WHATEVER IT TAKES

This is a non-profit tribute to the works of JK Rowling who, together with her publishers and licensees, owns the characters and situations elaborated herein.

Thanks to my reviewers and especially to my previewers, Bellegeste and Cecelle.

WARNING This fic contains HBP Spoilers. Enter at own risk if you haven't read HBP.

No one could believe it. With a Reserve Seeker and a Reserve Chaser, Gryffindor still managed to beat Ravenclaw so convincingly that they snatched the Cup. Hermione kept glancing at the door as the party in the common room became ever more rowdy. How had Harry's detention with Professor Snape gone?

When he finally sidled in, everyone turned to look. Brandishing the Quidditch Cup, Ron triumphantly called out the score. Harry stood straighter, staring slack-jawed at a slim red-headed figure bulleting towards him. A moment later, Ginny was in his arms and they were kissing. And kissing. And still kissing. At last! Waiting for the penny to drop had become quite unbearable. As they slipped out, Hermione couldn't help hoping that Ron might be inspired to try the same stunt with her.

Smiling, she dodged her way through the crowd towards him, but if joy loosened Harry's inhibitions, it didn't work the same magic on Ron. Maybe if she'd waited for him to put down the Cup, so his hands were free – except he'd been holding it all afternoon.

"I wasn't expecting that, were you?" she asked. Not today, anyhow.

Ron's dear, freckled face screwed up in a grimace and he sighed.

"Better Harry than anyone else, I guess."

It was quite some time before Harry returned. Still blissed out on Ginny, he almost forgot to scowl as he described his endless, dusty afternoon, fretting about the Quidditch match while he sorted and recopied Filch's old punishment files under Snape's supervision. Typically, Snape had presented him with the records featuring the Marauders' offences, just to rub his nose in the trouble his father and godfather had caused in their school years. It was, thought Hermione, the clearest statement possible that to him Harry was just a repeat of his dad.

If only she dared tell Snape that it was proof of the opposite. He'd never have given such a detention to the Weasley twins – from all she'd heard, the true repeat of the Marauders in the present day – because rather than a punishment, they'd have seen it as an incentive to competition, a challenge to top their predecessors. (Although surely that swamp last year must have beaten any other prank in the last thousand years.) It certainly wouldn't have bothered them.

It was bothering Harry. She knew because he didn't want to talk about it when Ron, curious about the exploits of his brothers' heroes, asked for details. He never wanted to talk about things that bothered him. At least he had Ginny. Every time he got that frown in his eyes, he'd catch sight of Ginny smiling and the lines would vanish from his brow.

The four of them spent a lot of time together after that. Maybe that was why Ron never made a move on her, but Hermione doubted it. Harry and Ginny were sufficient to themselves. It wouldn't have been hard for Ron to get her alone if he'd wanted – she'd tried to wangle it a few times – but he seemed content to be just friends. Maybe that was all there would ever be. She said so to Ginny on one of those hot Saturday afternoons while Harry toiled in Snape's office and Ron played cards inside with Dean and Seamus.

"That's me more than you," Ginny said, scuffing the ground with her toe. "Ron's got to grow up sometime and reach out for what he wants – and that's you, before you get all depressed about it – but we all know Harry's going to go off and fight Voldemort and he might let you two along, but not me."

She had pulled out some tall blades of grass and was shredding them savagely.

"You know it's true," she added before Hermione could attempt any comforting lies. "He doesn't talk to me about his plans, he talks to you and Ron. And pretty soon, probably before the end of this year even, he'll decide he has to break it off to protect me. As if I was still a silly little kid telling secrets to a haunted diary."

Hermione couldn't argue. Eyes half-closed, she chewed on her lip.

"He loves you," she offered.

"Yes, but I'm still Ron's little sister to him. I know that's why he took so long to say anything after I chucked Dean, because he was wondering if Ron wouldn't like it. And sometimes I wonder if he'd even want me if he saw me as strong and competent. If it's just because of his 'saving people' thing."

"There's more to it than that," Hermione said.

Rip, rip. Ginny's hands were white-knuckled.

"Oh yes. I'm a Weasley. He's always wanted a family and with me he gets one."

Hermione shook her head.

"He's part of your family anyway."

"Exactly. It's all so convenient."

Hermione studied her friend's mutinous face.

"If that's how you feel, why do you want him?" she asked.

"How can I help it?" She rolled an unshredded grass stalk in a ring around her finger and stared at it through half-closed eyes, then sighed and let it fall. "Why do you want Ron? You know he's a total prat."

"Not a total –"

Ginny snorted.

"He is. You know he is." She scowled. "That's why it's so hard that, just when we finally get together, Harry's got all these detentions with ruddy Snape! Why couldn't he have stopped at one, like when they stole dad's car? Wasn't missing the match punishment enough?"

Hermione's lips straightened. Punishment enough? For half-killing someone? If Snape hadn't arrived in time, Harry might be in Azkaban now.

"He almost killed Malfoy," she said. Not that Ginny would care. Her family had always hated the Malfoys and after that diary business they had all the more reason.

"Good riddance that would have been. Malfoy's just like his dad and who needs either of them?"

"Ginny! He almost killed him!"

Her friend jerked a defiant shoulder.

"Yeah, so? He's got to kill Voldemort, doesn't he? Who cares how many Death Eaters he kills along the way? It's probably good practice."

Hermione caught her breath. They'd all thought about that aspect – how could they help it? – but no one had actually voiced it before.

"Malfoy's not a Death Eater. At least, not that we know for sure. And I don't think Harry would ever want to kill someone unnecessarily." She hoped not, anyhow.

But how could you tell when it was necessary? Harry had spared Wormtail's life in the Shack and Wormtail had run straight to Voldemort and brought him back. Cedric and Sirius and so many others would still be alive if not for Harry's mercy. Had that been wrong?

"You're not responsible for other people's choices," Snape had said. "Only your own… People die and we can't always stop them."

What choice would Dumbledore make? She couldn't believe he'd want Harry to grow callous, not after praising his pure heart and ability to love. Surely the "power the Dark Lord knew not" wasn't going to be a more effective killing spell! She wasn't convinced it would involve killing at all. The prophecy didn't actually say "kill", it said "vanquish" and "either must die at the hand of the other". Maybe after Harry had destroyed all the Horcruxes, Voldemort would just crumble into dust when Harry touched him. It sounded silly, but something very similar had happened to Quirrell, after all.

Perhaps because of Harry's detention, the Shrieking Shack confrontation was still running through her head at the end of her next training session. She couldn't regret having saved Sirius, not even by having hexed Professor Snape, but that didn't mean there was nothing to regret about that night. She'd helped cheat her teacher out of something that would have caused no one any harm and given him the only recognition he'd ever been offered. She felt doubly guilty about that now, with the knowledge that he'd never get another chance.

"I'm sorry about your Order of Merlin three years ago, professor. It was our fault you didn't get it and it wasn't fair."

He didn't even look up from his marking, but she saw a quickly-masked spasm of irritation cross his face.

"Life isn't fair, Miss Granger. You should know that by now," he said evenly.

"But you deserved it! It was brave to come and rescue us." More than brave, considering how it must remind him of the trick that could have killed him almost twenty years earlier. It was heroic. Not that she'd dare ever tell him she thought so.

"Brave!" he scoffed. "Bravery is just folly by a prettier name."

"It was! And you deserved that medal! You did capture Sirius single-handed and put him in their custody. It wasn't your fault they lost him."

He gave her a heavy-browed glare.

"Must you harp on this now? It's years ago; it's past and done."

Past and done, but not forgotten. And not forgiven either, she was sure. He wasn't a forgiving person. Maybe that was why she couldn't just let it go.

"Because you still deserve it! You're putting your life on the line for us all the time and you never get anything but a slap in the face," she complained.

"Or a three-way hex knocking me out?" he suggested sourly. "Leave it. It's immaterial. If I had one, they'd only strip it from me when –" He closed his mouth tightly and glowered at her.

"I'll testify for you," she promised, the words tripping over her tongue in their haste. "I'll tell them –"

"You'll do nothing of the kind. Not unless the war is over. The ambiguity of my situation is what enables me to spy. It keeps me alive to do my work – and nominally free."

Her throat clenched. She gulped hard.

"But – But if the Ministry think you've betrayed us, they might sentence you to be Kissed." She took a deep breath and continued mind-to-mind. It was easier to say these things in her head. She could pretend she was talking to herself, even though she knew he'd hear and respond.

Would the headmaster save you? He didn't save Sirius! Twelve years in Azkaban without a trial, though the headmaster was head of the Wizengamot! And she couldn't forget how Professor Dumbledore had saved Remus that night, at Snape's expense. The Ministry would have arrested the werewolf as an accomplice, if the headmaster hadn't cast doubt on Snape's testimony - and so lost him his reward.

One corner of his thin mouth twitched into a half-sneer but he didn't answer. She tried again.

What good can you do if you're dead?

If you testify, I'll still be dead. Do you think the Dark Lord would let me live any longer than it would take to torture all the Order's secrets out of me? He gave her a narrow-eyed glare until her eyes fell. Idle to say he need not fall into Voldemort's hands when both knew the Ministry was riddled with his men. Save my reputation later, if you feel you must. It will do no harm then.

She felt very small and cold as she watched his pen moving swiftly and mercilessly across some hapless student's homework. She couldn't leave it there.

What use will it be to save your reputation if they've destroyed your soul?

I leave it to you to determine. Do you think, under those circumstances, you'd still wish to clear my name?

Of course!

He raised an eyebrow.

Oh. How could he always do that? Show her the difference between what she thought she thought and what she really thought. She wasn't ready to drop the subject though. But your soul!

It's one way off the treadmill. And what's gone cannot suffer.

She wanted to shake him, but she didn't quite dare.

How can you not care? You have to care!

His eyes shuttered half-closed. His hand stilled on the paper and a blot of ink like a blood spot pooled under his quill.

Whatever it takes. You heard the Sorting Hat; "Any means to achieve our ends."

That had been her first year. She'd thought it sounded nasty and begged the Hat for Gryffindor. That hurt now.

- - - - - - - -

May rolled into June. Ron was still silent on the question of romance and Ginny had her O.W.L.s to study for. Sitting alone in the library one evening, after Harry had gone off in a huff when she tackled him about distracting Ginny from her revision, Hermione made a long-awaited discovery.

She'd given up on the books and was methodically going through the old Prophets. And there she was! Skinny, scowling and dark-haired, the 1947 Captain of the Hogwarts Gobstones team, Eileen Prince! A "Prince" in the right time-frame to have used the Potions book, and it was even a girl. Hah, Harry, told you so!

Her fingers moved automatically to the edges of the paper to start ripping, but she paused. In return for her pass to the Restricted Section, she'd promised Snape not to vandalise any more books. Wait! He'd said books; this wasn't a book, it was a newspaper. And he couldn't complain about her twisting the letter of the law to subvert the spirit. He'd been at great pains to teach her that, and presumably he expected her to put his lessons into practice.

But Harry only scoffed when she showed him the following evening.

"You think she was the Half-Blood …? Oh, come on… Yeah, very ingenious, Hermione …"

"The truth is that you don't think a girl would have been clever enough," she retorted. She'd show him! She'd prove she was right. She'd check through the lists of old Potions awards until she found her Prince.

When she returned in time for curfew, Harry was gone. Apparently Jimmy Peakes had brought another one of Dumbledore's appointment scrolls, asking him to go to his office as quickly as he could. She stared wide-eyed at Ron. Was it the Horcrux?

They waited in the common room together. She found herself telling Ron about her parents, how she'd written to warn them of danger and how they'd written soothingly, heedlessly back.

"Look, Hermione," Ron said, "I can't tell you not to worry, because you will anyway. I do too, we all worry about our families. But how did you want them to react? Did you want them to pull you out of school and drag you off to Switzerland or something?"

They'd hate that, she thought, and so would she. She drew little circles on her knee.

"No. Just to take me seriously so I'd know they understood."

"So you want them to stay here and worry about something that might never happen and they couldn't do anything to prevent anyway?"

She smiled reluctantly. When he put it like that, it did sound silly. A little knot of anxiety in her gut began to dissolve. Ron didn't always know what to say, but every so often there'd be a time like this when he got it exactly right.

Suddenly Harry burst in and raced past them, barely bothering to speak when she asked if he was OK. Moments later, he was back, the Marauder's Map in one hand and a pair of balled-up socks in the other, racing through a muddled tale of Trelawney's sherry bottles, Malfoy's whooping, Snape's eavesdropping and a Horcrux that might be hidden in a cave. Dumbledore was going right now to retrieve it and so was he.

"Wha –?"

He wouldn't listen to any of their questions or remonstrations.

"– So you see what this means? Dumbledore won't be here tonight, so Malfoy's going to have another clear shot at whatever he's up to."

Numbly, Hermione accepted the Marauder's Map from his urgent hand and listened to his instructions. Watch Malfoy, watch Snape, try to call up the DA for reinforcements and guard the school. He thrust the socks, now revealed to be his tiny bottle of Felix Felicis, into Ron's hands, with instructions to share it between themselves and Ginny.

"Say goodbye to her from me. I'd better go – I'll be fine. I'll be with Dumbledore. I want to know you lot are OK."

And he was gone.

They stared at the door closing behind him then at each other.

"I'll get Ginny," she said. "You see if you can find Harry's galleon and call the DA to meet outside our common room. If not, I'll have to see if I can charm mine to do it."

Luckily that wasn't necessary, but when she emerged with Ginny, only Neville and Luna had turned up. They waited five extra minutes in case others had been delayed by curfew having begun, but it had always been rather a forlorn hope. They hadn't been carrying their own galleons around this year so why would anyone else?

There was just enough golden potion for each of them to have a little over half a teaspoonful. Hermione worried whether it would be enough, but as soon as she drank it, she was filled with confidence. They checked the Marauder's Map and found Snape in his office, but no sign of Malfoy.

"He must be in the Room of Requirement again," Ron said in disgust. "Hermione, you and Luna go wait outside Snape's office, and we'll go catch Malfoy when he comes out."

Luna! Well, as long as she didn't start hunting Fliffering Plimpies or whatever they were, she was better than nothing. She'd done all right in the Ministry last year and she'd known what to say – and what not to – after that horror Transfiguration lesson last December when Ron had made Hermione the classroom joke.

"Right, we'll be off then," Hermione said. "Good luck, everyone."

"You can be sure of that," Ron said. "Stands to reason, doesn't it?"

They laughed half-heartedly.

Some of the Professors were patrolling and they saw Remus and Tonks as well, but their luck was in – of course – and they weren't seen. Grown-ups – except Dumbledore, naturally - never thought you were old enough to help, even if you'd been fighting Voldemort since first year. But then, he'd encouraged them to start in the first place.

Soit was tonight, it must be – the night that Snape would do his "terrible thing" and become an outcast. She'd never sit in his classroom again, never hear that silky, sneering voice taking points from her friends and giving out detentions. She hadn't ever thought she might miss that.

And she still had no idea what he was going to do. Blow up the Divination tower? Drag all the Slytherin Seventh Years to join Voldemort? Poison the pumpkin juice? She listened with half an ear as Luna spoke of Klarts, Snorkacks and Scrimgeour's plans to turn Flourish and Blotts into a vampire cafeteria.

"Are you sure you haven't got a Wrackspurt making your brain all fuzzy?" Luna asked. "You haven't contradicted me once."

Hermione smiled wryly. Luna's chatter couldn't be more ridiculous than her own thoughts. Wild notions of somehow shaking Luna off so she could nip into his office to warn him – But he must know, mustn't he? Or he'd be out there patrolling with the other professors instead of sitting here waiting?

"Couldn't be," she said. "That wouldn't be lucky, would it, and I can feel that our luck hasn't worn off." And it was telling her that they were exactly where they needed to be.

Nothing happened till almost midnight. Then there was a shouting and a running and suddenly Professor Flitwick was racing past them into Snape's office before they had time to hide. He didn't even glance at them.

"Did he say 'Death Eaters in the castle'?" Hermione breathed. Oh, no! Ron and Ginny and Neville were out there! She hoped the Felix Felicis would last as long as it was needed.

Professor Snape hadn't been out of his rooms all evening, so that must have been Malfoy. Then what was Snape's part? Something worse? What could possibly be worse?

"Death Eaters?" Luna pulled her wand out from behind her ear and her protuberant silvery eyes seemed to darken, but she continued serenely. "Oh, that would make more sense. I was wondering why deaf adders would be blasting at midnight, when everyone knows they're more active at sunrise."

From behind the door, they could hear Flitwick squeaking, "You must come at once, Severus! The castle is swarming with Death Eaters!"

Then there was a loud thump. A moment later, Snape came out, wand raised. His eyes swept the corridor, passed Luna without a pause,and stopped on Hermione.

"Twenty points each from Gryffindor and Ravenclaw for being out after curfew. Professor Flitwick has fainted. Go in and take care of him while I investigate. My help is needed elsewhere."

He continued in mind-speech.

I should have known you'd be in the thick of it, as usual. Reckless, foolish – Don't get yourself killed and waste all the hard work we've both put in.

Hermione bit her lip.

We've all sipped Felicis, sir. Don't get YOURself killed.

Remember, don't defend me, whatever you hear, and don't tell anyone. I'll contact you.

She gulped.

I promise.

Didn't I tell you never to agree to a request when you don't know what it entails?

Thought was quicker than speech, their conversation over so fast that Luna hadn't even noticed there'd been time for one. He turned away.

"Well? What are you waiting for? Five points each for wasting my time," he flung over his shoulder, already beginning to run.

"Yes, sir," they chorused, but Hermione stopped at the threshold to watch him. Would she ever see him again?

A/N Snippets of Conversation from ch 25, The Seer Overheard.

"Fliffering Plimpies" is Hermione's contraction of Luna's "Blibbering Humdingers" and "Gulping Plimpies" in canon. Crumple-horned Snorkacks, Wrackspurts and vampire-Scrimgeour are also canon. Klarts and cafeteria plans are not.