Before the Dawn
Anything you recognise belongs to the immeasurable genius of JK
Rowling; I just like to borrow them and play with them.
The corridors of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry were silent and cold as Hermione Granger stopped to examine a portrait she had never seen before. After nearly seven years at the school, and many more explorations of its infinite corridors than most of her classmates, she never ceased to be surprised how little she knew of the place.
After three months as Head Girl, her nightly patrols were still leading her to parts of the school she had never seen before. Only a few nights ago, she has discovered a small room with a floor-to-ceiling window of stained glass which would humble the most beautiful Muggle cathedrals. She had stared at the window for a good hour, making out the shapes and lines in the semi-darkness. The window depicted the creation of the school, and the subsequent breaking of the friendship between Salazar Slytherin and the three other founders.
The intricate detail of the window was astounding, even at night, and she resolved to come back the next day to see the window in all its glory, backlit by the afternoon sun. She was dismayed to find, upon looking for the room during lunch the next day, not only the room but the entire corridor seemed to have vanished. The statue of Marcus the Merciful, who had previously marked the way to the room, was scowling out at her from a solid wall of stone.
She sighed and yawned, making her way down to the Entrance Hall for a last look around before she headed up to Gryffindor Tower. She hadn't stumbled across any students out after curfew that night, and she wasn't surprised. Even though it was only mid-November, winter had come early and the castle was almost as icy as the windswept grounds. She rubbed her hands together as the huge clock in the Entrance Hall began to chime eleven o'clock.
Suddenly, the main doors flew open and she was hit by a blast of freezing wind. As her hair whipped about her face in the sudden draught, she saw a figure clad in black from head to toe stagger into the hall and slam the doors closed behind them.
The sudden silence after the noise of the wind was eerie, and as the figure lowered the hood of his cloak, she instantly recognised him.
"Professor Snape!" she gasped.
He looked up, startled by her presence, and his eyes flashed annoyance as he brushed the snow and ice from his outer robes.
"Miss Granger," he said stiffly. "What are you doing wandering the school at this time of night?"
"I was just finishing my patrol," she said, squashing her desire to repeat his question back to him.
"Then finish it," he snapped, and raised a hand to push his dark hair back from his face. A shaking hand. Hermione stared and realised not just his hands, but his whole body was shaking. Looking more carefully at her teacher's face, she noticed a sheen of sweat across his forehead.
"Sir, are you okay?" she asked.
"Ten points from Gryffindor. I thought I just told you to be on your way," he said softly. Hermione had been in his classes long enough to know that the quieter his voice got, the angrier he was, but she wasn't put off this time. Something wasn't right. She took a step towards him.
"You're shaking, sir," she said.
"Twenty points from Gryffindor, Miss Granger," he bellowed. "And if I have to tell you to mind your own business again it will be fifty!"
Without waiting for a response, he turned and swept down the stairs which led to the Slytherin dungeons.
Hermione stood silently for a moment before making her way up to bed.
The following morning, Hermione went down to breakfast with Harry and Ron, not mentioning anything of what she had witnessed the previous night. She glanced up to the staff table and saw Professor Snape sitting silently at one end, staring out across the Hall. Their eyes met for an instant, but a sudden flutter of wings distracted her as the morning post arrived. A large tawny owl dropped a copy of the Daily Prophet in her lap, and she gasped as she unfolded it.
A black and white moving photograph showed the Dark Mark hovering in the sky over the ruins of what might once have been a building. The headline above the photograph read 'DEATH EATER ATTACK: MUGGLE-BORNS MURDERED'.
All across the Great Hall, noises of dismay were echoing as the students subscribed to the paper showed their classmates the unpleasant news. Harry and Ron, sitting on either side of her, leant across to read the article with her. Death Eaters had attacked a family from Kettering with Muggle-born children just after dinner the previous night.
"Bloody hell," said Ron. "They didn't even spare the kids."
Hermione felt tears come into her eyes as she read the statement from a Ministry official describing the bodies they pulled from the wreckage of the house. The mother and father were confirmed dead and, although yet to be identified, the other bodies were doubtlessly the couple's three children, aged four, six and nine.
Harry squeezed Hermione's hand gently, and she felt a lone tear escape her eyes and trickle down her face. She looked around the room at the faces of her classmates. The students Hermione knew to be Muggle-born were looking frightened, while others were trying to feign indifference and failing miserably. Only a handful of students at the Slytherin table were looking truly calm.
The mood was much the same at the staff table. Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall were talking in low voices, heads together, while most of the other teachers were reading their own copies of Prophet, shaking their heads sadly.
Hermione's gaze drifted to the end of the table, where Professor Snape was still sitting quietly. He seemed neither surprised nor disturbed by the news, and was surveying the Great Hall with an unreadable expression.
As his eyes met hers again, the sudden realization hit.
She'd learnt in the summer after her fourth year that Snape had returned to Voldemort, posing as a Death Eater while spying for the Order. Until that moment, however, she had never given more than a passing thought as to what his duties might entail.
"Oh, God," she exclaimed aloud, her eyes widening in horror.
"What's wrong, Hermione? Harry asked, as he and Ron both turned to her, concerned.
Snape continued to hold her gaze, and her sudden revelation was not lost on him. As she stared at him, she could have sworn he shook his head. The gesture was almost imperceptible, but the meaning was clear.
"Hermione!" Ron's imperative voice jolted her out of her stupor and she finally tore her gaze from the Potions Master.
"Are you okay?" her friend asked again.
"I- I- um- nothing... it's... never mind," she finally managed to choke out, standing up. "I have to do something, I'll see you in class."
She walked quickly from the Great Hall, leaving her two friends staring at each other in confusion.
Hermione paced back and forth across her room, lost in thought. She had fifteen minutes before the first class of the day, which just happened to be Potions. She wasn't sure she could walk into that classroom and meet her Professor's eyes after the conclusions she had reached.
He had obviously been to a Death Eater gathering last night, but what had he been doing? The Prophet reported only five or six Death Eaters were seen in the vicinity of the attack. Had he been one of them?
She shuddered at the thought.
Maybe he hadn't been there. Maybe he hadn't known anything about it.
But then, said a small voice inside her head, why was he so agitated last night?
The shaking hands on the normally composed man were enough for her to suspect he had seen – or done - something terrible that night.Get a grip, Granger, she chided herself. Control that overactive imagination and don't jump to ridiculous conclusions. Gathering her thoughts, she collected her books and made her way down to the dungeon classroom, meeting Harry on the way. Ron had given up Potions this year to concentrate on Quidditch, which he hoped to play professionally in the future. Being made captain of the team had worked wonders for his confidence, and the games Gryffindor weren't strong enough to win on skill, they most often won on strategy anyway.
If Harry had found her behaviour at breakfast strange, he didn't say anything, and took their seats in silence.
The door to the classroom banged open forcefully as Snape strode into the room. Watching him interestedly, Hermione saw no sign of the previous night's afflictions as he turned to the class, sneer fixed firmly on his face.
"Today you will be brewing a Blood Replenishing Potion," he said. "Can anyone tell me the dangers associated with the consumption of this draught?"
Hermione kept her head down, desperately hoping at least one other student in the class had done more than skim-read the textbook.
"Miss Granger," he drawled. She looked up finally to see him standing in front of her desk. "Don't tell me our resident know-it-all hasn't done her reading? How disappointing."
She lowered her eyes to the desk again, not trusting her voice, even though she knew perfectly well what the answer was.
"Five points from Gryffindor, Miss Granger," he sneered, making his way back to the front of the classroom. "If you cannot manage your studies with your Head Girl duties, you do not deserve the position."
With that scathing remark, he flicked his wand at the board where instructions for the potion appeared.
"You have two hours."
With that, Snape sat behind his desk and stayed there for the entire lesson, marking essays, not bothering even to stalk between the desks to make snide comments about the quality of the students' work. When Neville melted his cauldron after adding armadillo bile instead of hellebore, he simply raised an eyebrow and bit out icily, "Clean up your mess and excuse yourself from my presence, Longbottom."
At the end of the lesson, Hermione was still fuming over his insinuation about her worthiness as Head Girl. She set her flask on Snape's desk with the rest of the students and made to follow her friends to the next lesson.
Damn, she cursed mentally. After his cutting remark at the beginning of class, she had managed the entire double lesson without meeting his eyes once. She had hoped that would be sign enough she didn't want to discuss the previous night with him. She nodded to Harry to continue on without her and turned back into the Potions classroom.
He remained seated at his desk and gestured for her to sit across from him, closing the classroom door with a wave of his wand.
"I am unaccustomed to having to answer to students," he said with a sneer, "but in these circumstances I feel the truth would be preferable to the speculation and conjecture undoubtedly running through that head of yours."
She straightened haughtily in her chair and fixed her best imitation of his own sneer on her face.
"Don't feel you owe me any explanation, sir," she spat. "Your extracurricular activities are no more concern to me than mine should be yours. As for my speculation, I don't imagine it would be far from the truth."
"Ten points from Gryffindor, Miss Granger," he said stiffly. "Do not use that tone of voice with me."
She didn't apologise, but merely held his gaze and waited for him to continue. He stood and paced behind desk, folding his arms across his chest, before thinking better of it and clenching his fists at his sides instead.
Is he nervous? Hermione thought. The uncharacteristic behaviour caused her to relent her harsh tone.
"I'm sorry, sir," she said. "You don't owe me anything and you shouldn't have to explain yourself to me."
He raised his head and looked at her curiously, the hint of a smirk on his face.
"I see you are more sensible than your famous friend," he sneered. "If he had deduced half as much as you he would be down here demanding a full Pensieve recount."
Hermione ignored the slight on Harry, well aware Snape had never forgiven him for looking into his Pensieve over two years ago. If she had such memories, she doubted she would have been very forgiving either.
"I haven't told anyone, sir," she said. "Nor do I plan to."
"Your discretion is... appreciated," he said quietly, standing up. "If you are capable of keeping this information to yourself, I don't believe any further explanation is necessary."
She remained seated.
"Just one thing, sir," she said hesitantly.
He raised an eyebrow and sat behind his desk again.
"I know a little of what you have to do for the Order, sir," she began, trying to keep her voice calm and level. "I also know some of the terrible things Death Eaters do, and whether they do them willingly or otherwise, it doesn't make it any easier to deal with."
She took a deep breath, glad his gaze seemed to be fixed on the surface of the desk. If the truth was known, this Death Eater attack had affected her worse than others she had heard rumour of through Harry and the Order. This was the first one to make front-page news, which made it all the more real. And the reality of it was, that family was no different from her own.
"Ten years ago, my family was just like the family who died last night," she said. "I showed signs of magic very early, but my parents didn't recognise it for what it was. And to slaughter a whole family because the children are something they neither understand nor chose to be..."
She broke off, her voice catching in her throat.
"This attack has hit a little too close to home for me, and to know that it could have been prevented... I... just tell me you weren't in Kettering last night, sir."
There. I've said it. She sat back and waited for the storm.
But it never came.
"I said I would give you the truth, Miss Granger," he said slowly. "So I am afraid that statement is not in the realm of possibility."
She stared at him, or rather, at the top of his head. She remembered his nonchalant expression at breakfast. His shaking hands the previous night.
It wasn't just her over-active mind making up horrible fictions from mere scraps of information.
He had been there. He had seen it all. He knew what had happened, and he had done nothing to stop it.
"God," she whispered.
He let out a harsh, unpleasant laugh. She looked up, startled.
"That Muggle excuse for a saviour has no place here, Miss Granger," he scorned. "There are things in this world far fouler than any one being could even comprehend, let alone create."
She stared at him for a moment, in horror, in realisation, and he met her gaze evenly.
"Yes," he said cruelly. "I was there. I knew about it an hour before it happened and I did nothing to save them. I didn't cast a Killing Curse, but I stood by and watched as others did."
She felt sick. Her chair toppled and hit the floor as she stood abruptly and made for the door. He was faster, though, and she had only opened it a fraction when he slammed his hand into the wood above her head, keeping it closed.
"Let me out," she said stubbornly, still facing the door.
"Look at me, Miss Granger," he commanded.
She sighed and turned to face him. His hand was over her shoulder, still holding the door closed.
"I did what I had to do," he hissed, so close to her face she could see herself reflected in his fathomless black eyes, "as we all do in these times. Most of it is unpleasant and none of it is easy, but I do what little I can, and in this war everything counts, no matter how insignificant."
She nodded, averting her eyes.
She felt him staring at her for a moment, until he realised that was the only response he would receive. Sighing, he removed his hand from the door and stepped back.
She fled the dungeons as fast as she could manage, not even stopping to take points from a pair of students trying to hex each other in the main corridor.
To be continued
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