Hermione peered around the corner quickly, hoping not to have woken anyone, before quickly bounding down the stairs. The normally creaky stairs had been fixed yesterday after Hermione pointed out a simple spell in her books to repair and cushion the steps. Molly had been more than excited, especially since the book Hermione had used was one of Molly's old magical homecare books.
"Oh, you'll make such a good Weasley if you keep this up!" Molly had slipped out.
Really, all Hermione had wanted was the chance to slip outside without the twins popping up – with a literal, ear-splitting pop – to catch her. One creak and the twins seemed to not only wake up alarmingly fast but also know it was her who was sneaking around. One time, she had even managed to waken the Mrs. Black portrait in the middle of the night, which had the entire house one her with wands drawn in under a minute. After getting caught 4 or 5 . . . or seven . . . times, the whole of Grimmauld Place seemed convinced she was going to run away.
Hermione padded through the unusually empty and dark kitchen, looking out the windows to check for and guards. Who knows what the Order had planned for the final safehouse, but if they were guarding it already she was screwed. They would see her and she would never get peace.
She took out her vinewood wand and waved it at the door, silencing the creaking monstrosity. There. If anyone saw that they would know she was of age, something she definitely didn't want even Harry or Ron to know.
She slipped out of the Fidelius protected home with a sigh. She was clear of the hardest part of the outing. The small garden in the back of Grimmauld Place was fine for small jaunts, but Hermione really needed a larger place to practice. With a look around at the street and finding it bare, Hermione apparated away.
It's strange being here without at least one ginger, she thought. The Burrow stood proud a little ways away, although a little more wobbly than it had last year. It seemed empty, but she knew better. Chances were Moody was sleeping in the living room, guarding the house for the Order. Hermione didn't notice the shimmering that seemed to approach from the house, or the eyes on her back, watching her, as she turned away from the Burrow.
She paid no mind to anything but the feeling of taking off her shoes to step onto the clover-covered field. As her feet made impact, magic seemed to seep up from the ground beneath her feet. It rushed from her toes up to her head, invigorating her and healing her. She closed her eyes and breathed in as the air started smelling like lilacs and roses, letting it calm her. The tired feeling she sometimes gathered throughout the day vanished, leaving her invigorated and ready for the magic she was about to perform.
From the shadows, the disillusioned figure watched the magical scene unfold. From his view, he could see the small amounts of light magic coursing underneath her skin. Her hair seemed to fly on its own for a moment too, hanging in the air like she were a powerful specter. Finally, after a few moments, the light that seemed to shine from underneath her skin died down to a small bit of luminescence that to the untrained eye would have looked like the reflection of moonlight on her pale skin. Unfortunately for Hermione, the eyes that watched on were more than well trained.
Trembling, Hermione took out the photographs she had packed from her pocket. These were harmless ones, with just her in them. She had taken her Polaroid around Grimmauld one day to get practice photos for tonight.
She sighed. Time to try some spells. She took out her wand and point it at one photo. "Obscuro."
The whole picture turned blurry, and Hermione could still see herself in it.
Hermione's brow puckered. She reached for the next photograph, hardly noticing as she didn't even reach all the way before it flew into her hand. Nor did she realize the sharp intake of breath from her observer at the act. She was flipping to another page in her book, looking for a spell.
The wand didn't seem to register the command, like it lacked something. Her magic fluttered in her hand, but it didn't reach her wand. Hermione tried it again. No luck. An idea occurred.
Finally, her image seemed to fall from the image. She grinned.
Hermione was too excited to register the now visible intruder on her solitude. She set up two images right next to each other. "Occaeco Hermione."
Both images of her faded from view at once.
"Finally!" Hermione hopped excitedly.
Taking 5 more photos, she set them up at various intervals in the field, testing the distances of the spell. Stretching her wand and hand out, she drew her magic out to her hand. Then, pointing her wand at her hand, incanted, "Occaeco Hermione."
The spell glowed a sad blue in her hand before she pushed it out towards the photographs. It was like a wall, sweeping over the grass without impact. This time, the figure merely watched the extraordinary magic with silence, wondering.
"Accio photographs!" Hermione called, and all five landed in her hand, showing only landscapes.
For a moment she smiled, but then she remembered why this was necessary. Hermione sighed instead, letting the photos fall to the ground. My parents will be safe, she reminded herself. They will be far away before Voldemort can move on them.
With a yelp, she whirled on the figure behind her, wand at the ready.
Professor Snape stood before her with his typical expressionless face and black robes. Besides the bags under his eyes, Snape looked the same as always. To Severus, however, Miss Granger had changed very much over the summer. She had grown out her hair, which was now most of the way down her back. That seemed to at least control the curls she had now, he mused. Her frizz was gone, and her muggle clothes showed her physical maturity.
"Professor?" Hermione inquired.
Snape smirked. "Are you asking, or are you going to verify my identity? Come now, Miss Granger, if I'm not who I say I am, you lowering your wand could mean death. Pick a question, and carefully."
She bit her lip. What would Professor Snape know that no one else would? "What potion is on page 164 of Most Potente Potions, and what are the ingredients used?"
His eyes flashed as a smile broke on his features, invigorating his appearance. "It's not a potion, it's a tincture. A powder made of crushed pixie wings, a drop of the recipient's blood, and some nettle leaf harvested by virgins under a new moon. It's known simply as Infertis in that particular text, and is usually mixed with scotch or whiskey of some sort – not firewhiskey, as that has magical properties – and given to the woman to ensure pregnancy. If you wanted one for men you'd need to substitute the pixie wings for two crushed and matching male vampire canines. Hasn't really been used by anyone but purebloods since the 1900s."
Hermione lowered her wand with a smile. "Now who's the know-it-all, sir?"
Snape rolled his eyes. "You, Miss Granger, still hold that honour. Now, care to explain yourself?"
Snape watched curiously as the smile on his Miss Granger's face shifted instantly to one of fear. Practicing magic wasn't something to be afraid of, necessarily. Maybe Miss Goody-Two-Shoes-Gryffindor was afraid if the reaction of the Weasleys to her sneaking out.
"Aren't you going to test my identity, Professor?" Hermione quipped nervously.
Sighing, Snape motioned towards the Burrow. "I sense this will be a lengthy conversation, Miss Granger. Gather your things and we'll converse in a slightly more civilized setting."
The professor eyes his hesitant student. She hadn't looked scared at him, but now her Gryffindor strength seemed to have fled. He nearly growled when she remained still, rather than obeying his instructions.
"Miss Granger, you explain yourself to me, or I take you back to Number 12 to explain yourself to the entire Order," Snape snapped.
Ducking and gathering the photos, her shoes, and beaded bag from the ground, Hermione fearfully followed her Potions Professor to the well-known Weasley home. The door creaked as Snape strode inside, and Hermione followed as demurely as possible. Snape pulled out a seat at the kitchen table and quirked and eyebrow as if daring her to question him, or to refuse the seat.
Once Miss Granger had accepted the seat, Snape strode swiftly to the opposite side and sat across from her. There would be no mistaking it; Miss Granger needed to know that this was an interrogation and that he WOULD be getting answer.
Hermione hesitated, looking down at the table. Finally, she decided on the truth.
"I haven't been able to sleep for the past week." There. The strangest thing was out. Everything else just flowed. "It's not that I have just been stressed, or that I've been having nightmares, it's that I haven't needed sleep for a week. I don't feel tired, Professor, just the opposite; I feel more alive during the nighttime.
"You remember my Third Year, Professor?" Hermione asked him hesitantly. She was saddened when he only provided a single jerky nod. "The time-turner I was given may have seen more use than I told Professor McGonagall."
She saw Snape's jaw tense, and hurriedly explained, "I didn't disobey the rules Professor McGonagall gave me, sir. But I used a time-turner every day, and there weren't many hours that year where two of me weren't running around the school, including nighttime. Occasionally, there, er, were three of me at Hogwarts."
"Miss Granger!" Snape exclaimed. "There's a reason they're not used for reasons other than study at Hogwarts! Greater men than you have become addicted to time magic. What reason could you possibly have for using it so excessively?"
Hermione tensed. "I . . . I did, sir. Get addicted."
Snape pinched the bridge of his nose. Of course she had. Minerva had been all too proud of how her little Gryffindor protégé had comported herself during her third year, and it turns out she was just good at hiding her failures. What had Albus been thinking, giving an easily taken mind such a powerful object?
Hermione saw how he seemed to be losing patience with her, and rushed to explain.
"I got addicted to how much knowledge I could absorb, sir," she tried to justify herself. "I was able to study anything I wanted for 8-10 hours a night, every night, for an entire school year without the trace giving me away or teachers looking over my shoulder. That's when I learned to apparate, sir."
"By yourself?" Snape exclaimed. "You could have been killed!"
"I had to!" Hermione defended back. "Every year, Harry was in danger. Then with Sirius … if he had been the person behind Harry's parents' death, we might have needed a quick getaway."
Snape glared at her. "So, where did you practice, Miss Granger? Not within the Hogwarts wards, obviously."
She sighed. Rule three thousand and five she had broken that year. . . "Once Harry had the Marauder's map, I used the secret passage beneath the Whomping Willow to go to the Shrieking Shack to practice."
Snape froze, the blood draining from his face. "The year Lupin taught?"
"You went to the Shrieking Shack alone, regularly, the year we actually had a werewolf there?" Snape asked again, with a little more force in his voice.
"I knew Lupin was a werewolf, Professor!" she defended herself. "You're the one who set the essay, after all."
"But you can't have known we housed him in the Shrieking Shack," Snape pointed out tersely.
Hermione sighed. "I didn't, you're right. But to be fair to Professor Lupin, he had your Wolfsbane. He was no threat even when . . ."
Snape knew that look in her eyes. He narrowed his own into a glare and tried to spit the words out between his teeth, "Did. You. Find. Out. The. Hard. Way. Granger?"
Snape was up in a second, yelling at her. "STUPID GIRL! STUPID DUMBLEDORE! Mark my words, he KNEW something like this would happen! And he still lets that werewolf transform so close to the school! You're lucky he didn't KILL YOU!"
Hermione yelped when his hands nearly decimated the kitchen table between them. "We're bringing you to the headmaster, immediately!"
"NO!" Hermione yelped. "Professor, please, just listen to what this means first."
"What, Miss Granger?" Snape hissed. "That you're not to be trusted on your own? That Lupin is a menace even in his most docile state? That you are abusive with powerful magic? Maybe that you don't deserve the title of Brightest-Witch-of-Her-Age?"
Hermione snapped. "It means I turned seventeen 2 weeks ago!"
That snapped Snape out of his hate-rant. He froze, looking at her. "You aged 15 months in one school year?"
Hermione nodded, watching in caution.
"I wouldn't have been able to do the magic I've been doing without at least a letter from the Ministry, otherwise," Hermione explained sadly. "I did the math. With the amount I used the time-turner, I aged 1 year, 3 months, 6 days, and 10 hours."
Snape paced across his side of the table. The girl had definitely overused the time-turner as much as she could. That means at least a third of the year she had been using it to triple the length of her days. She had probably suffered massive withdrawals from the time magic the summer before her fourth year.
"Why does that matter, Miss Granger?" Professor Snape asked calmly. "And why does that make any difference to you sneaking out?"
Hermione looked at her hands folded in her lap. "My magic . . . it's different, since the trace was removed. It doesn't let me sleep, sir. I don't even feel tired. I can't stay in that house every night while everyone's asleep and do nothing, I just can't!"
Severus eyed the girl in front of him. He would need to research this for her, he was sure. She had probably read everything she could about coming of age, which meant it wasn't to do with that. This would require a lot more time and study than a simple answer.
"And why, Miss Granger, would you want to keep this from everyone else?" Snape asked, now eyeing the girl.
She dipped her head even lower. "I won't keep it from them forever," she defended weakly.
"That was not my question."
She fiddled with her fingers. Hermione was scared, scared to tell someone so close to Dumbledore what she had planned.
"I have something I need to do first," she hedged.
Snape wasn't letting up. "And that is?"
"I'm getting my parents out of the country first, sir."
Snape looked at the young girl. She still wasn't meeting his eyes, but there was a resolve there that indicated her strength.
He kept his voice cold. "And why would they need that level of protection?"
Hermione stared resolutely down. She forced her voice to not give way to the tears she felt. "I'm one of the things Harry would do anything for, sir," she said analytically, detached. "Sooner or later, the Death Eaters will realize that the easiest way to get to Harry is through his friends. And the easiest way to get to me is my parents. So I'm going to remove the temptation."
"Borders won't keep His followers away from them, Miss Granger," Snape reminded her.
"But if I remove their connection to me, it will," she continued impassively. "I'm going to erase their memories of me, and plant memories of a new life they're planning in Australia. I've already purchased the house for them under the fake names they'll be using."
Snape quirked his brow. "You're prepared to live the rest of your life without your family?"
Hermione nodded into her hands, fighting the clenching in her throat. "Knowing they're safe would be enough."
He felt some degree of respect for her decision. "And you've practiced memory charms so extensively, Miss Granger, that you're willing to use them on your loved ones?" He asked cuttingly.
"As I thought," Professor Snape intoned. "To perform that complicated of a memory wipe, Miss Granger, even without planting memories, would require a Master of Legilimency with copious opportunities for practice on living beings."
"I was going to start practicing that tonight!" she defended herself.
"On whom, Miss Granger?" he jeered her. "Your cat? Field mice? You're not going to be capable of this for another few years even if you practice every sleepless night, with actual human targets."
She slumped in her seat under Snape's gaze, the vision of hopelessness. After letting his point sink in for a few moments, Snape provided her relief.
"However, Miss Granger, that is irrelevant because within the Order itself, there are two perfectly proficient wizards who can assist you," he revealed.
He watched her posture take on hope before him and it made his lip quirk involuntarily upwards. She was so easy to please, he noted, as she smiled up at him hopefully.
"Who are they?" she begged.
This was the advantage he was looking for. Professor Snape decided to torment her a little bit. "Of course, the first is Albus Dumbleore."
"Not him," Hermione begged. "He won't support my decision. He doesn't understand how scary it is to have them in danger."
"You're right, of course," Professor Snape allowed. "Dumbledore would insist they remain in the country if only to provide the Order with bait to capture Death Eaters, with no guarantee as to your parents' safety. One more move on a chessboard, and every move is valuable to him.
"The other person might be willing to assist you, but for a price," Snape continued with a quirk of his brow. "They are not the most giving of individuals."
She nodded at him, giving in to whatever abstract demand he would ask.
"Tell me," Professor Snape drawled, "have you, in your plethora of studies, practiced Occlumency?"
She nodded again, her eyes growing desperate.
She sat up straight in her chair, a determined glint now entering her eyes. "Test me, sir."
Hermione centered herself, waiting for the new presence to enter her mind. She focused on her defenses, her fight coming through.
Then, she heard Professor Snape intone, "Legilimens!"
The battle had started.
Professor Snape looked in her mind with intrigue. No flashes of memory dancing past him, no lack of control. He saw in their place a snowstorm which sucked him of all warmth. Impressive. He saw a hazy light somewhere ahead of him, clearly intended to lead any intruders of her mind right there. He held out a imaginary hand, catching a flake in his hand. He looked, hoping to find one of those memories in his hand now. Instead, he was overwhelmed by a feeling of joy. No memory cropped up, but a distinct taste of Hermione was left on him by the snowflake.
He tried to think. The memories had to be here, somewhere, in order for this to be a defense. The key was figuring out how to break through and find them, wherever they were. Certainly not in the direction of the light, if Miss Granger were as smart as he believed. He crouched on the snow and dug a little, seeing if they were beneath the snow. Only cold dirt greeted him, and he looked around again, trying to find them.
Finally, aware of how taxing this could be, he withdrew. Miss Granger had her hands in a distinctly meditative pose on the table, clearly still fighting in case he returned. A small bit of pride found its way through to Snape's cold demeanour.
"You've passed inspection, Miss Granger," Professor Snape allowed the praise to fall from his lips. "Therefore, I will trust you to guard the identity of the second person with such methods."
Hermione smiled in relief at her Professor. "Of course, I promise. Who is it?"
Professor Snape grinned menacingly. "Me."