MILES OF MUSING

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 previewer, Bellegeste.

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

It was the longest, shortest trip home from Hogwarts ever. Longest for the endless silent miles of musing while the boys rehashed Snape's guilt; shortest for the suddenness with which it was over, and with it Hermione's schooldays forever.

She would never be going back to her first home in the wizarding world, not even as a teacher. How could she without her N.E.W.T.s? And even if they survived the war, would she still be young enough and free enough to study by the time it was over? She would never be Head Girl, her ambition since first opening the pages of Hogwarts, a History. Never again scrawl an Arithmancy equation across the blackboard for Professor Vector to pull apart or praise, never again set up her cauldron in class to learn and practise the finer points of brewing.

But that, at least, she need not regret. Didn't she have in her bag a private tuition course from one of the most brilliant brewers she'd ever met, Snape's own student text with all his corrections and emendations, side notes and scholarly suggestions? If she'd known all year of its provenance, how much more might she have learnt than Slughorn's laissez-faire classes had taught her? What an opportunity she'd been missing! Even the Muffliato they were using to keep their conversation private came from there.

Her mouth quirked. Another lesson Snape had taught her, without either of them ever being aware of it, though to be fair, he'd tried hard enough. But it took the accident of having, for such flimsy reasons, denied herself access to the best learning tool she'd ever come across, to teach her that knowledge didn't come only from textbooks, or indeed from books at all. Ironic that.

The rattle of the train on the tracks beat a steady rhythm in her head.

Whatever it takes, whatever it takes,
You have to decide, you have to decide,
To choose not to choose, to choose not to choose,
Is the greatest betrayal, the greatest betrayal.

Beside her, Ron puffed out his cheeks and let go his breath with a Pfooh.

"Where do you think he is now?" he said.

"Kissing up to Voldemort, of course. Wherever he is." Harry's forehead was pressed against the window and his eyes were smouldering.

"Yeah, I guess. Licking his boots and kissing his –"

Hermione's hands curled unbidden in her lap.

"Ron!"

He looked at her.

"What? You can't still be trying to defend him."

"I'm not. I just – I can do without the image, all right?" Bad enough to know its likely truth without dwelling on all the crude hard reality of that scene.

Ron's brow wrinkled, then he laughed indulgently at her squeamishness.

"Oh, yeah, sorry. I'd like to see it though. Wouldn't you, Harry? Snape crawling with his face in the mud and getting Crucioed for his trouble."

Harry scowled.

"Do you want my visions?" he growled. "You can have 'em."

Hermione chewed on her lip. It was all up to Harry. Even Snape had said so. It's always about Mr Potter. It's been about him since before he was born. And yet, somehow she'd leapfrogged into a position of almost equal importance. Her desperate quandary, to trust in Dumbledore's wisdom, and by extension in his spy's probity, or to believe him the biggest fool in wizarddom, meant no less than the choice to strengthen Harry or to betray him, herself, her friends, everyone. How was she to know?

Nobody had trusted Snape but Dumbledore, yet he had trusted implicitly and thus silenced the disbelievers. Now everyone felt vindicated by events and yet, could it be so? Could the wisest, most powerful wizard have failed to see through a story so transparent, so blindingly, obviously faulty as the one Harry described?

She didn't believe it. Dumbledore had known Voldemort for a schoolboy villain despite his charm, Dumbledore alone, of all the teachers of Hogwarts. He couldn't have been tricked by Snape's charmlessness. There must have been more.

"Think we'll ever get a chance at him?" Ron said, staring out the window at cold, bright sunshine and empty fields.

"Eventually." Harry stared stony-eyed at the wand he was fingering. "When we get to the end, if we didn't before. Where Voldemort is, that's where he'll be." His mouth twisted. "I need an extra wand. Can't fight Voldemort with this one. Does anyone else make them?"

Ron shrugged, letting his head fall forward against the window.

Hermione looked up at the soft thud and said absently, "Gregorovitch, Lapierre and Van Eysen, but they're all overseas. Ollivander was the only –" She watched Harry's knuckles whiten and gulped, going on quickly, "There are probably some in Knockturn Alley. You know, unregistered ones, so the Ministry can't trace them. But I don't know how reliable – We'll go together as soon as we can. Tomorrow, if you like. We can ask Tonk –"

"No Tonks," said Harry flatly. "Just us. I won't risk another spy and I'm not asking permission. The Order will do what they have to do and we'll do what we have to do. Tomorrow then." He paused and shook his head. "Or maybe the day after. I can't go for my Apparition license yet, but you can, Ron."

Ron's head jerked up and his eyes went wide and worried.

"I can't! I haven't even been practising."

"You can do it, you almost made it last time." His face hardened as his friend shook his head. "You have to! Hermione can't Apparate both of us and having the Ministry chasing after us about it is the last thing we need. License first, then we'll see about wands. Tomorrow. And then four Horcruxes to destroy."

"Right," muttered Ron. "And after that you can zap them both in one go, eh? Voldemort and Snape."

Snape had never even pretended to be pleasant. He'd made no secret of his hatred for James, for all the Marauders, members of the Order though they were. He'd tried repeatedly to expel Harry, to bully him and get him in trouble. Yet Dumbledore had trusted. There must have been a reason.

"Shared history; the secrets I've kept, the consequences I've faced, even the lies I've told on his behalf when truth would have served me better," Snape had said when she asked him. "Forged in the fire together." They had been working together for a very long time and in all that time he must have seemed true for Dumbledore's trust to be so unshakeable. And she still trusted Dumbledore.

Her mouth twisted in wry self-appraisal. After everything she'd pondered and puzzled over and learnt during their lessons, did she still trust him for no better reason than that Dumbledore had? Snape had scorned that argument in their very first lesson and again and again subsequently, "Does a thought never enter your head unless you read it in a book, Miss Granger? The headmaster has trusted many untrustworthy people…"

Had he, though? Certainly there was no doubt that most of their Defense teachers had been untrustworthy, but had he been trusting them or had he been playing a long game, keeping them under his eye to reduce their freedom of manoeuvrability? Only he always waited way too long before reacting.

She shrugged. There was no way of answering that question now. She had a much more urgent question to resolve and she'd just have to do it without that insight into the headmaster's thinking.

"Do we even know where the Order's meeting now?" Ron asked. "I mean, with the Secret Keeper gone –" Dumbledore had held all the Order's secrets safe. What would they do without him?

Harry's lip trembled. He scrunched his eyes shut and shook his head, hunching a shoulder and turning slightly away.

"Your parents will know," Hermione said.

If she ignored Dumbledore's wishes, on the grounds that he must have been mistaken, and she turned out to be wrong, she'd be losing out on all the help Snape could give, information, protection, advice. He was an acknowledged Dark Arts expert and a wizard of great power and genius. If his old Potions book held the spells he'd created while still a student, how much more must he have created since? As Voldemort's right-hand man, he could warn them of danger, direct their search and tell them how to destroy the Horcruxes when they were found.

He could even help save lives along the way, by notifying of planned attacks, though not too often. Short-term successes could never outweigh the long-term result of their struggle. Her heart felt cold at the thought that people might be left to die, that she might even know and have to hold silence and let them, rather than delay or impede Harry's search.

Surely it would never come to that. Snape would only tell her what she needed to know, to assist Harry or to pass on to the Order. She would know after the event, but at least he would keep her from the much greater guilt of foreknowledge. The way he had about killing Dumbledore.

On the other hand, if she trusted Snape and she was wrong, he would use her to destroy all hope, to betray Harry and all her friends, and to deal Voldemort's opponents such devastation as to prevent an opposition ever rising up again to challenge him. And she'd die in the knowledge that she was the traitor who brought it about. The thought of her friends tortured to death for her trust, the accusation in their faces as she was revealed as his helper and accomplice, was a hot, spiked lump in her throat. If she trusted him, would she become him?

Put like that, the choice seemed obvious. On the one hand, they risked making no progress; on the other, losing everything. How could she trust him at such potential cost? And yet –

The train was slowing now. They were pulling into the station and soon they'd be getting up, slinging bags over shoulders and dragging heavy suitcases behind. This summer, for the first time ever, she'd be able to shrink them or lighten them to make the task easier, use her magic freely outside school. Her parents and Ron's would be waiting and soon they'd be explaining that "No, we're not coming home, we're going with Harry, to his relatives and beyond, to do whatever it takes to rid the world of a red-eyed monster."

And yet –

Her head said one thing and her heart another. Snape was a very fine actor and spy, no doubt, yet he could not have counterfeited the resolve in his eyes, his quiet acceptance of death as reward for service. She had been in his head and he in hers too often. She had seen him in his unguarded moments, those rare fleeting instants of unveiled eyes, unarmoured heart. And like the headmaster, she believed.

Trusting him was the stupidest thing she could do, cold reason insisted. It was a risk she must not, dare not take. But there was a reason she'd been sorted into Gryffindor and not Ravenclaw. And perhaps this was it.

A/N If I do a sequel, it will be more of an action-fic than "Disguise". There's just so much plot to get through and Horcruxes are only part of the mix.

Gregorovitch is canon; Lapierre and Van Eysen are not.