Summary: [HG/SS] In her third year, when Hermione throws herself in front of Harry to protect him from the Dementors something strange happens. She awakens to a legacy she had no idea she even had, and it turns the entire school upside-down— and beyond. Crackfic. AU. EWE. NC. (all that jazz).
Beta Love: The Dragon and the Rose, Dutchgirl01, Flyby Commander Shepard.
A/N: This is a total crackerjack crackfic, complete with tasty nuts. Don't judge me. (I've had a few requests for Dementor type stories, and my brain had a few on the back burner as well, so here goes! to shellyjb and the others who have written eerily similar requests, I hope you like it.)
Born Unto Darkness
A Crackfic by Corvus Draconis
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.
Edgar Allan Poe
A bitter, insidious coldness spread throughout the Hogwarts Express, dragging a heavy weight of darkness along with it. Eerie shapes and shadows moved within the train's corridor, and the trio could hear yells and cries from throughout the train. The train seemed to come to a halt— frozen on the tracks in the middle somewhere between London and Scotland.
"Have you ever heard of the train stopping along the way like this?" Harry asked Ronald.
Ron shook his head. "Something's odd, mate. Really odd." He rubbed his shoulders with his hands. "It's bloody cold too."
Hermione was deep in her book, not paying attention, having learned a long time ago to tune them out when they started babbling about Quidditch and other such things. The talk of Sirius Black, while new and interesting, had piqued her interest to see if she could find anything about him in her books. She flipped the pages of her book every so often, her eyes deep into scanning the page for every tidbit of knowledge she could soak in.
"Do you think it might have something to do with Sirius Black?"
"I don't know, Ron," Harry said uneasily. He looked over to where someone was still managing to sleep under their coat, and wondered how they managed to do that with a jerk-stopping train and the temperature dropping so drastically.
"I mean, no one has ever escaped Azkaban before, and, well, he's a raging, murderous lunatic," Ron rambled.
"Thanks for that, Ron," Harry said, giving him an annoyed glare.
The lights were going out one by one, and looking out the window was getting hard due to the rapidly-building frost. They could tell the train was on a bridge of some sort, but nothing else. They were at a dead stop with no idea why or how.
"Hermione," Ron said, nudging her.
"Ow, Ron!" Hermione said, putting her book down to glare at him.
Ron's eyes grew ride as flickering shadows moved in the corridor. Long bony fingers stretched out toward the door, and moved like they were going to touch the door. The door handle moved by itself, and the door slid open to expose a tall figure draped in dark, tattered robes, almost like gauze. A soul-deep heaviness descended upon the compartment, and a horrible sense of despair seemed to slither in.
The creature, its head covered entirely by a hood, turned, searching the train compartment, a low, rasping hiss of breath seemed to come from within.
Harry was paralysed with fear as the creature neared, seemingly drawn to him more than Ron or Hermione or even the guest by the window. Crookshanks hissed, and Scabbers dove into Ron's coat almost completely, save for his tail.
Harry jerked and spasmed as the creature neared, its elongated, almost dead, slimy-looking hands extending outward.
"That's not nice!" Hermione cried out, standing up between them, her face scowling like the creature had attempted to cheat on their homework. "If you were looking for someone, you could have just asked!"
"Mione, what the hell are you doing?" Ron blurted.
The creature floated there for a moment and seemed to drop its head in shame.
"It's fine— just don't ever do that again, okay? You probably scared everyone on the train with that creepy floating." Hermione sat back down on the seat.
The creature extended its hand; a chocolate bar between the fingers.
"Oh, thank you," Hermione said. "That's very considerate of you." She took the chocolate as the creature floated away down the corridor. She unwrapped and broke it up, passing a piece to Harry and Ron. Ron shook his head crazily like it was on a bobble-head, and Harry was too numb to even care where the food came from and just ate it without a word.
"What the hell, Mione?!" Ron yelled. "You accept chocolate from some, some—thing, and then you act like nothing happened?"
"He was looking for Sirius Black," Hermione said, crossing her arms. "And he was rude about it. The chocolate was an apology."
Ron looked at her like she'd sprouted at least two new heads of a different species.
"Young lady, that was a Dementor," a sandy-haired man said from the window. He had uncovered himself from his coat. "They are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth— they guard Azkaban, draining all the peace, hope, and happiness out of the very air around them, ensuring that none can leave the prison walls."
"He wasn't foul; he was rude," Hermione said, making a face, staring back into her book. "And he apologised."
The man looked like he was trying to say something in response, but his mouth worked up and down without a sound.
The train ride back to Hogwarts, thankfully, Ron focused more on dealing with Harry's stammering about hearing screaming, and Hermione tried to ignore the strange stare coming from the man by the window.
When they got to Hogsmeade, the carriages were full save for three spots, and Harry and Ron quickly took into two of them as the man who had travelled by the window with them took the third.
As Hermione tried to get towards one that looked like it had seats, the children frantically gestured, and the carriage took off without her, leaving Hermione with her things as she waited for a carriage to come back for her. She wondered if it was because of the Dementors.
It seemed like a rather horrible name.
The weather was also horrible, and it was misting too.
She sat on the side-wall, brooding.
A warm cloak wrapped around her, and she startled to see the Dementor floating there with a few of his compatriots. They glided around her like a school of fish.
"There just weren't any carriages left," Hermione said. "I think they were all afraid because of the Sirius Black thing," she added.
The Dementors seemed to glower silently, which wasn't hard considering they looked like dark spectres already.
"You don't know how he escaped?" Hermione boggled. "That must make you pretty angry. If I had to be in charge of a prison, I mean. Not that I'd ever want to. I could think of better places to have a job."
Hermione sighed, and found herself leaning into her Dementor companion. He wrapped one arm around her, and she savoured the unexpected warmth that came from him. "I guess I should start walking towards Hogwarts. I'm getting really hungry."
As she stood to start walking, she let out a small squeal as the Dementor picked her up, cradling her to its chest, and took off into the air towards Hogwarts. She wrapped her arms around its head with a cry of surprise, still slightly terrified by the idea of flying— and yet it felt much safer than a broom, at least. He was carrying her, and it was strangely comforting to be carried so close to someone.
The Dementor covered her with her cloak, tucking her against himself so the wind and mist didn't chill her, and she found that the longer she was pressed up against him, the warmer it became, even though the very air around them seemed to chill and darken.
Her spectre-like friend set her down at the gates of Hogwarts, and she felt a little sadness in parting. "Thank you," she said. She placed her hand over the Dementor's gnarled hands. The Dementors drifted around her, and she ended up hugging them too. She imagined they didn't get enough hugs to go around looking as they did. They didn't seem to mind.
As they floated up around the edges of Hogwarts, Hermione couldn't help but wonder why they were there at Hogwarts at all.
Hermione was looking forward to getting a good night's sleep when she found her trunk sitting outside of the dorm with the door firmly closed. Trying to open the door with Alohomora only demonstrated that all the wardrobes must have been stacked against the door with the clear intent of keeping her out.
"What's going on in there?" Hermione yelled into the room. "Let me in, this is my room too!"
"We're not sharing a room with someone who talks to Dementors!" Lavender's voice yelled back.
"So you just wanted me to what? Scream and faint like a ninny?" Hermione yelled back.
"Yeah, at least you'd be NORMAL!" Parvati added.
Hermione sighed. All the other dorm doors were barred as well, not that she expected any of them to have room for her. Each room was full, unless you wanted to sleep on the floor.
Grumbling in annoyance, Hermione placed a levitating charm on her trunk and pushed it in front of her, exiting the girl's dorms and out of the common room. After seeing them all huddled together, fearfully shying away from her, she walked out of there too, past the portrait of the Fat Lady and into the hallway. She wondered where Crookshanks was. Maybe he was waiting on what should have been her bed. Her poor cat would have had no idea that other girls would have barricaded her out specifically.
The thought about going to see her Head of House, but she didn't want to get anyone in trouble and possibly make things even worse for herself. She sat down heavily on her trunk in the hallway, resting her head in her hands.
"What are you doing out here in the halls, miss?" Filch asked, petting Mrs Norris as he stopped.
Hermione sighed. "Nothing, it seems."
"Shouldn't you be back in the dorms with your housemates?"
"They don't appear to want me there."
She could practically hear him frowning at her. "How would you be knowing that, miss?"
Hermione snorted. "They barricaded me out of my dorm room. And let me know in no uncertain terms that I was not welcome there."
Filch, who had never been one to show a lick of care for anyone, sighed. "Why don't you come with me, miss. The teachers are all in a staff meeting until late tonight due to all the Dementors being around. I can give you a cot and some space until you can talk to your Head of House."
"I'd rather not talk to her."
The unasked why hung in the air.
"I really don't want to get anyone in trouble, Mr Filch."
"Well, we'll worry about that in the morning, miss. Come along, now." He beckoned, and Hermione followed, bringing her trunk, floating ahead of her as she guided it along.
When she got to Filch's quarters, she was surprised to see how unkempt it was, almost as if someone had inadvertently forgotten to let the house-elves know his quarters existed. Boxes were stacked haphazardly in there, keeping him from really expanding in the room, and he had to move some things over to make her a private place in between the boxes.
"You can sleep here tonight, miss," he said. "Apologies for all the clutter. "Have to do all the cleaning myself, and the elves don't much care to come in here." He took out an old curtain that looked like it had once belonged on a four poster bed, and used it to give her some privacy.
Hermione, looking around, put her hands in her lap. "Um, not to assume, sir, but would you like some help cleaning the place up? I don't mind helping out at all, and I— I would really like something to distract me from remembering I've been kicked out of my own dorm."
Filch tilted his head curiously. "I— I've never had anyone offer before."
"I'm offering," Hermione said kindly.
Filch looked at her with a strange, gobsmacked expression. "I would appreciate it."
Hermione smiled. "I'm doing pretty well in Transfiguration, so the practice sure couldn't hurt."
Hermione helped first by helping him dig out his living space. Thankfully, what with being cluttered with so much stuff he wasn't using, it made perfect fodder for being turned into something else. She helped him wrench open the old window, and a quick cleaning spell sent all the accumulated dust and debris flying out the window in a mass exodus. She transfigured the old Oriental rug until it looked brand new, turned his small cot into an extra large four-poster bed that would make Lavender sob with envy, and transfigured his moth-eaten old linens into a beautiful, creamy silk. There were a few misses, having made it into a few different fabrics that were not very slumber-compatible, but she finally ended up with something she thought was silk— or at least passed well enough for silk.
She turned an old wooden box into a comfy cat-condo the likes of which even the feline gods would adore, putting more cat shelves around the newly stocked bookshelves that she'd created so that Mrs Norris could climb around as much as she desired and be the reigning queen of the room. She crafted him a lovely wooden dining room table with plush seats just like her parents had, having no other memories with which to work from, and found the fireplace he hadn't even realised he'd had. The oldest, gnarliest-looking crates went into the fire to give him some warmth, and the made a cast-iron poker and shovel set like the one her dad liked best.
She made a few plush, overstuffed armchairs and a settee or three, letting him figure out which one he wanted, but he ended up wanting all of them. One for him, one for Mrs Norris, and one for guests— which seemed to be just her.
Hermione soon found that Mrs Norris was following her around, not to be annoying, but to see what else she was going to make. Hermione made her an enchanted catnip mouse just like the one Crookshanks loved, and the feline promptly went tearing after it with unholy glee.
She frowned at the poor state of the loo, seeing how it was also terribly crowded with boxes, and gave him a decent medicine cabinet with mirror, towel holder, and extra fluffy towels— coloured neutrally as to not offend his manliness. Her father always said his towels had be manly. She had no idea what that really meant, but she guessed it meant things like "not pink" and "not smelling of flowers."
She reset and redid the tile with a few flicks of her wand, realising that his wall and floors were actually once quite beautiful, with startling blue mosaic seas and shimmering beaches. Having found the neglected clawed tub, she polished it up, and gave him a shower shelf to put all his soap and whatever odds and ends wherever he liked them.
Finally, she turned the extra crates into fluffy rugs so his feet wouldn't be cold when they hit the tile, only to have Mrs Norris roll on her back in the middle of it and meow ecstatically.
The back of the main room was still stacked with even boxes, and Hermione wondered if they'd just thrown Filch into an old storage room, or rather, that they'd thrown him in a someone's old quarters that they'd since been using as a store room. The crates were all empty, which made her think someone didn't want to waste the crates— but didn't bother about making them useful in other ways.
She turned a few into lanterns and hanging lanterns to brighten up the room a little better, and used the bigger crates to make new shelves, a few coat racks, an armoire, a chest of drawers, a bedside table, and a tiny almost-kitchen for making and storing any snacks he happened to desire.
"I hope I got the chilling charm right on the icebox," Hermione said. She opened it up and stuck her hand in it. "I think it works." She looked at Filch sheepishly. "I hadn't practiced that one much, sorry."
She stood in front of the little kitchen, waving her want to try and decide if the copper cookware was better or if cast iron was more appropriate. Mrs Norris jumped into the colander, filling it up, just her tail sticking out the edge.
By the time she had decided on cast-iron pans, copper pots, and wooden utensils, Filch had moved his once hidden belongings out into his quarters. He looked around with a kind of awe— the sort of thing you saw on first years that were crossing the lake for the first time.
"I have another room?" Filch boggled. "Well, I'll be."
"I think that one's supposed to be your bedroom," Hermione said, scratching her head. "Want me to move your bed and armoire there?"
"If it wouldn't too much trouble after all you've done already."
"I don't mind," Hermione said with a smile, shrinking the bed and armoire down and moving it over to the actual bedroom. She arranged the bed in the middle with the armoire and table to the side, putting lanterns on the tables.
Filch looked out the window of his new bedroom with awe, seeing the beautiful view out over the lake. He closed his eyes and sniffed and smiled.
"Thank you," he said. No one has done anything like this for me before." he said.
Hermione frowned. "That's terrible. You live here too. You should be able to enjoy the place you live in."
Mrs Norris was busily cheek-marking every possible thing in the quarters from top to bottom.
Filch laughed, scooping her up, and she squirmed, bound and determined to continue her personal quest to mark everything as "hers". Right meow, thank you very much.
"None of this is alive," Hermione said almost shyly, "So you don't have to worry about it all turning back into crates if something were to happen to me." Hermione smiled at her handiwork. "I really hope you like it, sir."
"Miss, I have no words for how happy this makes me."
"Hermione," she said.
"Miss Hermione," he said with a small tug of a smile— something utterly foreign to her and yet strangely wonderful. He chuckled. "Why did you make my things so much more wonderful, but you left yourself only a cot?"
Hermione shrugged. "I figured you could fold the cot up later and stuff it away somewhere."
Argus sniffed. "Make yourself something comfortable, Miss Hermione. You can always make it back into a cot in the morning."
Hermione smiled. "Okay."
As Hermione adjusted the privacy screens around her bed, she changed into her night clothes and curled up on the bed, happy to have a place to sleep, even if it was temporary. She was so tired from her adventure in helping Argus and Mrs Norris that she didn't even notice the purring warmth as Crookshanks wriggled his way underneath her arm, and the pale, monstrous arms of the Dementor wrapped around her and cuddled her close.
Hermione knew that Professor McGonagall's attempt to force the issue of getting her back into her assigned dorm didn't go well when she found her school trunk lying smashed— outside and in the rain. Apparently, someone had decided to chuck it straight out the window on onto the flagstones below She gathered up her broken and wet things, stuffing them back into her hastily repaired trunk, and walked blindly out into the rain. Hot tears flowed down her face, but she refused to wipe them away. Anger flowed through her veins, but she forced it back down as best she could.
She had no idea where she was going until a large branch smashed down in front of her, just missing her, save for a scratch on her cheek.
"I am not in the mood for your whomping today!" Hermione cried out, her face wet with both rain and tears. "I don't know what it is that keeps you so brassed off with everyone, but you'd make many more friends if you'd stop being a total ARSE!"
The Whomping Willow immediately halted its assault and drooped, apparently chastened. One branch extended to lightly brush up against her scratched cheek.
"I'm sorry too," Hermione said softly. "I've had a pretty horrible night."
The willow gently scooped her up into its branches and deposited her up to a higher place where the branches split off into a curving U shape. There was a small hollow, just big enough for a person or two, well-hidden by a dense covering of leaves. It nudged her in.
"You want me to go inside?"
The willow nudged her again.
"But, my trunk—" Hermione protested.
The willow picked up her trunk and used it to nudge her in.
Hermione stepped into the dark hollow and used her wand to create some light.
Her eyes widened as she found herself inside an expansive chamber— the very heart of the willow. The floor of the chamber was lined with a soft, sweet-smelling moss and lichen, and the walls seemed comfortably warm, almost as though they were alive.
The willow placed her trunk next to a hollowed out bowl filled with a soft fibre-stuffed mattress of sorts. A soft glow came from above, and she looked up to see an owl-shaped vine with a glow-light suspended inside of it.
Water trickled down in one area, making a sink in one area and a shower bath next to it. There was a small study desk formed in living wood with a vine-woven chair next to it.
"For me?" Hermione squeaked.
The willow's branch nudged her closer to the bed and poked her trunk so it opened.
"Thank you," Hermione said, giving the branch a hug.
The willow caressed her cheek and withdrew its branch, closing the "door" to the hollow so she had her privacy.
Crookshanks was already curled up next to her pillows, ready for bed.
"How… ?" Hermione closed her eyes. Maybe it was just better not to question.
As she prepared herself for bed, she realised her favourite brush was missing from her trunk, and she tried to stifle the need to either punch or throw something at someone.
A brush tenderly went through her hair, and she turned to see the Dementor gently using the brush on her hair. Her emotions got the better of her, and she wrapped her arms around her stalwart new friend, trying to calm her overflowing emotion.
As the Dementor brushed her hair, she slowly felt better, as if just the raw edge of her excess emotion was being pulled away. She felt sleepy, and she curled up on the bed, her eyes fluttering closed. Crookshanks snuggled in close, his soft purring lulling her to sleep as the arms of her Dementor friend enfolded her in slumber.
"Severus, have you seen Miss Granger?"
"Minerva, do I look like the resident finder of lost children? Isn't she old enough to know her way around the castle by now?"
Minerva glowered with obvious frustration. "Both she and her trunk are missing, Severus. I strongly suspect that the other children threw her things out of the tower."
Severus narrowed his eyes at his colleague. "You let your cubs exile one of their own from Gryffindor tower?"
"I did not LET them, Severus!" Minerva hissed. "They seem to think she is evil, and they are frantic and fanatical about making sure she's not allowed to live with them anymore!"
Severus sneered, his lip curling in disgust. "And what asinine reason have they come up with to determine that Miss Granger is evil?"
"Apparently, she yelled at a Dementor while on the train to the castle."
Severus' body froze in place as his head turned to face Minerva's like a scene from The Exorcist. "What?"
"They tell me that when the Dementors arrived to check the train for Sirius Black, one of them was attracted to Harry, and she stepped in the way and yelled at the Dementor."
"Yelling at a Dementor just proves how stupid you are, Minerva."
"It listened to her and gave her a bar of chocolate to apologise."
"And you simply accept any ridiculous stories those little dunderheads pull out of their arses?"
"Remus Lupin was right there too and confirmed that is exactly what happened, Severus," Minerva said.
"Lupin is hardly a shining example of reliability."
"Severus, he is a teacher at this school, and he has the Headmaster's trust."
"Oh, and that was always so helpful in the past," Severus snarled.
"What do you mean by that, Severus?"
Severus' face turned red as he struggled to say something and found he could not. He growled and whirled, leaving Minerva in a swirl of black cloth. "Bother me if she doesn't show up for class. Only then will I believe there is an actual crisis. Until then, leave me the hell alone, Minerva."
As expected, Hermione arrived to Potions class looking well rested— but she was oddly silent and very withdrawn when it came to her fellow housemates. She didn't display her typical handwaving behaviour, nor did she bother to extend herself to sneakily help any of her housemates with their usual inept attempts at potion-making. She kept entirely to herself. She kept… strangely silent.
The seats around her were oddly vacant, and the tables had been moved back away from her, as if her fellow students were fearful that she was going to explode at a moment's notice. Severus scowled. He had seen the two boys ostracise her many times for many more stupid reasons, but a silent Hermione was disturbing— a sign he recognised very well. It was either a deep depression or a simmering anger that had deepened further than words could be said. Both things, he was all-too-familiar with.
He saw her fingers work quickly over the various reagents with deft skill. He watched her staring into her cauldron with dark, dark eyes. Her silver blade flashed like quicksilver. Her eyes flicked from her ingredients and the cauldron, all distractions she had once harboured gone. He saw the wisp of concentrated magic in her hands— her wand forgotten on the desk beside her. She flicked the next ingredient in, her eyes never leaving the surface of the cauldron. Her nostrils flared, and a turn of the stirrer went clockwise only a fraction to then go anti-clockwise half a turn and a fraction more, stopping as if marked by something only she could see. She watched it— her lips pressing together in a flat line, her body still, oh so still.
Suddenly, something was dropping into her cauldron—
Severus quickly slammed a stasis down on the potion just in time to see Hermione's fingers snap around a small piece of dried skin— toadskin.
Snape saw the smoldering magic crackling in her hair. Her hair was eerily raising as her hand trembled.
"Miss Granger," he said, soft as a whisper. "Please hand me that."
The softness of his tone reached her, and she automatically handed over the piece of skin into his hand— still silent. Deathly silent.
He ran his wand over it—
It wasn't toadskin at all. It was fire gecko skin— and it would have blown the classroom to bits had it hit Granger's potion in the state it was in. He ran a quick trace over it and hissed with anger.
"I will give you precisely five seconds to tell me who threw that fire gecko skin into Miss Granger's cauldron. Any more time than that, and the lot of you will be in detention for the next week with Mr Filch doing anything and everything he so desires without any complaint and entirely without magic. Starting NOW."
Neville pushed Lavender up. "Tell him what you did, Lavender. I'm not going to detention for you."
"What?!" Lavender screeched. "How dare you!"
"I saw her do it too," Harry added, earning him a vicious stomp from Ron's shoe. Harry squared his jaw.
"She's a Dementor-loving FREAK!" Parvati cried.
Perhaps, in the heat of the moment, the students of Severus Snape forgot what class they were in, exactly who their teacher was, or all the dark rumours of what he was that had been speculated about in hushed whispers throughout the years. Snape stood up ramrod straight, his black robes swirling behind him eerily like a Dementor's robes as his pale fingers seemed to stretch across his chest to pull his robes across his chest. He was directly in front of Lavender and Parvati in an abrupt flash of movement, his lips twisting in disgust and his black eyes filled with a barely suppressed fury. His fingers extended to her throat, making the shadow of a strangling motion without even touching her.
The room was deathly quiet. Wide eyes staring at Snape like he had suddenly transformed into the Mayan Bat God of Death.
"Detention with me tonight, Miss Brown, Miss Patil," Snape bit out harshly as though each word was utterly agonising. For now, you will immediately march yourselves directly to the Headmaster's office, where he and your Head of House will be waiting to discuss your shameful behaviour regarding your fellow Gryffindors." He leaned in, his teeth bared in a snarl. "And the circumstances that lead to you throwing Miss Granger's trunk out a window in Gryffindor Tower."
"But I didn—"
Snape had her wrist in his hand, his pale fingers holding her wrist like a trap. "Tell me, do you always bear the trademark of a very angry half-Kneazle, or are you just so very blessed today?" He plucked the bit of distinctive orange fur from the sleeve of her robe.
Lavender swallowed hard, trembling violently.
"Get out of here. Now."
Lavender and Parvati quickly exited the room as though Snape we re the Dementor they feared.
"For those of you who wish to remain— alive— had that piece of fire gecko skin landed in your classmate's cauldron, it would have taken out this entire room and everyone in it, given the point Miss Granger was at in her brewing— the moment of synthesis, when the potion has reached the highest potency and is ready to amplify the next ingredient throughout the mixture. It would have caused a massive, violent explosion, and those lucky enough to survive the initial blast would then quickly succumb to the highly unpleasant effects of a lethal, invisible gas. So, the next time you think throwing some random thing into a fellow student's cauldron is a great idea, don't."
"Now, complete your brewing, and place your finished potions on my desk before you leave. If you should finish early, you may leave… silently. If I hear even a single whisper, you will be joining your fellows in detention."
Snape didn't say one more word as he paced around the room. The students, for once, brewed in total silence. Some of them botched it just as he expected they would, but others seemed to get a little more focused and put out a passable (even if it was still poor quality) potion.
Hermione's potion, however— was perfect. Flawless
She had picked the hardest potion on the board— the potion he hadn't expected any of them to actually do: Liquid Luck.
A tiny golden fish leapt in and of the potion on a wisp of magic.
His lip twitched. Apparently when she wasn't babysitting her peers, she was a natural born potioneer.
She decanted her cauldron into about— he had to chuckle— thirty some crystal vials. It was Liquid Luck, for Merlin's sake… you didn't just vanish that. There was enough Liquid Luck there to ensure that Longbottom didn't blow anything else up for the rest of term… if he took it every single day, a drop every hour. Hell, there still may be enough left to— Merlin, she was up to fifty crystal vials now.
She looked into her cauldron mournfully. There was still some left, but she had run out of vials. Snape found himself standing in front of her, scowling. He put a parchment down in front of her and a large crystal flask. Silently, he quilled his signature as the cosigner, verifying the authenticity, potency, and craft of the potion to be sold to Slug and Jiggers for a 90/10 split fee for one flask full of Felix Felicis, with enough Liquid Luck to be split into approximately a hundred vials. They would make a killing on it, even only getting 10 percent of the sale money from it. Hermione would be set for her entire Hogwarts career and probably beyond that. Especially if she could make more of it— and he had no doubt she would.
"Sign right here, Miss Granger. Vault here. Decanter here."
He swirled and left, leaving the Granger girl standing there with wide eyes.
As the class ended, she brought the full flask, fifty some vials, and the parchment to his desk and went back to her desk to clean up. He opened the scroll and read. His eyes widened as he saw where she had written it to split the commission between both signers' vaults: hers and… his.
It was something an apprentice would do, acknowledging the guiding hand of the master in their work, regardless of how independently they may have worked on a project. It was the kind of respect he had not expected from one of his students, most especially a Gryffindor student.
Snape opened a drawer, pulled out a parchment, and scrawled over it with a hurried pen-hand and pulled out his wax. He heated the wax with a candle, poured it on the parchment and slammed his signet ring into it. Maybe, he thought to himself, there was a possible solution to Minerva's little— problem.
As the rest of the class had fled into the wind, not daring stay any longer to tempt Snape's wrath, Hermione was just finishing cleaning up and putting her books into her bags. Her potions book—
She had started to write in her potions book. Notes penned in the borders and any free space covered the pages. She closed the book and tucked it away.
Hermione blinked, but she approached and took the scroll. "Thank you, Sir," she said, nodding to him.
When Hermione had left the classroom, she opened the scroll and almost dropped it.
I, Severus Tobias Snape, do take Hermione Jean Granger as my apprentice on this third day of September in the year of nineteen ninety-three. From the time both my and her seals adorn this parchment, our bond shall be sealed until the time when she is pinned as her own master.
At this point, she shall report to me and only to me for the length of her education in all subjects, as well as in mastery of potions. She will be provided any and all learning materials, private quarters adjoined to my own, apprentice robes and pin, dragonhide boots, and a monetary stipend. All other necessary items will be addressed as they come to light.
Master of Potions, Severus Tobias Snape
(his seal, the Hebridean dragon rampant)
Hermione watched the smug Slytherin smiles grow as she took her seat beside her master at the High Table. She watched him take his first bite before eating, and she quietly dove into her salad without looking like Ronald Weasley with a bowl of chicken wings.
Gryffindor looked utterly horrified at her blacker than black robes of thick wool, dragonhide boots, and the green and silver lining of her robes. She wore the apprentice sash around her waist. Her wand was tucked in a holster on her arm rather than in a pocket. Her hair was pulled back with a headband that looked like a serpent, both to tame the frizz and keep her hair safely out of any potion she might be working on. The magical headband wove around her hair just enough to pull it back like a braid and look terribly stylish. Even Crookshanks was wearing a black, emerald studded collar with a silver bell on it that eerily didn't ring unless he wanted it too.
Crooks ate from his very own dish at the high table, showing far better manners than Ronald, which wasn't too hard to see, and Hagrid, who really wasn't much better than Ron.
Gryffindor seemed to be glaring at her even more lately— most especially Lavender and Parvati, who had been separated into different dorm rooms after being thoroughly reamed by the Headmaster, their Head of House, and their equally furious parents. Both had served time in the dungeon pulling wings off a magical species of African dung beetle that gave off the distinctive scent of, well, dung when plucked.
To make things even worse, the repulsive odour clung to their robes, skin and hair no matter how thoroughly or often they bathed.
No amount of blaming the Dementors seemed to help their case due to the fact that they were there to apprehend Sirius Black, the notorious mass murderer and criminal escapee.
"Apprentice," Snape's voice said, soft and almost a whisper.
"Please deliver this scroll to Aberforth at the Hogshead Tavern in Hogsmeade," he directed.
"Yes, Master," she said, taking the scroll in one hand as she excused herself from dinner. She swept the room, walking up the Hufflepuff side of the room. They all quickly turned and stared at their drinks as she passed by.
"Merlin, Severus, it's bad enough that you do that everytime you enter and exit the Great Hall," Pomona complained.
"The apprentice learns from the master," Severus deadpanned, continuing to eat his steak.
"She's only in her third year, Severus, what is she going to be like when she's in her seventh?"
Severus had a rather wicked smile on his face. "Rightfully intimidating."
"Gods help us all," Sinestra said, sipping her tea.
Hermione wondered if her master knew she was feeling discomfited by all the glares and stares and sent her on her errand so she could get some much-needed fresh air and a nice walk in the coolness of the evening after spending all day brewing with him in the dungeons. Her hair had become disturbingly straight after exposure to potion fumes all day, so much so that she wondered if the cure to bushy hair was brewing.
As she came to the gates of Hogwarts, the Dementors met her there, and she smiled as they seemed to bicker amongst each other for the honour of whisking her away to Hogsmeade. Finally, the more sombre one opened up his arms, and she embraced him, allowing his arms to pull her close as she wrapped her arms around his neck. He floated off towards Hogsmeade as the other Dementors seemed to float around in a pout.
When she got to the Hogshead Tavern, the air inside was nauseatingly thick with smoke and beer, but she found old Aberforth easily enough. She handed him the scroll, ignoring all the looks she was getting.
One of them stood up, looking like he was going to cause trouble when his companion grabbed him by the wrist and jerked his head.
"That's Snape's apprentice, you sodding idiot" he hissed lowly. "You leave that one well alone."
Aberforth read the missive and nodded sharply. "I have some of that right here, just give me a—" he reached up and pulled a glass bottle down from the shelf. A golden brown liquid swirled lazily within, seeming more like fire instead of fluid. "This is the good stuff for potions," he said. "Not like the drinking kind. This will burn right through your skin if you're not careful. He's paid up in advance, so don't worry none about the tab, aye?"
Hermione nodded respectfully, silent.
"You're a quiet one, eh? I suppose I expected no less from Snape's apprentice. You be safe on the way back to the school, lass."
Hermione nodded and saluted him with the bottle. She carried it out and took an extra long inhale of the much cleaner night air. Aberforth smelled like week-old chip grease and stale beer, most of the times she'd fetched things from him, but he was respectful enough. She had learned to say very little with Snape's contacts— partly because he told her to, and partly because she knew if he asked her to, there had to be a really good reason why.
The Dementor hovered at the edge of town, waiting for her. His presence frosted the bottle she was carrying, and she stared at it curiously. Odd that she didn't feel the cold when it obviously affected the environment. She put it in her carrysack, and wrapped her arms around the Dementor, allowing him to embrace her and fly her back home. She seemed to think they enjoyed the little break from the monotony as much as she did.
By the time they got home, Hermione was yawning, and much to her surprise, the Dementor didn't stay at the border and instead took her to the actual entrance to the school.
"Thank you," she said, giving him an extra hug. The Dementor brushed the side of her cheek with one finger before floating off to join his brethren.
Hermione walked back to her master's quarters, silently gave him the flask of brewing whisky, and waited.
Snape continued to grade his parchments like she wasn't there for a few minutes before picking up the bottle and examining the contents. "Thank you." He scribbled something out on a parchment and handed it to her. "You may spend tomorrow with whatever wild ideas you come a cross and we will discuss them in the evening after dinner.
Confused, Hermione looked at the parchment. Her eyes went wide. "A day-pass to the entire library! Thank you, Master!" she babbled, genuinely excited.
"Go, rest," he said, shooing her with his hand. "The annoying castle has seemed fit to connect that door to your 'other' room."
Hermione shuffled over to the door he gestured to and her face lit up with joy as she realised it went into her hollow inside the Whomping Willow. She rushed in as the door closed behind her, and the sounds of splashing and bathing came soon after.
Snape sniffed, finishing the rest of his grading, but a small tug of a smile graced his expression, both sly and subtle like the Slytherin he was.
Hermione found herself surrounded in books— both the normal kind and the kind that wanted to eat people's faces. Oddly enough, The Monstrous Books of Monsters had taken a shine to her, and all the "discarded" books that no one wanted to deal with were all cuddling with her, begging for pets on the cover and the ultra-coveted spine caress.
She sat with her study books, paging through them silently, soaking in as much as she could about Dark creatures such as Dementors, quirky foliage like the Whomping Willow, and the Beasts Moste Dark and Evil from the restricted section.
"This is a horrible drawing," Hermione said, looking up to see one of the Dementors floating nearby. She pointed at it, shaking her head. The Dementor peered at it and seemed to shrug.
"But look at this—" she said pointing to the open book of Ancient Potions of the Dark and Dangerous. "I remember when my master said at the start of first year that you could put a stopper in death. Well maybe it's not about stopping death but preventing unnatural death. I mean… I'm pretty sure if Death really wanted you, he'd find you, right? But what if this is like good medicine? Staving off unnatural death until you could be treated normally?"
The Dementor floated silently and then took a seat next to her at the table as she explained all the complex thoughts going through her head.
"Well, do you think it might work? If you held the cauldron for me it would have the "touch of the Dementor's cold" right? Then I could make the potion like I normally would. I mean, if you wanted to. I wouldn't force you or anything."
The Dementor shrugged, seemingly agreeable.
"You're the best!" Hermione said, giving the Dementor a hug and placing a kiss on his cheek.
She rapidly wrote down every detail and reference before putting all the books she had borrowed away. "I should probably get those ingredients from Professor Sprout." She heaved her bookbag over her shoulder. "Coming?"
Every copy of The Monstrous Books of Monsters jumped off the desk and followed her, bouncing along behind her like a line of book-shaped ducklings— with teeth and fur and tentacles, okay, well, monstrous ducklings at that.
When Hermione returned to Snape's last class, a row of Monstrous Books of Monsters all bouncing along behind her, each with bundles of flowers and ingredients from Pomona's greenhouse grasped in their toothy pages, Snape raised an eyebrow.
They all waited patiently for her to pick them up and remove the bundles, placing them on his desk before giving each one a caress on the spine and setting them back down. He eyed Hermione oddly when she put a vase of beautiful black roses on his desk. "Professor Sprout sends her thanks for pruning her Venomous Tentaculas for her, Master," she said.
Snape eyed the one book that was chewing on a writhing Tentacula tentacle— still.
"Check the potions, Apprentice," he said curtly, watching her expression go from hopeful to dutiful.
"Yes, Master," she said, moving up and down the aisles of the first years with her hands clasped behind her back. He watched her without looking like he was, seeing how she channelled that old talent to correct her peers into something she was supposed to do. She vanished potions that were horribly wrong, telling them exactly what they had botched and why it was unsalvageable, and then she had them start anew, asking them if they had any questions.
When those same students gave her lip, thinking she was no teacher, he stood behind her, glowering as he detailed exactly what they had missed in horrid detail and without a lick of her tact and then tore into them about the little things she forgave them but he would not— not when they were going to give cheek to his apprentice.
Chastised and terrified, they set to work.
The Slytherin students knew better than to say or do anything against her, now. Now she was a Slytherin too. She was Snape's apprentice, and she was under his protection. It was under his right to mete out justice in regards to her honour as he saw fit— and none of them ever wanted to be under his scrutiny the way Hermione was. They knew he tracked her every move in a way that made hovering parents seem like slackers. They knew that he kept her to a standard that none of them were willing to try for—
And yet, she did do all of those things.
Slytherin had heard all the horror stories from Draco Malfoy, after all, on exactly what was expected of anyone with his name attached to it.
But these first-years were not Slytherin; they were Ravenclaws who thought they knew better and Hufflepuff who believed hard work would be rewarded even if that work was wrong. That was not how Severus ran his class, and they would learn that even if they never learned anything else.
But— something had changed in Hermione Granger. She had become something very different from the hand-waving and obnoxiously outspoken Gryffindor that had once been the bane of his classroom. Could it be as simple as losing the friends that she thought she'd had? Or was it that the test of their true friendship had shown her that they weren't more than fair weather friends?
Apparently, if the rumours were true and if Lupin was anything of a truthful historian, Hermione Granger had scolded a Dementor and it had… actually apologised.
That would make the Dark Lord roll over in his ever-unquiet grave and the in-between half-life that he had apparently crafted for himself. Severus absently rubbed his left arm under his robes. Supposedly, only wizards and witches back in the time of Merlin could communicate with the Beasts Moste Dangerous— well, Merlin and the Founders, but the Founders had focused primarily on one beast or family of beasts. Rowena had an affinity for eagles, Salazar the snakes (allegedly other reptiles too, including dragons), Godric the lions (for all the good it did him in Europe), and Helga the badger.
But just because it was in Hogwarts: A History, did not make it true— and Severus was admittedly doubtful.
Yet, his apprentice had undergone some sort of personal revelation and transformation— if the trail of monstrous books following her around like ducklings counted for anything, or the Whomping Willow adopting her and giving her a room of her own, or Hogwarts catering to her will in various strange ways.
She seemed quite unaware of how unusual it was, and he knew she hadn't been dabbling in some odd magic to control her world. It wasn't like her to be power-seeking in such a way, and even if she had done something on purpose, why would she then be so upset that the people around her didn't seem to think it was great?
One thing was for certain, he knew she had to be assiduously protected and nurtured in her talents to become someone who didn't skirt around Dark magic like some kind of peace and light hippie. He saw in her brewing the Felix Felicis potion that she had found that uniquely dangerous focus that he had when brewing—a focus he had attained when all his impotent anger and hatred had channelled itself into his learning.
Lily had had that talent too, but only when she was scarily angry. Her grades had never been as good as when she was thoroughly brassed off. The month after she had told him to go get bent, she had been top of the school. No one could touch her then, not even him.
Mind you, his heart had been broken back then, moaning like a mortally wounded, dying animal in his chest as it pleaded for him to make things right. Not that there was anything he could have done. She had made that crystal clear.
Once he realised that, his anger had come roaring back. His grades had soared again— and she hated him more for that too. But then she had fallen in with Potter and become obviously giddy with her newfound happiness. Her grades quickly became passable as her growing fascination with James Potter had made her lose her focus on academics in favour of the soppy romantic drivel the likes of which could be found within the pages of Witch Weekly. It had been quite a disgusting transformation.
Hate was an exceedingly fickle beast, he knew. It could empower you or destroy you. You were either so preoccupied by it that you couldn't see the Bludger coming for your head, or you learned how to harness it to give yourself an unshakable focus. There was the middle ground, of course, but those in the middle tended to be run over by one side or the other— trading hate for some other emotion or being blinded by it and getting bowled over by a rogue Bludger of reality.
Lucius was of those people perpetually stuck in the middle, treading the line between focused hate and confused or learned hate. Learned hate was chaotic, capable of being powerful or all-consuming. His hatred for Muggles, for example, blinded him to what his own actions were doing. If he was so blinded that he took his wand to Snape's apprentice however—
Severus would have to duel him. It would not be— pretty.
Lucius hadn't inducted Severus into the graces of the Dark Lord solely on his hate for many of the same things, back in the day. No, Lucius had had his face handed to him in a duel when Lucius had backed Severus into a corner, and Severus had exploded with the kind of magic he had not been able to use at Hogwarts. He had totally plastered the blond wizard up against a stone wall in Knockturn Alley and made him bleed, and Severus had simply watched— cold wrath incarnate and utterly lacking in conscience. That was when the courting had begun— the Dark Lord luring him in with whispers of greater power and revenge against those who had made him so— angry.
And he, the idiot, had fallen for it. Blinded by his hatred, he had set himself up to become the one who would learn just how far you could fall from where his hate had built him up. And he had fallen alright, fallen into slavery to two masters, both just as twisted in their own way.
There was also the possibility that Lucius would recognise just how wrong he was about powerful magic being solely a pureblood trait. Or— he would realise that her being in Slytherin now banished many of the reasons he had to pre-emptively despise her on top of the blood issue.
As Hermione finished her circuit around the classroom, she quietly returned to his desk, and he inclined his head to her slightly, informing her of his approval. She brightened a bit, despite her lack of a smile. He could feel her magic flare slightly at his approval.
Was it truly as simple as that to change the annoying hand-waver into a a silent, content apprentice?
All she wanted was a small sign of approval, and she was willing to even silence herself and stifle her questions for when they met in the quiet time after classes away from prying eyes.
Snape closed his eyes. If that was all the girl needed to maintain focus, then he would adjust to ensure she got it.
"I will see you for dinner in the Great Hall," he said. "You may do as you please until then."
Again the flash of happiness from her. "Thank you, Master," she said, leaving the room as the trail of monstrous books dutifully followed after her.
He raised an eyebrow as a few strapped books struggled to be free of their bindings and follow her only to have a few students step on them to keep them from doing so. The trapped books made a soft sad, wheeze and a small whimpering noise.
"Mr Cutter," Snape droned. "Why do you have a book that was not on the list for first-years?"
The student with his foot on the book swallowed hard. "The, uh… third-years were just giving them away last period after Draco Malfoy got kicked in the head by a hippogriff."
Snape's lip twitched. Idiot boy.
"And what has your field day in the library given you?" Snape asked, his eyes flicking rapidly over her stack of parchments. Details, drawings, concept maps, notes upon notes upon notes, and—
"Please explain the hypothesis on brewing under the influence of Dementors."
Hermione tilted her head. "Well, this one book said that in order to make a proper protective potion against wounds that might be immediately fatal that you needed to harness the energy contained within "a Dementor's cold". During your speech in my first year said that you could put a stopper in death, and I was thinking that, the potion was more than just possible if you brewed it in the cauldron while in the company of a Dementor, since their presence seems to make the air cold just by being there."
Snape's eyebrow was threatening to launch out of his hair into space.
"So, I was thinking that, if I brewed a few potions with a Dementor's cold, I could find out how it affects the potion and possibly make a working Stoppering Potion with the results," Hermione continued after taking a long breath. "I mean, it may not actually stop death, but it may provide an extra few seconds to get that person the treatment they need or get them to safety or—"
Hermione stiffened. "Sorry, Sir."
"Aren't you forgetting something?"
Hermione frowned, going through her mental checklist. "I— I don't think so."
"Dementors are Dark creatures that do not exactly volunteer to stand around and babysit your cauldrons as you brew potions," Snape said. "How exactly would you get one to willingly assist you in such an endeavor?"
Hermione blinked. "Well, I'd ask politely, of course."
Snape practically stared a hole into her skull. "Okay, say that I believe that would work. "Do you think you could show me what you intend to do— and brew me a cauldron of Dittany with this method?"
"Right now, Master?"
Hermione hopped up from her chair and pulled out her brewing set and then went over to the shelves where all the ingredients were. She moved down the rows, picking out the required packets of reagents as she went and brought them back to her table. She laid out her cauldron, stirring rod, book stand, recipe—
She frowned down at the ingredient list. She went back over the shelves, picked out a few more packets, and came back to her seat. She steepled her fingers and stared at the recipe, her eyes flicking up and then back down to the writing. She closed her eyes, stilled her breathing, and time seemed to stop.
The air became very cold— colder than cold— as hoarfrost spread throughout the room, covering the tables, chairs, and floor. Snape's breath seemed to freeze in the very air and crash to the ground as the moisture he breathed out froze and clattered to his desk.
The dark shapes of Dementors floated in the air in the classroom.
"I hope I didn't bother you!" Hermione said, a smile on her face.
The Dementors floated closer, looking like it was going to suck out her soul—
Snape was going to do something just before Hermione leapt up and wrapped her arms around the floating creature, and its twisted, elongated fingers wrapped around her head as it pulled her close.
"Do you remember the experiment I wanted to do?"
The Dementor seemed to nod as the others approached closer. Hermione showed them the book. "This is the recipe." She pointed to the page. "Do you mind helping me?"
The Dementors brushed against her as the first one let her wriggle out of its embrace. Another extended a delicate flower, perfectly frozen within the hoarfrost.
"Oh! It's so beautiful! Thank you!" Hermione said happily. She stroked the flower and put it in a cup, tapping it so it would become a vase. She embraced the Dementor's waist, and it wrapped her up in its arms.
The third Dementor seemed to sulk in mid-air, having nothing in which to give.
Hermione, however, took its bone-like hands and held them. "Thank you for coming," she said.
The Dementor suddenly seemed to think of something, and it pulled a shawl out from its tattered robes and placed it around her shoulders. It seemed to be made of hoarfrost, but when it lay on shoulders it turned to a soft, green fabric.
Hermione's face burst into a grin, and she hugged it too. The Dementor rasped, its intake of air like the loss of air in a hose.
Hermione sat down at the table. "Um, I guess if you could hold the cauldron from the other side?" she suggested. "Would you like a seat?"
The Dementors all pulled seats over on the opposite side and sat down as if they were all having a spot of tea and conversation.
The twisted, elongated fingers wrapped around the cauldron, turning its entire surface to unearthly frosted cold that wisps of cold rose from the surface in an aura of deadly bitter frigidity.
Hermione's expression went all serious as she started to brew, exchanging the heat of typical brewing with the iciness of her companions' auras. To compensate for the lack of heat, she added a pinch of firedrake spittle into the water and waited for its effect to sink in but the actual reagent to boil off.
One by one she added the ingredients, but again she didn't look at the recipe after having already looked it over before she started. Her hands hesitated as her head moved back and forth as she listened, stared, and waited. She added each ingredient, stirred, waited, stirred again.
At one point, she looked concerned, unsure as to which way to stir— the expectation apparently not what she wanted.
Shaking off his stunned mind, he looked inside the cauldron. His hand gently took hers, guiding it. "Feel the potion as it moves around your rod. When you feel this, you must go the opposite way. Then—" he moved it to the next spot. "When you feel this, the other way. You can correct as many times are you require until it feels right, provided you did not add anything while still in the corrective state."
Hermione's expression brightened, and she did exactly as he directed, adjusting here, there, and again until the potion smoothed out. Then and only then she added the next bit of ingredients. He stood over her, watching, but unlike other students who found his presence utterly unnerving, she seemed more at ease. As the potion waited for the last addition, Hermione squared her shoulders. "This is it, everyone. Could you all breathe into my potion, please?"
The Dementors leaned in and breathed as one into the cauldron. The potion flickered from brown to blue to blue-white to a radiant white. A icefish jumped from the potion in a burst of icy magic. The resulting potion pulsed with an unearthly cold.
Hermione, who opened one eye to peek at the potion, smiled. "Did it work, Master?"
Severus, who was still staring at the surface of the potion that looked a lot like liquid ice— its glowing surface like shimmering crystal— blinked. "I believe I have the perfect idiot to test it on."
Hermione had accidentally made a bit more of this icy Dittany than she had the Liquid Luck, and Severus realised he'd have to order many more boxes of phials, vials, flasks, and— everything if Hermione was going to keep at what she was doing at a breakneck pace.
Hermione hugged all of her "friends" goodnight, and they all floated off without any sign of being bothered.
It was unnerving how compassionate she was— how readily she gave her touch to the Dementors, and how readily they accepted her touch in return. She didn't shudder or question when they took her into their embrace. She displayed none of the fear a normal, arguably sane, person would when faced with a XXXXX Dark creature—
Severus had to admit a slight shudder when the Dementor caressed the girls' cheek, much as a lover would— the gesture of affection seeming so alien from a Dementor. He boggled at the depth of her compassion and how easily she bestowed it. What he wouldn't have done for something as pure as that in his school years.
As he dipped the extra-tiny pipette into the crystalline phial, he gave Draco a look that clearly said "move so much as a muscle and I make you drink this, and trust me it will be far, far worse."
Draco, well accustomed to that warning glare, froze like a statue, his eyes watching the drop that was coming towards his injured head. The droplet hit the nasty gash on his head where Buckbeak had swiftly addressed Draco's rudeness in kind. A wisp of greenish vapour came off the wound, and the tissue and skin pulled back together, knitting itself neatly like a zipper closing.
There wasn't even a scar.
Snape's lip twitched.
A speechless Draco was tentatively touching his forehead with his fingers as he looked in the mirror, obviously trying to verify he that wasn't hallucinating. "Thank you, Severus!" he gushed.
Snape narrowed his eyes. "Do not thank me, Draco. Thank the one who made it."
Draco's eyes went comically wide. His mouth worked up and down, looking very much like a duck.
"Do close your mouth, Draco. You'll attract flies," Severus said, with eyes as black as space.
Draco stared at Hermione and then squared his shoulders. "Thank you, Apprentice Gr— Hermione."
Hermione nodded. "You're welcome— Draco."
Snape turned to leave, gently pushing his Apprentice along before something was said that might prove embarrassingly emotional.
"If there is ever anything I can do to— repay you for your kindness. I know I haven't exactly given you any reason to like me—" he trailed off, looking rather awkward.
Hermione furrowed her brows for a moment. "Don't blame the hippogriff," she said quietly.
Draco was silent for some time. "I'll tell my father it wasn't what people made out. Not having a scar will help."
Hermione smiled at him. "Thank you."
Draco rubbed his head. "No, thank you." He lay back in the bed and attempted to go back to sleep.
Snape nudged Hermione in front of him as they both left the infirmary.
Severus realised that when Albus had said the Dementors were not coming on school grounds to look for Sirius Black that maybe, just maybe, there was a loophole that said nothing about Dementors coming on school grounds to keep Hermione company. Or—
Maybe they were like familiars that defied all conventional rules.
Dementors? Familiars? Impossible— right?
Was it any less impossible than Dementors as— friends?
The hoarfrost flower sat in the vase on the table nearby, a testament to the fact that there was far more going on than he could explain easily.
Dementors were supposedly the foulest Dark creature in the world, a creature that fed on human happiness leaving their victims with nothing but depression and despair. They sucked out your soul, leaving behind an vacant shell where no one was home.
Well, that was how it was supposed to be, if you talked to the Ministry, anyway.
Hermione had fallen asleep on her homework, and one of the Dementors was carrying her off to bed. He followed to the door in time to see the Dementors dressing her for bed, laying her under the covers and pulling the duvet over her, lifting her arm for Crookshanks to settle in, and then the Dementors made a series of hand gestures to decide who was "winning" before one floated in beside her and lay behind her, wrapping one arm around her.
Hermione murmured her in sleep just before turning around and snuggling into the Dementor's body. Crooks wriggled back in between, and the door creaked closed, blocking Snape's sight.
Snape poured himself a strong shot of firewhisky, drank it down in one go, and put himself to bed.
There were just some things that he wasn't ready to think too hard on just yet, and his Apprentice being tucked into bed by Dementors was high on the list of "not now, please."
"Oh, don't you 'Madam' me, Severus Snape," Poppy Pomfrey admonished as she waved him over.
Snape raised an eyebrow and walked over, his expression seemingly one of pained tolerance.
"I have a student here with severe cranial injuries, Severus," she explained. "Cranial injuries— brain swelling, brain damage if it goes on much longer, and we can't transfer him to a Muggle facility because his parents signed that stupid parchment that they'd rather let him die than be treated by Muggles."
"Excuse me?" Snape's eyes widened. Most people, Lucius included, would do anything to save their child, even if it meant Muggle "science". He'd, of course, Obliviate anyone who couldn't keep their mouth shut, but he'd do it. "You have to be—"
"I'm not, Severus," Poppy said grimly, her body slumping. "The only thing saving him right now is that crack on his head is letting the fluid in his brain leak out, but that's obviously not a normal thing. Any spells to close the wound will make things worse, and he can't even drink a potion without painting my far wall with it shortly after. The nature of the damage, I think, is making it hard to treat— impossible even. I've never approved of those bloody wavers," she said with a scowl.
Severus jumped at the cursing, having rarely if ever heard the mediwitch curse.
"I know you did something to help out Draco, Severus," Poppy said. "He wouldn't say anything, but I know my potions and even my Dittany wouldn't have healed him that fast, not that I could have used it since the Quidditch season has already drained my reserves down with people breaking themselves—"
Poppy wrung her hands next to her robes.
"Poppy we haven't tested the potion on anyone but Draco and a few of Hagrid's hippogriffs that tried to beat the shite out of each other over a female."
"You know I wouldn't ask if it wasn't so dire, Severus," Poppy said.
Snape grit his teeth. "And what happens if I refuse?"
Poppy jerked her head angrily, but then she saw the look of intense concentration on Severus' face as he weighed the risks of failure to the risks of non-treatment.
"He'll likely have more cranial swelling and brain damage, Severus. If he even comes out of it— he'll never be right again."
Severus' fist clenched. "They would do this to a child?"
Poppy nodded. "There are times I hate that the parent has the final word when it comes to treatment, and because they do not deny him all treatment, I cannot overrule it. Even to save his life."
Severus glowered. "You will speak nothing of this," he cautioned.
"You know I won't, Severus," Poppy said.
"No, for this, I must have you swear it."
Poppy blinked. "Severus it's a potion—"
"It's not just a potion, Poppy. It's how it was created and who will be administering it."
Poppy, face wrinkled in confusion, nodded. "You have my word, Severus, on my magic. I will not reveal anything I might see here today."
Severus sent a Patronus zinging out the door as he drew all the curtains around the bed closed.
Severus gave Poppy a cold stare.
It was past the witching hour as it was, and the infirmary was already mostly dark, but it was more than a little dark as creeping shadows started to rise around them. A brisk, unnatural cold seeped from the floor into the very air.
Poppy was starting to fidget, but Severus said nothing, his face a mask.
Snape knew he had left his Apprentice sleeping peacefully with her Dementors, and most likely when his Patronus reached her, she would be groggy and barely able to walk. He was betting that her friends would bring her— and she had no reason to think that was a bad thing.
The dark shapes of the Dementors rose from the floor— spectres of Darkness that had he not seen what they would do for Hermione, he'd never have believed. One of them held Hermione, cradled in his arms, still in her night clothes, and clinging to her sleep with stubborn tenacity.
The Dementor slowly set her down, and Hermione mumbled things, half asleep. She had one hand wrapped around the Dementor's finger as she rubbed her eyes and thumped her head against its waist.
"Apprentice," Severus addressed.
Hermione turned, groggily. "Master? Oh, it wasn't a dream."
She struggled to shake the sleep away. "Oh, Madam Pomfrey!" She bowed respectfully, slightly flustered by her being in her night clothes. "I'm so sorry, I—"
Severus came to her. "Apprentice, Madam Pomfrey would like us to use your potion on this boy here— who has no other hope but a potion he doesn't have to drink, and normal Dittany is not an option. I have informed her of the risks, but she is willing to risk it because his injury is dire. Will you assist?"
Hermione frowned, thinking. She looked at the boy in the bed— pale and sickly as if a malaise had taken him. The bandage on his head was seeping an off colour of almost-pinkish orange. Hermione sobered immediately, her sleepiness vanished as the direness of the situation hit her. "This is Oliver."
The Dementors whispered, hissing.
"No, he wasn't very nice to me either," Hermione answered, "but that's hardly the point. "He was just too preoccupied by Quidditch to pay me any mind. It wasn't like the others. Even if he did— I wouldn't want this for him."
Hermione squared her shoulders. "Could you hand me one of the phials, please?" she asked one of the Dementors.
The spectre pulled a small crystalline phial from its robes, handing it to her. The contents swirled a bright white-blue, dripping the coldness of the Dementor. The other Dementor handed her a tiny dropper.
"Thank you," Hermione said taking the dropper, and her hand rested on its elongated, skeletal fingers with thanks. She stared down at Oliver and frowned. She took the Dementor's hand. "Do you mind?"
She guided the hand to Oliver's head, allowing its coldness to chill his bandaged head. She unwrapped the bandages carefully, frowning as the pink-tinted fluid oozed from his head. "I will not assume this is the worst place," Hermione said. "Could you please guide where you need it, Madam Pomfrey?"
The Mediwitch, who had temporarily gone into a catatonic stupor of her own, shook it off in favour of helping her patient. "Here, child," she said. "This is the area, and his brain, underneath the skull."
Hermione looked to Severus, and he nodded to her, gently wrapping his hand around hers to help administer the drops. They guided the dropper together, dripping the potion into the wound. A wisp of green vapour rose up from his head as Oliver's head shimmered with a coat of hoarfrost, but when it melted away, the flesh and bone had knit together again, his skin pulling itself whole once more as the constant leak of fluid ceased. The pallor started to improve. His skin flushed with colour again as he took in a deep breath and then another.
Hermione placed her hands on the Dementors, and they withdrew, allowing the warmth to return to the bed. The little witch smiled up at them, and they hovered around her, each reaching out to caress her skin before floating out the window to mingle with their brethren on the borders of Hogwarts.
As Poppy ran her wand over Oliver, Hermione had reflexively grasped Snape's hand, pulling herself into his robes as she did the Dementor's. He looked at the boy fearfully— unsure if her potion was really what the boy needed to save him or if it was only meant to help lacerations such as Draco's tangle with the hippogriff. She was right to be nervous, scared even, and Snape tolerated the young witch's insecurity— even it meant physical contact, even it it meant she was clinging to— well, him of all people.
As Poppy smiled, Hermione relaxed, but her grip on Snape's hand didn't slacken. "Thank you, Miss Granger," Poppy said gratefully. "He's going to be just fine now.
One Dementor floated nearby, having returned from outside. One gnarled finger pointed back "home".
Snape nodded to her. "Back to bed. You did very well."
Hermione thumped into him, hugging his waist in silent emotional upheaval— and had he not seen how easily she gave such compassion to Dementors, he would have thought her mad.
"Yes, Master," she said, projecting happiness and relief like a beacon.
The Dementor took her up into its arms.
"I'm fine," Hermione said, snuggling into its embrace. "Thank you for helping."
The Dementor enfolded her and carried her off— right out the window and away.
Poppy thumped down into a nearby seat. "If I hadn't seen— I would never have— I—"
Snape, privately happy that she was speechless over it as he didn't want to be the only one with problems wrapping his mind around it, just sniffed. "It is a bit to take in," he allowed.
Poppy shakily removed her bonnet and ran her hands through her hair. "Severus, that potion you made— You have to publish it and have Mungo's test it for prompt release. You have to. You simply have no idea what this could do to help—"
Snape curled his lip. "I am aware of what it could do," he said grimly. "I am concerned more if she is ready to present in front of board of Healers and show them how it is made."
Poppy's eyes widened. "Wait, it's not just that she communicates with Dementors— she brews with them too."
Snape nodded. "They seem to help her with anything she requires. She does not force or use spells, Poppy, before you even ask. She just asks, and they agree."
"I— I never even thought to communicate with a—"
"Do not presume that just anyone can do so," Snape observed. "I have a feeling that this is something entirely inherent to her."
"What— like the Founders?" Poppy gasped.
"Exactly like the Founders, Poppy," Severus confirmed.
"Gods, Severus, what does that even mean?" Poppy asked.
Severus sighed. "That it is a bloody good thing she's no longer in Gryffindor when her powers awaken fully," he said. "Merlin help anyone who brasses her off and she gains another skill in anger."
Poppy closed her eyes. "I'm so glad it's you then, Severus," she said sombrely.
"Right now she is innocent and kind, compassionate to the fault, and eager to please," Severus said. "If any of that were to turn to the kind of hatred that I had as a child, she would become more terrible than any Dark Lord— and she would excel at it, just like she does with everything else."
"If she can turn a Dementor to her side with just gentle words and a touch, try to imagine what she could do to any other Dark creature without the spells and manipulations Dark Lords and Ladies of our history have employed."
Poppy paled. "But she is not an evil girl at all, Severus."
"No, she is not. But pray that all the witless idiots in Gryffindor and the other houses that choose to fear and ostracise her do not end up making her so. She had already tasted hatred by their hands, Poppy, and you know as well as I that our Headmaster tends to favour the blind masses of Gryffindor, even when they are viciously turning on their own."
The full moon came with a sort of odd gravity, and Snape dearly hoped Lupin had been taking his potion instead of waxing poetic and woolgathering with Potter. Dumbledore assured his staff that the wards he placed on Lupin's quarters were more than adequate, but as Lupin had spent his childhood getting out of safe places to romp the sodding green, so Severus was anything but comfortable with that reassurance.
Deciding that it was time to check on her before bed, he knocked on her chamber door. The door creaked open to expose an empty hollow, and a bit of parchment sitting on the middle of the bed.
Highly doubting it was a "Dear John" sort of letter but curious, he picked it up.
I've heard all about what you did on that train to Hogwarts, and I am utterly disgusted with you. How dare you engage in evil Dark magic around my son and with Harry around too! Harry is so terribly impressionable, and the last thing he needs is some know-it-all Muggleborn bint teaching him all the bad things that make Slytherin a house of Dark wizards and witches!
It serves you right to be kicked out of the noble house of Gryffindor, and I am so very glad that you are no longer there to corrupt my innocent little Ginevra with your foul ideas and corruptive taint.
You are no longer welcome in my home, and you had better not come anywhere near any of my children or Harry, so help me Merlin!
Don't you dare write us again asking if we are well like some caring, considerate person would. We know exactly what you REALLY are, and I would hate for your parents to find out what kind of person their daughter is,.
The letter was unsigned, but it didn't take a brain surgeon or specialist psi-healer to figure out who the mother of "innocent Ginevra" was. There were splashes of tears dried on the parchment, and Snape cursed in a few different languages.
He placed his hand on the wall of the willow. "Help me find her, please."
The sides of the willow grew warm, and an exit door formed, allowing him to step outside into the deepening night. He pulled lightly on the strands of the apprenticeship bond, closing his eyes to better sense her emotions and location.
Thankfully, the girl was no Occlumens (yet, he corrected himself) and he could sense her easily. She was hurt, emotionally, and she was crying— damn that sodding Molly Weasley. Damn her pretentious children that blabbed bad things back to their mother as surely as Draco would yell, "My father will hear about this!"
As he headed her way, the full moon was more than obvious across the wet grass, and he hurried along. His history with full moon adventures at Hogwarts had not been the kind of thing he would ever wish a repeat of. Normally he would have reamed any student for being out at this hour, but after having read Molly's horrid letter, he couldn't blame the girl for losing control of her emotions and fleeing into the night.
She just picked an especially horrible night to do it, not that the witch knew any better.
There was an rush of relief through the connection between them, and he heard female giggling.
"Where did you come from?" Hermione's voice said. "You're so funny. Do you want me to throw this?"
The sound of frantic scampering came soon after, followed by Hermione's laughter.
"I'm better now, thanks," she said. "That letter just made me so angry and sad and— everything."
As Severus came into the clearing, he saw Hermione rubbing the furry belly of the largest damn wolf— werewolf— the world had probably ever seen. His ears were torn, scars went down his face from fights, and he had multiple patches of fur missing from very recent scuffles.
The werewolf was on his back getting the best damn belly rub of his life, his tongue hanging out like a happy hound's.
As Severus arrived, the werewolf paid him no mind, just wagged his tail as he was rubbed by Hermione's gentle hands.
The werewolf had a stick clutched in his jaws, and he was slobbering all over it in enthusiasm.
"Apprentice?" he said.
Hermione started. "Oh! Master! I'm— I'm sorry. I was really upset earlier and— well, I was crying and being— I know how you hate crying, so I ran out where I could be alone, and I found Fenrir here, and he wanted to play fetch."
Severus tried really hard not to let his jaw hit the ground.
Fenrir Greyback was playing fetch with—
She grabbed the stick and threw it, and Fenrir was promptly off like a shot, bounding through the woods. He came back shortly after, dropping the stick in her lap to lick her face and her tears away.
Hermione sputtered and gave him a hug around the neck, and the werewolf wagged his tail— blissfully ignorant of "proper werewolf behaviour."
"Fenrir, this is Severus, my master. Please be good to him, okay? He's really important to me."
The werewolf cocked his head, whined softly, and wagged his tail.
He nudged the stick, and she threw it again. Away he went, bounding through the dense undergrowth. By the time he came back, Hermione had stood up and bowed to Severus. "I'm sorry, Master."
Severus looked at her, looked at Fenrir's wagging tail, and pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers. "Let's go home."
They walked back to the Whomping Willow together, with Fenrir running happy circles around them all the way, with the stick in his mouth and tail-wagging furiously.
The next morning, Aurors were surrounding poor Hermione as she hugged the werewolf around the neck, the sun came up— and Fenrir remained a werewolf.
It wasn't that Fenrir stopped being a werewolf, but he wasn't changing back into a human form. Dumbledore stood as he talked with the Aurors— and Hermione tugged on Severus' sleeve.
"Hn?" Severus grunted.
"Who is that, Master?"
"Amelia Bones. Head of the Department of Mysteries," he said.
"And the guy with the odd-looking eye that keeps staring at me?"
"Alastor Moody. Auror. Malcontent. Pain in many an arse."
Hermione hugged Fenrir tighter, and the werewolf tail-wagged even harder.
"Headmaster, this isn't just some random werewolf, this is Fenrir fucking Greyback," Alastor was yelling.
"It's a familiar bond, damnit," Amelia hissed. "This isn't some small thing. This is Founder's level magic. This is the stuff we read about and don't see in real life. It's real, Alastor. We just haven't seen in since— well, we haven't seen it in our lifetime, most assuredly."
"Fenrir is a sodding messed up excuse for a wizard—"
"The wizard , yes," Amelia agreed. "But it seems like the werewolf, when not driven to bite and attack anything that moves, is not so messed up."
Alastor looked ready to spew venom and hate, but Amelia raised her hand. "The familiar bond has stabilised the wolf, Alastor. Look at him. He's sitting here with thirteen Aurors, you, me, the headmaster, a child, and a teacher, and he's happily chewing on a stick and letting her hug him so tight his eyes are bugging out.
"But for how long, Amelia? What if he eventually turns back and attacks people?"
"Familiar bonds are forever, Alastor, you know that. Have you ever thought that maybe the wolf wants it that way? That the wolf is finally at peace and maybe that's why he hasn't changed back? What do we really know about werewolves? They crave the company of their own kind, right? But they are driven to bite and infect others for what? More of their own kind— to feel complete. But it never lasts, because they turn back. Maybe the wolf isn't as happy with such fake comfort. Maybe true happiness— is this."
"Enslaved to a mere girl?"
Amelia shot Alastor a harsh glare. "Headmaster, I would have Miss Granger take Fenrir with her to my werewolf expert in the DoM. We'll run some specialised tests and see if he is truly as stable as he appears to be. If he is, I would beg you to allow him to stay with her, as being parted from a true familiar can cause serious emotional pain to both."
"I have already agreed to this, Headmaster," Severus said. "As her master, I believe it to be the wisest choice for both her continued stability and health as well as Fenrir's— who seems the most stable I have ever see him."
Albus stroked his beard. "Severus is her master, Amelia. I will not go against his wishes for his apprentice, as he has the bond in which to know her well being better than any of us."
Hermione rubbed Fenrir's ears. "What do you think, Fenrir?"
Brwoool, he growled, swiftly pegging her right between the eyes with his lolling tongue.
Alastor grumbled. "I don't like this, Albus. I don't like that you let a young, impressionable witch apprentice with Snape, either."
Dumbledore's eyes hardened. "You will respect the bond between master and apprentice, Alastor, and you know my feelings about Severus."
Alastor grunted something rude under his breath, but jutted his chin out in acquiescence.
Amelia kindly put out her hand. "Would you like to come with me, my dear?"
Hermione immediately looked to Severus for guidance. Seeing his nod, she took Amelia's hand. "Okay."
Severus handed Dumbledore the crumpled bit of parchment containing the note that had driven a crying Hermione out into the night to play fetch with a werewolf. Albus took it grimly and nodded. "I'll perform a trace on it at once, Severus."
They left the Headmaster's office through the floo, and Albus vigorously rubbed his temples with his fingers.
"Whoaaa!" Hermione cried. The room was full of pens and habitats. Creatures of all kinds roamed within— many of them looking pretty ferocious as they paced around their enclosures.
A litter of spotted cubs placed their paws on the enclosure, mrowling for attention. Hermione put her hand against the mesh, and they licked her hand. She slid her hand between the slats and rubbed them, and they pounced and played and rubbed up against her hand.
"You're so adorable!" she said, and Fenrir came up to sniff them too.
The cubs stared up at him with wide eyes, not sure what to think until he pegged them playfully with his tongue.
When Hermione took her hand out, the cubs all cried plaintively, and the mother padded out to investigate, all spots and velvet draped on the frame of a huge feline. The mother Nundu snuffled Hermione through the mesh. Hermione put her hand against it, and the Nundu's rough tongue rasped across it, tickling her.
"Hello. You're so beautiful," Hermione said softly.
The Nundu purred, head-bonking against the enclosure.
The next enclosure had a litter of smokey pups with coal, reptilian skin and very real smoke rising from their bodies. They bounced up and down against the barrier, tails wagging. Their mother, dripped magma from her body. Her mouth was full of jagged, stalactite teeth.
Hermione stared at her, fascinated. She put her hand out and it passed through the wards with a tingle. The creature lay its head on her hand, even as the magma dripped from its body, crooning as she stroked its muzzle, head, and ears. She could feel its rapture at the physical contact— having been denied it due to her "condition." Hermione boggled somewhat as the "magma" touched her, heating up her hand and arm where it hit, but it did not burn her. Instead it spread a pattern of geometrics up her arm with a rush of heated magic. Triangles, diamonds, and diamond-swirls crawled up her arm, spreading across her skin like a living tapestry.
Hermione's eyes fluttered as the barrier gave way, and she flopped down on the floor. The great magma beast dragged her inside the enclosure and curled around her, grooming her with its flaming tongue as the patterns on Hermione's skin grew darker and more solid. The pups squirmed and cuddled up against her.
Fenrir, cocking his head in curiosity, padded in, waded into the mess, and lay next to her, patiently waiting for his mistress to wake up from her nap.
The Nundus in the next enclosure looked upon the young sleeping witch with nothing short of pure longing. The cubs, not to be deterred, started digging down, down, down into the floor of the enclosure. Fenrir, attracted by their frantic diggery, decided to provide an "assist" from the other side.
"I just left for five minutes!" the young wizard said.
"You call this five minutes of work?!" Amelia tore into him, pointing to the massive creature pileup in aisle nine. The enclosures had been entirely wrecked as multiple beasts had clearly decided they were no longer content to be contained "in there" when Hermione was "over there."
Nundus, volcanic nightmare-dogs, dragon-bats, chimaeras, wampus cats, pygmy dragons, horned serpents— and those were just the ones that had managed to escape to be in the cuddle pile— were all gathered around a sleeping Hermione like a protective ring of "oh shite".
Hermione's skin was now a patchwork of strange, moving tattoos— while the base seemed to be polynesian in origin, it was joined by other patterns. One pattern for each of the creatures around her, from a werewolf to the distinctively terrifying Dementor.
"Those species aren't even supposed to like each other!" someone protested from behind Amelia.
"They do now!" Amelia snapped.
"Apprentice," Snape said, his voice pitched low.
Hermione stirred. "Master?" She yawned widely and sat up, stretching.
Some of the creatures growled, moving forward.
"That is my master and my friend," Hermione said, her eyes glowing with a flash of gold. "He is important to me. Do not harm him."
The creatures lay back down and went back to being cuddly.
"We have an appointment to keep with the werewolf-expert," Severus said dryly. "And perhaps a few others now."
Hermione's eyes widened. "I'm sorry, did I sleep through it all?"
Severus put out his hand. "No, but we should go before you attract any more… new friends."
Hermione pulled herself up on Fenrir. "Okay!"
Hermione took her master's hand and dutifully walked beside him, staying by his side without distractions.
Amelia glared at the man who had one task, which was to keep an eye on one young witch. "If you weren't so good at keeping this place in great shape, I swear to Merlin, Stebbins, I'd transfer you to someplace extremely dark, cold, and far away from here."
The young wizard stared at his shoes. "My apologies, ma'am."
As the trail of supposedly dangerous XXXXX creatures trailed after Hermione like a chain of animals following Noah to the ark, Amelia rubbed her temples.
"Severus, I'd like to offer you and your young apprentice a job here at the DoM." Amelia said, tapping her quill as she filled out an extensive parchment. "You as our Master of Potions and she as our Master of Magical Creatures in training. I have outlined here the details, benefits, expectations, and accommodations for you as her master with responsibilities to see to her regular education."
"We will, of course, have a range of masters here to assist you in rounding out her education in any areas you wish expansion," Amelia said.
"You've got to be joking," Severus said, his face utterly gobsmacked. He pointed at the salary and benefits. "You're willing to pay me, just me, this— and her half of that?"
"Well, she will have double that once she is her own master, but yes," Amelia said.
"And you are fully aware of my… previous affiliations?"
Amelia snorted. "Of course."
"And you want to give her—" he pointed at Hermione with his thumb, "full access to your library archives?" Severus sniggered, unable to contain himself.
Hermione perked at the mention of books, and all the ears in the room that weren't human did as well.
Snape scowled at the parchment. "And if my Mark burns?"
"We are all family here," Amelia said. "There will no shortage of masters who wouldn't be ecstatic to have her in case you had to— leave suddenly."
Hermione tilted her head at the conversation, but said nothing. Her master would speak of it if and when he wanted to and not a minute before.
"And if we sign our souls away to the DoM," Severus said. "You will take care of the negotiations with Albus on our behalf?"
"Considering she now has a rampaging horde of dangerous creatures that would terrify most of the school, that will not be a problem," Amelia assured him.
Hermione whispered into Fenrir's ear. "Are you a rampaging horde?"
Fenrir tilted his head. Browl?
"There is, as much as I loathe to bring it up, the matter of Lupin's monthly brewings," Severus said meaningfully.
Amelia nodded. "I will discuss it with Albus and the terms of procuring your work in that area."
"You realise you are giving my apprentice monetary rewards for taking on and finishing tasks, yes?"
"Your funeral," Snape said, giving his apprentice the eye. "And informing the parents about the change in their daughter's educational environment?"
"We'll take care of it."
"I think the phrase "too good to be true" comes to mind," Snape said, tapping his fingers on the parchment.
"Did you see the part about a fully stocked potions inventory with the right to patent independent projects?"
Snape picked up the parchment, trying not to look like he was snatching it up quickly. He scanned the parchment with narrowed eyes. He drew the tip of his tongue across his teeth as he pondered. "And what do you think about moving here, Apprentice? Does the idea of surrounding yourself in dangerous creatures while continuing your education please you?"
Hermione smiled at him. "Yes, Master!"
"Insufferable girl," Snape said with a small sniff, then he dipped his quill into the ink and signed. He poured the wax from the miniature heater onto the parchment and slammed his ring into the cooling wax. He shoved the parchment over to Hermione, handing her the quill.
Hermione looked over the parchment, frowning as she got to a place. She set it down, pulled out her bookbag, and pulled out a dictionary. She flipped through it, found what she was looking for, and then went back to reading the contract. After a good twenty minutes of her reading every inch of the contract in detail, she signed her name on the line.
The contract rolled itself up, sealed, and was carried away by a what looked like a winged pika.
"Contracts are delivered to the department directly. Owls are used when they must fly longer and further away. Pikas are good for short distances, and they are very, very fast."
Hermione nodded, visibly fascinated.
"Well, give us a few hours to provide you with your new living quarters, as we will have to construct it along with the new multi-species habitat enclosure for your multitude of new friends. Ah, and we do have to give you the proper Mark so you can access this part of the Ministry without being confronted by the wards and guards and all that." She pulled out a lacquered box and a different wand. "We tend to put it in inconspicuous places, such as in the hair— unless you are bald, and then we put it somewhere else."
Severus nodded, tilting his head to the side so she could place the wand behind the ear. There was a flash of blue and then nothing. He gestured to Hermione, and she looked a little nervous. She grasped his hand for comfort as she tilted her head to the side. In a wink it was done, and Hermione seemed rather surprised that it hadn't hurt at all. She released the death grip on Snape's fingers and gave him an apologetic smile.
Finding it odd that he nodded so easily to her and that her response was always so genuinely happy, he wondered just how moronic her supposed friends were in Gryffindor that they didn't fight more for her company.
Completely moronic, he decided.
"We have a wonderful couple who run our canteen and are used to all manner of oddness down here, if you would like to catch a good home-cooked meal. Around the circle and take the corridor by the blue tree. Can't miss it after that."
Snape nodded, standing. Hermione stood too, and Fenrir snorted awake, having fallen asleep at her feet while waiting for all the boring stuff to be over with. He tail-wagged enthusiastically when she hugged his neck.
A Nundu cub sank his claws into her calf, wanting attention.
"Ow." Hermione picked the errant cub up, frowning.
The cub mrowled, puffing out a small, green cloud of disease.
"That's not very nice. Next time, no claws, and be careful who you breathe on."
The cub hung his head in shame.
Hermione kissed his head, and he purred, snuggling up under her neck.
Snape just shook his head. "Let's go eat, shall we? I am curious as to what kind of hellish food they serve here to make up for the fact that other things are sickeningly enjoyable."
Hermione beamed. "Yes, Master."
As master and apprentice shuffled off, the odd menagerie of beasts that had crammed themselves in all places of Amelia's crowded office and the hall outside her office followed after their mistress.
"Sorry, Albus," Amelia said. "Trust me, I'm doing you a favour by bringing them into the fold over here."
A pair of Dementors floated by her office, headed towards where Hermione and Severus had left.
Amelia blinked. "A really big favour," she said, dipping her quill into the inkwell and writing her memo to warn her people of the new acquisitions.
End of Chapter One