Summary: [HG/SS] (NC/AU) Hermione and Snape becomes the victim of a vengeful Dark spell that turns them into the perfect agents to end the war that neither of the two main powers knows about.
[M]ature for safety, Hermione is of age in this, as she always is in my fics.
A/N: Uh… I blame The Dragon and the Rose. Yup. And Cthulhu.
Beta Love: The Dragon and the Rose, Dutchgirl01, Flyby Commander Shepard
Disclaimer: JKR's stuff is still JKR's stuff, and I'm still playing in her sandbox.
Now You See Me, Now You Don't
It's a new challenge to see how people can change your look. I like words like transformation, reinvention, and chameleon because one word I don't like is predictable. — Naomi Campbell
Dear Mr and Mrs Granger,
We regret to inform you that your daughter, Hermione Jean Granger, was caught in an accidental explosion during Defence Against the Dark Arts this morning, but we are regrettably unable to release to you the body due to the severity of the incident. We will transfer to you the remainders of her personal items within the next few days after Aurors have finished looking them over.
My most sincere condolences,
Headmaster A. P. W. B. Dumbledore
Hermione awoke feeling like her head was packed full of wads of cotton. It was dark, warm, and oddly organic, so very unlike her bed. Yet, she was quite comfortable there— also unlike her bed. She hadn't been able to sleep well in her bed since Lavender and Parvati had pranked it, causing her to act out the fairy tale of the princess and the pea. She stirred, and the warmth moved around her comfortably. It was still dark.
She felt a odd purring rumble next to her, and she felt calmer.
Why not just rest a bit more? She hadn't been able to sleep well in a long time. Just a bit.
That warmth wrapped around her, the presence becoming an embrace, and she felt her tongue flick over her lips in pleasure as her eyes fluttered closed.
Her hands twitched, followed by her arms and legs feet, and even her head; the warmth spread through her with an even greater comfort. She could hear a heartbeat— no two— beating in the darkness. The more she listened, the more they seemed to grow together in synchronisation. She was floating, or so it seemed, in the vastness of space or the fathoms of the deep ocean— yet she could breathe, and she was strangely calm.
She could hear the magic singing to her. It wove in and out of her, but it seemed to both caress and explore her entire being as if it was searching for something. Tendrils of magical colour swirled both outside and inside— yet she did not see it. Instead, she felt the gentle, curious touches, like the curl of a serpent around her body, gently squeezing— capable of crushing but choosing not to.
The fear she had felt when she had been unable to move on the dueling platform— she hadn't seen Goyle cast anything, yet when he pointed his wand at her, his grin had told her that he knew she couldn't move.
Snape had seemed to realised that something was off, and he had jumped towards her, pulling her to him as he cast a shielding spell that bespoke of an immense power that she had yet to tap. Yet that spell Goyle had cast had torn through it as if it was as insubstantial as wet tissue paper. There had been tremendous pain unlike anything she had ever felt before. She had tasted her own blood. She felt it leaking out of her— even as she felt something being splashed all over both her and Professor Snape—
"Stupid Mudblood. Your blood is no better than a dumb beast's."
"What the hell are you doing?!"
"Get the hell away, Potter, or something might happen to you too."
"You just attacked a TEACHER!" someone screeched loudly.
"What are you complaining about, Potter? It was your book in your bag that had the spell I used."
"What? There's no such spell in my book!"
"If you say anything about this, Potter, I'll tell them exactly what you've been hiding in your bookbags lately."
"What the hell is happening in here?!" Ron's voice cracked as he yelled in fright.
"The floor— it's somehow pulling them under like quicksand!"
"Everyone get out, it's starting to spread!"
"WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU DO TO SEVERUS?!" Draco's voice shrieked.
"It— it wasn't supposed to affect HIM!"
Then the screaming started in earnest— but not her own. That was the last thing she had heard.
Then only silence.
Total and complete silence.
But now, she was safe and warm. She felt sort of drowsy but otherwise perfectly fine. The song of the magic seemed perfect and welcoming, almost as if it were apologising for having hurt her before.
Never again, it seemed to sing. Join us.
Sing with us.
Learn with us.
Accept us, and we shall love you forever.
The song was so beautiful. Of course she would want to join with that feeling of total belonging.
"Yes," she whispered. "I accept."
She felt a light brush against her lips, like the prelude to kiss, and magic poured into her body in a rush. Her body jerked like a puppet on strings as raw magic filled every part of her body and blazed outward from her eyes, nose, and mouth in a silent scream of transcendent ecstasy.
Vaguely she heard another voice joining with hers, and the warmth of strong arms pulled her close in the darkness as the heady wave of belonging swallowed her up completely.
Hermione awoke again as her body pulled itself back up out of the stone floor of the DADA room only to realise that her professor had done the same. Yet, as their feet touched the ground, they abruptly realised that the grim team of Aurors and the white-faced teachers of Hogwarts couldn't see them at all.
Probably a good thing, considering they weren't wearing any clothes.
Hermione gave a soft shriek of mortification as her professor saw her in her starkers— and well, she blushed deeply as she noticed that he was starkers too. They staggered away from each other, simultaneously wishing fervently that they were dressed.
And suddenly they both were dressed, the clothing seeming to weave themselves around their bodies out of thin air.
Hermione touched herself then tried to touch the nearby Auror, and her hand passed through him like that of a ghost. The Auror turned around, startled, but looked right through her.
He shivered, rubbing the place where she had touched him.
Having a suspicion, she reached out and touched her teacher.
"What are you doing?!" Snape yelled at her, but the moment her fingers solidified and touched him, there was that jolt of completeness— like finding a piece of yourself you'd always been missing but had somehow never realised it.
The same epiphany seemed to come over him as well, and he drew a pained intake of breath, perhaps in reflex more than actual need. His arms were around her in a flash, pulling her to him as his body shuddered. That instant of sweet, painful ecstasy of existence flowed between them.
"Thank you for trying to save me, Professor," she whispered into his chest.
"Bloody good it did either of us," he muttered, but his arms remained around her as if afraid what would happen if he let go.
"It means a lot. To me," Hermione confessed.
She pulled away from him, not missing the wince he gave at her leaving, but she raised her hand to quell any instinctive lashing out he might give. She sat next to him, not touching, and frowned. She then scooted over and pressed against him, and the relief was almost instant.
He let out a gasp as she purposely snuggled into him, and his arm wrapped around her as his eyes closed, his emotions manifesting as one single tear trailed down his nose.
"I suppose this is one way to solve that crush I've had on you the past couple of years," Hermione said quietly.
Snape's head jerked up, he stared at her with wide dark eyes, disbelief clearly written across every line of his face.
"What? It's true," Hermione muttered. "You could read me the ruddy school supplies list, and I'd be blissfully happy."
Snape's eyes narrowed, but he didn't pull away from her. It seemed as though their predicament had left him somewhat lacking in vocabulary sufficient to communicate all he wished to say.
The bell for the witching hour rang out, and Hermione closed her eyes. "Happy Birthday, me," she said quietly. "Seventeen for the normal count… and nineteen for those who are keeping track."
Severus just stared at her.
"Time Turner," she explained. "Not that it really matters now, eh?" She sighed.
Snape noticed her sadly staring off into space. Her hand curled around his, tightly squeezing it, and he caught a flood of images of her parents greeting her at the station, watching her board, smiling as she blew out candles on a very pink cake, laughing as she built an impressive snow fort in their yard, right in front of her father's customary parking space—
"I'm sorry," he said, his voice barely a whisper.
"I'm so stupid," she sniffled. "I've been going to school every year just fine, but now I'm busting to pieces because I just realised my mum and dad may never see me again."
"It's not stupid to actually have something back home to miss," he said quietly.
She looked into his eyes and caught a flash of terrible beatings, yelling, screaming— at both him and his mother— and his mother's terrified expression as she shoved Severus into a closet and used what little wandless magic she possessed to seal it closed so his drunken father couldn't beat him anymore.
Hermione shook her head. "I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!"
Snape closed his eyes, any anger he might have had over her intrusion into his memories seemed missing. "He was a right bastard, Miss Granger. Do not be sorry for the unchangeable past."
She clasped his hand tighter, wedging her head into his robes as she snuggled in closer. He couldn't even find it within himself to protest her very familiar actions— it felt far too goddamned wonderful to have someone understand and still want to touch him.
Something had happened in that odd time, in that unfathomable space between. Something had inextricably bound them together in a strange kind of Purgatory, sharing their memories, emotions— touch.
And the part of Snape that would have kicked, screamed, and even succumbed to random acts of violence just to keep the illusion of privacy had seemingly gone on extended holiday, all for the intoxicating pleasure of this witch's genuine compassionate touch.
Even the part of him that protested she was a student simply fell to the wayside. It wasn't like he'd seduced her or that she had tried to catch his eye in class. They were thrown together by a violent, terrible (and most likely blood magic-infused) Dark spell.
And something had made the choice to save them. No, he distinctly remembered that something had asked him to join them, and he had agreed. But what was it? His brain was so fuzzy.
He couldn't quite put his finger on it, but it had saved them both by— altering them somehow. No spell he knew of or had even theorised about, could do what had somehow drawn them into this peculiar in-between world, conscious, able to see and touch each other, but not directly touch the physical world.
Or could they?
Clothes had simply appeared when they wanted them. Maybe they were limited to what they could will and imagine.
"They're here, you know," Luna's voice broke up the Auror's squabbling as they tried to run traces. "You're not going to find anything using spells." She stood out from the gaggle of gossipy, whispering students huddled together in the corner.
"What are you talkin' about, lass?" Moody asked gruffly.
"They're in the Between," she said. "Neither here nor there. The place where thoughts become dreams and dreams reality. Where magic waits for will and intent to guide it."
"You're not making much sense, lass." Moody frowned. "You sound a lot like someone I know."
"They probably make more sense than you think," Luna said calmly. She looked over to where Snape and Hermione were standing. "If you want to seen, you have to want to be. If you want to touch something, you have to believe you can."
Moody, seeing the very intense look on Luna's face, gestured to the other Aurors and they quickly shooed the other students out.
"Alright, girlie. What are you seeing that we can't?" Moody asked.
"Professor Snape doesn't care too much for you," Luna informed him. "Hermione thinks you really shouldn't have told Auror Peters that he needed to wash his todger more often."
Moody flushed bright red, spluttering. "Alright, now say I want to believe you." He stood behind her. "How many fingers am I holding up behind you?"
Luna cocked her head curiously. "You're not. You're making a fist."
Moody narrowed his eyes. "Have them tell me something no one but them would know."
Luna turned to him, her face quite grave. "Professor Dumbledore lied to you. The moment he found out what the spell did, he knew exactly where it came from. He'd seen it once before— when Sirius Black tried to use it on Severus Snape back in 1977."
Luna's eyes flicked to the dueling platform. "Gregory Goyle stood there and took his time casting his spell because he knew Hermione couldn't move to defend herself. She had been hit with a blood curse earlier in the morning— disguised as a minor potions explosion. They got some of her blood, and they bound her with it when she arrived in DADA class."
Luna looked Moody in the eye. "Goyle stood right there, grinning as the ground swallowed their bodies, and told Harry Potter that if he said anything, he would make sure everyone knew the kind of books he was carrying around in his school bag."
Moody exchanged glances with the other Aurors. "Get me Kingsley Shacklebolt and Amelia Bones. Now. Tell them to bring the wierheid."
"Yes, sir!" the Aurors said, running full tilt out to the Apparition point.
"Holy Merlin's cracking kneecaps," Amelia gasped as she carefully maneuvered the wierheid glass into place. It looked like a great pane of glass, but it was actually magic-imbued quartz, polished to a high shine so fine that it was completely clear. She blew onto it, speaking the activation words, and the wierheid blazed to life, showing Professor Snape and Hermione Granger sitting side by side together on the floor.
"Well, shite," Moody said, sitting down hard.
Luna, who was already sitting cross-legged on the floor "talking" with Hermione, turned around to peer curiously at him. She said nothing, but there was a crystal clear "told you so" somewhere in that serene expression.
"Give me a few minutes to get into the meditation so I can hear you, please," Amelia announced. "I am not as highly gifted that I can do so like young Miss Lovegood."
The witch sat down before the glass and closed her eyes, putting herself in the lotus position as she cleared her mind and shifted gears and mental states. After a few minutes, she took in a deep breath and released it. "Alright, let's get started. Severus, Hermione, I will be submitting these memories to the Wizengamot to decide the proper course of action regarding this situation. That being said, there are certain questions I must ask in conjunction with the Aurors to determine exactly what did happen— as you recall it."
Snape's gaze was umbral, but Hermione nodded. She clenched his hand, and he took a deep, calming breath before nodding.
And so they proceeded to tell her everything she wanted to know…
After hours of attempting to manifest, an exhausted Hermione had curled up with her head in Snape's lap. His hand gently rested in her curls as he, too, gathered strength.
Luna shook her head. "You're trying like you used to," she said. "Your energy does not come from within. It comes from everything. You are trying like I would or one of your students."
Snape eyed Luna silently, saying nothing, but it was clear that he was protective of Hermione's rest, and he didn't appreciate being told by one of his "students" how to use magic.
Luna sighed. "I can tell you're overwhelmed by everything, but my mum had to adjust too, and I can save you a lot of conflict, if you'll let me. Please?"
Hermione stirred, her hand resting over Snape's. He narrowed his eyes and nodded after a few minutes. Hermione smiled at him.
"My mum died, you see," Luna explained, "but— she stayed around in the Between until I could go to school. She knew I was lonely, and daddy was too sad to notice most of the time. She could take forms to amuse me. But she wasn't quite like you. When I got older, she had to leave, but you don't have to. Somehow, you're not dead at all. You're still alive. You're pure magic— but with a memory of self. And it's that memory of self that is keeping you from being what you truly are."
Luna placed the goblet in front of her. "Pick it up because you believe you can.
Hermione exchanged glances with Severus and swallowed hard. She eyed the goblet and reached for it, and her fingers passed right through it. She stared at it for a long moment and then closed her eyes. Her shoulders straightened, and one hand clasped Snape's tightly. She reached out and picked up the goblet just before her entire body manifested with a FOOP!
The sudden solidity of her existence startled her so much that she sent the goblet flying across the room and stumbled backwards, tripping with a cry of "SHITE!".
Severus was suddenly there too, quite solid, catching her in his embrace before she hit the ground, instinctively pulling her close to him. She clung to him, trembling and unsure, but determined to hold on to the one thing she felt she could rely on: him.
"Severus," she whispered.
"Stupid girl," he hissed at her, but his dark eyes softened as he brushed her curls from her face.
Amelia put a hand on Severus' shoulder. "I would highly recommend going to your quarters to sequester yourself until we can deal with the people who put you and Miss Granger in this position. Best they not know you are still alive— for now. I will send you an elf that reports only to me to bring you any supplies or food should you find you require it. Seeing as the house-elves here all report to the Headmaster— well, I'm sure you both understand why your not being seen is crucial at this point."
Severus nodded his agreement. "Thank you, Amelia," he said as both he and Hermione vanished before her eyes.
"You have such a beautiful room," Hermione said, her fingers brushing against the antique claw table. She stared at the walls of books lining the entire wall from top to bottom. "Amazing."
She turned to see Snape watching her carefully— silent as an owl in flight. "May I?" she asked, pointing to the books.
He nodded, watching to see what books truly attracted her fancy— and if learning what kind of books he had on his bookshelves would drive her away from him in disgust or fear.
Without there being others around, it seemed as though they now could stand apart— it wasn't so much uncomfortable as it was simply not preferable. He would feel more at ease when she was near, and when she was near, he much preferred he touching so the flow of their joined magic seemed "happiest." Part of his screamed that it was hardly natural to be so comfortable with the young witch just because of some magical accident, but the deep seated, chronically lonely man told that part of him to shut the hell up.
Fuzzy popped in and left tea and biscuits and a small obsidian statue from Amelia that seemed to reinforce his wards without altering them. Severus would have to ask her about it— when he got his brain back together.
Hermione looked at many of the different spines, her fingers running along them, feeling the leather on the bindings and closing her eyes— feeling the magic within the books rather than reading the labels. She stopped at an older tome that had been well worn but taken care of. She opened her eyes and gently wiggled the book out from the shelf, brushing its fine leather cover reverently. She walked back to where he was sitting on the couch and sat next to him, snuggling up to him until their magic sang in sweet relief, and she opened the book up and began to read silently.
He sat there, stunned, for not only had she come back and intentionally snuggled up to him, but she was reading Magical Intent: A Comprehensive Study of Light and Dark Magic— and she had flipped to the index and then found Wild Magicks: Dark Not Evil.
Where was the annoying hand-waving know-it-all who blurted out book knowledge without thinking about it first? When had she become a thoughtful, considerate young woman who knew enough to ask before touching someone else's library and yet still had the audacity to snuggle up to— well, HIM.
Not that you're pushing her away, the traitorous skeptic within him hissed.
"Please don't," she said quietly, turning the page. "I quite enjoy your touch."
Snape's eyes widened.
"I realise this isn't exactly a normal way of going about a relationship," she said calmly. "Normally, I'd be a nervous wreck— but it feels right, don't you think?"
Why wasn't he a nervous wreck waiting to explode? Where was his venom? His rancor?
If he thought of Albus, it was right there out in front.
If he thought of his dunderheaded students, he was instantly angry.
But her— gods.
His hand was on her cheek as his fingers tangled in her wild curls. His forehead touched hers, and he could feel the sweet song of magic as well as hear it entangled with the sounds of their magic thumping like hearts in their chests. Human or not, it felt real. If felt right.
He had emotions.
He could feel the silken softness of her skin, the tickle of her "breath." Was that not real enough? Human enough? Living enough?
He could have not saved her. He could have let bloody Goyle cast his spell and feigned it as being necessary for the ruse, but he hadn't. Why?
Memories, unbidden, rushed forward of how Hermione Granger was treated poorly by her "peers" and how they talked about her behind her back. Her best friends mostly used her as a homework aide, scoffing at her the rest of the time, never realising just how much she did for them. He'd seen her crying after the Yule Ball, shunned by her best friends and then too ashamed to go back to her date, Viktor Krum, in tears. He'd seen her crush on Ronald Weasley evolve into a want for real relationship only to crash and burn as surely as a certain enchanted car into the Whomping Willow when she realised that what she wanted he couldn't give. He could never be her equal— a challenge to keep her mind sharp.
She didn't deserve their scorn.
He'd hurt her too. He knew that. While he had to, a part of him knew that he was no saint, either. He, at least, had a reason to put on the Slytherin bastard mask. What excuse did her peers have to treat her like rubbish to be cast aside when better opportunities came by?
Even sodding Potter— he'd apparently been harbouring Dark spellbooks in his bookbag, and she hadn't known anything about it. She wasn't an idiot or unobservant, so he could only imagine what was going on in the boy's head to make him think learning blood "cleansing" magic was a good idea.
Severus flinched. Somehow, he'd come to care for her, and that care had manifested in throwing himself into the breach to defend her.
It may have not been some foolhardy hallucination of love, but he had— cared enough to do something to try and help her.
And now what?
Her hands had left the book, having gently placed it on the nearby table. She touched his face, cupping his cheeks in her palms, exploring the feel of him with her own senses. She looked into his black eyes and smiled shyly.
In all his years he had never had someone look at him like that.
Interest. Openness. Desire to know him better. Even after having shared some of his memories, she still wanted to get to know him like a "normal" person would.
Lily had cut him off for one word misspoken on the absolute worst day of his life. Oh, she had said it was because he wouldn't give up his Slytherin Death Eater buddies, but it was almost as if she had just been looking for an excuse to torture him and run straight to bloody James Potter. Admittedly, he'd eventually done worse by inadvertently causing her murder— but he often wondered if he would have ever gone through with it had he not been so determined to distance himself from Lily and her memory.
If he had had someone like Hermione in his corner, someone who's very touch promised a future— even if it was only a lifetime of friendship— he knew he'd never have taken the Mark. He would have stood by her until his very last breath. Because she would have given him everything she was— as a friend, a lover, or wife. That was just who she was.
And what did he have to offer one with so much to give?
What could he possibly give the witch who had suffered so much at his very hand?
Her lips brushed against his, soft like velvet, answering his question with a question of her own. He felt the gentle brush of her tongue against his lips, and he felt the song of magic rise between them.
He was no longer her teacher.
She was no longer a child.
Magic may have bound them, but she was announcing her choice. And she was awaiting his answer.
Magic called to magic.
She called to him as clearly as a siren to the sailors on the sea.
He opened his mouth to her, welcoming her into the heat of the pent up passion he had never been allowed to show to anyone. Tendrils of magic were swirling around them as they explored the other, hand to hand, hands to cheek, shoulder—
He pulled away, giving her a desperate, pained look.
She looked up at him, pain in her eyes. He felt it— her pain of rejection, failure, disappointment.
"Are you sure—" he whispered raggedly. "I need you to be sure that this is what you really want. That you truly want… me."
She rubbed her shoulders with her hands, and he could feel her spiral downwards, thinking that she was unattractive, unwanted, unskilled.
"Hermione," he gently touched her chin, looking into her eyes. His mouth worked, trying to find the words and failing utterly. "If I allow myself to let you in… to care for you— I will not be able to let you go. If you do not want that— the very flawed, possessive, difficult man that I am. I beg you to stop here, and we will find another way to make this bond we have work."
"I am a weak, needy, wanting man, Hermione," he whispered. "I cannot promise you perfection— nor do I expect it of you."
Hermione touched his cheek, weaving her hands into his hair. "It's you that I want," she said. "Not some perfect Gilderoy Lockhart whose teeth outshine the sun and whose brains lost their way somewhere where Cornwall meets Wales."
Severus flinched. "He's hardly perfection."
"You are brilliant, cutting, and sometimes hurtful, but under that you are curious, wounded, desiring more than you have been dealt," Hermione said. "You lash out because you don't want to risk allowing anyone close to you, but you are more than what you allow people to see."
Severus touched her neckline, running his hand against her skin. "You are more than your peers ever see. Kind when you should take your knee to them— helpful when you know, deep down, they are using you. You care, even when they do not. And that tiniest speck of appreciation they might give, powers you for days."
Hermione smiled humorlessly. "I trust Headmasters too."
"Do you still?"
"I trust you."
"I can't imagine why," he replied, wincing. "I have not treated you kindly."
"You risked your life for me," Hermione whispered. "That tells me more than a few unkind words or even a few cruelties given while eyes are watching you."
"I still hurt you."
"People hurt people. Sometimes on purpose, sometimes through ignorance, sometimes for no reason at all. Do you regret it?" her eyes glinted like fire whisky in the light of a hearth, flicking with magic.
"More than you know," he said, hanging his head and closing his eyes. Feeling the same echo of regret he had after saying just one word to a witch who had been his closest friend for years. This pain was different. This pain he felt inside himself was from having sabotaged a kind, wonderful young witch, who had grown into a woman without any of the kindness she deserved.
And he had done her ill, knowing she deserved better.
The soft caress of her lips brushed against his mouth once more as she breathed into his mouth. "I choose you, Severus. If you are to care for anyone, I want it, selfishly, to be me."
Severus gave a choking moan. "You're mad," he said, capturing her with his mouth and engaging in the snog of all snogs that left her and him breathless. "Damn if it doesn't feel like I'm breathing," he whispered.
Hermione, eyes half-lidded, rubbed against him, her cheek sliding against his as her arms moved up so she could cradle his head and draw him to her chest. Suddenly their clothes were missing in action, and he gave a tortured groan as the temptation of her breasts undid every bit of restraint he had been trying to hold on to as his mouth met her areola.
Hermione gave a strangled cry, her hands clawed into his hair. She squirmed under him as feelings she had never felt coursed through her body like electric. Magic was swirling from their bodies, their bodies becoming almost translucent as the energy crackled between them. Tendrils swirled, weaving around from her to him and him to her. They tightened together as the couple slowly explored each other and their passion rose. Magic pulsed as their bodies merged, and the magic bound tighter, tighter as each cord wrapped so close that it became solid as one. Brightness radiated from where their cores would be, escaping from their bodies as a pulse. It built between then, joining together, condensing, merging, and—
They both let out a mutual scream of completion as they became one, and a leyline was born at that very moment, arching up out from their joined "bodies" as it wove into the very fabric of Hogwarts and took its place with the others.
The power of Hogwarts pulsed— once, twice, three times— as the wards that had been lying dormant flared to life. Stone gargoyles burst to life with roars, free of their stone prisons to guard their home once more. And far above, the great dragon of Hogwarts— having been missing for so long they had forgotten that the Hogwarts motto had not exactly come from a vacuum— rose up high above the parapets and roared, taking its place as Hogwarts' largest and most fearsome guardian— having been trapped in the Between and unable to return until the magic returned to Hogwarts— magic as it should have been. Magic as it had always been, until someone or something had decided to tamper with it.
As the dragon screamed its clarion call of protection, Hogwarts shuddered, and deep within the Room of Forgotten Things, a diadem burst into flames as a cloud of foul blackness billowed out and was immediately greeted by a pack of gargoyles that tore into it, shredding it to pieces both on the physical plane and beyond.
And then the diadem returned to its proper place, the head of Rowena's statue in the Founder's Hall.
The dragon roared again, and the goblet of Helga Hufflepuff returned to the hand of Helga's statue, another foul cloud of evil vapour exiting the cup to meet the same, gargoyle-rended fate.
Then, a second dragon pulled itself out of the Between, entwining necks with the first. She let out a great roar as a number of young dragonets fell out of the Between to gather at their feet. They added their voices to the cry, as one, prolonged united roar, and the locket of Salazar Slytherin returned "home" to settle around Salazar's stone neck— even as the cloud of noxious, blackened, soul came billowing out.
The oldest gargoyle of Hogwarts, having left his post by the Headmaster's office for one task alone, tore into the black cloud with fangs and claws as magic curled around the cloud and twisted, squeezing. The gargoyle ripped the soul cloud to pieces, and it shrieked in impotent fury before it could hold itself together no more as the very wards of Hogwarts did exactly what they were designed to do— and vapourised it.
In Gryffindor tower, Harry thrashed in his sleep, crying out in agony. He bolted awake only to be frozen in place in fear as gargoyles and dragonlings sat at the foot of his bed, glowing eyes and terrible claws and fangs exposed. He was paralysed in fear, unable to move as they leapt towards him together—
The gargoyles gathered around Dumbledore's desk as one drawer jiggled and pitched, spewing forth the ring of Marvolo Gaunt onto the floor. The ring spun as if possessed, trying to escape the encroaching wards of the school, but another ley line took its place in Hogwarts, then the wards flared even greater. The ring burst into flames as the cloud fled its confinement, desperate to escape and find another vessel.
But the gargoyles immediately leapt upon it, tearing it to pieces as it screamed its last.
Fingers of eldritch vapour picked up the cleansed ring and vanished with it as Albus Dumbledore suddenly bolted awake in his chambers in the next room. Yet only darkness and silence greeted him with a strange, eerie calmness.
Harry awoke in the infirmary with a very concerned-looking Madam Pomfrey tending to him.
"Mr Potter, thank goodness," she said, giving him a glass of water. "Drink please, you've been sweating so much I think you may be dehydrated."
Harry obeyed, dizzy and slightly confused. "Madam Pomfrey? Why am I here?"
"You woke the entire Gryffindor tower with your screams, young man. You had to be Stupefied and levitated here because you were fighting everyone who tried to get to you."
"I— oh," Harry said blearily, unsure what to say to that. "I don't remember that at all."
Poppy tutting over him. "Well, no lasting harm done. You gave Mr Weasley a good black eye and a swift kick that will probably leave the boy singing soprano for quite a while, but nothing that won't heal in time."
Harry automatically flinched in male sympathy.
"Now that you are awake, my dear, I'm afraid you'll need to speak with Auror Moody. Not too long now, as I'm wanting you to get a proper rest. There are no telling what other side effects you have now that your scar is gone."
Harry's hands instinctively flew to his forehead. "My…"
Poppy gave him another glass of water. "Make sure you drink all of this now," she said and walked away, even as the gruff and leather-clad Alastor Moody brooded his way forward to plunk himself down in the chair next to him.
"I'm going to presume that the book you were carrying around that Mr Goyle got his hands on did not have anything to do with forcible removal of your scar, Mr Potter."
Harry swallowed hard. "No, sir."
"And where did you get this book, Mr Potter?"
Harry looked out the window, his face scrunching up. "It was supposed to help me find a way to defeat You-Know-Who."
"But where did you get the book, Mr Potter?"
Harry fidgeted nervously.
Harry looked anywhere but into Moody's face. "I—"
Moody wasn't going anywhere, and his tenacity had always been, even when it hadn't really been him, akin to the grip of a starving pitbull or a highly-excited crocodile with the leg of a wildebeest trapped in his jaws.
"Headmaster Dumbledore gave it to me, sir," Harry finally admitted in an almost-whisper. "He told me the spell would work specifically on You-Know-Who."
Moody stared at him, boring a hole into the back of his head. "The Headmaster— he gave you the book?"
Harry nodded with a sharp jerk of his head. "I was studying it before I had to— uh, leave, sir. To find the Horcruxes."
"And how did this book end up in the hands of Gregory Goyle, Potter?"
Harry shook his head wildly. "I don't know!"
Moody shifted his weight in his seat and grunted. "Mr Potter, what is your personal opinion of Miss Granger?"
Harry immediately looked like he was going to either cry or punch someone, perhaps both. "She was my best friend, and I didn't always treat her right. I preferred Quidditch to studying, and I hated how she always insisted that I study before Quidditch— she was so bossy and acted like she knew everything. But I didn't ever want to see her die like that!"
Moody frowned, his bushy eyebrows knitting together. "What did you see that day?"
"The ground seemed to swallow 'Mione and Snape up— a swirling void of total darkness, like a maw leading into the deep gullet of some enormous monster."
"What happened before that?"
"She just stood there. She looked terrified." Harry winced. "I saw her trying to move but she couldn't. "Snape seemed to realise it— he rushed over to shield her. But the spell cut right through his shield like tissue paper. They were bleeding all over each other. And then bloody Goyle— he smirked and threw something on them, saying they were nothing but beasts. And that was when… when— that blackness swallowed them both."
"I don't know. It looked like— blood."
Moody scowled. "Are you aware of what happens when someone casts blood magic and the target bleeds and then additional blood is added to it?"
Harry shook his head.
"No one does—" Moody said darkly. "It is like inviting raw Chaos to a ruddy inventory party at the Ministry."
Moody sighed, rubbing the space between his eyes with his fingers.
"And your friend, Weasley. What does he think of Hermione Granger?"
"Ron?" Harry trailed off. "Well, they get on like fire in a library, mostly," he said.
"Hold a grudge, does he?"
"Well yeah, but we all do."
"Against Miss Granger?"
Harry frowned. "I don't think so. No! It was Goyle who did it!"
Moody stared him in the eyes. "Who gave Goyle the book, Potter? Was it you?"
"Who else had access to it?"
"No one, it was in my bag the entire—"
Harry abruptly went pale. "No, it couldn't be. He wouldn't have. He wasn't mad at 'Mione at the time. He was brassed off at me because I wouldn't show him what was in my bag."
Moody cracked his knuckles. "The Wizengamot has told us to treat this incident as a double murder, Mr Potter. I'm sure I do not have to tell you the gravity of this situation you are in. So tell me honestly, do you think Ronald Weasley could have intentionally taken your book from your bag and put it into Mr Goyle's hands, either directly or indirectly?"
Harry closed his eyes. "Yes," he whispered.
"Are there any other books that Dumbledore gave you?"
"Where are they?"
"In my trunk in our dorm room."
"Will you take me to them?"
Harry closed his eyes and sighed, "Yes."
Harry stood by the wierheid and stumbled backward from it. "Hermione!"
She was obviously speaking, but he could not hear her.
Snape was standing right next to her, looking just as ominous as ever. He took Hermione's hand, and she looked up at him with such trust that Harry felt like he was looking at something private. They walked to the glass together— and then stepped out of it.
Magic crackled around them and off them, and for a moment, Hermione looked at her own hands as if doubting how real they were.
"You're alive!" Harry exclaimed joyfully.
Hermione's face wrinkled. "Yes."
"And no," Snape said.
Harry shook his head in confusion. "What do you mean yes and no?"
"It was a very Dark spell that Goyle used, Harry," Hermione explained quietly.
"Designed to force dirty blood from the body," Snape said, his arms crossing across his chest. "Though, you can imagine what the implications are if so-called "dirty blood" was merely blood, Mr Potter. If there was truly no difference at all."
"The magic forced the blood out of our bodies," Hermione said, "and then the blood reacted to the Dark magic."
"And then Mr Goyle threw mixed beast blood into the mix, cocking the situation up even further."
Hermione's eyes widened at Snape's unusually coarse language, but she didn't disagree with him, either. "We effectively died, Harry, but—"
"The magic inherent in the surrounding area needed us to bridge its way back to Hogwarts. We became magic to make a path that allowed magic back into the area— the school and grounds."
"But—" Harry stammered. "The school is already magical!"
"Not as magical as it should have been," Snape said, a strange dance of green magic flickered in his eyes.
"Ever wondered why so many horrible things keep happening here and why our teachers must always watch over us so tirelessly to keep us from killing each other by accident?" Hermione asked. "Hagrid said that Hogwarts was the safest place in Britain— and yet Professor Quirrell walked right on in with a Dark Lord on the back of his head, unicorns get murdered in the forest, a huge Basilisk repeatedly attacks students in the school, another student is possessed by a diary-Horcrux, Hagrid gets away with releasing a homicidal Acromantula into the forest AND then bringing in a mate for it, someone Imperiused students right on school grounds, crafted a Portkey and made it kidnap students right off the school grounds, sending them to their deaths—"
"Does that sound very safe to you, Potter?" Snape said, his lip curling.
"Did any of the dangers we faced in the last six-odd years seem a little too dangerous for a supposedly safe magical school, Harry?" Hermione asked. "A little odd that there was only one gargoyle in the castle, the one guarding the Headmaster's office? That our school motto is "don't poke the sleeping dragon" and yet there were no dragons around?"
Harry twitched and made a face. "I just figured—"
"What all the rest of us did, Harry," Hermione said. "We just thought it was perfectly normal."
"But why are you holding hands with Snape?!" Harry blurted out, visibly uncomfortable with the situation.
Hermione gave him an exasperated look, nodded to Snape, and then let go of his hand.
They disappeared into thin air without a sound.
"Hermione! NO!" Harry waved his hands around, as if feeling around for them. "I'm sorry! Don't… please come back!"
Suddenly they were there again, her hand in Snape's once more. Hermione was leaning into him, and he had his arm around her in a protective, even possessive embrace. His dark eyes glowered daggers at Harry, as if daring him to say something stupid again.
"It takes a lot of magic to manifest a physical form, Harry," Hermione explained. "And all the magic is being used to heal and fix the parts of Hogwarts that have been damaged over the last few centuries. Until that has been completed and the weave fully restored, touching is the only way to guarantee we can manifest tangibly to those not attuned to us."
The roar of a distant dragon shook the walls, and the magic of Hogwarts seemed to flare and readjust as a stampede of baby gargoyles trampled by chasing a dragonet.
Harry looked down at the floor of Snape's quarters. "So, it was Hogwarts that took away my scar?"
Hermione wasn't speaking anymore. She was looking tired, almost transparent. She snuggled into Snape's robes, wrapping her arms around him.
"Rest," Snape said, his pale hand on her curls. "I will explain."
Snape looked at him. "Yes, the returning magic empowered the wards, and with the return of the wards, the castle guardians also returned to their rightful places. The wake of power returning purified all that which did not belong within the boundaries of the school and surrounding grounds."
Harry clenched his fists, willing himself to try and understand it all instead of getting angry. "And what does that make you and Hermione?"
"Caretakers," Snape said. "We insure that what happened here does not happen again."
"You care for the school then."
Harry jerked his head up.
"We care for the magic, making sure it is never redirected selfishly or stolen from Hogwarts again."
"But not just Hogwarts," Hermione said softly into Snape's buttons. "There are many magical places that are in desperate need of reinforcement, healing, and, well, magic. Once this place is back to the way it should be, we will be drawn away to those other areas."
"How do you know this?" Harry asked.
"It's in the song, Mr Potter," Snape said, his eyes closing. "Only now, we are finally open enough to hear it clearly."
"Song?" Harry questioned.
Hermione stepped away from Severus, keeping her hand within his. She reached out one hand and placed it lightly over his face.
Harry let out a cry of anguished pleasure as he suddenly heard the singing of all the magic around him— whispering, singing, calling to each other. Some cried out in neglect while others sang in joyous reunion. He felt the empty places, crying for magic. He felt the magical places sounding off with blissful completion. He could hear the gargoyles thrum as they guarded their places, the dragons croon as they tended their dragonlings— the drake tearing into the forest's Acromantula nest and carrying them back to feed his hungry mate and offspring, the jenny welcoming him home with her own distinctive magical song. He could hear the centaur weaving tales about the stars— feeling how the cosmos connected them with their Earthen nature magic. The forest whispered of its own song, the lake, the distant sea—
Harry pulled away, tears streaming down his face. He looked at Hermione with such anguish. "How can you bear it?"
Hermione's expression was tender but sad. "It is not a song meant for mere mortals, Harry."
"It was a choice we made to span the door between life and death," Severus said.
Hermione tilted her head, listening intently. "Others were given the same choice, Harry. Most chose to move on to the next life beyond the Veil. Others stayed behind to haunt the castle instead of help. We chose this union of magic, and it gifted us with each other, that we may never be alone in this great task."
Harry closed his eyes, the whisper of the song still lingering. "Can I please hug you?"
Hermione smiled. "Of course, Harry."
Harry wrapped his arms around his friend, pressing his face into her familiar bushy curls. "I am so sorry this happened to you, Hermione. You may have chosen it, but I—"
Hermione put a gentle finger to his lips. "You are not the one who wrote that terrible book, Harry. Only they can be truly blamed for this situation. Goyle was just a cruel, selfish boy raised on pureblood supremacist ideals and self-preservation of that lifestyle above all else. You had the book because someone you trusted gave it to you. Ask yourself how Dumbledore came upon that book, and why he thought a blood purity-based Dark spell would somehow help you against the Dark Lord."
Harry frowned and twitched as he thought, a sure tell that he was making a serious effort at thinking hard about something rather than just pretending to.
"I know I've seen other books like that one," he whispered. "But where?"
He sat down on the floor with his legs crossed. He thumped his head down in his own lap in a slump. "Where have I seen it? Was it a dream? No. No I remember— think Harry. Think."
He clawed his hands out, rumpling Snape's rug with his hands. Suddenly he shot up, his eyes wide. "I saw books like that at Grimmauld Place. It was at one of the Order meetings. Behind Sirius. I was looking, and he—"
Harry's face twisted in agony. "He quickly stepped in front of them, closing the bookshelf, smiling. Telling me there was nothing there but some dusty old rubbish from his family."
Snape's expression was absolutely murderous. "Does that give you enough information to get a warrant, Auror Moody?"
Moody, who had been sitting silently with Amelia in the chairs before the hearth, grunted. "Aye, Severus. It certainly does."
A gnarly-looking old badger Patronus went flying off somewhere almost too fast to see.
Moody stood and approached. He was biting his lip, but then he squared his shoulders and stuck out his hand. "I'm sorry, Severus, for never believing you. I always believed Albus but never you. And now— I think I've been trusting the wrong one for far longer than I care to admit. You may be a right bastard, Snape, but— you did a hell of lot more than most of us did for a cause we could barely even see. And— you paid for it with your life, well, your physical one. Close enough for me. For what it's worth, I am sorry for having judged you harshly and never once considering that change is possible."
Severus and Moody clasped hands, and green fire flashed across his black eyes. "I did not exactly make it easy for you, Alastor."
"Or anyone," Hermione quipped, earning her a sharp glare.
Harry looked at his feet guiltily, having not trusted Snape in any way, shape, or form at any point in his Hogwarts career.
Snape eyed Harry with suspicion but nodded. "Yes, Mr Potter?"
"I'm sorry too. When I saw those memories, I should have— I should have realised my father and his mates weren't as perfect as I thought they were, but I was blind. I needed to believe they were better. They died for me. I wanted, needed, to believe they were good people that I would have the kind of parents I'd always dreamed of." Harry sighed. "I don't know what you're going to find at Grimmauld. I don't know if my father was involved or not, but— I want the truth now. I need to know. More than ever before."
Snape narrowed his eyes and sighed. "The truth sometimes, Mr Potter, is a lot like war. It is not always beautiful, sparing of the innocent, or even honourable. It is sometimes a point of view between good and evil, light and darkness. And the truth for you, Mr Potter, is that even if your father and his friends did craft a truly terrible thing , it does not mean they did not care for you in some way— enough to die for you. It does not make their terrible deeds any less terrible, but it also doesn't make their care for you any less genuine. Perhaps, had they lived, your parents may have become the ones you dreamed of, for just as Mr Moody has a most aptly demonstrated, people can and do change."
Harry nodded his head, his lips pressed firmly together in fierce determination. His eyes were quivering with emotion as he realised that his opinion of Severus Snape had changed too. "Please, sir. Take good care of Hermione. She deserves— so much better than what we gave her. And sometimes, you don't realise how important some things are and how good you've had it until it's gone."
Severus closed his eyes briefly and then nodded once more. "I will, Mr Potter. She may have been a part of your world, but she is now all of mine."
Harry looked at his best friend. "Are you happy, Hermione?"
Hermione smiled at him. "I am, Harry."
Harry hugged her tightly, ignoring Snape's frown as he ended up half hugging him so the connection between Snape and Hermione didn't break. Severus looked as if he might spontaneously combust and vomit at the same time at the sheer horror of it all, but Hermione just smiled warmly at him and mouthed the words, "thank you" without a sound.
"Take care of yourself too, Harry," Hermione said kindly as the pair began to fade. "I hold you at no fault of anything but placing your trust in the wrong person. And that is a very human mistake, unworthy of a lifetime of scorn."
Harry saw them through the wierheid as Snape lay Hermione down on the couch before the crackling fire. A roly-poly gargoyle pup hopped up and cuddled up next to her, wedging its head under her arm and closing its eyes. Snape sat in the plush armchair across from her, his fingers steepled in thought as he stared solemnly into the flames.
The musty halls of Grimmauld Place were like closed wardrobes that had not been opened in untold decades. Had there been moths fluttering about, it would have seemed even more so. Kreacher was protesting the opening of the windows and the multitude of quickly cast cleansing charms that literally picked up every single grain of dust and forcibly vacated it from the house out the windows in a hazy gush of foul, stuffy nastiness. Harry, however, asked Kreacher to desist at once, feeling so very weary that all he had left of his hope for something better was the suspicion that those he had idolised had been instrumental in the death of his best friend that he, himself, should have appreciated far more than he had while she'd been alive.
The gargoyle pup sniffed around at his feet, tearing off into the depths of the house— on loan from Hogwarts. Kreacher attempted to throw himself in front of everything the pup was so vigorously sniffing at, but the pup used his head as a plough and simply knocked him out of the way.
Harry was not sure why Kreacher refused to actually clean the house and keep it in good repair, instead allowing it to stagnant in time. Surely any respect for it would have had him doing otherwise, keeping it perfectly pristine.
Without the dust, the place actually looked somewhat liveable—a time capsule, perhaps, but liveable.
Kreacher, however, was still beating on himself in an effort to prevent any further disturbance of the house, and Harry started to suspect there was something here that he was missing.
"Kreacher," Harry said.
The house-elf glowered at him. "Yes, Master?"
"Did someone order you to keep this place a dump?"
Kreacher twitched. "Yes, Master."
Kreacher's lip curled. "Master Sirius."
"You follow me now, yes?"
"Yes," Kreacher hissed.
"I release you for whatever orders that Sirius gave you."
Kreacher fell over on his back, literally, his eyes so wide as he took in a ragged, deep breath. "... thank you, Master." His hands wriggled, and a powerful blast of house-elf magic blew through the house, making everything as pristine as a museum— spotless, fresh, and preserved. A cool breeze blew through, and the portraits—
The main portrait wasn't screaming anymore.
"Kreacher, are you alright?" Harry asked, truly concerned for the little fellow.
"Yes, Master," he said, a strange lack of strain over his entire body. "Kreacher been holding back for so long."
"Boy," the main portrait said— the stern face of Walburga Black addressed him.
"Mrs Black," Harry said cautiously, walking up to her frame.
"You released the hold on Kreacher?"
"Yes, Mrs Black."
Her painted eyes narrowed. "Thank you."
She said nothing more, turning away to look more like an actual portrait.
She looked back at him.
"What hold did Kreacher have over you?"
"He was commanded to keep the house the way my eldest son desired it, so it would appear just as he wanted. He and his horrid, cocky best mate. Looked a lot like you, boy. Save for the eyes."
Harry swallowed hard. "Why would they want this place to look— have you act like you did?"
The woman in the portrait curled her lip. "It is hard to look like the black sheep of the family when your family and house does not live up to the reputation."
Harry's eyes widened. "But, you burned him off the family tree!"
The elder witch snorted. "My father's father built this home, boy. I would not put my wand to it in any way that defaced their memories."
The truth started to settle in on Harry, and he sat down on the floor, slumping.
Harry looked up.
"Look behind my portrait."
Harry struggled to stand up, feeling less than apt at doing anything. He tugged at the frame, and to his surprise it lifted right up— defying the supposed permanent sticking charm Sirius had always claimed had been placed upon it. There was a latch there, and he touched it— a panel moving over to expose a pile of very familiar, eerily bound books.
"Auror Moody!" Harry cried, his voice ringing out in the house. "You need to see this right now!"
James and I have come up with a series of spells to rid ourselves of Snivellus' hindrance to our lives. James is tired of waiting on Lily to see what a prize he is, and we're both tired of Snivellus' constant hounding of us to find us guilty of doing something he can report us for.
Most of these spells are not what we need. One of them makes you hold a grudge forever, but that's useless. He already hates us forever. We tested it on that stuffy old Auror Moody, who is as paranoid as sin, but we can't tell if it even worked. Moody didn't really like Snape anyway, so we can't tell the difference. Still, we recorded it in case it would be useful for later.
Dumbledore has been letting us play around with our spells, thinking them mere boyish pranks. Some old gratitude to the Potter family for doing him some service back in the day. Fine with us. I know the old man doesn't like my family in the slightest. Dad won't even let him in the house, and mum just screams bloody murder at him about 'not in the house of her father's father' and all that rot. I think old Dumbledore wants the house for something involving the war. He wants all the protections dad put on it. James and I think that if we can arrange to have the place given to him, he could be in our debt too. Worth thinking about, anyway.
We're working on a spell unlike the others. We're taking some of the old family blood-preservation magic from both his and my old grimoires and making it work for us. Snivellus fancies himself some half-blood prince or something bloody stupid like that, but we're thinking, if he's really a half-blood, that means half of his blood is just as Muggle and muddy as the very people he scorns. It would be such a pity if a blood cleansing spell would prove he wasn't like the rest of Slytherin, right in front of all his Death Eater mates. Maybe even the Dark Lord, whoever he is, will murder him himself.
To make the grimoire to hold that spell, though, I'm going to have to find a Muggle bitch to flay alive for her for her skin to bind the book. It's the only thing that will hold that kind of Dark intent stable for proper blood magic. Thank the Old Ways for that little tidbit. Oh well, I did it for these grimoires, and I can do it again. Only thing bloody Muggles are good for, anyway. At least Lily has magic enough to redeem her sorry arse as the spawn of pathetic Muggle stock .
Well, I'll have to get started with making the next grimoire so it can be bound and ready by the next full moon. We can throw the body in with Moony after we're done and he can flog himself for having attacked a Muggle as a ruddy beast. He'd never tell anyone either. He's far too guilty.
Bother, the spell is ready to be tested, and all the information is in the new grimoire, but Dumbledore says something is going down tomorrow and we have to get Prongs and Lily to safety. Damn me for telling them to swear Wormtail to keep their secret just so I'd have more days to finish up the spell. Fuck!
I'm going to have to track down Wormtail and find Prongs and Lily so we can get them out of wherever they are. Moony is already on the run, thinking he murdered that stupid Muggle bitch. Useless!
I'm going to leave the grimoire somewhere Dumbledore can find it in case something should happen to us. Maybe he'll even use it and prove to the world that he's not nearly as Light as he claims to be. Either way, he'll realise you have to fight Dark with Dark to win. Worst case, he realises that he's been supporting Dark magic this entire time. Either way works for me.
End of Chapter One