Summary: Spoiler for HBP. Hermione finds questions surfacing in her mind about the night Dumbledore was killed. In a moment of inspiration, she decides to pay a visit to Dumbledore's portrait, and finds herself stepping into a world of trouble.

Disclaimer: I'm poor, indebted to the government after four years of college. J.K. Rowling made my month with the sixth book, however.

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A Series of Unexpected Revelations

Hermione Granger lay staring into the darkness. As of now it was two in the morning, and her brain was still on overdrive. She blamed it on a comment Harry made three days ago, at Bill and Fleur's wedding.

They (herself, Harry, and Ron) had been discussing the horcruxes, both the magic associated with them, and how best to destroy them. Harry had been recounting everything he'd learned in the pensieve about Slytherin's ring, since it could help. But he knew precious little.

What he did know was that Dumbledore's hand had apparently been burnt black by a curse put on the ring, which had been triggered when he destroyed the horcrux. Dumbledore had said that the curse was so strong he'd been forced to rush back to Hogwarts to be healed, and if it hadn't been for his own magical prowess and Snape's help, he would've died that day.

Everyone had paused when Harry mentioned Snape. It had been a strange moment, for Harry looked as though he wished he could literally swallow his words. Hermione fancied he would prefer raising a brood of blast ended screwts single handedly to giving Snape credit for doing anything good.

The conversation had moved on to the wedding after that, and while she felt certain the others had banished Harry's words, Hermione had put them away to think on at a later time.

Why, she couldn't help wondering, if Dumbledore was at death's door, didn't Snape tip him over the edge? It would've been easy. He could've claimed there wasn't time to help him, that there was nothing he could do...

Of course, she had thought it through and knew there could be many reasons. Perhaps others had been present? Another member of the Order? Even then though, if Dumbledore was about to die…how would they know Snape hadn't done everything in his power to help? Unless they were adept at potion making themselves. But that would rule out the other professors. So…who else could've been there? Right now, the only two people she knew were there for certain were dead and…unavailable.

So this was why Hermione was wide awake, pondering another night away. Deep down, she couldn't help thinking that, up until the horrible attack on Dumbledore, Snape had never behaved like a traitor. She knew it was almost ludicrous to be pondering this, when he'd, he'd…well. Killed Dumbledore.

She certainly couldn't mention her thoughts to the others, and they were too muddled right now in any case. She wasn't sure what was even bothering her, but it just seemed like…everything was off. They were all missing something big.

There were other things that bothered her. Dumbledore had supposedly had an iron clad reason for trusting Snape, according to McGonagall, and Hermione couldn't help thinking that the reason Harry had told them that night was hardly "iron clad". Actually, it didn't even make sense, as Lupin had commented, when Snape had hated Harry's father so strongly. Also, Hermione knew Harry did tend to jump to conclusions, especially when it concerned Snape.

When it came down to it, Dumbledore may have believed in second chances, but he was one of the smartest people in the wizardizing community! Surely there was another better reason he had trusted Snape. Also, he knew Snape was very good at legilimency. He had to be if he could act as a spy for either side, since both leaders, Dumbledore and Voldemort, were excellent at it themselves. So…if anything Snape said could be a lie, surely he had actually done something that proved his allegiance to Dumbledore.

So then the question was, what could he have done to convince Dumbledore he was on his side, yet still allow Snape to betray him later on… Augh! I'm going around in circles! If only I could have Snape to myself, tied up and pumped full of veritaserum for a few hours, I'd get all the answers I could ever want…wait.

Hermione sat up in bed. Wait. She couldn't interrogate Snape, but what was stopping her from asking Dumbledore? Or, more specifically, his portrait, which had just recently joined the others headmasters' portraits at Hogwarts!

She pulled herself to the edge of the bed and let her feet touch the floor. She'd go right now. She was currently staying at the Order of the Phoenix headquarters, so apparating to Hogwarts wouldn't be a problem. I'll just nip over to Harry's room and borrow his invisibility cloak. That way, she wouldn't have to risk being seen by deatheaters…or anyone else, for that matter. And she wouldn't have to explain herself to everyone until after she'd gathered a few more facts…

Hermione was nearly out the front door when a thought occurred to her. How was she going to get back? She wasn't the secret keeper, and wouldn't be able to return without a written note of the address…

Oh well. I'll be able to catch a member of the order tomorrow morning. I'll go to Hogwarts' library after seeing the portrait, and they'll think I came early to do research. With that thought, she left the house and apparated away.

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Hermione was outside the headmistress's office, pacing in small, fast circles. She was fuming. She'd been there for over half an hour, trying every password she could think of, and was finally beginning to wonder whether Minerva McGonagall had decided to scrap Dumbledore's habit of choosing names of various candies as passwords. Argh! What would she choose? She paused and started guessing again, with a different theme in mind this time.

"Dumbledore."

"The Order will triumph."

"Good will prevail."

"Die Voldemort die?" Okay, that was stupid. Alright, they were all stupid!

"Go go Power Rangers!" Eh. Her little sister loved that show a few years back. Why not? It was three in the morning, and she was going crazy!

"Open Sesame! Alohomora! I hate passwords!" She paused for a moment. Ugh. I can't not get in. That would make this entire trip pointless!

"We will prevail."

"Dumbledore will not be forgotten."

"Dumbledore's Army wil…" She stopped suddenly as the gargoyle sprang out of the way. Dumbledore's Army! Well, that made sense, she supposed. Ha. She wouldn't be forgetting that anytime soon.

At long last she was in the office, and after looking around for a moment she spotted the much sought after portrait. As was expected, he was asleep, with a long droopy nightcap on his head.

"Headmaster? Professor Dumbledore, sir?" She whispered it, not wanting to wake up all the other portraits in the room. When he didn't respond, she moved as close as she dared (which was apparently about a foot away) and spoke again.

His eyes opened this time, and she was struck by his tell tale twinkle, firmly in place, and couldn't help but feel that he had known she was there, and had already been awake.

"I'm sorry to wake you, sir, but…"

"That's quite alright, Miss Granger. Actually, I had a hunch you might drop by to see me one of these nights. Is there…something on your mind?" She was quite eager to begin asking questions, so was overjoyed when Dumbledore, in his oddly omniscient fashion, had cut right to the chase.

"Well, yes. I was wondering if you could tell me what happened the night you destroyed the horcrux in Slytherin's ring? Harry says…Harry says it nearly killed you." She had paused at the strangeness of that sentence, since Dumbledore was in fact dead, and this portrait was merely an imprint of him.

Dumbledore smiled benignly. "Inquisitive as ever, I see." He raised his eyebrows, and added "Oh no, it's quite alright, my dear." When she started to apologize. "So you would like to learn more about the horcruxes? I shall certainly assist."

"As a matter of fact, I did come quite close to dying that night. In order to destroy the horcrux, you see, I had to destroy the ring, which had a very powerful curse placed on it by Slytherin himself. He charmed it so that anyone not of Slytherin descent who wore the ring would weaken over time, and eventually die. Of course, they could always take the ring off. But in addition to that curse, Voldemort added one of his own, which worked in such a way as to force any person stealing the ring to immediately put it on, and upon doing so, it would prove impossible to remove, thus ensuring the thief's eventual death."

"So, even after destroying the horcrux, were the two curses still in effect?"

"Partially. Thanks to Professor Snape, its weakening effects could be kept at bay almost indefinitely. Indeed, we even managed to remove the ring later on. Yet even separated from it, however, I was still weakening over time, due to the powerful link Voldemort's curse created between myself and the ring. It was taking much longer than intended, but in a few years time, my dear, I would have succumbed to the curse."

Hermione frowned, digesting this information. So, he would've died anyway, just a little later on. Still, he could've done a lot of good in a few years.

"Was…was your hand hurt by Slytherin's curse, then, Headmaster? Or was it Voldemort's?"

Dumbledore smiled. "The title of Headmaster is no longer mine, Miss Granger. Please call me Professor, although Albus would be fine too." His twinkle increased at that, and Hermine caught the gist that he was having a quiet laugh at her expense, since he must've known that she would never feel comfortable using his first name. "But to answer your questions, it was a combination of both. Aside from the long term draining effect the ring would have when worn by a non-heir, Slytherin also put a warning curse on it that would trigger when you initially put on the ring. Now, this curse was strengthened over time by various heirs, making it much more deadly, and I have no doubt Voldemort added his own final touches to it. But yes, that would've done me in that very night if it hadn't, again, been for Severus' help."

Hermione swallowed. This was the perfect opportunity…"Sir, that's what I really wanted to ask you about. That is, well…why didn't Snape, er, why did he help you if…"

"If he was a traitor?"

Hermione blinked a few times in surprise. "Well…yes, exactly." She paused. "Perhaps there was there someone else there that night watching Snape; a member of the Order….?"

"Actually, we were quite alone. At least for the first hour. He did, in fact, have ample time to kill me. And had an excellent alibi too, if I might add." Dumbledore's smile held a hint of mischief.

"But…why? Why didn't he…" Hermione stopped, trying to think. What was she missing? Surely Dumbledore knew better then anyone why this didn't make sense.

"The answer is simple, really." She looked up to see Dumbledore looking quite pleased. "I really must commend you for you remarkable intellect. You are a true asset to the wizardizing community, Miss Granger." Hermione smiled awkwardly, looking down at the ground. But her brow was still furrowed, waiting to hear what he had left to say. He didn't continue speaking, however, and after a moment she looked up to see why he had stopped. He looked rather more serious, and while still possessing his twinkle, she knew what he said next was going to be important.

"I'm…afraid I must ask for your absolute secrecy on what I'm about to tell you. Even Harry, especially Harry, must not know. If you do not think you can do this, then I must ask you to draw your own conclusions." He waited.

"I promise, Professor. I can keep a secret." She paused, thinking that sounded childish. "I won't tell another soul, not even Harry or Ron." Her curiosity was killing her, and there was no way, really, she wouldn't stay to hear Dumbledore out.

"Very well. As you have guessed from our conversation, and were no doubt unwilling to voice, since it most certainly had to be impossible, is the simple fact that Severus Snape is not a traitor."

Hermione did a double take, eyes wide. "But, but how, when he…?" She stopped, not willing to voice it out loud.

"I will explain. My death was planned from before the beginning of the school year." Hermione opened her mouth to speak, feeling overwhelmed, then slowly closed it again. What did you say to that? And yet at the same time, somewhere in her head it made sense, if he had already been dying

"Let me explain. Through an unfortunate set of circumstances, Severus had made an unbreakable vow. As you know, young Mr. Malfoy's year long goal was to kill me, and upon failing that task, Voldemort would kill him. In order to save her son, Narcissa Malfoy beseeched Severus Snape for help. Her sister came along, and as you may know, three people are needed for the taking of an unbreakable vow; one stating the conditions, one agreeing to them, and one working the magic between the two. Although Severus had been welcomed back into the fold, so to speak, Voldemort still didn't trust him completely, and Bellatrix Lestrange along with many others, correctly thought him to be a spy at the time.

So with Peter Pettigrew listening upstairs, and two loyal deatheaters downstairs, Severus was, unfortunately, not in a position to refuse Narcissa's request. Therefore he made a gamble, hoping that she wouldn't make him promise anything too drastic. As it turned out, the first two promises of the vow were harmless enough, but the third left very little room for interpretation:

If Draco were to fail in his task, Severus, in his stead, was to finish it for him. So as you can see, Miss Granger, Severus had promised, under pain of death, to kill me, or see me dead." He paused for a moment, then went on.

"Even so, when he told me of his folly, he was willing to die in my stead, and indeed, later in the school year he attempted to go against the agreement we made that day. But I immediately saw that this unfortunate mistake could be turned to the Order's advantage quite effectively. And in any case, Severus would be more useful alive, by the end of the school year, than I would."

"But sir, you were the leader of the Order of…"

"Yes, of course. But I was already weakening, and I knew I would have most of the school year to prepare others to take up where I would leave off. And besides, my death did several important things. It has placed Severus, unless I am terribly mistaken, firmly inside Voldemort's inner circle, where his work as a spy will be invaluable to the Order."

Also, my death has served as a note of warning to the entire wizardizing community. If Voldemort's deatheaters can penetrate into the heart of Hogwarts and strike down the man who, if you will forgive my lack of humility, was known to be the only person Voldemort ever feared, surely it is time for everyone to ban together and fight the war against him wholeheartedly. For, even after the debacle at the ministry last year, there were still people who would not accept the truth of Dark Lord's return."

I also regret to say that I had been made into an enemy of the Ministry by the press and by the actions taken by the previous, and to some extent, present minister. This served to divert their attention to me, instead of focusing on the true threat. Now that I am gone, and was clearly never the threat to begin with, they will focus their energy more fully on where it needs to be at this time, on Voldemort."

He fell silent, letting Hermione mull over everything he'd just said. It all made perfect sense, and little things she'd noticed and hadn't understood throughout the school year were suddenly clicking into place. But even so

"Sir, if you don't mind my asking, couldn't Snape still be a traitor? Couldn't he have…have planned to take the unbreakable vow? Harry said the reason you trusted Snape was because he felt horrible for bringing Voldemort down on his parents, but Lupin said he hated Harry's father, so I don't see why that would, well…make him change sides."

"Ah. I thought you might ask me that. The truth is, I may have misled Harry a bit. Because he still hasn't learned to protect his mind effectively from Voldemort, I always had to be very careful about what I told him, since our greatest enemy might've been observing through Harry. Therefore it was essential that, when I was killed, Harry be convinced of Severus' betrayal, otherwise Severus' life might've been forfeit. As far as Severus' loyalty, however…there is more than one reason why I trust him.

But the best, perhaps, is because he has in fact destroyed one of Voldemort's horcruxes himself."

Hermione's face lit up in pleasant surprise. "What? So Harry really only needs to be looking for…"

"No, I'm afraid he still has three more horcruxes to locate. You see, Severus, along with Regulus Black's help, destroyed the locket Harry and I went to retrieve from the cave the evening I died."

What? But why had Dumbledore dragged Harry off to that horrid cave, and why all the pretense; why put himself through drinking that horrible potion Harry had told them about….

Dumbledore's portrait chuckled quietly. "I can see I've created more questions with my answer, than answers…" He watched as Hermione struggled to put things together.

Her eyes widened as she began to understand. "But, it does makes sense, doesn't it? I think I knew in the back of my head that there had to be someone helping R.A.B. to destroy the horcrux, since one person alone couldn't do it. Oh, and this means Sirius' older brother wasn't a traitor after all, right? Although he probably wouldn't be happy to know he'd been working with Snape…" She petered off, thinking it all over.

"You know, I'd actually been wondering why only one person had taken credit. He was protecting Snape?" She paused. "And in the letter, R.A.B. seemed to know he would die. How…?"

"The potion, my dear. It is a slow acting poison that does not have a known cure. As Harry can no doubt tell you, I must've been very weakened in my last remaining moments."

"Don't you remember, sir?"

"I'm afraid not. Perhaps you don't know that a portrait receives the memories of their human counterpart through a spell cast by said which or wizard? The last time I cast that spell was just before I called Harry to me to retrieve the horcrux." He paused. She looked ready to explode.

"But…wasn't it meaningless, sir? Why would you go if you already knew the horcrux had been destroyed by Snape and Regulus Black?" She couldn't help sounding exasperated. It had been such a horrible experience for Harry.

"I know it seems strange, my dear, but there were a few very good reasons. The game of chess Severus has been playing with Voldemort had to be continued, of course, and Harry's link to Voldemort plays a part in that game now. You see, Severus was the one to report back to Voldemort about Regulus' death, naturally making it look as though he had tracked him down and killed him. So if Voldemort were to find out that I knew about Regulus' trip to the cave, and thus hadn't bothered going there myself, then there was a chance that Severus could be compromised. And Voldemort could easily have found that out, I believe, through his link with Harry.

"The trip to the cave also served partially to prepare Harry. He needed to have some hands-on experience with the kinds of traps Voldemort has set up to guard his horcruxes, so as to understand how difficult it would be to destroy them after finding them. The location of the horcrux was important too, in that its symbolic significance to Voldemort may give Harry insight into the locations of the other horcruxes. And again, I also didn't want Harry to know that I already knew the horcrux had been taken in order to avoid answering more difficult questions about how I knew, since that led dangerously close to Severus' involvement.

"So, in short, taking Harry to the cave served a dual purpose in that it protected Severus, and gave Harry a much needed if, I admit, perfectly horrible experience." Dumbledore paused for a moment, growing solemn. " If there is one thing I regret above all others, it is the pain I have brought upon Harry, in more ways than one."

Hermione looked down at her feet, frowning. "So, sir…Am I right that you would've died that night due to the potion, had Snape killed you or not?" She felt sad and a little lost. It was difficult, somehow, knowing that this man's death, in retrospect, seemed so inevitable. Her anger at Snape was falling away, and it only increased her sadness at Dumbledore's death. It was easier when you had someone to blame, and be angry at.

"In fact….in fact, you were so insistent that Harry get you to Snape so he could…so he could…"

"Yes. So he could fulfill the unbreakable vow. If I had died before reaching him, then Draco, by the wording of the vow, would have failed in his task, since he would be in no way responsible for my death. Severus, as a result, would've died too, since that is the result of breaking such a vow."

Dumbledore paused, his voice softening. "Child, you must keep in mind that I have lived a long, fruitful life, and though perhaps old to you, Severus is not yet forty. Truly, it would have been a crime to have chosen my life over his."

They both fell silent, and a sort of calm fell between them. Hermione could feel all the facts settling into place, which in itself was calming. Somehow she had known, deep down, that things weren't what they seemed. She just hadn't been able to fathom what was wrong, which made sense, when so very much of what she thought she knew had been wrong, or at least…not quite right. In short, the picture was so distorted, she hadn't had a prayer of putting it to rights, yet had known it wasn't accurate.

But it was very overwhelming. How was she going to keep this a secret? Everyone hated Snape's guts. It seemed unfair that he should be in danger from both sides. And now, how was he supposed to…

"Sir, if everyone is convinced of Snape's treachery, how is he supposed to continue spying for the Order? Does someone else know…?"

Dumbledore peered at her, his face strangely unreadable. "That is a very good question, Miss Granger, and one I'm very glad you asked. As a matter of fact, I believe we have the perfect person for relaying information gathered by him to the Order."

"Who?"

"You, my dear, if you will consent." Hermione did a double take. Actually, she'd rather walked into that one, looking back.

"I'm…the only person who knows the truth, Professor Dumbledore? Surely there are other members who would be better suited…" She couldn't help feeling a little trepidation at stepping into such a role, and was throwing up her best defense: logic. "And how would I get in touch with him anyway?" It was a strange thought, coming face to face with the man who had killed Dumbledore, even if he was on her side.

"Do you see that mirror on the far wall, Miss Granger? Kindly break it."

She blinked. "Professor?"

"You will find something just behind the glass, I believe." She shrugged, and taking out her wand, cast a relatively mild hex at the mirror, shattering it. Looking carefully inside the shallow casing, she located and plucked out a black, rubbery stick of undetermined material about three inches long, and only a quarter of an inch thick.

"That's it. Just bend the two ends together until they're touching, for a moment." She did so, finding that it sprang immediately back into place after she let go.

"What did I do, Professor?"

"First, please fix the mirror. I would like you to keep this little gadget with you at all times. It will allow you to call Severus Snape to you at any time, anywhere." She fixed the mirror as he spoke, and turned around to face the portrait.

"Oh! Then you mean I've just called…"

But her train of thought ended abruptly when suddenly there stood Severus Snape himself, not three feet away, and in the back of her mind Hermione recognized that the book he clutched in his right hand must've been a port key. You couldn't apparate inside the school barriers, after all.

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Author's note:

Edit! I've obviously decided to continue the fanfic, as there are four chapters following this one, and more to come.

Hey, everybody. This is my first attempt at writing a Harry Potter fanfiction, though I've read quite a few. I hope it wasn't too horrible. sheepish grin I know this seems like the beginning of a story, but I'm sorry to say that it was really my way of getting out all (or most, anyway) of my inane theories about book six. As such, I don't really have plans to continue this, though I might squeeze out another chapter if only to get out a few more theories untouched in this chapter. I thought that Hermione, being the clever one, would be the most likely to find something amiss with everyone's verdict of Snape, and might delve a little deeper, as she seems to do with everything.

I should say that my good friend Amy mentioned grilling portraits for information, genius that she is. The theories about R.A.B., Snape, etc, were worked out between my mother, Amy, and myself. Fun talks, those. My favorite theory didn't come up in this story, though. Keh.

More stuff…I imagine Snape would have to give Hermione lessons in occlumency, since she has a lot on her mind that needs protecting. Of course, Dumbledore's logic in telling her in the first place would be that he can see she shows all the signs of having talent in occlumency, and is trusted by the other Order members (and, importantly, Harry) so will be able to pass information relatively unhindered. She is also (obviously) very intelligent, and with practice should be able to word things carefully and avoid uncomfortable situations with her friends when it came to how she was getting her information (not unlike how Snape and Dumbledore could twist things, albeit in very different ways).