Summary: Snape is innocent. Thanks to a mystic blue flower, Hermione remembers the truth. Now that secret is hers to keep and Severus hers to save. Post HBP, HG/SS.
Rated: T or PG-13 for language, violence, and some sexual references. Rating may go up, but it won't be because of anything graphic—or, at least, nothing planned at the moment.
Setting: The Prologue takes place directly after Christmas holidays during HBP. In HBP the students were to floo back to school. Hermione told HP, RW, and GW that she had been there for a few hours, visiting Hagrid, but this is how she arrived at Hogwarts.
Hermione rolled out of the fire place, sneezing as a cloud of ash filled the air. She wiped off her face quickly, somewhat bitter by the fact that she had not yet mastered a decent landing in her past attempts to floo. Holding to the closest chair for balance, the young witch stood to her feet, eyes slowly widening as she recognized her surroundings. She had expected she might end up in one of the classrooms or a professor's quarters, but she hadn't thought that she'd land in Dumbledore's office. If she had, she might have been a bit more graceful in cleaning her face with the neckline of her sweater.
"Ah, Miss Granger, do take a seat," welcomed a cheerful voice.
Hermione turned, almost tripping over her own feet. "Headmaster? I must have been taken to the wrong room."
"Oh, dear, you're exactly where you should be," Dumbledore replied from behind his desk. He propped his hands before him, fingers held end to end against their opposites. "I must ask you to hurry along. We haven't time for proper greetings or formalities. I have something very important to discuss with you."
With a nod, the witch stepped forward, sitting down across from the old wizard. "Sir, does this have anything to do with Harry?"
Dumbledore stared at her a moment, as if pondering the question. "I suppose, in the long run it does. However, for the moment, I will answer 'no'. This meeting concerns you and Professor Snape."
Hermione raised a brow. "Professor Snape, Sir?"
"You heard me correctly, Hermione." The Headmaster leaned forward. "I have already taken the liberty of safeguarding this room, so that no 'passerby' may listen in on our conversation." Hermione saw that he was not just talking about a spell, every portrait in his office was empty, as if the past headmasters had all taken a vacation to go visit the Fat Lady. "What I am about to tell you must be taken on faith. Out of my friends and associates, I have chosen you to tell my secrets to. . ."
"Sir?" Hermione interrupted. "What do you mean? Do you intend to tell me something I can't share even with Harry?" She blushed slightly, taken aback by her own words. "What I mean, sir, is that he is rather upset when secrets are kept from him."
"I know that, and I regret keeping such important facts from him, but there is no other choice." Dumbledore frowned at the girl, his expression somewhat sobered from what it had been moments earlier. "Don't fret about not telling him, Hermione. I already have a solution to that. No, in these short moments we have together, I must share with you that which will affect the outcome of this war."
He stood suddenly, rounding the desk as spryly as a man half his age. He stopped before Hermione's seat, leaning down. "I hope you understand the importance of this information. I know that you will take it to heart. I chose you because, of those I trust, you are the only one who will be willing to hear me out, to hear the truth."
"Headmaster!" Hermione snapped. "You're wrong, sir. There are several who would trust your every word."
"But none could execute my orders as well as you. And none would be willing to stand up for Severus Snape. This is a mission for you alone." Dumbledore grew quiet. "How do you feel about your professor, Hermione? Honestly?"
Hermione looked down at her ash sodden jeans, scrunching her nose as she tried to sort out a proper answer. "He is rather cruel, though I understand that he must keep up such an act for his role in the Order."
"Oh, no, Severus is naturally cruel—that is no act, my dear," Dumbledore stated. "But I did not ask how he behaves toward you and the other students. I asked you how you felt about him."
"I dislike him, sir," Hermione admitted. She glanced up. "But, I suppose I respect him somewhat, though I would be hard pressed to admit it to Harry or Ron. Or even to Professor Snape. He's heartless, but he seems to do what he does well, efficiently."
Dumbledore nodded. "Correct. I once knew a young man who was as clean in judgment as you. Had this moment come a few years ago, I would have asked Remus Lupin to take on this task, but, recently, he has grown somewhat cold toward Severus because of the death of Sirius and Harry's obvious dislike for the man." The Headmaster sighed. "They have their reasons. I believe, though, that you are a stubborn young woman who will stick to her feelings, no matter how naïve they may seem."
"What is it you mean for me to do exactly?" she asked.
"For now? Simply listen. But in the near future, you will be required to save a man whom you dislike." Dumbledore placed his hand over hers, warding off her inevitable interruptions. "I am going to die, my dear, before this school year ends."
Hermione blinked, eyes widened in surprise and something akin to fear. "But, sir. . ."
"It will happen. Now listen closely, child. We have so little time," Dumbledore began. "No doubt, Draco Malfoy has been asked to commit a villainous deed in order to save himself and his family. He accepts it, seeing it as a chance to prove himself. He is to kill me.
"He is but a boy, though, and he is no murderer for all of his vanity and bullying. Severus took a vow, an Unbreakable Vow, stating that he would commit the crime in Draco's place. He did not know that the deep he was to commit involved my death, per se. You have most likely been told that there is no way out of such a binding agreement. That is true. And though Severus has made it clear that he will not do it, I am certain, when the time comes, he will follow my orders and murder me before a group of Death Eater witnesses and Harry."
"Harry? But, why?" Hermione stood as well, stepping back. "You want Snape to kill you? You asked him to . . . in front of Harry? Sir, you can't do that—to either of them! Harry won't be able to take your death, and Snape will be hunted down. You can't leave us, sir! How can we do anything without you?"
Dumbledore pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. "I must let this happen. I have my reasons, Hermione. You know, in your heart, that this is true. In time you will realize why I have made these decisions. For now, you only need know that Severus Snape will be innocent of any crime he commits."
Hermione could feel her face flush, though not with the anger that she was no doubt radiating. Tears burned her eyes, waiting to be unleashed. "But, why, sir? Must you die?"
"All will be revealed, child." Dumbledore put a hand on her shoulder. "Now, please, follow my wishes, those which I know that no other would be willing to follow. I do what I do to save our world, to give Harry what he needs to become our hero. If I do not, Voldemort may win. That is not what any of us want. Will you be a part of this, Hermione?"
The young witch felt wetness snaking its way between her nose and cheek. She bit her lip, looking up and nodding.
"Very good. Now sit back down." Dumbledore left her, walking back around his desk and opening a drawer. He pulled out a glass jar in which floated a tiny blue flower, as sparkling and lonely as a sapphire. "How much do you know of the forget-me-not?"
Hermione found the seat of her chair, becoming in an instant 'the-know-it-all'. "Muggles have many stories about the origin and properties of the forget-me-not flower, but wizarding history tells another variation. I believe it involves the dying tear of a powerful witch or wizard, one containing all the sorrows and memories of that person. As their soul fades, they can press the seed of pain into the earth with the words by which the flower is named. Magical forget-me-nots are rare."
"Nicely phrased. And the properties of such a rare plant?" Dumbledore asked, reaching back into his desk and retrieving a short glass and a corked vial.
Hermione watched him pour the potion out, murmuring her reply. "The forget-me-not, paired with a complex forgetfulness potion may be used to repress specific memories for a designated period of time, but only with the participation of the one who is to take the potion. Also, it can be used to reveal memories of the flower's planter."
"Correct," Dumbledore stated. He opened the jar, holding it out to Hermione. "I believe you know what to do now."
The witch reached out, picking up the delicate flower between thumb and index. With one swift movement she dropped it into the glass of potion. The elixir fizzed, hissing as it accepted the final ingredient. Hermione wrapped her fingers around the cup, lifting it.
"Is there anything else you wanted to tell me, Headmaster, before I do this?" Hermione asked, anxious eyes staring down into faded blue depths of liquid. "Anything I'm supposed to remember that you haven't told me yet?"
"I have told you all I can," the old wizard replied, his voice sad. "But when these memories return to you, I think you will find yourself with more information than you can handle. And you will be alone in it. Even Severus will not know about this meeting."
"And what am I supposed to do with that information?"
"You will know," Dumbledore said.
Hermione didn't reply, shutting her eyes and lifting the glass up toward her lips. She swallowed the liquid, wincing as the flower additive scolded her throat. When she opened her eyes again, she almost fell from the chair, dazed by its effects. Dumbledore reached across his desk, taking the glass with one hand and holding her still with the other.
"Headmaster? What am I doing here?" she asked, staring around the office.
Dumbledore smiled, his blue eyes twinkling. "You flooed her only a few minutes ago, Miss Granger, and you took a smart hit on the head. I'm afraid you were knocked unconscious. But I'm sure you'll be alright now."
"Oh. . ." Hermione blinked. "Should I go to the Hospital Wing?"
"I don't see why," he replied. "I patched you up as right as rain. Why don't you go get some fresh air? Just yesterday Hagrid was complaining about how lonely the holidays could be."
She nodded. "I should visit him."
"Wonderful idea," Dumbledore replied. He pulled a small fold of parchment from his robes. "And should you see Harry, would you mind giving him this?"
Hermione took the note, hiding it within her own pocket. "Yes, Headmaster." She smiled softly, making her way toward the door.
"Good luck, Hermione," he added as she stepped out, leaving him to his solitude.