly been a Death Eater in his youth. He was entirely on board with Voldemort's evil plans. Real fear clutched at her insides for the first time. She was in the presence of a very dangerous man who was on his way to present her as a sacrificial gift to an evil psychopath.
"The Potters?" he queried, halting abruptly in his tracks. He turned to confront her and she could feel his warm breath on her face, even if she couldn't see his. His reaction gave her hope.
"Yes, the Potters! Your master murdered . . . murders . . . both Lily and James Potter, leaving their son an orphan." Biting back her next impulse, she decided babbling about Voldemort getting killed in the process was not her best strategy at this juncture. "They were in your year, weren't they? You knew them? Doesn't that mean anything to you?"
"They were given multiple chances to join us and they refused. Their lives, or their deaths, are their own responsibility," he snarled and continued pulling her down the alleyway.
What could she possibly say to this man to keep him from turning her over to Voldemort? Even if she could free herself from his grasp, she knew he'd have a dozen curses heading her way before she could gain two steps - she'd seen him duel Lockhart and watched him, fascinated, as he taught the N.E.W.T. level Defense Against the Dark Arts class this past year. If anything, he would probably be faster now, in his youth. And she didn't have a wand.
She needed to think of something that he would not want Voldemort to know. Something that would anger the evil wizard, something . . . oh . . .
"It is said that the Dark Lord is the most powerful Legilimens that the wizarding world has ever known," she began.
"That is true," Professor Snape said flatly.
"Then that means you are the most powerful Occlumens that has ever lived," she continued, measured and clear - she didn't want him to miss a single word. He didn't. He slowly came to a halt.
"I cannot imagine any scenario where I would divulge that information to another living soul," he said very, very softly.
"You told Dumbledore."
"I betray Lord Voldemort? Why would I do that?"
"Only Dumbledore knows why. He trusts you beyond reason; beyond any counsel," she hesitated. This had to be good. "Perhaps you betray Lord Voldemort because he betrays you?" The rain was letting up and in its passing, the air itself seemed to be holding its breath. Damp and sodden, not a sound stalked the alleyway in that moment. She pressed her advantage.
"In my time he is becoming more and more mentally unstable. He kills for the sake of killing - without cause and without reason. He tortures indiscriminately - even his own followers. His paranoia knows no bounds. Surely you have marked the early signs of this behavior - you must have seen it with your own eyes?" Now for the nail in the coffin. "There is no tale you can spin that will ever persuade him to trust you again. When he rips that knowledge from my mind, when he discovers that you are a better Occlumens than he is a Legilimens, your life will be forfeit."
He loomed over her. In the dark, she could not see his face, those black eyes. And that meant he couldn't see hers either, to assure himself if she was telling the truth. Her words alone would have to suffice.
Suddenly, he swung his drenched black traveling cloak around her and with the same movement wrapped his arm about her shoulders, pinning her to his side. He used the momentum of that action to pivot both of them around his heel and a loud pop echoed in her ears as they Disapparated. As darkness jumped at them, she felt the familiar, uncomfortable sensation as if being squeezed through a tube.
And it felt like all hope was being squeezed out of her at the same time. He was taking her to Voldemort.