Summary: HG/SS: AU: Hermione Granger disappeared during the Tri-Wizard tournament, and no one knows what became of her. Harry and Ron believe that Snape and Draco had her killed, but what really happened to Hermione?
Beta Love: The Dragon and the Rose
A/N: Uhhh… Character death (no, it's not Ron but… it could/should be. Just saying.)
Don't ever empty the bucket of mystery. Never let people define what you do. It's not about zigging when you should zag. It's not about doing something unprecedented and unpredictable. It's just about never being a word, or something that is not in the process of transformation.
Two-Timing Muggleborn Heartbreaker Reported Missing Following Second Event of Famed Tri-Wizard Tournament!
The infamous Gryffindor harlot, Hermione Granger, cruel breaker of hearts, and relentless popularity seeker, disappeared at some point during the second challenge of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, an event which requires the competing champions to rescue someone they love.
When Hogwarts' own, Hufflepuff Cedric Diggory, successfully rescued his lovely girlfriend, Cho Chang, everyone expected the others to quickly return to the surface of Black Lake.
Bulgarian Quidditch star and champion of Durmstrang, Viktor Krum appeared, however, with nothing but a set of tattered Gryffindor robes to show for his efforts. It seems that Hermione Granger had been waiting at the bottom of the lake for Krum to rescue her.
The Boy-Who-Lived and Hogwarts' second champion, Gryffindor fourth year Harry Potter, who was in the depths rescuing his best mate, Ronald Weasley, from a potential drowning, also pulled up little Gabrielle Delacour, the younger sister of Beauxbatons champion Fleur Delacour, who had been besieged by a vicious throng of Grindylows and was taken out of the competition.
Despite a prompt and thorough search of Black Lake, no trace of Hermione Granger could be found.
This clever girl reporter would like to speculate that since every champion was there to rescue someone they truly loved, that perhaps Hermione Granger ran off after discovering that the Boy-Who-Lived much prefers the company of his fellow males to her unattractive Muggleborn self and that no one truly cared for her at all, save perhaps for the poor, deluded and unfortunate Viktor Krum, who had been royally suckered into the job of rescuing Granger in the first place.
The Boy-Who-Lived and his boyfriend, Ronald Weasley, both avidly insist that Hermione Granger was taken by Death Eaters— the very same that supposedly attacked the Quidditch World Cup.
Many, however, seem to doubt this was the case as the Dark Mark did not emblazon the skies over the Tri-Wizard tournament as it did at the World Cup.
The Boy-Who-Harbours-a-Secret-Love-Affair-With-His-Best-Male-Mate insists that his female friend was attacked by none other than the only son of wealthy financier Lucius Malfoy, Draco Malfoy.
Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, in an exceedingly long and boring speech about staying calm and achieving solidarity in a most troubled and trying time, said that there were no Death Eaters on the Hogwarts grounds. The red-headed lover of the Boy-Who-Lusts blurted out that Peter Pettigrew was masquerading as his pet rat for years, and he was the real murderer of James and Lily Potter as well as a number of Muggles, causing the gathered throng of attendees to erupt into chaotic mumblings.
Ex-Auror Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody, who is currently teaching DADA at Hogwarts at Dumbledore's personal request, told this reporter that Granger was not taken away by Death Eaters and that people should mind their own business instead of making up ridiculous stories.
This girl reporter thinks that Muggleborn Hermione Granger most likely fled back to the Muggle world from whence she came, unable to handle a world with real magic in it.
Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say.
He had felt it rather than actually seen it.
A tremor at the very bottom of the lake.
The grindylows had all fled to the furthest corner of the lake in fear, and they were not the kind of things to fear anything, even things considerably larger than themselves.
Something was brewing in the back of his mind; even Igor Karkaroff, the brutish and unapologetic Dark wizard felt the stirrings of the Dark Lord inching ever closer to his return.
Lucius was clearly priming his boy for some task that he wasn't telling anyone— and Draco was ever eager to please his demanding father, lest his sire's ire rain down upon himself in ways even worse than he dared imagine.
It was obvious that Lucius was preparing for the Dark Lord's return— fearful that when he did return that he'd be made an example of due to his treachery.
Yet, the Granger girl's disappearance did not sit well with him. The annoying little chit was always the persistent hand-waver and utter know-it-all, but she was the keystone of the little trio that Albus was trying to nurture—
He could plainly tell that Albus had not planned for Granger to disappear, and whatever had caused her to go missing was not something he could have.
Exactly what that was, however, remained ever elusive.
Albus wasn't the kind of person to tell him anything he didn't absolutely have to know, and he made that excruciatingly clear.
He didn't give him an inch with which to work, either.
Granger should have been snapped up in an apprenticeship within her very first year— trained and nurtured one-on-one. She wanted and needed that kind of guidance to quell the overeager hand-waving and challenge her nimble mind.
He could have done it—
If only Albus hadn't been so adamant about keeping her in Gryffindor tower to babysit that hotheaded imbecile, Harry-bloody-Potter and the equally idiotic youngest male Weasley.
He could have had her under his wing and kept her protected from Potter's lethal stupidity and Albus' cold manipulation— and protected her from Slytherin too because even they wouldn't dare to belittle the recipient of an apprenticeship.
That was olde magick— the kind of thing their parents could not deny lest their entire war fall arse over tits.
He would have beaten out Minerva, too.
The meddling old cat would have ruined her— had ruined her already with her own bloody house.
He wondered why he was so upset over it.
It was such a waste, his mind yelled. A complete waste of talent and the kind of power Slytherin would fear if they didn't have their heads so far up their arses over the asinine rubbish that was blood supremacy.
Power was will made form. It required absolute focus, determination, intent— something most didn't have, especially when children.
A shark dwelled in the deepest depths of Black Lake. He watched it circle in front of the window.
Viktor Krum searched ceaselessly for any sign of Hermione Granger, utterly convinced that she was still alive.
He struggled, of course—
Sharks weren't exactly designed for freshwater lakes. Most anyway. Snape knew there were occasional reports of sharks making their way up large rivers in certain parts of the world along with saltwater crocodiles. It wasn't exactly impossible, but it wasn't exactly commonplace either.
Such a waste.
He had to go talk to Karkaroff before the man did something utterly stupid. Well, more stupid than usual. February wasn't exactly the ideal time to go trudging around in the bitter Scottish winter, much less diving into frigid water that should be frozen over and yet somehow wasn't.
Snape closed the curtain on his viewing window, cutting off the view of the lake as he pulled on his travelling cloak. As he was exiting his chambers, he missed the fleeting movement of a shadow around the edges of the curtain as something fairly large moved in front of the enchanted window.
It was not the shape of a shark.
He had not expected a physical altercation.
No, he had not expected being kicked to the face and toppled off the Durmstrang ship into the should-be-frozen lake.
Not that hitting solid ice would have been an improvement to his situation, but at least the hypothermia wouldn't be as— obvious.
At least his mind and body could stop chattering long enough to get off a spell.
Even silent, wandless spells weren't helping.
Why the hell had bloody Albus thought swimming in a almost-frozen lake in Scotland the middle of February was a great idea for a second challenge? He was going to die out here, and not because he wasn't trying to survive, no. He was going to die because nature trumped magic every single time.
Because magic was a part of nature—
And only nature truly controlled nature.
Humans could try, altering little bits, changing other things slightly, but it always equalled something else later…
Not that it was saving him at the moment as he was drowning, too frozen by the frigid cold to even struggle out of the shock that Karkaroff had bloody kicked him off the Durmstrang ship.
He felt blackness closing in as something jerked him through the water. His eyes fluttered, blurry lines of water and weeds passed by him at a dizzying pace.
"Professor," he heard someone say.
It was musical, ethereal.
It was beyond beautiful.
It sounded like the riddle for the second challenge only even more exquisite.
One word, and he wanted to follow it until his death.
He was on the ground now, but he could hardly move. Something was wrapped around him, keeping him warm. There was a thrum of pulsing heat.
Where once he was freezing, now he was wrapped in comforting warmth.
"You were supposed to be dead," he heard Karkaroff's voice, so grating and raspy in comparison to the voice of his saviour. "But you just turned into another kind of freak."
"You know what he is? If you did, you would not save him. What good is a teacher who cannot defend himself?" Karkaroff's voice heckled, heavily accented.
"Stop this," another voice said. Male, familiar but not enough to put a name to it.
"You admit to trying to kill her. Why?" the other voice demanded.
"She distracted you from the goal!"
"What goal? To win?" the voice scoffed. "You tink I cannot win without your help?"
"You're too soft-hearted," Karkaroff accused. "You are too easily distracted."
"Is not soft-hearted to recognise kind heart and genuine talent," the other voice replied.
"Dark Lord is coming!" Karkaroff yelled. "You can either survive, Viktor, or die— like her!"
Snape heard the spells from each side.
Trees shattered. The ground erupted. The very earth seemed to move both up and over him. It seemed like forever, and then he could hear the panting of Karkaroff.
"You think you've won?" he coughed, laughing. "I am High Master of Durmstrang. You will heel, or you will rot!"
Snape felt rather than saw the Dark magic's pulse amplified by some sort of focus, heard Viktor give a strangled cry, and then the Bulgarian boy lay beside him. His dark eyes were glassy, vacant.
He felt the scream deep within his soul as it transformed into something beyond a sound. He felt it— writhing, twisting, growing. He felt it change.
He heard splashing, a wild thrashing about, frantic sobbing, and then—
A scream that tore at his very soul.
It pulsed out with a wave of undeniable magic, grief, and rage.
"You." The one word was enough to make his blood run cold, even as it commanded, allured, and wrapped around his will like the tangled vines of the Devil's snare. "Come to me."
Snape would have, if he wasn't already wrapped in— well, whatever he was wrapped in.
He heard footsteps, shuffling.
I was his favoured
Despite my looks.
He knew I lived,
Inside my books.
He searched for me,
In deep black water.
He looked for me,
Amongst the otters.
You stole from me,
The kindest heart.
Now come to me,
And do depart.
The footsteps sloshed as Karkaroff walked into the lake. He could hear the Dark wizard going ever deeper, deeper, struggling to continue on despite the waves.
Snape struggled in vain to join him— wanting, needing to follow the song that tugged at his very soul and bade him to obey.
He wanted to.
He needed to.
But the bindings did not allow it.
He could hear Karkaroff gurgling, sputtering, drowning. Even so, he continued to go farther away, struggling not to live but to walk right into the deepest depths of Black Lake.
He heard the flailing about, the choking.
And then, there was only the sound of the waves just before frantic footsteps came from the pathway above—
"Severus!" It was Minerva's voice. "Oh no— Viktor! What in Merlin's name happened here? Severus, speak to me. Severus!"
Only after a few long minutes did his mind seem to return to him, and the pressure and need to walk into the depths of Black Lake slowly eased.
"Don't touch that medallion!" Minerva snapped out as other footsteps followed hers. "I think it's cursed!"
"Minerva, what—" Albus' voice now. "Merlin— get Severus to the infirmary immediately. Get Viktor to— take him to the infirmary too. The anti-Apparation wards are down. Go!"
As Minerva's hand gently rested on his head, the tug of the Apparate pulled him into blackness and he mercifully passed out.
Viktor Krum Murdered by High Master Karkaroff!
Dark Artefact Influence Suspected!
Harry angrily threw down his copy of the Prophet. "I'm telling you, Ron, it's Death Eaters! I think it was ruddy Snape!"
"There was no Mark in the sky, Harry," Seamus pointed out. "They always use it as a signature when they do that sort of thing so people know it's them."
Ron seemed to be placating his nerves by chowing down on honey barbecue chicken wings. "I hate to be the one to say this, mate, but Snape was wrapped up tight in seaweed. The Durmstrang students said they watched Karkaroff kick him off the ship. Kick to the head even. Kinda wish I could have seen that."
Harry slammed his fist down. "It's still Death Eaters!"
Neville shook his head. "It may have been, but I think Karkaroff was really to blame this time. He was named as a Death Eater in the last war, after all."
"And he had the—" Parvati whispered uneasily. "The you know. The Mark."
They whispered together, muttering speculation.
The death of Viktor Krum had hit the Durmstrang students the worst, but there wasn't a dry eye amongst the witches that had adored him, either. Even many of the young wizards seemed teary-eyed over their Quidditch hero's unexpected demise.
"I heard they found Dark magic spells on the Highmaster's wand," Seamus added. "Unforgivables."
"Yeah, we were all there when Dumbledore gave that announcement," Harry said, irritated. "Why aren't they looking for Hermione!"
"Um, they did for like two weeks, mate," Fred said.
"And Viktor—" George said, frowning. "He never stopped looking."
Harry scowled, glaring up to the High Table where Snape normally sat. "I still think Snape was involved."
"If Hermione was here, she'd say you were mental," Angelina said. "He's a teacher!"
"And Karkaroff was their High Master, and you see what that got Viktor!" Harry yelled.
Silence descended on the Great Hall as every set of eyes focused on Harry after his outburst.
Harry turned red and stormed out of the Great Hall, his angry footsteps echoing in the forced silence of the stunned room
Snape retreated to his private quarters to recover the very moment Poppy had pronounced that he wasn't immediately dying. He couldn't stand her constant hovering and poking, prodding, and advocacy about eating more, sleeping better, and all that health-centric rot.
When he opened the curtain to view the Black Lake, he froze in shock.
Hermione was there gazing back at him, her small webbed hands pressed up against the thick, transparent wall.
Gods, she was beautiful.
Shimmering iridescent scales of blue and green trailed down her body into what seemed like a cross between a shark and a fishtail— alien and beautiful. Powerful fins fluttered lazily in the water, making her appear to hover in place despite the current. Her mane of hair seemed like a lion's mane, but the water made it seem utterly natural.
She smiled at him, and he caught a glimpse of her sharp, pearlescent fangs.
Gills fluttered on her neck, and her ears— now finlike sails— flitted like a seahorses' on each side of her head.
It looked like she had woven some arrangement of shells and seaweed together to cover up her mammaries, but she was obviously still very much a female. There was no hiding that fact.
She seemed older.
No, not exactly, but rather somehow— ageless— caught somewhere in time where the lines became blurred and one's true age was obscured.
If he were to hazard a guess, her body had caught up with her mind, but that was only a guess.
She always was well ahead of her class— hell, ahead of the entire sodding school. He'd never admitted that to her, of course.
She placed her webbed hands on the window, and some random impulse made him place his own hands on the other side in a mirrored action.
Electric eels were flitting around her. He could hear the crackling of their electric even through the wall. They moved against her like pet felines against a leg, seemingly taking comfort from her. She ran a webbed hand over them in a caress, her expression softening. Apparently, she took comfort from them, too.
Black Lake had electric eels? Weren't they found in the Amazon in much warmer waters?
The pair of eels opened their mouths and bonked themselves into the transparent wall, seemingly curious about what was on the other side.
You're all right?
Snape blinked. The voice was like he'd heard it, but her lips hadn't moved.
He nodded numbly.
She smiled at him, her tail swishing. I'm glad.
Snape walked unsteadily over to his cabinet, pulled out a bottle of Ogden's, poured himself a small shot, and then drank directly from the bottle, putting the shot glass back in the cabinet.
He looked back to the window.
She was frowning slightly at him.
That's really bad for your liver, you know.
Snape drank again, closing his eyes. "Please leave me alone, Miss Granger. I'm trying to attune my reality to exclude whatever mad aquatic hallucination you might be."
He could practically feel her frowning.
I don't really know what I am anymore. He could feel her moving in front of the window rather than actually seeing it. I don't look like the other merfolk. They're… afraid of me.
Snape opened his eyes. She was really there. He wasn't— hallucinating.
She was frowning. Of course I'm real. I won't go away because you drink.
Snape stared at the whisky bottle and sighed, setting it down on the nearby table as he sighed heavily.
How had she—?
Hermione wasn't looking at him anymore. She stared out into the vastness of Black Lake. He's dead.
Snape's face wrinkled for a second. "He deserved it and more."
You knew him.
It wasn't a question.
"Once," he said, shaking his head. "We once shared common goals."
But you don't. Not now.
Again, it wasn't a question.
"No." Why was he being so open about such things?
She seemed to contemplate something only she knew, her fins moving ever so slowly in the current. Do you trust me?
Snape frowned. "No," he said, sneering. "I don't trust anyone."
Hermione seemed to droop. I see.
In a flash, she was gone, quicker than the eye could see, a blur of green and blue scales and then the blackness of the lake itself.
Snape felt a gut-twisting sense of loss in her absence and closed his eyes, his fingers digging into his palms.
Why did he always have to open his big mouth when he should just leave it shut? Hadn't he just been telling himself earlier that he wanted to teach her? Apprentice her? Wasn't that a trust of a certain kind?
"You're a sodding idiot," he said to empty air.
Snape narrowed his eyes as Moody passed him by during the staff meeting. He sniffed suspiciously.
His breath was a little too sickly sweet— not the harsh scent of alcohol that most people suspected he kept in that little silver flask of his.
He'd brought up to Albus that he hadn't trusted the ex-Auror any further than he could throw him, and he wouldn't want to touch the scruffy old codger to do so.
Something was very odd about him.
Well, odder than usual.
Moody had always been a bit too over the top for him. Too fanatical. Too tenacious. He'd always been convinced Severus had been born evil from day one— even before Snape had taken the Mark and made some ultimately tragic, terrible decisions.
Albus, of course, wanted to talk to both of them, and in his flamboyant fashion desired to take a nice walk beside Black Lake. Perhaps, he thought, it was to prove that it was perfectly safe to do so, or maybe he just wanted to baffle those who thought taking a leisurely stroll by a half-frozen lake in February was completely mental.
"I need you both to work together in this," Albus said. "The death of a student on our watch is more than tragic. It goes against the ultimate safety of Hogwarts that we have so long trusted in— that others trust in. Minerva has been instrumental in keeping the peace, so far, but we must all work together to make the castle and grounds even safer. She cannot do this alone."
Moody scowled directly at Snape. "It would be far safer if the likes of him didn't show his face here."
"Severus is on our side," Albus said, his eyes narrowing. "You know this, Alastor."
"I know a leopard won't ever change its spots," Moody rasped, taking a deep swig from his flask.
Albus shot Moody a stern glance, brooking no argument, and even the crusty old Auror knew when it was time to shut it.
"Miss Granger is still missing," Albus said heavily. "I fear the worst. While I do not believe that Death Eaters somehow stormed Hogwarts to sabotage the tournament, I do think that something tragic has happened here and that the grindylows may have taken advantage of it. They normally do not eat humans, but they—" Albus flinched. "They have been known to consume human flesh from time to time."
"Lovely that we allow such things to live in Black Lake," Snape growled.
"They've been a part of lakes in Great Britain and Ireland for as long as—" Moody interjected.
Albus held up his hand. "They are, despite their proclivities, a part of the natural ecosystem. I can no more eradicate them from the lake than I can evict the giant squid."
Albus shook his head. "I want you two to come up with some ideas to ensure that our third task is as safe as it can be considering the level of difficulty inherent to the final challenge. You can bring your ideas to me in my office tomorrow morning, at seven a.m. sharp."
"Yes, Headmaster," Snape said, trying not to grind his teeth.
"Fine," Moody muttered, turning away to stare at the lake.
"Good, good," Dumbledore said approvingly. "Now I'm going to go fetch myself a nice cup of hot chocolate and one of those delicious cherry tarts." He walked up the path, seemingly oblivious to the tension between Snape and Moody.
Snape watched the Headmaster retreat up the path until he was gone and then sighed deeply. "We might as well do as heHRK—"
Moody's silent Stupefy caught him squarely in the back, and Snape went down face first into the cold March mud.
Snape was angry, but more at himself than at Moody. He should have expected Moody to get in a few licks, but he didn't expect it here at Hogwarts of all places.
"We both know what you are, don't we, Snape?" Moody's voice suddenly seemed so… different. Oddly younger. "The halfblood reject Death Eater whose only love was nothing more than a useless Mudblood bitch."
Snape's anger was gone instantly, sobering him up like a slap to the face. Now that didn't sound like Moody at all.
Moody took his wand and threw it out into Black Lake. "Imperius!"
Snape stiffened, trying to fight the impulse—
"Now, be a good lad and walk out into the lake and drown yourself, won't you? You don't deserve to see our Lord rise again."
Snape struggled fiercely against the mind-numbing effect of the spell.
There was a sudden wave and a huge splash from the lake as Hermione rose up from the icy depths with only her torso actually emerging from the water. She looked at Snape and then at Moody, narrowing her eyes at the latter as she discovered Severus' predicament.
Your face is his
Your mind is not.
Your heart is blackened
And filled with rot.
Your sanity teeters
And fritters away.
You like to commit murder
At the end of a day.
Your soul may be missing
Or heavy with sin.
What shall you say to your maker,
When your lies become thin?
Your path to redemption
Lies within Black Lake.
Come wallow in the fathoms,
Till your lungs fill and ache.
"Moody" turned walked towards the lake, dazed and entranced. He strode into the water, arms outstretched as if to embrace a long lost lover. Even as he did so, his body was shuddering, twisting, changing until he became that of Barty Crouch Jr—
The magical prosthetic eye dropped into the shallows along with the old, manky leather coat. The thin, almost anorexic frame of Barty Crouch Jr continued to plunge into the water, deeper, deeper—
Until the grindylows pulled him to the bottom of the lake with one last, wet gurgle.
Hermione looked at him, the sun sparkling off her scaled, shimmering skin as her damp hair hung in wet curtains around her face.
"Are you alright, Professor?" Her voice was like the strum of core of the Earth, the complete eclipse, and the perfect frequency.
He took a step forward, drawn to it.
Hermione slapped her hands over her mouth and promptly disappeared under the waves, the flick of her tail sending a stream of icy water to smack Snape right in the face.
Snape sputtered and shook off the spell that had captured him even as Alastor Moody's magical eye and coat washed ashore and thumped up against his dragonhide boots.
How the hell was he going to explain this Dumbledore now?!
First things first—
He was done with being the dunderheaded victim.
Goblet of Fire Hoodwinked by Barty Crouch!
A chain of calamities striking Hogwarts during the Tri Wizarding Tournament seems to have started with none other than Barty Crouch Junior, who was supposedly in Azkaban.
"Someone that looked just like him was buried there a few months ago!" Jonas Wildwater said.
Polyjuice potion is suspected as being the way that Barty Crouch Junior escaped Azkaban, with his terminally ill mother trading places with him in order to give her son a new lease on life.
The real Alastor Moody was found by none other than Professor Severus Snape, the retired Auror having been locked away in a magical trunk in "Moody's" teaching quarters at Hogwarts. It is believed that Moody was only kept alive so his hair could be used in the Polyjuice that Crouch Junior used to disguise himself, as hair sourced from a dead person renders the potion useless.
Barty Crouch Junior reportedly attempted to escape via Black Lake but was pulled under by grindylows. Aurors Accio'ed the body from the water for confirmation late Tuesday evening.
It had already been half-eaten by the grindylows.
Harry Potter reportedly went going into hysterics, demanding that the Aurors Accio student Hermione Granger in the same manner, but he was informed by the team that Accio only works on inanimate objects— corpses being one of them.
This leaves us with even more mysteries as to the fate of poor Miss Granger in the wake of so many unfortunate accidents at Hogwarts this year.
The tournament, however, is contractually bound to continue even after Durmstrang pulled out after the death of their champion, Viktor Krum, at the wand of their own High Master, High Master Karkaroff's subsequent attack and drowning by grindylows in Black Lake, the attempted murder of Professor Severus Snape, the strange disappearance of student Hermione Granger, the discovery of Barty Crouch Jr in the lake, and the rescue of retired Auror Alastor Moody.
Aurors are now patrolling the grounds and halls of Hogwarts in the wake of this most troubling string of events, and some are now petitioning for the final event of the tournament to be an academic one rather than the planned final challenge for the contestants.
We shall see in just a few weeks when the third and final event becomes a reality.
He kept expecting to see her at his viewing window, but after he blurted out that he trusted no one, Granger didn't show up again.
She'd saved his life twice now, and he felt even more the total git for having treated her as he had.
He felt like he was having an off year.
Getting caught unawares by surprise spells?
He'd never had this problem before. He had always been super paranoid.
What the hell was wrong with him?
He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose.
He'd lost more sleep than usual researching exactly what it was that Granger could possibly be, but every book in the Wizarding world said merfolk were damn ugly in comparison to the Muggle sea-faring tales, and the Muggle books all claimed they were beautiful women with fish tails.
Nothing he had found so far said anything about them being sodding sirens—
Sirens were just a myth.
But— even sirens weren't supposed to look like mermaids, or Muggle mermaids, oh— bother it all.
She didn't exactly look like anything out of old book illustrations, either, not that such things could be trusted anyway.
She wasn't a Veela, either. She had scales, not moon-white skin and had neither platinum hair nor wings.
What, then, was she?
Don't think too hard on it. I won't be in any book. I know. I've tried.
Snape's head shot up. She was there at his viewing window, her eels in attendance. They seemed to hiss at the window, striking at it.
"Books in water, Miss Granger?"
Hermione crossed her arms. Honestly, I do know the waterproofing charm.
Hermione frowned. It worked.
Snape's eyebrows creased. "It takes quite a bit of talent to perform wandless magic."
Well, it's not like I had any choice in the matter, she replied, dislodging an eel from her mane of hair. It seemed to grumble before going back to hide in her tresses. Headmaster Dumbledore took my wand— for safekeeping.
Snape blinked at that. "He has your wand?"
Hermione tilted her head in a manner that positively screamed, Obviously.
"Then he already knows where you are."
No, she replied. He keeps Apparating into the lake. In the same spot. He startles my eels, and they bite him on the nose.
"Shocking," Severus commented dryly, smirking at the mental image.
That too, Hermione confessed with a giggle.
"He never saw you?"
Hermione shook her head. I didn't want him to.
I didn't want anyone to see me for days. I am hideous. Ugly.
"You're beautiful," he said, very seriously.
Hermione frowned. Please don't lie.
"I'm not. Surely you can read that from my mind like you have so many other things?"
Hermione frowned. You are a very good liar.
"Yes, but I would never lie about that." Severus sighed.
You saw no difference, she said, eyes narrowing. When Malfoy hexed my teeth.
Gods, save me from myself, he thought to himself. "I did not—" He sighed heavily. "Certain appearances had to be kept, but I will admit to taking out a grudge on you in that case."
Whatever did I do to deserve your scorn? Hermione's tail swished back and forth like that of an irritated feline.
Snape closed his eyes. "I am not a kind man, Miss Granger."
Hermione kissed one of the eels on the snout, and it did a loop de loop in blissful response before swimming off on some errand known only to itself. You could be, if you simply let yourself.
"There is no reason to be!" he yelled, losing his patience with her.
Hermione's entire body seemed to crackle with electricity, much like her eels. He could hear it through the wall—
She was suddenly gone in a blur of green and blue scales.
Snape closed his eyes and tilted his head back again. "Damnation."
It was some time later that Snape had the profoundly humiliating experience of trying to explain to Madam Pomfrey why he needed his posterior attended to after turning up in her infirmary with what appeared to be a large eel bite as well as some nasty electrical burns on his arse.
The look the mediwitch gave him harkened to days gone by when the Marauders used to use him as their target for their curse of the week.
"Don't even ask," he told Poppy, burying his face in his hands in embarrassment.
"You said you got these… in the bathtub?" Poppy asked, frowning.
Severus sighed heavily. "Yes."
"Are you sure you didn't try to bathe in a Muggle aquarium?"
Severus shot her an aggrieved look. "Do I look that stupid?"
The look Poppy gave him in response was decidedly dubious.
It was with great trepidation that Snape realised that he wasn't going to escape the wrath of Hermione's eels, even if Hermione herself wasn't going to do anything to him directly.
And for that bit of self-defence, he started to take showers instead of baths. Then, despite such precautions, he started to become more paranoid that he was being watched by semi-aquatic spiders. Living in a beneath-the-lake sort of abode, seeing aquatic things was hardly a big surprise, but ever since Granger had started to visit his window, he'd started noticing more things hanging about.
Otters would saunter by and smash clams against his window to break them open.
The giant squid would make love to the wall with loud schlucking noises.
Grindylows would have mass arguments as they reenacted the Attack on the British Squares: the Aquatic Version. It even sounded like they had the muskets going off.
Merfolk would draw painfully crude diagrams on his window in some sort of purple urchin slime that depicted things he was glad no one in the Slytherin common room could see.
It would wear off, eventually, but in the meantime he had to suffer it or use a cleansing spell aimed very carefully to work through the wall to the opposite side without deflecting the spell onto his body and thus giving himself a thorough scrubbing he didn't want or need.
Worst of all, he actually felt bad about his behaviour and that was— different. He wasn't used to feeling bad about being the git everyone presumed he was anyway. Picking on student flaws or anyone's for that matter had become cathartic to erase the mishaps in his own life.
Despite his more rational intentions, he kept tripping over old habits, old grudges, and even old prejudices.
Every Gryffindor was either a James Potter, Sirius Black, or— Lily Evans.
He couldn't help but see them echoed in every member of the house. Even Minerva was a meddling feline that he wanted to throttle for the same reason he didn't have a cat to begin with. He had no interest in being awakened at odd hours by a hungry feline, pestered, have his things knocked over in the middle of the night, or deal with cat fur being shed all over his clean black robes.
How was he supposed to be her teacher if he couldn't get past the annoying aggravation of himself? So far, all he'd managed to do is demonstrate how to get taken off guard by teachers at Hogwarts, how to be a sodding git extraordinaire, and how to be damn rude in the face of utter civility.
He really was a right piece of work.
Minerva believed that Hermione was well and truly gone— and so did Albus. Her half-Kneazle had subsequently barged into Minerva's chambers and made himself a pest, refusing to leave.
It was, he realised, probably for the best. Hermione had no way to keep a cat underwater. Cats were wily but not especially talented at living an aquatic life.
Somehow, however, he had become her number one confidant and her most rescued oblivious idiot on the face of spy-dom. He wondered if he'd accidentally snorted Confundus in the last month or so because his ability to predict threats to his life was at an all-time low.
It wasn't his best term at Hogwarts, most assuredly.
Evil seemed so utterly nebulous in the face of a second Wizarding war. He once thought that power was the only way to erase the scars of his terrible childhood— his drunkard of a father most of all. That had ended in tragedy with Lily dead and an obnoxious reminder of James bloody Potter haunting him at every turn some thirteen-odd years later. Seeing Potter's son and the red-headed weasel boy-with-a-grudge taking advantage of Granger's intellect all in the name of so-called friendship just rubbed him the wrong way every time.
And then, he'd take it out on her because—
Because being anything other than a git was hard.
Being an arse was easy, expected. He was well-versed and doubly practised at that.
But, maybe he should practice something else considering she had saved his life.
Considering he did want to teach her.
I feel like shite, he admitted to himself, realising he might have caught a cold while trying to freeze himself to death— twice. All the wool in the world was useless when you were submerged in almost-freezing lakes.
He barely had the wherewithal to take off his robes before face-planting into his pillow with exhaustion, his boots still on.
A shadow moved across the viewing window as Hermione peered inside at him. She shook her head as her eels shook theirs, electricity crackling. She put her hands on the eels, and a water-filled bubble formed around them. They thumped into the window-wall—
They appeared on the other side with a pop.
They floated in the air and tugged on his laces, pulling the boots off after grasping the heel with their mouths.
The boots went flying across the room.
The eels hung their heads, shaking them and practically radiating self-inflicted disappointment as Hermione cradled her head in her hands.
The eels tugged the duvet over the passed-out wizard and then floated back toward the viewing window.
They popped back to the other side, rubbing against Hermione with eager slithering. She stroked their bodies and smiled before vanishing in a swift blur of fins and scales.
"I know he's involved!" Harry blurted, pointing a shaking finger at Snape.
Snape, who was sitting in one of Albus' disgustingly comfortable lavender floral armchairs and flipping through a class planner, looked up from what he was reading and narrowed his eyes. "You just— know?"
Harry, emboldened by having his best mate Ronald at his side and Dumbledore in the room, jerked his head sharply in affirmative.
"These are some very serious accusations, Harry," Dumbledore said sternly, frowning. "I do hope you have some proof of this?"
Harry looked victorious, his green eyes flashing in triumph. "I do."
"Pray tell, Potter," Snape said rather venomously, "Whatever would that be, hrm?"
"Your left arm!" Harry snarled. "It's all the proof I need!"
Snape narrowed his eyes. "And what proof is that, Potter?"
"It's there, sir!" Harry pleaded to Dumbledore. "You have to believe me!"
"Harry," Dumbledore sighed, "Professor Snape is a trusted member of our facul—"
"He's a Death Eater!" Harry cried. "Look at his arm! Just look at it!"
Harry's magic pulsed wildly, and Snape immediately shielded, but where his arm was sticking out from the shield, he was de-robed from arm to wrist as a whirlwind of cuts slashed at his skin and the innocent bookshelf and chair before Dumbledore himself cast a dampening field over the office.
Ronald, in the meantime, hit the deck with a bleat of pure terror, his eyes like saucers as he cried out in surprise and fear.
Blood dripped onto Albus' floor as Snape stood before them, his pale face twisted in barely suppressed rage. His white fingers clutched Harry's robes and yanked him up off the floor to face him.
Snape bared his yellowed teeth. "Are you happy now, Potter? Have you found everything that you hoped for?
Harry gurgled, fighting for air before Snape released him, letting him fall flat on his posterior, fingers splayed as if flinging away something utterly foul. Harry, however, stared in total shock.
And stared some more.
Snape snarled in disgust, picking up the remains of his shredded teaching robes. He hissed as the pain from the multitude of cuts mixed with the sensation of blood dripping down his arm. He blotted at the blood with his shredded sleeve—
And stopped dead.
Albus, too, was staring. Silent and pale as a ghost.
Snape's left arm was perfectly pale, pristine and un-Marked.
Snape, his face carefully schooled into total impassiveness looked Harry straight in the eye. "You owe me a new set of black wool teaching robes and the ingredients for a batch of Dittany," he said, his voice filled with icy disdain. He spun and stormed out of Dumbledore's office in a flurry of what remained of his robes, hiding his panicked, gobsmacked expression in his haste to rush back to his quarters.
"Harry," Dumbledore said quietly. "I believe we must now discuss your detention for the rest of this term for attacking a teacher as well as paying back Professor Snape for what you damaged. While I will always be willing to hear of any problems you might have, I fear I cannot overlook this incident, accidental magic or no." He summoned his Patronus and sent it zinging off towards Gryffindor Tower.
"I will, of course, have to inform your Head of House as well." Dumbledore looked quite sombre, his hand stroking his long beard in an idle movement. "It will be a hundred points from Gryffindor for your most grave transgression, Harry. You will also be reporting to Mr Filch for detention every night until the end of term. Whatever time you may spend preparing for the third task will be under direct supervision."
"As for you, Mr Weasley," Dumbledore said quite sternly, "I would strongly recommend that you not fan the flames that would lead your friends to storm into the Headmaster's office to attack a teacher."
Ron, still whimpering pitifully under the desk, made no other indicator of attempting to stand, leave, or even move.
Fawkes swung merrily on his brass swing, warbling random bits of popular Broadway showtunes.
Dumbledore turned to look out his window, attempting to school his expression away from the baffled astonishment of what he had seen, or rather had not seen, on Snape's left arm.
The Dark Mark was gone, along with any and all evidence of his being a Death Eater— including the Unbreakable Vow he had bound to it in order to bring the young Dark wizard to heel.
So what did that mean for his only spy?
Snape didn't stop walking until he reached the edge of Black Lake, and kept on going until he was on the far shore— far, far away from prying eyes.
He wasn't sure how he knew, but he knew.
He knew that somehow she had taken the Dark Mark from him.
It had been the same as when he'd first gotten it, only he hadn't made the connection until Potter had destroyed his robes and exposed the arm that had held his damnation and curse for over a decade.
You'll catch another cold without half of your clothes, he heard in her mind voice just before she surfaced, shaking the excess water from her hair.
Shite, his clothes.
"You—" he accused, his vocabulary failing him.
Me? She prompted.
Snape frowned. "You took my Mark!"
Hermione tilted her head. Take is a strong word. I did not want it. Did you?
"YES!" He closed his eyes, fists clenching. "No! That's not the point!"
What is the point?
"You didn't ask!" he accused.
Hermione tilted her head. Why are you angry with me?
He sputtered, trying to find his venom and failing completely. "I—"
He deflated, sitting down on the damp rocky shoreline. "I really don't know."
It tainted your water, she said. We simply purified it.
"We?" Severus asked, thinking she had lapsed into the royal we.
Hermione tilted her head. She pointed to her eels, who zipped and flitted playfully around her, some in the water, some in bubbles in the air. Some of them bumped into each other, making an electrical zapping sound.
The Mark did not suit your true spirit, she said.
"What would you know of my true spirit?"
You always lash out first, but it is like an anemone tentacle— indiscriminate to those not coated in protective slime. To the right fish, you could be shelter. A home. Comforting.
Snape raised a brow at the analogy, yet he couldn't quite argue with it. He wasn't entirely sure about the comforting part, either. He realised with some discomfiture that Granger seemed less the young witch and more of that timeless quality that seemed far more mature than a mere girl of fifteen.
She wasn't an obsessive hand-waver anymore, either. That definitely helped. Mind you, she hadn't done that since she was a first year, but he couldn't help but remember it as one of her more memorable features.
That child-Hermione is long gone, I fear. Her voice was sombre. She was carried away into the loving embrace of Father Neptune, who sang her into the future-now.
"Are you saying that the god Neptune—"
Is there another Neptune? she asked, her mind-voice distinctly amused.
"You'll have to excuse my doubts regarding that particular claim," Snape said, eyes narrowing.
Do you believe in oxygen?
"Don't be daft. Of course I do."
You cannot actually see it, but it is there, else you would soon die.
Snape blinked at that. "Oxygen is hardly godly in nature."
Hermione combed her hair with one hand. Yet it exists without being seen.
Snape wrinkled his face in thought. Despite how ludicrous it sounded, he really wanted to believe her. How often did they swear upon the gods— yet never truly expected an answer?
I would have died, she said, stroking an eel on the head. Perhaps I should have. But Lord Pluto thought there had been far too many souls taken of late, tipping the scales of the Underworld so much that Cerebus became quite dizzy. Neptune did take pity upon the child, for she was only a child, and gave her gills that she might not drown and fins that she might swim in his Domain— and He might have stopped there, content to have her live her life in the water as she was, but when Viktor died, she did cry out so loudly for justice that Jupiter Himself bade Neptune bless her one more time— and so He took the child into His embrace and sang to her the Litany— binding her life to His line and to His purpose.
"And what would that be?" Snape asked, curious.
Hermione smiled— a flash of fang and blink of eyes not quite human.
I tend to His gardens in his seas and rivers. I protect his Domain— but first I must tend to the old me's unfinished business.
Snape couldn't help but be more curious what the know-it-all swot would have had as unfinished business, and then it suddenly hit him.
Bringing justice to her would-be killers and those who had murdered Viktor— not just by Karkaroff's hand but by the evil mentality that they shared.
The mentality he had once shared with them— if but for only a few moments until the searing agony of being branded with the Mark brought his entire cockup of a life into horrifyingly sharp focus as the Dark Lord informed him that Lily would the first to die.
Yes, his reign of evil had lasted for maybe a few hours and ended the very moment he realised just how badly he had erred.
Then, he'd gone and buggered it up even more by binding himself to Dumbledore's service in a desperate attempt to save Lily only to see her die anyway.
Your water is free of his, she said, meeting his gaze unflinchingly. You are your own river flowing out to a different sea.
Could that mean what it sounded like?
It is. Hermione splashed water on herself with her tail to counter the sun trying to dry her out.
"The Vow—" he whispered. "It's gone?"
Yes. She looked at him with a tilted head, curious and puzzled. I made my choice of free will without hidden hooks and daggers. Such choices that bind a life should never be a betrayal.
The way she spoke was like a riddle, yet she was surprisingly direct. The riddle was in realising what she was talking about because so much could be assumed.
He had gladly sworn to anything to save Lily's life on the assumption that she would survive if he did so to Dumbledore, but he had been wrong.
Lily had died anyway, and he—
He had been bound to Albus in an Unbreakable Vow to serve him.
Dumbledore had been just another ruthless taskmaster cloaked in the greater good and the mantle of supposed light, trying to right what he'd gone and fucked up with his meddling—
"Why have you saved me?" he asked, suddenly overwhelmed with the randomness of it. He hadn't deserved to be saved by her. He'd treated her like she was worthless and ugly, and he'd been no better than her once user friends who mooched off her good will and book knowledge. No, he'd been worse. He hadn't even pretended to be a good person.
Hermione cuddled one of her eels like one would a baby. It opened its mouth and feinted her fingers, pretending to attack but very carefully missing. She tickled it under the chin and pressed a kiss to its snout. You saved our lives. You could have left us to be killed by Professor Lupin, but you didn't. You saved Harry when his broom was jinxed. You wear the face of suffering in the face of students, but in the end, you save lives not take them. Is that not a good enough reason to wish to preserve yours?
Snape, stunned, found himself a bit dumbfounded.
She rose up out of the water, made slightly awkward by her aquatic lower body, pulling herself to the shore as the waves lapped around her. Propping herself up on her tail, she was so very close to him. He could smell the lake upon her strongly along with a hint of the sea, deep crags within the Earth, and the sharp ozone of electricity.
She placed a kiss upon his brow right between the eyes. I grant you immunity to my song that you may never think you have no choice, for I trust you, even though you cannot trust me.
Her voice was sorrowful, resigned.
May you winds be always gentle, and your seas ever calm, she said, and he realised it was her true voice— ethereal and beautiful but he did not wish to fling himself into the water to join her anymore.
"I—" he began.
He heard loud, thumping footsteps that could only be ruddy Hagrid. It jolted him out of the daze in panic, but Hermione disappeared with a splash—
Deep, deep into the fathoms below the Great Lake.
"Oh!, Perfesser Snape, Sir," Hagrid bellowed. "Enjoying a walk by the lake today? I was just. Er. I mean uh— taking a walk too."
Snape schooled his expression into neutrality, squelching the feeling of complete and utter loss he felt growing in his stomach. He grit his teeth together as his jaw clenched, falling back on the expression most familiar and expected of him. "I was until you arrived, Hagrid. I think you've managed to scare away everything with your noisy thudding." With that, he swept away.
"Uh— what happened to your sleeve, Sir, Perfessur, Sir?"
Snape turned, his eyes filled with black fire. "Ask your little friend Potter what he does in his spare time while accusing his teachers of being guilty and evil or whatever he can make up."
Hagrid, despite his size, took a step back, his expression confused. "'Arry wouldna do that," he sputtered. "Not 'arry."
Snape's mouth twisted with malice. "He's just like his father," Snape hissed before beating a path back to Hogwarts.
Hagrid swallowed hard as a blast-ended skrewt scuttled up and bumped into his leg, stabbing it with its stinger end.
"Oi, stop that," Hagrid objected. "Save that for the trial."
The skrewt just buried its stinger into Hagrid's calf, unimpressed.
Snape returned to his chambers to find a parcel wrapped in kelp on his table. He frowned as it dripped off the sides of the table onto the floor.
He tugged the smaller tie of some kind of lake weed, and it fell apart instantly, the parcel opening to expose a surprisingly dry contents.
He touched the inside, and his hand brushed against the softest fabric he had ever touched. He picked it up and realised it was a new set of robes crafted with some soft of fibre unknown to him. It didn't take a genius to sense its strength and to feel the enchantment bound to its making.
As he picked it up, a smaller bundle fell out, exposing a cluster of shimmering black pearls— just one would have set him up for life without even having made potions out of it. Just a pinch of powder from one of the pearls could help make an entire vat of anti-venom that would work on any and all poisons and venoms in the world. There were other uses, of course, and people often wanted it to enhance fertility as well, but every Wizarding hospital in the world would pay hand over fist for just one phial of the anti-venom for emergencies when nothing else worked.
But that wasn't what made his hands tremble.
The robes he held in his hands were buttersoft and light, and the edges were embroidered in green and silver interlaced with freshwater pearls. Buttons made of polished abalone— dark purples and blues so dark it was hard to see them sparkle until you looked closely— adorned the sleeves and down the front.
It was beautiful. Stunning and of unquestionable quality. It was the kind of rare, exquisite thing that Lucius Malfoy would have happily killed for. It was—
When he put it on, his fingers gliding across the fabric with a sort of awed wonder, it was like barely wearing anything at all. It was so light, seemingly delicate, like submerging oneself in a blissfully warm bath. It was deliciously warm, taking the damp chill out of the dungeon air that never quite left even with the liberal use of warming charms and well-lit hearths.
Why was she so kind to him?
It seemed so alien, and part of him wondered what she really wanted and how she was using him, yet the other part of him secretly revelled in the kindness he'd never truly known before.
Granger had, undoubtedly, changed in more than just a physical way. Her thoughts were almost alien now, and it wasn't so hard to imagine her absorbing the teachings of some even more distant god, so apart from anything wholly mortal.
There was a sort of far-away detachment to what he'd consider normal concerns, and even her quest to avenge her old self seemed oddly clinical. Surgical.
He could still see hints of the person she was or could have been had he gotten to know her.
Some traitorous part of him wondered what her kindness would have done for him had he experienced such warmth while he was growing up.
Had Lily only given him such consideration—
He might have done so many things. Not done— so many other things.
Even if they had never been meant to be a couple. Even if Potter really was the idiot she had been destined for.
A part of him couldn't help but notice that Hermione— seen outside the lens of a student, a child— possessed far more qualities that he identified with, even admired. Many qualities that he himself shared as an ostracised swot with friends who were not the most selfless of peers.
Gods only knew— being in Slytherin wasn't about being friends so much as having allies who would at least sneakily stand behind you in the shadows but rarely if ever beside you.
For the most part, he managed to make it work for him, but the unspoken thrill of having someone truly care for him. Even Dumbledore couldn't do that without putting a sizable price tag on it, some unknown cost that required major compensation in some way.
And Dumbledore had bound him to his cause not out of faith but by an Unbreakable Vow.
He was doomed to always desire what he could never have.
He swept from the room, leaving for his classes, trying not to admit that the gnawing feeling in his stomach was actually his soul trying to reach up and grab him by the face if only to shove his hooked nose into the truth.
No, he refused to open that door again. Ever.
He refused to care for anyone.
She was just one more user, just like all the others. The price just hadn't been exposed.
He would take her gifts, but he would not, would never allow himself to care for her.
He would never care for anyone again.
He would never trust anyone again.
The third task came amidst a haunting fog that clung to the air like the layers of mist upon the morning mountains. It seemed especially gloomy, even for the most uplifting, and the absence of Durmstrang's representatives was a mournful reminder that no one could miss.
While no one blamed the students for wanting to return home after their High Master was found guilty of murdering their champion and Quidditch hero, there was a certain unnerving gloom that seemed reflected in the weather.
The discovery of Barty Crouch Junior's remains had shaken many a person, Auror, and Ministry official, and an extensive squad of Unspeakables and Aurors had descended upon Hogwarts to thoroughly check everything and everyone affiliated with the Tri-Wizard tournament for any sign of tampering or foul play—
The most alarming of all being the hoodwinking of the Goblet of Fire that resulted in Harry Potter being selected as the sole representative of a fictitious school as well as the Goblet being turned into a Portkey to some unknown destination.
Now, the goblet was sitting in the depths of the DMLE's highest security holding facility being picked apart by the kind of curse-breakers that made up Gringotts' famed elite.
Now, a replica sat in the middle of the great maze of hedges— waiting, just waiting for the right champion to claim it.
Dumbledore had seemed quite reluctant to speak to Snape after incident with the disappearance of his Dark Mark. His usual twinkly-eyed meddling ways had abruptly changed in favour of a kind of watchful wariness. Snape supposed it proved that Dumbledore's trust always relied on an insurance policy.
The old wizard had trusted him only as long as Snape was held in check by his leash.
Now, thanks to the magical contract, Potter, Diggory, and Delacour were still competing for the title of true champion, despite what had happened and the obvious dangers.
Snape watched over his Slytherins, keeping them well in order, and thankfully the recent murders had at least kept the intra-house rivalries in check.
Even when the mysterious disappearance of Hermione Granger didn't seem to stir up the same level of distress as Viktor Krum's death.
Potter, restricted to detention and class outside of preparations for the third task, seemed unshakably convinced that Snape was guilty. It was no secret in Hogwarts how much Potter hated his potions professor, but his obsession was starting to worry even his fellow Gryffindors— if only because he was constantly losing them house points with his ceaseless accusations and outright slander.
Snape was used to being accused of everything from being a right git bastard, horrible teacher, and outright murderer. He'd been attacked by Muggleborns bearing crucifixes attempting to banish his evil away and had ropes of garlic thrown around his neck from those thinking he was surely a vampire.
Being a Death Eater seemed surprisingly tame in comparison, even mythical, as if that wasn't possible compared to all the other craziness he had been accused of.
Not being a Death Eater, on the other hand, seemed surreal.
The Mark made the Knights of Walpurgis, after all.
The Mark made the servant to the Lord.
Now, he was one of the unchosen, and he couldn't help but feel a profound relief in the reality of that fact.
At long last, he was truly free.
He would not be grateful.
He would not be beholden to anyone.
Cedric Diggory escaped the maze first, and the stands rang out with wild cheers for his win and it didn't seem to matter what school the spectators belonged to. Fleur Delacour came in second shortly after, with Harry escaping last with an angry blast-ended screwt hot on his heels… quite literally, as his beat-up trainers were in flames.
Severus couldn't help but feel a sense of profound relief that no one else had died as a result of the stupidly dangerous tournament. Viktor aside— having been murdered by his own High Master.
Such a tragic waste of life.
Hermione was counted amongst them as well—
Perhaps, he thought, she had.
The young witch.
She had died— yet one more victim to Karkaroff's mad desperation to preserve his own life in the Dark Lord's favour.
What Hermione was now, he realised, was a being no longer untouched by war or death. She was no longer innocent, coddled, or naive. No, now she was both as terrible and wondrous as the god who had claimed her, just as beautiful and merciless as the wild and stormy sea.
Could he truly believe in the god of the seas and earthquakes?
Was Hermione proof of the divine's touch or his own insanity?
No one else saw her—
Yet, he was wearing unmistakable evidence both on his person (and his bum) that she most definitely still existed.
And his arm, his heart whispered, adamant and stubborn.
Snape dug his nails into his palms as he tried to forget the gentle caress of her lips upon his brow.
Severus resolutely squared his jaw, driving any and all emotion down into the deepest, most hidden recesses of his being.
Hermione swam to the furthest depths of the Great Lake, the deep blackness no longer as impenetrable to her aquatic eyes. The cold didn't harm her, nor did the heat or the pressure of the deep. Her body adapted now— faster than before but still not instantly.
She had some growing to do.
But each sleep in the depths brought her back into Neptune's embrace, and with it, she gained more power and resilience. She gained more of His purpose and a sense of His vision.
She wasn't finished yet, she knew.
He was still tweaking her— moulding her into something unique just as a sculptor would a handful of clay.
One time she woke up with coral for hair, confusing and annoying her poor eel friends.
They had complained bitterly that coral was not a great place to hide in as it scratched their sensitive skin. They were not that kind of eel.
The next day she woke up sporting a wild mane of mixed hair and kelp, and the eels seemed quite appreciative of the change.
Who was she to argue when the eels were so sweet and charming?
One, she called Bumper because he would always investigate everything snout first. Another she called Thumper because he liked to play imaginary drums on her head with his tail and then look insufferably innocent about it later. Slumber liked to sleep in the crook of her arm a lot like Crookshanks used to. She would yawn cutely in her face right before Hermione started to move in the morning. Then there was Munch, her eel enforcer. He was the biggest of the bunch with the teeth to match and an extra shocking electrical field. He had a tendency to bite first and ask forgiveness later, but if his mistress was upset or even possibly upset, he would go sink his fangs into whatever (or whoever) he thought was responsible.
Many, many of the poor, unfortunate merfolk suffered zaps and bites from Munch for getting "too close" to Hermione. Many a cheeky grindylow got zapped and eaten, too.
Hermione found it strange at first how her eels tearing apart the grindylow to eat it didn't seem quite as horrifying as she thought it would be. No one else would eat them, after all. If they got too far out of hand, they would quickly spread to other areas of the lake and possibly attack the children at Hogwarts, and that was proven by the fact they'd stripped someone's bones of flesh without a second thought.
Hermione explored the ruins under the Great Lake often, marvelling at the sheer intricacy of some long-forgotten place concealed by water. She'd repaired some of it, little by little, tending the long-forgotten lake gardens as Neptune would truly approve of.
The eels made enthusiastic weeders, taking to pulverizing the invasives and dragging them to the surface, spitting them out to dry and die there after Hermione made sure there were no fertile seeds left behind to start the process over again.
She blamed humans more than the other lake denizens, for only they could travel so far across the Earth and bring seeds of a plant thousands of miles away to a lake that had never seen its like in hundreds of years.
Grindylows were, at least, native to the area, but whatever predators should have preyed upon them had not survived along with them—
Well, all except the kelpie, but the only one she knew of preferred the deepest recesses of the lake when it wasn't on the surface in the form of a beautiful and alluring horse. Thankfully, it greatly preferred the marshy areas and Hogwarts students didn't much enjoy getting eaten alive by the hordes of bloodthirsty mosquitoes and biting flies to go visit said marshes, end up stuck in a bog, and subsequently get dragged off to drown by a kelpie.
Though, she doubted they would even realise it was a kelpie until it was much too late.
The Headmaster must have made some sort of decree, ages past, not to go into the marshes without supervision, and unlike the Forbidden Forest, the allure just wasn't there. Probably for the best, she thought. The amount of paperwork involved for a child getting drowned by kelpies would surely be immense.
The kelpie would often swim with her when it wasn't snoozing, sometimes lazily and sometimes encouraging her to cling on and go for a ride so very, very fast through the depths. It would sometimes get very frisky and want to jump and breach the surface, making waves that jostled the giant squid.
Thankfully, its desire to drown people only seemed to occur after it had been spotted on the surface as a horse, and that didn't happen when there was so much to stick its nose into down in the lake with Hermione tending it.
She rebuilt one of the larger ruined buildings after what she called "the temple" for the kelpie to shelter in, and it moved in happily, often dragging in lake weeds to fill in the spaces to make a proper nest. Sometimes, just the tail would stick out of the door as the only warning to the merfolk that the place was already occupied.
The eels had worked behind her back to make her a home, too, clearing away the weeds and debris to expose a beautiful stone home carved into the bedrock by some ancient hand. She twirled with joy at the discovery, hugging her eels tight before setting to work in making the place more liveable.
An ancient library lurked within, an even more ancient magic seemed to kept the watered pages well-preserved and perfect. It made her incredibly happy to have books to read again, and she wondered if the shelves arranged themselves to her needs because sometimes she would get a hankering for something to read and it would suddenly appear where she didn't remember it being before.
Perhaps, she thought, it was Neptune's gift too, so she left highly polished shells and other treasures in the underwater temple in thanks for the gifts she'd been given.
The merfolk sometimes became curious or envious, trying to encroach upon the now-tended ruins now that the work had been done, but the kelpie wasn't in the mood for sharing with interlopers, and the eels drove them off with zaps and gnashing of teeth, often when she herself was sleeping as she tried to regenerate her energy after a hard day's work.
Whether they recognised her as the girl who had been tied up and waiting to be rescued, Hermione wasn't quite sure. They feared her now, she knew. Feared her because she was large and ugly by their standards and some twisted mixture of what, to them, reminded them of the surface dwellers they so hated to interact with.
Feared her because her friends were scary and viciously protected her.
Feared her because she was different, having never seen the like of her before.
The only thing that kept the merfolk from doing something as foolish as trying to start a war was that they were limited to the water. Short of Hogwarts dropping into the lake or the forest being flooded, there would be no expansion for the merfolk short of making their way to the sea.
That, she knew, wasn't going to happen because the sea-dwelling merfolk were much larger and stronger, and while the lake-ones often believed them more ugly, they were often the most beautiful to the human eye. They still didn't look like Hermione, but it was easy to see how the old sea-faring tales spoke of mermaids combing their hair while perched on an ocean outcrop or reef.
To Hermione, the water was welcoming wherever it was, whether it be a lake, river, sea, pond, or even (much to her mortification) bathtubs and fountains. She realised she could appear wherever water was to a certain extent, as long as it wasn't too small. She was still out on whether she could still appear in a small puddle of water or a glass of water, but she was afraid testing her hypothesis could end in embarrassment.
Hermione's tending of the lake was bringing back some rare species from the brink of extinction, and the water quality was improving thanks to fewer invasives. The eels were super good about eating the fishy invaders, too, so things were swiftly improving in the Great Lake. The lake's notorious black hue was becoming more of an inviting deep blue thanks to the sunlight being able to reach further into the formerly murky depths.
She could feel her god's approval of her hard work, and it truly pleased her to be useful.
There were times she almost remembered what it was like to be fully human, to have a family, to have human friends, but such memories had slowly drifted away. Her sole connection to her former humanity came from, ironically, her old potions professor.
She felt she could understand him more now that she could see into him much more clearly. She didn't mean to pry, per se, but mortal minds were so very plain in their readability when compared to a god's.
And she had learned to understand her god's desires quite well.
Even though He wasn't quite finished cementing what he wanted of her, who was she to argue the gift of the aquatic places? It was, she had to admit, even more magical than the surface world. The underwater world was a place seldom explored by surfacers, and even when they did it was only scraping the surface of a deeper, hidden mystery.
Now, her magic was different, requiring no wand or voice, but it was also like the water— constantly shifting, changing and evolving, ebbing and flowing, powerful and unpredictable.
Now, she played with the krakens, danced with vampire squid in the depths of the high-pressure under-sea, and scraped the barnacles off sea turtles and whales whenever they got out of control.
Her parents would have been very proud of her, she realised, helping the Earth in such a way. It was comforting in its own way, even though the old Hermione was no more.
It should have bothered her, perhaps, but—
It really didn't.
She had a true purpose, now. She was needed. Was that not what so many people looked for in life? Often never finding it?
She would, eventually, have all the time in the world— at least when Neptune was finally finished tinkering with hrt.
Who was she to ask a god whether He was done or not?
She'd woken up one morning to having a personal fry of eels, after all, just after going to bed thinking she might be a bit lonely. Fry. Swarm. Bed. English was a strange thing— describing a group of eels was equally puzzling.
The school above was quieter, now.
The Tri-Wizard Tournament was finally over and gone. The extra students had now left for their homelands. Aurors and Unspeakables still wandered the grounds in droves, and she supposed they were searching for signs of anything harmful that might be lurking about, awaiting an opportunity to hurt someone.
One Unspeakable had a habit of sitting on the end of the pier to stare over Black Lake. He was quiet and unobtrusive, so he immediately attracted her attention.
The Unspeakable uniform was a bit of an eye-catcher. So very white— so unnaturally pristine. The hood was trimmed in shimmering crystals that tinkled together like wind chimes in the breeze. Their faces were obscured by a dark blindfold, and their mouths with a sort of runes-on-metal plate.
She could tell that this one meant her no harm, though. His mind was quiet and welcoming even while being what probably passed as well-guarded to anyone else.
Curious, she poked her head up out of the water, her shoulders and chest following after.
She could feel him blink underneath the blindfold— ah, so he could see just as she had suspected. The blindfold was a focus, to filter out all unnecessary stimuli. How clever!
He passed his hand over his face and pulled down the hood, vanishing the blindfold and the intimidating mouthpiece to expose a chocolate brown countenance and warm brown eyes the colour of burnt sienna.
"Hello, are you Hermione?" he asked softly.
Hermione nodded silently, knowing her voice would doom the man to throw himself into the lake.
"They believe you are dead," he said but not so unkindly.
Hermione shrugged, pointing to herself. Obviously still alive.
"You didn't exactly advertise your still being alive, hrm?" he said, chuckling.
Hermione wrinkled her nose in response. They didn't really look very well.
"I am Kingsley Shacklebolt," he introduced himself. "Unspeakable by trade, but many seem to think I'm just an Auror. Just as many believe you to just be a witch either lost or dead."
Hermione propped her elbows on the pier and looked up at him. You're not like the others.
Kingsley smiled. "No, I suppose I'm not," he said vaguely, smiling warmly nonetheless. "Is it true that Igor Karkaroff drowned you?"
Hermione flicked her tail, spraying herself with water. He tried to. Succeeded, perhaps. Lord Pluto believed the balance of life and death had been weighted too much in his favour and asked his brother Jupiter to allow their brother Neptune to help me.
Kingsley, oddly enough, didn't flinch or frown. "It is something quite special and extraordinary indeed when the gods do not act solely in their own self-interest, as the old stories would have us believe."
Hermione tilted her head. I truly did not think much of the gods before this. My parents were Muggles. The gods were just myths and stories, not real, tangible beings to behold.
Kingsley smiled. "Most mortals do not think of the gods anymore. They see the world as the work of men, and that the gifts are self-made and not a gift from the divine. Others are god-fearing individuals, while a few are faithful. But these are what many would call the modern times and such things have sadly fallen by the wayside."
Hermione flicked her tail again, wetting herself down once more. She caught Kingsley in some of the spray and made an apologetic face. Sorry.
Kingsley chuckled. "It is of no consequence. It actually felt nice. The sun is getting rather hot today anyway."
Hermione smiled at him. She really liked this human. He seemed like a truly good person. His mind was fine, intelligent and open. It was a wonderful combination.
Would you like to see the underlake?
Kingsley's eyes widened. "It would be a great honour."
Hermione turned to Munch, who had a shell on a lakeweed cord in his mouth. Hermione took it, placing a kiss on his nose. The eel crackled with electricity, obviously happy with the outcome. She handed the shell to Kingsley. This will help you to breathe and swim in the depths.
Kingsley took it reverently, placing it around his neck after he transfigured his clothes into a more accommodating Muggle-style wetsuit. He clutched his neck as a set of gills formed and webbing filled out between his fingers and toes. He fell into the lake, head first, very undignified.
Hermione checked on him underwater, giggling at his slightly bewildered expression.
Kingsley, still a bit disoriented, inspected his water webbing and felt the gills on his neck, his dark eyes very wide.
Hermione smiled warmly at him.
Kingsley experimented, swimming around until he figured out which action did what and what wouldn't propel his head into the pier.
The pair then slipped under the surface with a splash.
Snape saw the pair disappearing down into the depths from his chamber window and felt a strange twisting deep in his gut.
Wouldn't you like to see the lake with me?
"Why would I care what lurks in the weeds and muck?"
Hermione's face fell as her fins drooped. I see, she said, her mind voice almost a bare whisper.
She disappeared in a blur of shimmering blue and green scales as her eels glowered at him through the transparent viewing wall before they, too, disappeared.
Snape closed his eyes, willing himself to forget her.
She was merely using him.
She was using whoever that was she was taking down into the lake.
So what if she gifted him with immunity to her voice.
So what if she gave him fine robes worthy of a god.
So what if she treated him with kindness.
So what if she gave him the gift of rare pearls that would allow him to sell Spinner's End and find a place he actually wanted to live.
She was a viper.
She would lure him in close and then strike, but he would not fall for it.
He shoved his protesting heart into a box and buried it behind his many layers of mental shields.
He would never be that stupid again.
"You're a sodding idiot, man," Kingsley said calmly as he sipped his tea.
"You came here to call me names? You didn't have to invite me to tea for that, Kingsley," Snape said with a sneer. "You could just say it right to my face like everyone else."
"I'm no fool, Severus," Kingsley pointed out. "I can well recognise that the robes you are wearing were not made by human hands. She told me that she's repeatedly tried to befriend you, but all you do is keep pushing her away. Never trusting her."
"You go for one swim in a lake and now you think you can tell me how to live my life?"
Kingsley's brows knit together. "She is something very rare and special in this world. She wants to know the world through your eyes, and you keep slamming the door in her face."
"I didn't ask to be a bloody tour guide!" Snape snapped.
Kingsley frowned. "What the hell happened to make you this bitter?" Kingsley pointed out the tea shoppe window. "There is a miracle living and breathing out there who wants to treat you with kindness, and you make it sound like she's an asp hiding in the grass waiting to strike. If you're so convinced she's out to get you, why wear her gift?"
Kingsley narrowed his eyes. "I know you had the Mark, Severus, and I'm betting she is the one who took it away. How can you think something as profound as that— something no one has been able to do until now— isn't anything but a Merlin-blessed gift?"
Snape stared into his tea accusingly as if doing so would somehow convince Kingsley to piss off.
Kingsley sipped his tea down to the leaves and placed the empty cup on the saucer. "I know Dumbledore has used you shamefully since day one, Severus. He didn't have to tell me for me to figure out that he had bound you somehow. That he used your unfortunate history with Lily Evans to fan the flames of your guilt. You may have thought you deserved all of that in penance for her death, but it was not just you who failed her. She and Potter both failed to heed the warnings. They trusted the wrong people, and Dumbledore could have done more than just shoving them into hiding in the very country that wanted them dead. Prejudice was not just a pureblood trait. It tainted every step on both sides. That is why the war was never won. That is why he keeps haunting us, this Dark Lord. As long as we have so many separate factions fighting each other, he can position himself to set brother against brother, sisters, and friends. They will think themselves righteous. They will think themselves entitled. All of them will be wrong."
"Light and darkness coexist together. That is the natural order of things. It is when they are out of balance that everything descends into chaos. That creature out there, that wondrous being of the waters— she is something utterly primordial. She sees something in me. She sees something in you, but she saw something in you first."
Kingsley's expression hardened suddenly. "Don't use the likes of Evans and Dumbledore as some twisted reason to only find fault in everyone, Severus. There are those who want to extend their hand to you for no ulterior motive, just a genuine offer friendship if only you'd pull your head out of your arse long enough to see it."
Snape's lips pressed together firmly as his hands clenched spasmodically.
Anger warred with embarrassment, and embarrassment always threw him back to that one day—
The day everything had gone pear-shaped.
And he had lost Lily.
Everything that had mattered.
A part of him quivered inside, begging him to realise that Hermione had given him more in just less than a year than Lily had given him their entire childhood.
A warm touch, freely given.
Kindness without demands or expectations.
And he had given her nothing in return, only taken.
She had offered him a peek at her world, and he had thrown it back in her face.
He was just like Lily.
Severus stood and left in a flurry of black fabric as Kingsley put a few coins on the table with a heavy sigh.
"Why must everything in his life be such a sodding drama?" Pouring himself the rest of the tea in the pot, he finished his cup to the very last drop, leaves and all.
"How did it go?" Amelia asked, sitting down beside him as she set down another hot cup of tea.
Kingsley drank it black without any cream or sugar, causing Amelia's eyebrows to rise sharply. "About how you would expect."
Amelia sighed. "Do you think she might speak with me?"
Kingsley shook his head. "She would if you could somehow show up at Hogwarts and not get Dumbledore alerted to something significant being up. You showing up anywhere has a tendency to make heads turn."
Amelia smiled. "I could debrief my Unspeakables."
Kingsley snorted. "Again?"
"He doesn't have to know I can do it remotely."
Kingsley tilted his head. "You could just show up in uniform. No one can tell one Unspeakable from another."
Kings nodded. "She's kind of an exception to the rule, yes."
"Dolores is attempting to manoeuver her way into Hogwarts as the DADA teacher for the next term. I don't want her to be there threatening Hermione's safety," Amelia frowned. "If your report is as real as I believe it is, if anything happens to the lake, she will defend it— but if something or someone should cause harm to the lake—"
"It could very well harm her, too."
"We already have a war brewing again, my friend," Amelia said wryly. "We don't need to deal with the wrath of an angry sea god as well."
Kingsley swallowed hard. "Dolores Umbridge is nothing but trouble, my friend."
Amelia sighed, uneasily rubbing the space between her eyes. "I know, and unlike others of her like, she has the support of Fudge. I cannot oppose her unless I have hard proof in which to hang her with."
"Couldn't we just send Manfred after her?" Kingsley said.
"Hang her with her own deeds, Kings, not assassinate her," Amelia chided him half-heartedly.
"Fear-induced heart attack would still technically be natural causes," Kingsley muttered half under his breath.
Amelia snorted. "If only it were so easy. At least Manfred has the excuse of not being human in the slightest. What is ours?"
Kingsley pondered. "Obliviation?"
Amelia rolled her eyes.
"Manfred would probably just love her," Kings said sombrely. "If ever there was a love affair doomed to fail."
"Dragon-bats make horrible swimmers," Amelia said.
"Think of the children," Kings retorted.
Amelia blinked. "The world isn't ready for that."
"Merlin, I'm not ready," Kingsley said.
The two colleagues shook their heads together and ordered another pot of tea.
For the first time, Hermione saw Snape waiting for her at the viewing window. His hair was disheveled— well, more than usual. His skin was pale as alabaster—
All in all, it looked like he'd had a rather horrible week.
He'd done much to ignore her of late, even to the point of throwing a heavy black curtain over the window, but now it lay open.
She was curious, but understandably a bit wary.
He'd made his thoughts quite clear with regard to both her and her underwater world.
It disgusted him.
She disgusted him.
Despite his saying that she was beautiful, his actions spoke far louder than his words. She well remembered the distinct wrinkle of disgust on his face as he responded to her invitation to explore the lake from underwater.
He was so angry at her, and all she had wanted for him was to be free of enslavement to make his own choices.
Well, he'd made it.
He'd turned from her, too.
She should have known better, but—
She'd thought he deserved better.
In her mind's eye she saw a fiery woman—long red hair and blazing green eyes. That woman held a power over him that she didn't really understand. His heart was bound to her, and Hermione realised there was no room left for her, even in friendship. She had picked the wrong person to connect with the human world.
He stood up when she approached, coming toward the window.
Her eels hissed and bonked against the wall, eager to push through and zap him. More than eager—
Oddly, Snape winced, looking down.
Hermione frowned, clearly somewhat dubious.
"I'm an idiot," he whispered. "I foolishly let my regrettable past taint my view of you. You did nothing wrong, yet I made you think so."
Bumper, Thumper, Slumber, and Munch all glowered at him through the thick viewing window, electricity crackling.
"You gave me something beyond beautiful. Many things, and I simply threw it back in your face. I didn't even thank you. I was too afraid— afraid that you were only trying to use me, just like so many others have. And I am truly sorry for that."
Hermione floated silently in the water, her expression totally conflicted. Her trust had been ruined. Her faith shaken. Her offer of friendship shunned.
She looked at his room and found it a mess— something disturbingly odd for him.
He'd been drinking.
Burning other things to ash in his fireplace.
He looked like absolute shite with a double helping of chips.
He placed one hand on the window, fingers splayed. "Please. Forgive me?"
Hermione turned, ready to leave.
"Umbridge is here—" Snape said tensely. "If she should see you—"
Snape's face twisted in pain. "She'll come for you. She is…. Not a good or kind individual. Please be careful, Hermione."
Hermione's expression hardened. Neither are you.
With that she was gone, her honour guard of eels trailing in her wake.
Snape slumped to the floor, a low groan of misery escaping his throat.
Why was it so hard to do what he originally intended to do—
Instead, he'd gone and ruined it.
It was his fault the warmth and trust was gone.
His heart tore at his chest in fury, attempting to rise up and strangle him itself.
But he wasn't aware of anything but the ghost of her lips upon his forehead as she bestowed her gift to him.
I trust you, even if you do not trust me.
And he'd bungled it.
Like he always did.
Snape groaned and cradled his head in his hands.
Hermione wasn't really sure what to think.
She wanted to trust him, but he'd been so very plain in the emotions he'd thrown at her the first time.
He'd been equally remorseful. He'd looked terrible, too.
She remembered what it was not to be liked or trusted.
She remembered what it was like to be used.
The old Hermione had simply dismissed it as the price one paid to have friends— helping them with their homework, their troubles…
But it had always been them coming to her for help, never them offering their help to her.
She'd thought he could understand her, but now she doubted.
Kingsley had told her that Snape was complicated, and maybe he hadn't been wrong.
She thought she liked complexity, but maybe she didn't like that kind of complexity.
The kelpie had gone up to the surface to feed in the marsh, craving the salty brine weeds that grew in the bog. Hermione followed, popping up in the shallows to give him a good pet or two as it shook itself off and wandered off deeper into the marsh in horse-form.
The kelpie was beautiful in both forms, she admitted. She envied its ease in transitioning from one environment to another so easily, but then she quickly thought better of it.
Craving the flesh of humans and having regrettable homicidal tendencies would be a bit of a troublesome side-effect.
She thanked Neptune for gifting her with a far more reasonable diet and her eels for often sharing their catches with her, even the occasional grindylow leg or two. They were surprisingly— satisfying.
In hindsight, it was no wonder the grindylow feared her.
In her defence, had they not tried to attack and eat her, she'd not have discovered they were highly edible after her eels had torn a few of them to pieces.
Waste not, want not, as the Muggles say, right?
A strange whooshing crack suddenly caught her attention. What was that?
The kelpie had sauntered off to find itself some fresh feed, but then she heard other footsteps that didn't seem right.
One delicate ear fin flicked.
"This had better work."
"It will work," a strange raspy-sounding voice replied. "Potter is here. The boy. He will come, and we will be waiting."
"You promised me that Dumbledore would be taken care of," a simpering female voice said.
"You doubt me, Dolores?" the raspy voice hissed.
"No, no of course not…"
"Did you do what you promised? I would hate to think— you failed me, Dolores."
"I did what you asked," the female voice replied.
"You had better have," the other voice hissed. "Wormtail, set up the portal."
"Yess, my Lord!" a familiar, nasally voice grovelled.
A splash interrupted them.
"What was that?"
"Just a fish, my Lord," Wormtail grovelled.
"Why aren't you setting up the portal!"
Wormtail scurried as a discomfited Umbridge held a disturbing "baby."
Snape woke to a sharp electrical zap to the rump and a splash of cold water to the face as four irritated eels floated in their water bubbles above his bed.
"Nnngh!" he groaned, trying to beat them off with his pillow. "Leavemeinpeace."
Slumber chomped his nose, Thumper slapped him upside the face with his tail, and Munch and Bumper grabbed him by the ankles and dragged him out of bed.
He was vaguely aware of the thumping noises against the picture window he'd hidden behind the curtain.
"Agggh!" Snape bellowed. "Let me go you glorified cattle prod!"
He flailed about, opening the curtain to find Hermione with her hands pressed against the transparent wall.
She was wide-eyed, visibly panicked.
Something was very wrong.
Something that transcended whatever stupidity he had done to her.
"What's wrong?" he asked, hastily pulling on his robes with no little embarrassment.
Someone named Umbridge is here working with Wormtail. They are in the bogs outside of Hogwarts. A portal. Something about Harry. Something about getting rid of Dumbledore. Her words came out in a frantic rush.
"The boglands is the only area not guarded by a warded wall," Snape said, not really expecting her to reply. "It was always much too dangerous to get out there. Treacherous quagmires. Quicksand. Man-eating plants. Kelpies. A whole metric arse-ton of ever-hungry grindylows. Faerie fires—"
"You'd have to be completely mad to think you could trudge through that area and not lose anyone, magic or no. There is a reason Hogwarts wanted it guarding one side of the lake."
Hermione's eyes whirled with pure panic. They need Harry. Umbridge said she'd already taken care of it.
Snape hurriedly sent a Patronus zinging out the chambers. "You can talk to the giant squid, yes?"
Hermione blinked. Yes.
"Alert it and have it ready to keep the students and staff from entering the lake. I need you to sing and hopefully keep Umbridge and Wormtail at bay. I've summoned Kingsley for assistance. Dumbledore is all wrapped up. Fudge and Umbridge have him up to his scrawny neck in Ministry-related issues. This all relies on you, Hermione. I'm so sorry. I can only keep the students deaf for so long before Minerva or the others counter it for all the wrong reasons. I have to inform them while keeping the spell up. I need you to trust me— as you once did."
I am but only one, Hermione whispered softly.
"I believe in you," he replied, anguish written in every line of his face. "I trust you." He placed his hand on the wall. "I am sorry I ever made you doubt how special you are."
Hermione's face twisted in conflict, her webbed hands clawing at the transparent wall.
"Sing, Hermione— save Potter. Save the school."
They'll know I exist, Hermione said, torn. I'll have to leave.
Severus winced, placing his own hands against the wall, mirroring hers, palm to palm. "I'm sorry."
Hermione closed her eyes, drooping. Then, she was gone in a flash of shimmering scales, her eels trailing behind her in a rush to keep up.
Snape pounded his fist into the wall, his forehead rolling across the hard stone before he stood straighter, his face twisting from emotion to impassiveness as he summoned another Patronus before pressing his wand to the very firmament of Hogwarts and casting a silence upon the very walls.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I'm sorry."
Severus stood up on the ramparts, his hands linked with Minerva's and Filius' to keep the Hogwarts wards strong— not the ones that protected the gates, for that had already been breached, but the silencing spells to keep Hermione's voice from dragging everyone in Hogwarts down to the lake to their deaths.
Perhaps, he should have been moved that Minerva and Filius trusted him without Albus being there.
Perhaps, he took for granted now how many had believed in him— all that time.
But Severus couldn't be bothered with it. His mind was on Hermione, who was singing her heart out over the lake, her lovely voice carrying like a mist across the water.
As a throng of black-cloaked, silver-masked people trailed into the lake, unable to stop themselves.
The others— one dressed in the most eye-wateringly pink ensemble the moonlight ever did reveal— were attacked by the murderous kelpie, which rammed into every human it could see, allowing its sticky, muck-laden flesh to surround their arms and legs, heads and whatever else before plunging into the lake to drown them properly.
Minerva managed to look suitably horrified at the sight.
Filius, oddly, actually looked relieved.
The squid, as Hermione had been instructed to alert, caught a few students who tried to fling themselves into the lake from the window. The squid stuffed them back through the window and shut the shutters, slamming them closed and barring it with lake weeds tied in a strangely neat gift bow.
The wild churning of the grindylow, more like a large school of hungry piranha than lake demons, tore into the human invaders with nothing short of eager bloodlust.
The train of Death Eaters and allies eventually disappeared into the total blackness of the Great Lake, the surface going eerily still. Hermione's song— an ethereal melody that seemed like it reached from beyond the Veil— sang clear over the grounds.
The squid flung Hagrid away from the beach, finally pinning the half-giant with a large trunk of an ancient tree that had been buried deep in the muck to keep him from walking right into the lake to drown himself, taking a moment to tie Fang up to a fence before the old boarhound could dive in too.
It was only when Severus heard a familiar voice shout, "Hermione!" and Hermione's song ended abruptly with an unholy screech.
The ground trembled.
The sky darkened.
The Earth itself seemed to crack and quake ominously.
Severus felt his heart descend into his boots as he shook off both Minerva and Filius. He let flight consume him, and he flew out over the grounds to where the bog began.
Panic in his heart.
In his soul.
The rain was pelting down in heavy sheets as the ground continue to tremble. The lake made enormous waves that lashed against the western side of the castle. Lightning cracked, and later, many who were at Hogwarts that day swore that they saw a great, bearded man wielding a trident, swinging it across the clouds and driving it forcefully into the very earth, unleashing a terrifying earthquake.
Severus landed next to Hermione's still body— her scales gaping open where a slicing hex had torn her tail into shreds. Her lifeblood pooled in the driving rain, staining the moonlight bog a dark, ominous black.
Oh no, no, no, no, no!
Lucius was on his knees before a small swaddled form, a cursed knife sticking out of its body. Lucius' eyes were oddly glassy, vacant, as if it had taken everything in his being to resist one urge to complete another—
Voldemort was dead—
And Snape didn't care.
A pile of odd objects lay at the foot of the strange portal, broken and bloody—a shiny metal cup of some sort, a crown, a locket and a ring, perhaps more— Potter was tied at the foot of it, blood trickling down his arm where it had been sliced open for the bloodletting.
Still, Severus didn't care.
He was crying, singing, choking out the rhythmic words to heal Hermione's broken body.
He sobbed his anguish over her slight form.
He heard Kingsley and Amelia Bones barking out several orders, pulling away Lucius, Potter— containing the objects, neutralising the portal.
But he kept singing his spell over Hermione's torn flesh.
He pressed his forehead to hers, hot tears streaming in the rain and over her face. "Please don't go. Please. Please, Hermione. Please don't go. I beg you."
His heart was broken.
His soul shattered.
His hope gone.
He cried out to the weeping skies as harsh sobs wracked his body.
Hear my prayer
God of the seas
And storms we beware.
Lord of the earthquakes,
Master of water.
Hear my prayer,
Over your adopted daughter.
Forgive me my stupidity,
My dunderheaded ways.
Forgive my blindness,
Outside of your gaze.
I am a humble mortal,
Who begs of your aid.
Save your beloved,
My life for hers paid.
She is the sunlight.
The glory of the moon.
She is the warmth
That I lost much too soon.
I beg you Poseidon
Neptune, Lir, and Danu.
I offer my life,
So she lives anew.
This is my prayer,
As deep as my soul,
I beg you to save her,
And make her again whole.
My life is but nothing
Without her within.
Gladly I give mine,
To wash away my sins.
A huge crack of lightning came from the heavens, the silhouette of an ancient god wielding a thunderbolt flung his javelin to Earth even as his brother slammed his trident on the ground where Severus cradled his broken Hermione.
The earth shook.
The waves rose.
And both swallowed the wizard and the lost daughter of Neptune, burying them in the fathoms below.
"Alright, everyone!" Minerva clapped her hands. "Settle down for your first Aquatic Herbology and Husbandry class. We've worked very hard to make this underwater classroom work for our newest teachers here at Hogwarts, but I don't want you thinking that just because they are different that you will not listen to them as well as you would for me, do I make that clear?"
"Yes, Deputy Headmistress!"
The entire classroom was housed at the bottom of the Great Lake, a long transparent tunnel allowing the students to walk to their specially designed classroom under the lake where they could ooh and ahh over the great water gardens of Neptune and view the otters, merfolk, grindylows, and even the kelpie frolicking outside its walls.
Connecting to it, a corridor led to the newly restored temple to Neptune where the students could leave baubles and tokens with their prayers ever since they realised the ancient god was so much more than a mere myth that graced the pages of their library books.
Another large room branched off from there— a study room unlike any other— where they could focus on their studies while being calmed by the underwater life around them— the world's first lake classroom since the ruins had been new buildings so long ago.
Four eels gathered outside the classroom wall.
They appeared in the room, surrounded by a bubble of water. The outer wall of the classroom was filled with a deep trench of water, and many of the new firsties wondered what they were for while the older students knew all too well.
A double splash as two figures rose out of the watery trench, shaking off the water and weeds from their hair. Long, lank black hair rimmed one's pale face as a messy tangle of weedy brown bushiness framed the other's.
Their webbed hands linked together, a slight touch of solidarity, as they pulled themselves up to their full height, causing the firsties to gasp with wonder at their shimmering scales and aquatic bodies that seemed part fish and so much more.
Severus's wiry chest was as pale as milk, completely bare and utterly distracting to many an adolescent female, and Hermione's shell-covered breasts still left little to the imagination for various adolescent males. Severus' cold, predatory glare kept looks on his mate to a dull roar— even if by fear alone.
Hermione seemed proud to have such a handsome mate, and her eels made short work of anyone who stared too much at her mate's perfectly "acceptable" chest. And, since her eel friends had decided to spawn, there were a number of new young eels perfectly happy to demonstrate their zapping skills in her honour (much to their proud parents' approval.)
Hermione taught the ways of showing proper respect to Neptune, the laws of the water, and the prayers that pleased him, taking her place as his chosen daughter-priestess. Severus taught potions and aquatic herbology, making sure that every child knew a basic water-breathing potion before they passed into their second year.
This led to a much happier giant squid, who absolutely adored playing with the children.
This had also led Dumbledore to start teaching a class in Mermish, as neither Hermione or Severus were fluent and were unable to teach it due to teaching with telepathy and not their voices, lest their entire class attempt to drown themselves in one fell swoop.
Severus thought it was a real pity.
Hermione gave him a swift elbow to the chest.
Neptune had blessed the couple with a binding to His service, and so it would be until He said otherwise. To seal the deal (ignoring the fact that he'd allowed them to become mates, happy, and so much more) he gave Hermione the world's first, true, half-Kneazlefish to invade her lap, topple her books, and generally be a pain in Severus' scaly arse at random moments.
Hermione was thrilled.
Severus contemplated sending the irritating ginger feline-fish to Pluto as a gift.
At least until he realised that Neptune had blessed them with another gift—
Hermione's abdomen was already showing definite signs of their rather regular spawning sessions, and Severus figured the half-Kneazlefish would get his when their children arrived to torment the creature in return.
What's fair is fair and all that.
Ron and Harry never quite figured out what to say or do around their former friend and ex-dungeon bat professor. Harry had begun to realise that Snape had, despite his accusations, helped to save the world from the wrath of a very brassed off sea god, and even Lucius Malfoy (who was right up there when it came to confirmed evil) had sacrificed much to end the Dark Lord Voldemort's second reign of terror before it really began, if mostly for his son's sake.
It was Lucius who had pitched in much of the funding to help build the new extensions to Hogwarts, and he had wished his old friend the best in his new life under water. He visited often, sometimes sitting out in the aquatic gardens and wondering if there could perhaps be aquatic white peafowl, too.
Draco had turned over a new leaf, enjoying watching Crabbe and Goyle get zapped by eels whenever possible. He'd come up with the bright idea that perhaps an over-the-lake version of Quidditch could be set up, and it was surprisingly easy to set up. On hot days, it made for happy, aquatic games, and even the sourpuss merfolk began to join in the fun and enjoy themselves.
The boglands were restricted to students unless accompanied by escort only, and never at dusk or night when the kelpie liked to make its snacking runs. It kept the much children safer and rendered the kelpie less homicidal, save for the few times Hagrid had to be rescued by Hermione and Severus in the middle of the night after the clumsy half-giant startled the kelpie in the marshlands during his midnight walks with Fang.
It was a win-win, save for poor Hagrid, which had Albus thinking that he really had to move the man's hut to the other far side of Hogwarts just to keep him further away from the lake.
Much to Albus' dismay, the Unspeakables visited often to both patrol the halls to ensure no further artefacts popped up but also to visit with the new mer-pair and family. Minerva enjoyed Kingsley's visits, and Hermione always enjoyed showing (dragging) Kingsley around to see all the newly discovered plants, ruins, and deep hidden places.
Oddly, Severus wasn't jealous anymore. He trusted his mate. Truly. Deep within his very soul. He'd come to make peace with his old self, who had died so he could be reborn into her world. He finally understood, now, what Hermione had meant when she said that the old Hermione was no more.
Now, together, they would build a life under Neptune's protective arms, and in the future settling their progeny throughout the seas and rivers to spread his vision back into the wider world.
It was the life they had chosen.
And they would be together… always.
Fin. (ha ha get it?)
A/N: Hope you liked the story! Praise be to The Dragon and the Rose for wrangling my typos until the time starts cracking out the seams.
This story was for Dutchgirl01, who fell in love with it. Hope she still likes it! Ahha. (sorry?)
A spider drifted along in a small, shiny silver pail atop the surface of Black Lake, its eight legs moving frantically as it called out for help.
Kingsley dipped his hand down and scooped it up, placing it down on the dock as he dipped his feet in the cool water.
"Thanks!" the little arachnid squeaked.
Kingsley smiled. "It's a beautiful day, my friend. A beautiful life to follow."
The little spider crawled up on Kingsley's knee to dry off. "Mind if I join you?"
"Not at all, my fluffy little friend."
The spider groomed itself back into proper arachnid fluffiness. "Thanks!"
Everything was just as it should be.
As Kingsley's finger rubbed the little guy on the back, the spider purred gently in appreciation. No one seemed to notice that, for a single moment, Kingsley's neck glowed with the shape of a trident that lay just behind his ear.
Yes, everything was just as He had planned it, indeed.