Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter. JK Rowling own the Potterverse. I'm just shamelessly feeding off of her. I make no money from my writing.
Summary: Tragedy prompts Hermione to make a breakthrough discovery, and Severus Snape grudgingly agrees to assist her. Things do not progress smoothly, but sometimes, it is merely a matter of seeing things in a different light…
A Fan Fiction by labrt2004
Chapter One: Red and Gold
"Oy, get it mate! Whoever loses has to try Fred and George's Lockhart Lollies!" Ronald Weasley shouted with a magically amplified voice. The red-haired Keeper then took to zipping round and round the goal posts in a descending spiral, childish howls of glee becoming increasingly louder as he spun down towards the Quidditch pitch.
Harry and Ginny had both directed their brooms into identical kamikaze dives, their practice robes flaring out behind them in a streak of scarlet. Concentration contorted both their facial features as they plummeted in tandem after the Snitch, which seemed to have plans of its own. It zoomed towards the ground at a hazardous speed, the two reckless Gryffindor Seekers crashing downwards in its wake.
On the top-most row of stands, the Head Girl, Hermione Granger looked up from her Transfiguration homework as the Gryffindor team practice began to wind up. Rolling her eyes, she shook her head and tried to tune out the mayhem that was starting to unfold. Evidently, her friends had much excess energy to dispense. For the past several weeks, Hermione had started to take her schoolwork out with her to do on the Quidditch pitch while the Gryffindor team trained. Hermione's new Head Girl duties included a heavier patrolling schedule, and as much as she loved the old, magical castle that was Hogwarts, the frequent late night strolls through the darkened corridors had started to make her feel damp and cold beneath her skin. The warm September breeze and the swish of brooms sweeping by were pleasant to her and helped soothe away her NEWT-induced stress. The wind liked to blow away her notes, but that could be easily remedied with a simple sticking charm, which she now applied to secure a page in her textbook.
In spite of her efforts to ignore the rowdy Quidditch team, however, Hermione could not help but bite her lip in worry as she watched Harry and Ginny's progress. They jostled each other rather dangerously, their hands outstretched towards the Snitch. The angles of their broom handles were perfectly matched, and both hunched forward in instinctively aerodynamic positions. And neither seemed to care that they were about to plunge straight into the earth. Unable to stave off her concern despite having watched Harry play Quidditch for years, Hermione frowned and sighed, her fingers playing with the handle of her wand as she considered whether she ought to cast a cushioning spell. Harry had already established a reputation for consistently defying gravity, with his trademark dives and teeth grinding recoveries, but Ginny, only a year younger and with a mere two years of team experience, was ending up in the hospital wing after each game almost as often as Harry.
Hermione had already leapt to her feet, wand in hand, when she heard a victorious yell emerge from the red blur that represented the forms of the two Seekers. Abruptly, Harry and Ginny straightened their brooms and rolled smoothly out of the dive, banking around to where Hermione now stood, her mouth dry with relief. Blinking in surprise, Hermione noted that it was Ginny's hand that held the still struggling Snitch as the two zoomed by, heading for the far end of the pitch, where the rest of the team had gathered. Oh Merlin, Harry's going to be mad! Hermione thought with slight trepidation. She didn't suppose that Harry's pride would take well to Ron's kid sister beating him to the Snitch.
Sure enough, as Ron and the other Gryffindors hovered by the goal posts, egging him on good-naturedly, Harry had proceeded to chase Ginny around the perimeter of the pitch. "You think you're so great, huh, Ginny? We'll see how great you are when they set off Malfoy against you during a real match!" Harry was shouting, though Hermione could tell that he was amused.
Ginny, laughing saucily, whipped her broom around to face Harry. "Oh, sod off, Harry, I beat you and you know it!" The sixth year's flame-colored hair fanned out behind her as she took off again, singing, "And you have to have a Lockhart Lolly!" Grinning through his glare, Harry bent forward and urged his broom faster in pursuit. Hermione shuddered. Whatever a "Lockhart Lolly" was, she was sure that she was glad not to be having one.
Sitting back down, Hermione continued to watch the Quidditch pitch contemplatively. Her homework lay at her side, for once, abandoned. It was easy to forget sometimes that the Wizarding world was in the midst of war. How could one remember the Prophecy when Harry Potter was dive bombing with his broom, his robes tangled about him and his boots spattered with mud? No one would suspect that the Quidditch player whose eyes sparkled with merriment behind glasses knocked askew had spent the better part of his sixth year learning advanced defense techniques to prepare for his face-off with Voldemort. So good to see that boy relaxing and enjoying himself, Hermione thought, then wrinkled her nose as she realized just how much she had sounded like Mrs. Weasley.
A throat clearing softly from somewhere to her left startled Hermione out of her reverie, and turning, she jumped in shock to see Professor Snape standing beside her with a rather annoyed expression on his face. Her next urge, strangely enough, was to laugh, for the Potions master looked quite out of place in the Quidditch stands, standing there stiffly, his black robes filling out behind him with each gust of the wind.
"Hello, Professor Snape," Hermione said. Though she managed to keep the laughter at bay, a smile still crept beneath her eyes. Cringing inwardly, she waited for him to insult her. Well, at least my teeth are no longer large, Hermione thought with only some sarcasm.
Yet, the sole reaction Snape gave to her uncharacteristic mirth was to follow her gaze out to where Harry was now hobnobbing with his teammates by the Hufflepuff stands. Seeming to address no one in particular, he said, "You are wanted in the headmaster's office, Miss Granger."
Hermione was sure that Dumbledore wanted to make an announcement to all the prefects. With a nod, she replied, "If you give me a moment, sir, I'll go fetch Ron over there, as this practice is just ending."
For a moment, the professor said nothing. His eyes moved to the bench, where her cloak sat in a crumpled heap, to the Transfiguration text in which she had stuck a quill between the pages to mark her place, and then finally back to her. With a flush, Hermione realized that her uniform skirt was wrinkled from holding her books in her lap and her Gryffindor tie was gone. She wondered if he was going to take points for not being neatly attired.
Something that was not quite Snape's usual disdain flickered across his face, but before Hermione could decide what it was, Snape said softly, "There is no need to inform Mr. Weasley, Granger, the headmaster wishes to see you alone." And as if suddenly recovering his sneer, the professor added, "Much as I agree that Potter and Weasley are sadly lacking in brain, they will survive for the moment without your constant surveillance."
Carefully maintaining a neutral demeanor, Hermione noted the fact that Snape had insulted her only with great effort and that there was an unusually guarded quality about his gaze. Dipping her head in assent, she murmured, "Yes, Professor." She quickly accio-ed her school work into her bag, and followed the Potions master back into the castle.
Having finally extracted Granger from the bloody Quidditch pitch, Severus now wished that they could simply apparate to Albus' office. The fact that the student walking beside him was underage for Apparating mattered little; Severus knew that the insufferably clever witch had probably already mastered joint Apparition and could easily whisk the Weasley dolt to safety in a moment's notice if too large an arachnid happened to cross the boy's path.
This walk was the least desirable task that he had been given in a long time, short of anything he had to perform for the Dark Lord. Of all the staff members present when Albus had informed them of the news, he was the only one composed enough to go seek out Granger. As they made their way to the headmaster's office, he was grateful for the Head Girl's rare silence. Severus figured that she must be the only one of the Golden Trio intelligent enough to know when to be quiet. Or perhaps he had revealed too much to her when they were on the Quidditch stands. It was such unsavory tidings that he bore with him, and Granger had looked so…content when he came upon her. For once, her nose had not been buried in her blasted textbooks, and she had even cast off her Head Girl robes. He found no pleasure in marring such a moment of tranquility, and his hesitation must have shown.
At least Granger understood she was not being summoned for a pleasant afternoon tea with Albus. "Chocolate Frogs!" Severus snapped at the headmaster's ridiculous gargoyles. He would not relish the scene he was about to witness, and it looked like Granger had decided that she wouldn't, either. As the guardians sprang aside to reveal the stone escalator, Severus stepped aside to allow the girl to pass. She directed a nervous look to him which he pointedly ignored, and swiftly stepped into the tower behind her. He wondered how much he could depend on Minerva not to start sniffling as soon as Granger set foot into the room. The steely head of Gryffindor House was really starting to grow soft.
To her credit, Minerva was dry-eyed when they entered the headmaster's office, though Severus decided that she did look rather tragic without her usual square glasses perched on her nose. Albus sat behind his desk looking weary and old, which unsettled the Potions master more than he was willing to admit. Flitwick and Sprout flanked him, looking the picture of misery.
Granger paused at the spectacle of her undone professors, and to Severus' irritation, the girl turned around and looked at him. As if he would be the one to guide her through her dilemma. Sighing he stopped behind her and muttered under his breath, "Well, go on in, Granger."
Albus stood and gestured to the chair across his desk. "Miss Granger, please take a seat."
Granger did so slowly, glancing about her with wide-eyed confusion. Severus took a place by the bookshelves, next to Minerva, and crossed his arms.
Albus stepped around to where the girl sat, and placed one gnarly hand upon her shoulder. "My dear, I am afraid I have rather unpleasant news for you. Both your parents were killed this morning, and the Dark Mark was found above your house."
What little color there was left in Granger's face instantly drained, and from his vantage point, Severus saw the girl's shoulders stiffen and her grip tighten about the arms of her chair.
"My…my parents, Headmaster?" she uttered in a remarkably steady voice. Severus grudgingly admitted that the girl was uncommonly disciplined.
"Yes, Hermione. I am very sorry. It appears as if Tom Riddle and his followers have taken yet more victims," Albus confirmed quietly.
The tears had risen in her eyes, but were not yet forthcoming. "But…why?" she murmured.
Severus barely restrained himself from flinching when he heard Granger's question. Why? The Potions master felt the weight of so many years serving the Dark Lord suddenly press down upon him, a burden that was lightened only with the cynicism that he had learnt at the feet of his Master. You do not ever ask the Dark Lord "why." You only ever ask, "What's next?"
The headmaster squeezed Granger's shoulder as he considered her question. Considered how to give an answer kinder than that afforded by reality, Severus realized, for he knew that Albus saw the truth as clearly as he did. At length, the old wizard replied, "Voldemort's ultimate goal is Harry's destruction. He understands that Harry needs the support and love of his friends, yearns for it, in fact. By targeting your parents, Hermione, he has hurt you, and he hopes that through your weakened state, he can reach Harry."
And see that it does not happen, Severus added to himself. Though Granger would certainly infer Albus' unspoken command, as she infers everything. Albus' kindness never comes without a price.
"H-how?" Granger choked out.
"Avada Kedavra," the headmaster answered gravely.
With a strangled sob, Granger finally fell forward in her chair, head buried in her hands, shoulders shaking with her sorrow.
Severus bowed his own head. It had been years since he had joined the Dark Lord's service. He had held countless people at wandpoint, snuffing out their lives with a curse that he had learned to incant in clipped and measured tones. But never had he ever lingered to face the devastating grief of the child left behind.
Many thanks to Potionmistress for betaing this chapter.
Reviews much appreciated!