A/N: This will be somewhat different from my usual style. The backstory will be told through a series of flashbacks as Hermione and Severus recount the hidden circumstances that brought them together. It will not always be in chronological order. Warnings for Character Death and dark themes.
Voldemort was dead. Relief flooded through Hermione, for a wide variety of reasons…the largest being that she could literally feel a massive weight lifting off of her as she was freed from an Unbreakable Vow she'd foolishly made years ago. She headed over to Harry, hugging him tightly where he knelt amongst the rubble, clutching the Elder wand and Draco's in his hands. Through it all, they had managed to win the war, and come out of it alive. After a moment, she pulled back and met his eyes.
"We have to go back to the Shrieking Shack. It's important." Hermione's expression was grim. She was hoping they weren't too late, that Severus had managed to buy himself enough time.
"Snape's dead, Hermione…why?" Harry frowned but let her drag him up to his feet.
"I'll explain later, I promise, but right now we need to go back there," she insisted and Harry nodded.
"Oi! Where are you two going?" Ron shouted, running to catch them as they started heading for the passage under the Whomping Willow.
"Hermione says we need to go back, there's something important there." Harry shouted, barely keeping pace with Hermione's near frantic run.
Hermione shot an Immobulus at the tree, barely breaking stride. Her magic was at its limits after the battle, but adrenaline and desperation were pushing her beyond where she'd thought she could go. He had to be alive, he just had to be. She climbed up into the shack and stopped dead in the doorway of the room they'd left him in. There was a pool of blood…but his body was gone. Her eyes narrowed and went to where she'd last seen his wand, there were some bloody streaks on the grimy wood, but it too was missing. She pulled out Bellatrix's wand and cast an intricate charm, different pieces of light flickering in the air. A shimmer of purple swirls, and an all too familiar feel told the tale.
"Hermione…what are you doing?" Harry blinked as he and Ron appeared behind her, both of them gasping for air and looking utterly bewildered.
She let out a ragged breath. "He's alive," she whispered, relief flooding through her.
"Hermione, we saw him die. You were there with us," Harry said carefully.
"We thought we saw him die," Hermione corrected him and pointed to the purple swirl in the air over where Snape had been lying. "That's his magical signature, the swirl is a disapparation mark. It wasn't dittany I poured over his wounds, it was a vial of Phoenix tears," she said.
"What's going on?" Harry asked, sensing that something wasn't quite right.
"Why would you waste something like that on a foul git like Snape?" Ron frowned.
Hermione ignore them both for a moment and turned away. "Winky?"
There was an audible pop and the little house elf appeared, blood smeared on her white pillowcase. "Missy Herminny…"
"The Headmaster is safe, Missy…we's taking care of him," Winky said and paused. "Must go!" The little creature disappeared.
Hermione ran a hand through her hair and leaned against the wall. "This is going to be a pretty long explanation, let's head back to the castle and I'll try and give you the broad strokes at least." She mentally cursed at Professor Dumbledore for having arranged everything this way. Logically, she knew why he'd done it, but it didn't make her job now any easier. Keeping things from Harry never went well, and this was the mother of all secrets.
"No…you need to tell us right now what the bloody hell is going on!" Ron shouted.
"Ron, Hermione's right. Let's head back and check on everyone, and then we'll hear her out. I have a feeling this is going to be a long story." Harry reached out and touched Hermione's shoulder. "You've never steered me wrong, so I'm willing to go on a little faith now."
Hermione gave Harry a small smile, the trust in his eyes breaking her heart a little. "Thank you, I promise I'll tell you everything…now that I finally can." She let Harry pull her under his arm as they headed out of the Shrieking Shack.
When they exited back out into the open air, Hermione paused and breathed deeply. Now that the battle was over and she knew Severus was alive and being tended to, her exhaustion hit her like a wave. It was even more horrible because she knew that it would likely be a very long time before she could rest. The sheer amount of information she needed to share was staggering.
"I guess it all started the summer after the Triwizard Tournament, when we knew Voldemort was back," Hermione said, eyes getting a far-away look as she remembered the events of that summer. "I knew instantly that things were going to get really bad, and probably very quickly. During the first wizarding war, Muggleborns and their families were the first ones to be targeted. The things they did were horrific, and only chronicled in a few books that are certainly not available in the Hogwarts Library. After our first year, I went looking for information about what he did the first time round, so that when he returned I would know exactly what lay in store…"
Hermione was sitting in an empty park just a few minutes from the Leaky Cauldron, the rain beating down on her and soaking her through to the bone. She didn't know what to do…not anymore. Voldemort was back and she wasn't stupid. As Harry's muggle-born best friend, there was no question that she would be a target along with her parents. The history of the first wizarding war was well known to her, and Voldemort had often targeted families of known muggle-born witches and wizards. Last month, Harry had returned to Hogwarts clutching the Goblet of Fire and Cedric's dead body, and in that moment her whole world had changed.
There was an old potion she'd discovered in the Restricted Section, used in ages past to help a muggle-born dissolve ties to the muggle world. There had often been situations where it was necessary, and even preferable for them to leave muggle parents and siblings behind. Memory charms were tricky things, and so this potion had been developed. She'd brewed it before she left Hogwarts, and a quick trip to Knockturn Alley had gotten her hands on an unregistered wand for the charms work that would be required after.
She'd erased herself from their lives and they were now selling their home, planning to relocate to the South of France…a long held dream they were finally realizing. All of her belongings were now tucked into a little beaded bag, an undetectable extension charm had been added by a helpful witch for a small sum of money. She'd withdrawn all the money from her muggle bank account and closed it, before opening an account at Gringotts with the funds. Her grandmother had left her some money in her will, and her parents had deposited money every month for her…deciding that was how they would help her get a start in the wizarding world when she came of age. Tears slipped from her eyes and mingled with the rain.
Three thousand galleons was a modest sum, but at least it would give her some money to start her life after school. She'd left Diagon Alley and was honestly at a loss for what to do next. She couldn't go to the Weasleys…no, no one could know what she'd done. Her actions weren't exactly legal, and she didn't know if any of them would be able to understand why she'd done it.
"Miss Granger?" A startled voice cut through her misery, and she looked up, seeing Professor Snape standing there, gawking at her. She imagine that she must look a fright, soaking wet and not dressed for the weather.
"What on earth are you doing out here alone? At this hour?" He asked, sharp coal-black eyes examining every inch of her, as if looking for some injury.
"I don't have anywhere else to go," she admitted quietly, too much in need of help to lie to him.
He pressed his lips together and offered her a hand. "Well you can't stay here, come with me."
"Where are we going?" she asked.
"Somewhere safe." He wrapped an arm around her thin shoulders, and after a look around he apparated them to a dark, rain-soaked street. He took a slip of paper from his pocket and shoved it into her hand. "Read it."
The Headquarters of the Order of the Pheonix is located at 12 Grimmauld Place.
As she finished reading it, she blinked as a house seemed to appear out of nowhere, sandwiched between number eleven and number thirteen. She looked at her Professor questioningly.
"The House is protected under the Fidelius Charm. I was supposed to give that to someone else, but I can always go and retrieve them later. Let's get you inside and you can tell me what's happened." He led her up the steps and inside the house.
Hermione resisted the urge to make a face at the dark, somewhat sinister interior. There were mounted House Elf heads on the wall, and the umbrella stand looked like a severed troll's foot. She walked down the hallway beside her Professor, when the door ahead opened and Lucius Malfoy stepped out, freezing instantly.
"Severus…what in the name of Merlin is she doing here?" Lucius fixed the soaking wet witch with a withering look.
"It's apparently a long story, which she will be sharing with me shortly. Perhaps you'd best come back into the kitchen and we will explain a few things to her," Severus said, and together the three stepped into the kitchen where the Headmaster was sitting with Sirius and someone else she didn't recognize.
"Ah…Miss Granger, what an unexpected surprise. Please, have a seat." The Headmaster gave her a kindly smile, looking completely unperturbed by her unexpected arrival. Sirius went and got a blanket to wrap around her, and a snarling House Elf brought her over tea, muttering under his breath about filth and bloodtraitors.
"Now Miss Granger, I believe you already know Sirius and Mr. Malfoy and this is Auror Kingsley Shacklebolt." The Headmaster made the introductions. "We are all members of a secret organization known as the Order of the Phoenix, and we are dedicated to the destruction of Lord Voldemort and the protection of the Wizarding world," he explained.
"But Mr. Malfoy is…"
"A Death Eater, yes…as is Professor Snape. Both of them have chosen to assist us from the shadows, as it were." He gave her a little wink, as if this was some kind of game. "As such, you can understand that their involvement must be a carefully guarded secret. Voldemort is aware that Severus is my spy, but he is currently completely unaware of Lucius' new allegiances. I'm afraid I will need to require you to swear an oath to not reveal his involvement, until Voldemort has been defeated once and for all."
"Of course." She agreed, her eyes going to Lucius Malfoy. "I swear on my magic to not speak about Lucius Malfoy's involvement with the Order of the Phoenix, until after the destruction of You-Know-Who."
Lucius merely nodded curtly, before turning on his heel and stalking out. It was clear he did not think much of her promise.
"I should be going as well, I have an important dinner meeting that I cannot miss." The Headmaster stood. "I am sure I will see you again soon, Miss Granger." He and the Auror left the kitchen and in that moment all of the focus went back on her.
"Now, perhaps you can expand on what you said when I found you in that park looking like a drowned gutter rat?" Severus said, an eyebrow arched at the girl.
"I sent my parents away, to protect them," Hermione said quietly. "I hadn't quite figured out where I was going to go afterwards…." Her professor muttered something that sounded suspiciously like 'foolish gryffindors'.
"Nonesense, you'll be staying here," Sirius said firmly. "You helped save my life, the least I can do is offer you a home until this war is over mmm?"
"Miss Granger, it is quite simply unsafe for you to be wandering about on your own, for many reasons. I suggest you take the mutt's offer," Severus said smoothly.
"Why are you even still here, Snivellus?" Sirius pinned him with a look.
"Thank you, Sirius. I'd be happy to stay," Hermione interrupted, eyes flicking between them. The instant tension in the room was smothering, and she didn't much want to see what would happen when it broke. "Maybe you could show me to a room?" she asked.
"Yes, Black…why don't you do something useful for a change?" Professor Snape sneered and stormed out of the room, door slamming hard in the hinges behind him.
"Git," Sirius muttered and stood. "Come on, let's find you a room and we'll get it sorted out." He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and led her up through the house, motioning for her to be quiet as they passed a curtain covered portrait on the landing.
He took her up to the first floor, and opened a room. "This might do nicely for you." There was a large, four poster bed, a writing desk, bookshelves, and a very large wardrobe against the far wall. "This was the room my Aunt would stay in when she came to visit."
Hermione gave him a genuine smile. "Was this your house?" she asked, having a hard time imagining him growing up here.
"Yes, this is the lovely place I grew up in, the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black." He snorted. "It's not much to look at I'm afraid, but between the enchantments my family has laid on it over the years and what Dumbledore's added, there isn't a safer place in all of Britain. Please, consider it your home…for as long as you need." He squeezed her shoulder. "Now, shall we get to cleaning?"
"I'm not allowed to use magic outside of school…" She frowned, not mentioning her illicit wand tucked neatly into the wand sheath, hidden under her shirt.
"This place is unplottable, so no one can track your magic usage here. There's too much residual magic in the building itself. Feel free to practice whatever comes to mind." He winked at her and pulled out his wand.
Hermione laughed and drew her vinewood wand, and between her and Sirius the room was soon spotless. He left her to get settled in, and promised to give the bathroom a thorough cleaning for her. She practiced some charms, changing the colour of the walls from a dark green to a pale cream. The window dressings were soon changed to match and she transfigured the bedding to a pale grassy green. It made the room brighter, but still didn't change too much of the inherent character of the place. She put her clothing in the wardrobe and started putting her books on the shelf.
Everything was almost perfect, except for missing Crookshanks. Hermione sighed and sat down on the bed. She'd left him at Hogwarts in Hagrid's care. She'd told Hagrid that she was worried about him being stressed by too much travelling over the summer, and of course the kindly half-giant had promised to look after him. A knock at her door roused her from her thoughts and she went to open it.
"Dinner will be ready soon…well, that looks nice," Sirius said, seeing the small changes she'd made. "Maybe you should go through and do a few more rooms." He winked.
"I'll be down in a few minutes." She promised.
"Ok." He said and headed down the stairs.
Hermione got changed out of her wet things, and then went downstairs.
"Kreacher!" Sirius shouted as she entered the kitchen.
"Yes cruel, nasty Master?" He appeared, the wrinkled old thing sneering at them both.
"This is Hermione Granger, and she will be a guest here for the time being. You will speak civilly to her and obey her commands." Sirius said.
"Kreacher will obey filthy little mudblood, as Master commands." He shuffled off.
Hermione blinked. "Is he…."
"Off his rocker? Completely." Sirius said.
"What? Lucius Malfoy was part of the Order!" Harry looked stunned as they paused at the steps in front of Hogwarts.
Hermione nodded. "Apparently, he came to Dumbledore just a few days after what happened in the graveyard. Always count on a Slytherin to hedge their bets and make sure they have a way out of anything that comes along." She chuckled and they climbed the steps. She'd learned a lot about Slytherin sensibilities over the last few years. "How else did you think Dobby was able to get into Malfoy Manor to save us?" She raised an eyebrow at Harry.
"But he just stood there and watched you be tortured!" Harry grabbed her arm, clearly having a hard time accepting what she was telling him. "If he was really on our side why didn't he do something?"
"He didn't have a wand, Harry. What was he going to do against Bellatrix and Greyback, without a wand? He did the only thing he could, he adjusted the wards to allow us to escape. As master of the Manor, he could have prevented it very easily," she said simply. "We should get Minerva and Kingsley before I continue…things start getting complicated from that point." It was going to be a very long night.