Albus Dumbledore, June 25th 1995

Albus was exhausted but hid the fact well. He had barely gotten two hours of sleep and had taken a potion for extra strength for the long day ahead: his thoughts had kept him up all night. He'd read through Hermione's summaries and made observations, guesses and plans of his own. Plan after plan was analysed and either discarded or filed away for later, each parchment carefully concealed behind a portrait with a layer upon layer upon layer of enchantments to protect them. He felt he'd barely rested before the first light of dawn woke him up and he knew he'd have to be in the Great Hall for breakfast.

He now watched as Minerva and Severus ushered in the Durmstrang students, who took their seats slowly, keeping a wary eye out on everyone else. Karkaroff had, indeed, fled when the Dark Mark had flared to life and left behind his students. They were, quite frankly, bewildered. They seemed to be doing well under Hogwarts supervision, but as their behaviour witnessed, they were afraid and trying to conceal it. Severus was primarily in charge of them, with help from Minerva and Pomona. The students seemed to have greater respect for the dark and powerful Professor Snape. They were also well disciplined and not prone to mischief, which would help.

The four champions also seemed quite rattled, but their friends seemed to support them. Mademoiselle Delacour seemed to be taking it the hardest: she was crying, although her sobs seemed to be a bit more for the dramatic effect than anything else, and the girl whose shoulder she was crying on rolled her eyes discreetly. Albus was certain Severus was snarling quietly: the younger wizard hated hysterical witches. Mr Krum and Mr Diggory were both solemn, as was Hermione, who was attracting a great deal of unwanted attention with her now brown eyes. Most students seemed to want to come and take a look at the wonder, and the Heads of Houses, with the exception of Severus, had to leave their seats multiple times to usher errant students back to their places. Severus only had to glare, which worked better than Pomona's mothering, words of wisdom from Filius or Minerva's motherly chiding, and the one time he growled out loud, a flood of students fleeing back to their tables would have been quite amusing, had the situation been any less grave.

Madame Maxime had been furious when she'd heard her champion had been attacked and Stunned. She'd lectured loudly at Minister Fudge. She'd been quite chilly when she'd arrived for breakfast, although Hagrid was now doing a fine job at keeping her calmer. The huge Headmistress was murmuring something to Hagrid, whose response was much louder, although he probably presumed he was whispering.

Albus did not like keeping Voldemort's return a secret. His instincts told him to warn the Minister and the public in both Britain and abroad, but Hermione was not wrong: Cornelius Fudge was afraid and would do anything to deny Voldemort's return, hiding from harsh facts as if they'd disappear like a nightmare upon first light of dawn.

Albus could see the assessing glances from Slytherin table toward their Head of House. The portraits had informed him of how many owls had arrived for Slytherin students during the hours of night and morning, and there had been discussions in Slytherin dormitories about the current situation. Many a student had one or both parents in the other side: whether or not they or their parents would be active participants in the upcoming war was yet left to see.

Draco Malfoy had taken a seat in the Gryffindor table, but currently he and Mr Longbottom were sitting together, talking about something in a very low voice. When the others near by tried to eavesdrop, one of the boys would glare at the culprit viciously, although Draco's glare was much more believable than Neville's, whose face hinted more to acute bowel movement than anger. The constant glances from Neville to the staff table and, most specifically, to the headmaster's chair made it clear the boys would most likely approach him. Poor young Neville probably thought he was being subtle: Draco was being much more cunning, and he might not have noticed if he hadn't been looking for the marks. Oh, yes, Draco would undoubtedly wish to speak with him, Albus noted. The boy's pale and narrow face was rigid, his teeth clenched, his hand holding the spoon too tightly, and he'd barely tasted his porridge.

The others in Hermione's group seemed to be aware of what had happened, judging by the rapid-fire and hushed discussion between them. They constantly looked at her in a mixture of confusion, concern, worry and need of reassurance, which left Albus wondering just how long it'd take the Gryffindor students to notice the internal and mental ageing she'd quickly gone through. She'd already been controlling her group quite tightly: the discussion they'd had last night while he'd escorted her to her tower proved her concern over the friends she viewed like her younger siblings. Her love for them, especially Harry and Ronald, was undeniable, but it was also clear she wanted to keep them safe.

"There must be a way to destroy him," she said stubbornly. "I can't just sit around and wait! It amounted to nothing!"

"We are doing what we can, my dear," he tried to placate the girl. "For now, I need you to concentrate on your studies."

She scoffed and glared angrily, yet another thing Hermione Potter would probably not have done to his guardian. The child he'd helped raise was malleable and obedient, while this young woman was much more certain and self-assured, displaying Gryffindor stubbornness. Albus also feared the active and connected Horcrux might be influencing her behaviour, but there was little he could do about that now.

"How are you feeling, Hermione?" he asked her carefully.

"Frustrated," she replied. "Scared. I'm really bad at this. I never thought... I thought the spell would just make me die instead of Harry so he could go on. He was always the one who acted, while Ron and I would follow. I made plans and cast spells and researched, but he always made us DO things. He was the catalyst, I was only helping him. What if I fail on my own?"

"You are the one who must take this place now, Hermione. You need to trust yourself, and those who love you. Let us all help you and trust your destiny. And trust the love you receive to keep you alive."

"Harry did that and it just got him killed," the girl grumbled.

"Perhaps then it was the destiny all along. That someone should come along who'd love him enough to give him the rest and take up the heavy burden he had to bear. That is one of the definitions of love, but it is a power of infinite possibilities."

"I wish I could believe that, but I've grown a bit sceptical over the years. There's got to be a better way to solve this."

The words sounded strange from the mouth of a fourteen-year-old. Under normal circumstances they'd have been hilarious, but knowing the woman inside Albus was certain she knew what she was talking about.

"For now, remember to keep up your Occlumency. I will tell you when you can help, but of course you can research ways to destroy him without a direct confrontation, if you wish," he told her calmly.

"I will," she told him resolutely. "I just don't want to be kept in the dark like you did with Harry. It drove him mental, trying to find out something instead of just... nothing."

Albus chuckled. "I can only promise to do what I can," he said, knowing he'd keep the secret of the last Horcrux from her as long as he could.

The girl stopped abruptly and groaned. "Oh crud, sir, I mixed it up. The Vanishing Cabinet isn't in the Room of Requirement now! I got it all wrong!"

"It isn't?" he asked mildly.

"No. It's in the first floor. It was moved... or rather would have been moved next year in April when Fred and George locked a Slyherin in it. A bloke called Graham Montague, I think? He got stuck in it and heard things from both here and the other Cabinet. He was going to take points from them... he was one of Umbridge's goons," Hermione explained apologetically.

"And currently the Slytherin Chaser," Albus confirmed with a nod. "Ah yes, I know that Vanishing Cabinet. I thought you were speaking about another specimen. That cabinet isn't broken, my dear, unless I am mistaken."

"No, that's the one... oh drat, I mixed it up too, sir! Peeves dropped it on Mr Filch a few years ago to get Harry out of trouble, but obviously that didn't happen this time. I keep mixing things up! I'm never going to get things right!" she moaned desolately.

"Do not worry too much," he consoled her. "There's still time. I shall have Filius move it tomorrow and do my best to acquire the second Cabinet. They might indeed prove quite useful to us," he added with a small and encouraging smile and a small pat on her shoulder.

He had indeed asked Filius to move the cabinet, and the small Charms master had promised to deliver it right after breakfast into Headmaster's tower. Albus reminded himself to send Hestia Jones and Mundungus Fletcher to discreetly purchase the second Cabinet. Removing them was a stroke of luck: such a link was a serious danger for safety of the school.

Albus took another sip from his cup, enjoying the sweet taste of honey mixed in his tea, the delicious colour of the brew and the soothing scent. He used it to calm his nerves for another trying day.

Minister Fudge would pose a problem. He'd taken the Triwizard Tournament's last task as a dismal failure which would reflect badly on him, and he'd want to deflect the blame on Hogwarts and its Headmaster. It was all politics to Cornelius, and politics were about popularity and shifting blame while taking the spotlight and glory for success. There was no clear winner in the tournament, the Durmstrang Headmaster was missing and, if Hagrid failed to convince Madame Maxime, the French Ministry might make a terrible fuss. Amos Diggory had already sent an angry letter by owl, demanding to know who'd attempt to sabotage his son in the tournament and conveniently forgetting the other attacked students. The Order needed to meet, the students had to be sent away and a new professor found to teach Defence, lest they end up with Dolores Umbridge.

Not to mention Voldemort's return, the two Horcruxes still missing and the one inside Hermione, the lack of a spy in the other camp... the days ahead would be dark indeed.

Albus finished his light breakfast and slowly rose from his seat. He saw Mr Longbottom poke Mr Malfoy with his elbow and whisper something, causing the blond boy to sneer but nod. He then turned to say something to Hermione, who quickly glanced towards the Head Table and nodded at Draco.

Albus made his way toward his office at a deliberately slow pace to allow the boys time to catch him up and concealed his small smile when he heard their hurried footsteps on the stones. The boys were clearly running in the corridor against the rules, but Albus himself had broken a fair few in his youth.

"Headmaster, Headmaster Dumbledore," Neville gasped breathlessly.

"Yes, Mr Longbottom, Mr Malfoy? Good morning to both of you. How might I help you?" he inquired politely.

"Can I... May we have a word in private, sir?" Draco asked, his face a mask of politeness, and Neville nodded. Albus noted the use of the title "sir," which wasn't common for the quite arrogant Malfoy heir.

"Of course," Albus acquiesced. "Come with me. We can have tea, and I just received some new sweets for us to try..." He led the boys into his office. The portraits were mostly asleep or pretending they were, but some looked up from their books or the quiet discussions. He ordered fresh tea and scones and flicked his wand to bring his tray of sweets for the boys to try.

"Now, how may I help you?" he said as he offered Draco a dash of milk in his tea.

"Sir... I would... my mother sent me an owl. She asks for a meeting," Draco said quite bluntly. His grey eyes were swollen, and Albus could see how he'd brushed his hand through his hair, leaving some of his usually groomed locks in disarray.

"I see," Albus replied. "And when and where does Mrs Malfoy suggest this meeting take place?"

"She said as soon as possible. You can name the time and place as long as it's soon." A small tightness of his jaws revealed the boy was clenching his teeth together in an attempt to control himself, and still unwilling to say the word "please," although Albus could see the work lurk behind his eyes. The fact she'd asked him to name both the time and the place was a gesture of submission and great humility... or despair.

"I shall meet her tonight," Albus decided. "Can she come to Hog's Head Inn at... shall we say nine o'clock?"

"Yes," replied Draco instantly, "and she's wants you to come alone." Albus smiled gently, and Draco immediately corrected, "I mean, she asks if you would come alone. She will, too. Sir," he added a little belatedly, and his jaws clenched again.

"I see," Albus said vaguely, aware that his brother would be there as backup, and that he would invite someone else too: Severus would be a good candidate.

"Thank you, sir," Draco replied politely, putting down his cup, which had barely been touched. Neville had almost drained his and was busily chewing on a chocolate biscuit.

"Are you sure you won't have any of these fine sweets?" Albus inquired. "They're from France, and quite new."

"Thank you, sir, but I just had breakfast," Draco said as Neville took one, though Albus was certain Draco had barely touched his food. "I should go and send my owl to mother."

"Of course," he replied. "Have courage, Draco," he said gently. "It may seem dark and hopeless right now, but there is always light ahead, if we only believe. You do your parents proud, my boy."

Draco merely nodded, refusing to meet his eyes. The boy was clearly blaming himself for his parents' predicament, and Albus could only hope this all wouldn't fracture the relationship between him and his friends. At least for now Draco was taking solace from the pure-blooded Longbottom heir.

Albus Dumbledore, June 25th 1995 (evening)

The day had been tiring. Alastor was still in the care of Poppy Pomfrey, severely weakened by his long imprisonment. Albus was almost certain he had only two options to teach Defence this year: Alastor himself, who'd be even more paranoid than he'd ever been, if he even agreed to give it another go, and Severus. Albus was unwilling to risk Severus, although the Potions master had already volunteered: he was needed in his current post. To have him in that particular position would not end well.

The Ministry was at an uproar, each division trying to shift blame. Right now some were trying to blame it all on Bartemius Crouch Sr, who was still missing, but Fudge was all for blaming Albus himself. The Ministry had decided they wouldn't be able to arrange another trial for the competition so soon, in less than a week, and so the contestant with the highest amount of points at the beginning of the third trial, Mr Cedric Diggory, had been declared winner. The Durmstrang students had glared and grumbled, although Mr Krum had shaken Cedric's hand politely. Fortunately the Durmstrang students were less than heartbroken about their missing Headmaster and took orders well. Madame Maxime and Miss Delacour had protested loudly, but the decision still stood, especially when the inquiry determined that Mr Diggory had been found closest to the centre of the maze. Albus had told everyone that Hermione had gotten injured further away from the centre, and kept the officials away from the unconscious Moody, thought they'd asked to interview him themselves.

Bartemius Crouch Jr had also been interviewed again under Veritaserum. The change of heart seemed genuine, although Albus was loath to work with a wizard who so clearly detested the Muggle-born and those whom he called "half-breeds." Severus had opposed trusting Crouch Jr with anything, and Albus agreed with him partially: he decided they'd protect the wizard for now and give him a chance to prove himself and his loyalty.

"After all, wasn't it said that 'We must look into people as well as at them'? Lord Chesterfield said it, I should think," he had told Severus.

"I'm sure that advice would best be followed using a big knife to the gut," Severus had returned immediately.

Albus stepped inside Hog's Head a few minutes before nine, inclining his head briefly at Aberforth, who shook his head discreetly. Albus took a seat in a table and waited for a moment, taking a sip of the sweet drink Aberforth delivered him. Rosmerta's Butterbeer was better and her glasses.. in fact, her entire establishment... was cleaner, but Aberforth's place had its advantages. Mainly, privacy.

Four minutes past nine the door opened and a cloaked form slipped in. Narcissa Malfoy had clad herself in a dark, flowing cloak which was obviously both expensive and fashionable, but also covered her face with a deep and soft hood. Her posture was regal and her walk light, the movements of her hands graceful: Narcissa Malfoy was an epitome of unsurpassed pure-blooded beauty, and it was no wonder Lucius adored the ground she walked upon: it was a pity her expression was so frequently disdainful and sour, showing her displeasure and dislike of those she considered lesser in worth. Now, as she approached Dumbledore, Albus could see signs of strain on her beautiful face and the dark patches under her eyes. She had clearly exerted herself and slept either badly or not at all. She greeted Albus with a nod, and Albus rose from his table and walked up the stairs into a room Aberforth had prepared for them in advance.

Albus opened the door for the witch, who entered the room. She slowly pulled back her hood and exposed her face fully, and Albus was struck with pity when he observed the slight tremble of her arms: the witch had exerted her power seriously, and she was in considerable distress and unable to conceal it. It must have been bitter for the proud witch, who obviously had no choice but to throw her family at the mercy of Albus Dumbledore.

"You know why I am here," she said calmly and bluntly, her voice even.

"I do," he admitted. "How is Lucius?"

"Resting. He is in not well. They..." Narcissa began, and then drew breath sharply as Severus dropped his Disillusionment Charm. He was leaning against the back wall, his long legs crossed at the ankles and arms folded in front. "Severus," Narcissa gasped, and a small smirk twitched a corner of Snape's lips as he nodded a greeting. She flinched severely, but her posture relaxed slowly.

"So, you are on their side after all," she told the younger wizard. "Lucius will be disappointed."

"Obviously," Severus drawled.

Mrs Malfoy sighed and shook her head. "That door is closed to us now. I believe Draco mentioned you'd be coming alone," she told Albus, her tone accusatory.

"I am sorry if young Mr Malfoy got a false impression," Albus lied smoothly. "However, I thought you would not mind having Severus here. You are, after all, old friends." The word 'friend' was an exaggeration, of course, and all three knew it: the Malfoys saw Severus Snape as someone useful but also inferior, a useful and intelligent pet perhaps, and Severus, untrusting to the core, had no real friends. Narcissa merely nodded, and politely Albus drew a seat for her. "Shall we get down to the matters at hand, Madam?" he inquired.

"Yes," the witch acquiesced, taking a seat with grace and poise which almost, but not quite, masked her gratitude for it. She was clearly exhausted. Severus waved his wand and a tray of delicate sandwiches and tea floated to the table: wares from the school, obviously, as Narcissa Malfoy wouldn't have touched a delicate pinkie on Aberforth's wares lest she'd been starving for days. She picked up a cup and stirred it gently before holding it in her hands, but kept from sipping from it and did not inhale any of the steam. A careful Slytherin to the core, but polite.

"How may I help you, Madam Malfoy?" Albus asked her directly, sipping his sweetened tea calmly.

"We... ask for sanctuary," Narcissa said slowly, looking Albus directly in the eyes. "You know what they did to Lucius." It was not a question.

"I heard. So he did manage to escape during the fight. I take it he'll live?"

"Yes," she replied, "I would not have left him on his own were his life in immediate danger, but the damage was..." she stopped and shivered.

"I have some healing potions," Severus said calmly. "One of them works well for Cruciatus."

"He was also wounded," she told the Potions master. "I stopped the bleeding, but I am no healer."

"I have something for that," Severus said, "but Madam Pomfrey should take a look at him."

Narcissa looked at Albus warily, and Albus nodded. "I think we can arrange that," he promised.

"But not for free," Narcissa added the unspoken words.

"Is anything in life ever free?" Albus asked.

"I would say 'love', but that'd be quoting what you say in public," Narcissa needled him sharply, holding back her disdain, albeit barely, and Albus gave a non-committal half-nod.

"You wish for our protection from your former master," he said, "and medical attention for your husband. What else?"

"He was never my master!" Mrs Malfoy said sharply. "Not mine." She shook her head. "I want protection for my son, myself and my husband. My home, if you can. I haven't enough power to cast the Fidelius Charm, and my magic is now barely enough to hold the protections as they are. Lucius is... asleep, for now," she admitted, and Albus understood the subtle signs: the witch had used much of her power to heal her husband and was even now using her own magic to protect Malfoy Manor from a considerable distance. She was much more powerful than Albus had given her credit for, but after the journey to Hogsmeade, which would have required multiple Apparitions, must have taxed her greatly, for he doubted she had the ability to create an illegal Portkey or would dare to use one.

"I can protect your house," Albus said calmly. "With Severus as your Secret Keeper," he added, and Narcissa nodded slowly. "Your son is my student, and we will protect him at Hogwarts. He is a very dear friend to Hermione, and I shall do my best to make sure no ill comes to him," Albus promised.

"But Lucius and I cannot come to Hogwarts." Narcissa said. A statement, not a question.

"No, I'm afraid not. It is, after all, a school."

"They know where our home is," Narcissa stated quietly.

"And they will do their best to keep an eye on it. Do you have a home that is known to none but you and your husband?"

Narcissa nodded slowly. "I... yes. A small home in Devon we use for weekends occasionally. Not even Bella knows about it. I doubt Lucius has told anyone."

"Not to my knowledge," Severus confirmed. "I know about a few houses, but never about one in Devon."

"Only our elves knew, the one we have now, and the... other one." She was, of course, referring to Dobby, and a delicate wrinkle of her nose belayed her feelings about a disloyal house-elf. "But it is neither Unplottable nor protected."

"I can place it under the Fidelius Charm and make it Unplottable," Albus offered calmly.

"And your price for the lives of my family, Dumbledore?" Narcissa asked sourly.

"I know we cannot use you to spy on Tom Riddle. However, you will withdraw all support from Cornelius Fudge immediately, monetary and otherwise. I know Lucius has kept him in the dark on purpose, using his greed to make sure he believes the danger is in the past. It ends immediately."

Narcissa nodded. "And?"

"I need you to house a third person with you. I take it the house in question has enough space?"

"It is a modest place, but yes, we should be able to," she replied, though Albus was certain the house owned by Lucius and Narcissa held at least ten rooms. "And might I ask who this third person is?" she asked, finally setting down the cup, untouched. It no longer steamed.

"One Bartemius Crouch, Jr."

"Bartemius... what? No, that's impossible," Narcissa gasped. "The boy died years ago in Azkaban." Her eyes flickered to Severus for confirmation but found none in his stern face.

"He is very much alive. He chose to switch sides, although almost too late, but he was one of those who attacked your former master..." Narcissa looked as if she were about to protest again, and Albus held his hand up to stop her, "Voldemort, then," he said, and Narcissa flinched, while Severus hissed furiously. "He is on our side now," Albus said, leaving out his doubts about Crouch's loyalties.

"I don't want him anywhere near my son," Narcissa said coldly.

"He shan't be. Draco will remain with his friends, safe and sound." And as a hostage and leverage against his parents, he left unsaid.

"Two men with the Dark Mark under the same roof," she said. "We'll be dead soon. He can track..."

"I have a spell I can use to suppress the magic temporarily," Albus said calmly, and Narcissa's eyes widened. "It is temporary and needs to be recast every now and then, but I can do it for your husband and Bartemius. He shan't find you with their Marks, and if you are careful, you will be able to remain hidden. It also stops the pain of Summons," he added.

Narcissa looked hungry now. "I can learn the spell, so you needn't..."

"I think not," Albus said calmly, with a small smile. "Insurance, shall we call it?"

Narcissa's eyes were cold as ice. "Is that all you require to spare our lives?" she asked.

"For now," he said.

"For now?" she mimed, anger seeping into her voice.

"Yes. Madam Malfoy, we are at war. A hidden war, for now, but a war nonetheless. I am a general, and unfortunately you and your husband initially chose the wrong side."

"You cannot trust us," she said, and Albus did not need to confirm her statement. "Very well. Yes, you have my word."

"And your husband's?"

"I will... speak to him."

"I think we all will speak to him. It is best get things done sooner rather than later, is it not?"

"Yes," she said, nodding and got up, her movements controlled and fluid, although Albus was certain she was struggling.

"Is your Floo-connection open?" he asked, certain she would Splinched herself if she'd tried to Disapparate on her own, let alone bring someone else with her.

"Yes," she said with a small nod. "It allows only family through, but I can go and open it for you."

Severus Snape, June 25th 1995 (evening)

Severus was shocked to see Lucius Malfoy in such a sorry state. The usually proud blond wizard had laid on the bed, unconscious and pale from the long-lasting pain as Severus did his best to stabilise him with potions while Narcissa packed whatever she could and thought they'd need. The wizard needed medical care, and it was obvious he'd have to stay in Poppy's care for a few days at least.

Albus used his magic to boost the protections on Malfoy Manor, casting permanent spells and Charms instead of Narcissa's weak defences, and finally cast the Fidelius Charm on the house, whispering the secret to Severus' ear, who, in turn, told the secret to Narcissa. The elf they had to trust: it was a poor and beaten thing, but submissive and didn't seem likely to rebel: it'd stay behind to pack things until it would follow the Malfoys to their second home. Severus felt a small twinge of guilt for leaving the creature alone, but the house was now well protected and house-elves could protect themselves by Disapparating anywhere: knowing Albus, the old wizard had promised the elf sanctuary at Hogwarts, should the being have need of it.

In little less than an hour Lucius Malfoy was under Poppy Pomfrey's care. The mediwitch clucked with disapproval and set to casting various healing charms, phials of potions flying to her hand at her command as he healed the small broken bones she'd found with her Charms, patching the man's skin and healing bruises and scars. Narcissa hovered nearby, useless but none had the heart to throw her out. Albus might have been a ruthless general, but completely heartless he was not, and so Narcissa was given a cup tea: she drank it this time, her eyes straying from her husband's cot only briefly when Severus reappeared from the dungeon storage rooms with new potions for Poppy.

The curfew had passed when Severus finally could retire for the night. Close to the Hospital Wing he came across Miss Luna Lovegood, the third-year Ravenclaw from Hermione's little group. The girl was waving around a few corks, twigs and leaves and a pierced coin in a string: the contraption was making a low buzzing noise in the air. Severus cleared his thoat and stared at the girl menacingly.

"Oh, hello, Professor Snape," the girl greeted him calmly, as if she wasn't breaking curfew and waving some junk on a rope around her head.

"Miss Lovegood, dare I ask what in the name of... anything sane do you think you are doing?" he asked her coldly, staring at her disdainfully.

The girl merely smiled vaguely. "Oh, getting rid of Wrackspurts. It's best done right now, with the corridors empty. Can't get rid of them all, of course, but it helps. They bother Harry and Hermione, especially, they're attracted to old souls. They make your brain go fuzzy, but they're especially bad for Hermione. I see you're not as infested with them as you were, sir. In my first year there were so many, but now they're clearing all up. You must be thinking more happy thoughts." She gave the strange contraption another whirl, and Severus' patience snapped.

"Ten points from Ravenclaw, Lovegood, and get back to Ravenclaw tower at once or I shall have you serve detention with Mr Filch until that idiotic and empty head of yours goes bald!"

Miss Lovegood was unflappable. She merely smiled and blinked before she bade a cheery, "Good night, Professor Snape!" and floated away. Severus counted to ten slowly until two words penetrated his tired mind: 'Old souls'?

Severus whirled around, but Miss Lovegood had already disappeared, leaving Severus standing in the corridor feeling uncertain and utterly baffled.

Notes: Hullo, folks. A reviewer here in FFN was unsatisfied with Hermione's character and asked me to "give her a spine", considering that in canon she acted so vindictively towards Marietta Edgecombe and Umbridge in her fifth year, frequently participated in breaking the rules with Harry and slapped Draco in third. I would like to note that in the books Hermione does show that spine... but when she slaps Draco in third, she's severely provoked and stressed, and only in her fifth year starts to show more spine: however, the way she acted towards her teachers was a far cry from how she acted among friends. She was a bit of a brown-nose in class, I think, especially during her earlier years. Also, if you look at the hwole Umbridge-situation, you have Hermione defying one authority (Umbridge & The Ministry) to simply protect another authority (books and what other teachers have taught her).

Now if I were trying to simply write a female Harry Potter, I'd call her Harriet, give her/him a vagina and keep the books pretty much as they were. But this is Hermione Granger leading the band as a chosen one, and Hermione Granger, until she learned to bend the rules because of Harry and growing up, followed rules, which is what she's doing in my story. I am also giving the adult POV, while Hermione bosses around her classmates quite freely, so the spine and bossiness is there; she's not Harry Potter, after all. In some ways, Hermione Potter was a little bit less secure than Hermione Granger: she reacted to her bad upbringing differently, like people do. Harry became nosy and suspicious, distrusting most authorities and worshiping some, while Hermione Potter clutches any affection with two hands.

There is also a reason why I have Hermione follow the rules so eagerly. You'll probably find out the reason in chapter 56, when I get to it. I learned that from various books and series: I have and will be throwing hooks that won't bear fruit until much later in the story.

But, yeah. Keep in mind that I'm not just writing Fem!Harry. If you're looking for that, this is the wrong story. :)